A Fight with the Tartars (page 365) — the volume's ninety-fifth composite wood-block engraving for Defoe's The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner. Related by himself (London: Cassell, Petter, and Galpin, 1863-64). Part II, The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Chapter XIII, "Arrival in​ China." Full-page, framed with a spear-and-leaf motif: 13.5 cm high x 22 cm wide. Running head: "Attacked by Tartars" (p. 367).

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

Passage Illustrated: Crusoe in Tartary, beyond the Great Wall

Our leader for the day gave leave for about sixteen of us to go a hunting as they call it; and what was this but a hunting of sheep! — however, it may be called hunting too, for these creatures are the wildest and swiftest of foot that ever I saw of their kind! only they will not run a great way, and you are sure of sport when you begin the chase, for they appear generally thirty or forty in a flock, and, like true sheep, always keep together when they fly.

In pursuit of this odd sort of game it was our hap to meet with about forty Tartars: whether they were hunting mutton, as we were, or whether they looked for another kind of prey, we know not; but as soon as they saw us, one of them blew a hideous blast on a kind of horn. This was to call their friends about them, and in less than ten minutes a troop of forty or fifty more appeared, at about a mile distance; but our work was over first, as it happened.

One of the Scots merchants of Moscow happened to be amongst us; and as soon as he heard the horn, he told us that we had nothing to do but to charge them without loss of time; and drawing us up in a line, he asked if we were resolved. We told him we were ready to follow him; so he rode directly towards them. They stood gazing at us like a mere crowd, drawn up in no sort of order at all; but as soon as they saw us advance, they let fly their arrows, which missed us, very happily. Not that they mistook their aim, but their distance; for their arrows all fell a little short of us, but with so true an aim, that had we been about twenty yards nearer we must have had several men wounded, if not killed.

Immediately we halted, and though it was at a great distance, we fired, and sent them leaden bullets for wooden arrows, following our shot full gallop, to fall in among them sword in hand — for so our bold Scot that led us directed. He was, indeed, but a merchant, but he behaved with such vigour and bravery on this occasion, and yet with such cool courage too, that I never saw any man in action fitter for command. As soon as we came up to them we fired our pistols in their faces and then drew; but they fled in the greatest confusion imaginable. The only stand any of them made was on our right, where three of them stood, and, by signs, called the rest to come back to them, having a kind of scimitar in their hands, and their bows hanging to their backs. Our brave commander, without asking anybody to follow him, gallops up close to them, and with his fusee knocks one of them off his horse, killed the second with his pistol, and the third ran away. Thus ended our fight; but we had this misfortune attending it, that all our mutton we had in chase got away. We had not a man killed or hurt; as for the Tartars, there were about five of them killed — how many were wounded we knew not; but this we knew, that the other party were so frightened with the noise of our guns that they fled, and never made any attempt upon us.

We were all this while in the Chinese dominions, and therefore the Tartars were not so bold as afterwards. . . . [Chapter XIV, "Attacked by Tartars," pp. 363-66]

Commentary: Crusoe and his Party rout the Tartar Cavalry

Almost a constant in the various nineteenth-century programs of illustration for Defoe's eighteenth-century novel are the various artists' interpretations of the fierce and formidable Tartars. Ironically, in Defoe's novel when the nomadic horsemen encounter a much smaller but much better armed body of Europeans and Chinese the Tartars turn and flee at the first whiff of gunpowder. Whereas Thomas Stothard (1790, 1820)shows the Tartars shadowing the merchants' column and Cruikshank depicts the aftermath of a Tartar attack in two separate scenes, Phiz depicts the Europeans standing up to the thieves. Finally, Paget leaves out the Europeans entirely and depicts a Tartar horseman in full retreat, one of the 1891 edition's dozen full-page lithographs.

Related Material

Stothard's and Paget's Scenes involving the Tartars (1790, 1820; 1891)

Left: As Crusoe and his party cross Tartar territory, the wily horsemen shadow them in Stothard's Robinson Crusoe travelling in Chinese Tartary. Right: Paget's dramatic full-page realisation of the Tartars' retreat, As soon as they saw us, one of them blew a kind of horn. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Cruikshank's Scenes of Combat with the Tartars (1831)

Left: As Crusoe regains consciousness, he discovers that his companions have driven off the robbers in Crusoe, regaining consciousness, sees the dead Tartar. Right: Cruikshank's dramatic tailpiece for Farther Adventures: Crusoe and his partyy deliver a furious volley from behind a stockade of stacked tree trunks in The Europeans fire a withering volley at the charging Tartar horde in Russia. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Phiz's Interpretation of the Tartars' Theft of the Camel (1864)

Above: Phiz's highly dramatic, full-page illustration of the Portuguese pilot's grabbing the Tartar, Robinson Crusoe attacked and robbed by Tartars. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

The Cassell's Interpretation of the pel-mel retreat of the Tartar Cavalry (1864)

Above: The Cassell's team produced a pair of highly dramatic, full-page illustrations for the Tartary section; particularly dynamic is Flight of the Tartars, in which the Tartars make good their escape, despite some losses. [Click on image to enlarge it.]


Defoe, Daniel. The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner. Related by himself. With upwards of One Hundred Illustrations. London: Cassell, Petter, and Galpin, 1863-64.

Last modified 16 April 2018