"'O Christian George King sar berry sorry!' says that Sambo vagabond."
E. G. Dalziel
14 x 10.7 cm framed
Dickens's Christmas Stories, the Chapman and Hall Household Edition, page 48 [See commentary below].
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham
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So, when Christian George King, who was individually unpleasant to me besides, comes a trotting along the sand, clucking, "Yup, So-Jeer!" I had a thundering good mind to let fly at him with my right. I certainly should have done it, but that it would have exposed me to reprimand.
"Yup, So-Jeer!" says he. "Bad job."
"What do you mean?" says I.
"Yup, So-Jeer!" says he, "Ship Leakee."
"Ship leaky?" says I.
"Iss,” says he, with a nod that looked as if it was jerked out of him by a most violent hiccup — which is the way with those savages.
I cast my eyes at Charker, and we both heard the pumps going aboard the sloop, and saw the signal run up, "Come on board; hands wanted from the shore." In no time some of the sloop's liberty-men were already running down to the water's edge, and the party of seamen, under orders against the Pirates, were putting off to the Columbus in two boats.
"O Christian George King sar berry sorry!" says that Sambo vagabond, then. "Christian George King cry, English fashion!" His English fashion of crying was to screw his black knuckles into his eyes, howl like a dog, and roll himself on his back on the sand. It was trying not to kick him, but I gave Charker the word, "Double-quick, Harry!" and we got down to the water's edge, and got on board the sloop.
By some means or other, she had sprung such a leak, that no pumping would keep her free; and what between the two fears that she would go down in the harbour, and that, even if she did not, all the supplies she had brought for the little colony would be destroyed by the sea-water as it rose in her, there was great confusion. In the midst of it, Captain Maryon was heard hailing from the beach. He had been carried down in his hammock, and looked very bad; but he insisted on being stood there on his feet; and I saw him, myself, come off in the boat, sitting upright in the stern-sheets, as if nothing was wrong with him. ["The Island of Silver-Store," 47]
The designedly sensational but now unmemorable subject of this holiday production in 1857 is the bravery and resourcefulness shown by most members of an English settlement in South America when their island, which is used to store silver from an inland mine, is invaded by pirates. The work lacks the usual inset pieces and consists simply of three chapters. In the first, "The Island of Silver-Store," Dickens describes the settlement through the person of Gil Davis. . . . [Thomas, 88]
Whereas the eciting conclusion, "The Rafts on the River," the third and final chapter in which the English prisoners escape from their captors in the Honduran jungle opposite Belize, is the subject of the 1868 Illustrated Library Edition's The Perils of Certain English Prisoners by F. A. Fraser, Edward Dalziel has chosen a earlier scene. Instead of the suspenseful escape, Dalziel has focused on introducing two significant characters: the duplicitous and unlikely-named mulatto servant "Christian George King" (right), who later betrays the colonists to the pirates from the mainland; and Private Gil Davis (centre), the first-person narrator and protagonist. Since the reader encounters the text a page before the illustration, the reader of the two-chapter version of the story in the Household Edition may well have expected to encounter a subservient Christian George King and two common soldiers of the Royal Marines, Private Gil Davis and Corporal Harry Charker; however, despite the illustrator's accuracy in delineating the officers' uniforms for the period in which the story is nominally set (the 1740s &mndash; although the story depends for its effectiveness upon its referring by implication to situations in the recent uprising in India), both Dalziel and Dickens have erred in referring to the Royal Marines in 1744; this is an anachronism in that the service was not constituted until 1755, although the marine infantry for the Royal Navy may be traced back to the formation of "the Duke of York and Albany's maritime regiment of Foot" in 1664. However, the nineteenth-century reader would probably not have noticed that error in the text or the illustrator's mistake in giving the private and the corporal officer's dress, and might even have expected to see the two soldiers in full-dress uniform, including powdered wigs, sabres, and top-boots — even though the action is set on an island off the coast of South America, surely a tropical rather than a temperate climate (as implied by the palm trees in the background) unsuited to such heavy woollen clothing.
