Will Atkins leads his men against attacking aborigines by George Cruikshank as the sixth vignette for Part Two, The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Chapter V, "A Great Victory," 6.7 cm high by 6.7 cm wide, middle of page 371. In these scenes from Part Two, Crusoe is often a mere spectator rather than a focal point of the action. Yet again Cruikshank selects for an illustration a scene of violent conflict between racial and cultural opposites — the sort of thing that appealed to young Britons who regarded themselves as sons of Empire. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

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Passage Illustrated

The chief Spaniard, whom I described so often, commanded the whole; and Will Atkins, who, though a dreadful fellow for wickedness, was a most daring, bold fellow, commanded under him. The savages came forward like lions; and our men, which was the worst of their fate, had no advantage in their situation; only that Will Atkins, who now proved a most useful fellow, with six men, was planted just behind a small thicket of bushes as an advanced guard, with orders to let the first of them pass by and then fire into the middle of them, and as soon as he had fired, to make his retreat as nimbly as he could round a part of the wood, and so come in behind the Spaniards, where they stood, having a thicket of trees before them.

When the savages came on, they ran straggling about every way in heaps, out of all manner of order, and Will Atkins let about fifty of them pass by him; then seeing the rest come in a very thick throng, he orders three of his men to fire, having loaded their muskets with six or seven bullets apiece, about as big as large pistol-bullets. How many they killed or wounded they knew not, but the consternation and surprise was inexpressible among the savages; they were frightened to the last degree to hear such a dreadful noise, and see their men killed, and others hurt, but see nobody that did it; when, in the middle of their fright, Will Atkins and his other three let fly again among the thickest of them; and in less than a minute the first three, being loaded again, gave them a third volley. [Chapter V, "A Great Victory," p. 370-371]

Commentary: Valiant in the face of difficult odds

As the arrows fly from the aboriginal to the European side, right to left, above the action, the musketeers are perfectly calm as they discharge their weapons, creating a great clouds of gunpowder smoke in the centre of the composition. In contrast, on the right hand margin chaos and consternation grip the attackers, who wave their clubs at their adversaries in frustration about the great losses they are incurring, as suggested by the wounded and dying at the bottom of the composition. While Cruikshank presents the "savages" in disarray, the English and Spanish are in a disciplined line — presumably Will Atkins is the shooter, left front, and immediately beside him is the Spanish commander, the long-time historical animosities between the two nations forgotten as they face a common foe; the Europeans are outnumbered, but determined not to let their enemies — the racial "others" — pass. Cruikshank could probably not convincingly depict the seventeen Spaniards and five Englishmen in so small a space, but he includes six (including the man down, centre), facing at least two dozen aborigines.​ There is in the narrator's tone more than a little admiration for the ruthless but effective Atkins, just as Defoe would later admire the expert jail-breaker and master thief Jack Sheppard. Indeed, Atkins' ruthlessness and daring render him here make a bad man the ideal son of Empire.

Related Material


Defoe, Daniel. The Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner, with introductory verses by Bernard Barton, and illustrated with numerous engravings from drawings by George Cruikshank expressly designed for this edition. 2 vols. London: Printed at the Shakespeare Press, by W. Nichol, for John Major, Fleet Street, 1831.

De Foe, Daniel. The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Written by Himself. Illustrated by Gilbert, Cruikshank, and Brown. London: Darton and Hodge, 1867?].

Defoe, Daniel. The Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner. (1831). Illustrated by George Cruikshank. Major's Edition. London: Chatto & Windus, 1890.

Patten, Robert L. "Phase 2: "'The Finest Things, Next to Rembrandt's,' 1720–1835." Chapter 20, "Thumbnail Designs." George Cruikshank's Life, Times, and Art, vol. 1: 1792-1835. Rutgers, NJ: Rutgers U. P., 1992; London: The Lutterworth Press, 1992. Pp. 325-339.

Last modified 6 March 2018