Perhaps the picture's elevating in status of the common soldiers Davis and Charker is an aspect of Dalziel's intentionally exaggerating the discrepancy between the Royal Marines (their regimentals implying order, discipline, and European civilisation) and the "Sambo," who is semi-clothed, dark-skinned, and (in contrast to the Englishmen's wigs) dark-haired. Whereas they stand at ease, their hands on their weapons, curiously interrogating him, King lies casually on the sand, sourly regarding those above him. The picture therefore defines Davis as a noble European of aristocratic bearing unbowed by the climate and not actuated by class and racial biases, and Christian George King as the "other": a native of mixed racial origins, grudgingly subservient, scantily dressed (but appropriate to the climate), a Caliban rolling on his back in the sand like a dog as two enlightened European soldiers regard him with genial curiosity rather than contempt. The discrepancy between the common soldiers and the mulatto is thus a reading of the text that overlooks Davis's class-consciousness and sense of being oppressed by lazy or incompetent social superiors such as Captain Carton, Captain Maryon, and Commissioner Pordage (this latter local official a pompous bureaucrat obsessed with maintaining the dignity of his own position and punctiliously enforcing unworkable regulations). Moreover, the 1877 wood-engraving ennobles Dickens's working-class narrator, transforming him from an illiterate racist and a common soldier into a distinguished officer. By selecting the moment when the "Sambo" is lying on the ground (rather than, for example, trotting along the beach or working alongside the Marines and sailors to save the cargo of the "Christopher Columbus"), Dalziel has also reinscribed Christian George King at this moment in Dickens's opening chapter as a sour-faced, lounging native rather than a devoted employee of the company — a sort of "sepoy," in fact. "In aiding the pirates, the ostensibly faithful native proves to be not only un-Christian, un-aristocratic, and un-English — he is subhuman as well" (Nayder, 120), as both text and illustration show even before his betrayal of the colonists.
Usually a socially conscious writer who sides with the underdog, Charles Dickens (and, by extension, his illustrator) compels the reader to identify with the armed agents of imperialism and colonial oppression, but then Dickens was personally invested in issues of race and rebellion when in the autumn of 1857 he and Wilkie Collins wrote The Perils of Certain English Prisoners, and Their Treasure in Women, Children, Silver, and Jewels with news still pouring in from India of the atrocities of the Sepoy Mutiny at Cawnpore (June 27) and the carnage at Bibighar — and a son in the Indian service, for Walter had embarked to join the British East India Company's 26th Regiment of Bengal Infantry on 20 July 1857, aged sixteen: "Concern for his second son Walter, who arrived in Calcutta on 30 August 1857, may have played a part [in Dickens's virulent response to the mutiny]. It could also be that Walter's letters (which did not begin to arrive until after the beginning of October 1857) passed on accounts of Indian hostilities" [Moore, 116].
As in his Extra Christmas Number Dickens's xenophobia seems to have been aroused by the thought that English women and children were caught up in the conflict and were in danger — the British public shared Dickens's anxieties and indignation, which were reflected in the popular press, and even in Punch cartoons such as Justice (12 September 1857): "The accusations of rape at Cawnpore, combined with evidence that defenceless women had been hacked to death in cold blood, outraged Victorian Britain and resulted in widespread calls for vengeance" (Moore, 119).
Whereas the 1868 illustration, The Boats on the River depicts the escape of the English captives from their jungle prison, the 1877 illustration for the Household Edition makes explicit reference to the treacherous "native" responsible for their captivity in the first place — and even one hundred and twenty years after the Black Hole of Calcutta the reading public may well still have made the connection between Indian insurrections and the now-shortened Dickens story of 1857.
Further visual commentaries on the 1857 Indian Mutiny (Sepoy Rebellion)
- The Asiatic Mystery
- Full Marching Order
- Every Inch A Soldier
- The British Lion's Vengeance on the Bengal Tiger
- O God of Battles! Steel My Soldiers' Hearts!
- The Red-Tape Serpent — Sir Collin's Greatest Difficulty in India
- The Clemency of Canning
- Mr. Bull's Expensive Toys
- Too "Civil" By Half
- The 1857 Indian Mutiny (also known as the Sepoy Rebellion, the Great Mutiny, and the Revolt of 1857)
- The Epic of Race: The Indian Mutiny, 1857
- Punch's editors tell the story of the 1857 Indian Mutiny
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Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Checkmark and Facts On File, 1998.
Dickens, Charles. The Uncommercial Traveller and Additional Christmas Stories. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Junior. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories from "Household Words" and "All The Year Round". Illustrated by Townley Green, Charles Green, Fred Walker, F. A. Fraser, Harry French, E. G. Dalziel, and J. Mahony. The Illustrated Library Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1868, rpt. in the Centenary Edition of Chapman & Hall and Charles Scribner's Sons (1911). 2 vols.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Illustrated by E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories from "Household Words" and "All the Year Round". Illustrated by E. G. Dalziel. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1877.
Scenes and characters from the works of Charles Dickens; being eight hundred and sixty-six drawings, by Fred Barnard, Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz); J. Mahoney; Charles Green; A. B. Frost; Gordon Thomson; J. McL. Ralston; H. French; E. G. Dalziel; F. A. Fraser, and Sir Luke Fildes; printed from the original woodblocks engraved for "The Household Edition.". New York: Chapman and Hall, 1908. Copy in the Robarts Library, University of Toronto.
Moore, Grace. Dickens and Empire: Discourses of Class, Race and Colonialism in the Works of Charles Dickens. Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 2004.
Schlicke, Paul, ed. "Christmas Stories." The Oxford Companion to Dickens. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1999. Pp. 100-101.
Thomas, Deborah A. Dickens and The Short Story. Philadelphia: U. Pennsylvania Press, 1982.
Last modified 26 April 2014