"Just send somebody out to relieve my mate, will you, young man?" — James Mahoney's sixteenth illustration, introducing the readers of the Household Edition to the arrival in Chertsey of the predecessors of Scotland Yard's Criminal Investigations Division, the Bow Street Runners, who ineptly conduct an interrogation of the delirious Oliver in the Maylie home (Chapter 31). In the original narrative-pictorial serial sequence by George Cruikshank in Bentley's Miscellany, the periodical reader encountered a pictorial realization of aptly named detectives Blathers and Duff as they question Oliver, who is still recovering from fever in Oliver waited on by the Bow Street Runners in Part 14, May 1838. Mahoney's more mundane and far less dramatic and detailed a scene, situated in Chapter 29 rather than in Chapter 31, is on page 105. 1871. Wood engraving by the Dalziels, 9.3 cm high by 13.7 cm wide.

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 it in a print one.]

Passage Illustrated

"Who's that?"​inquired Brittles, opening the door a little way, with the chain up, and peeping out, shading the candle with his hand.

"Open the door," replied a man outside; "it's the officers from Bow Street, as was sent to to-day."

Much comforted by this assurance, Brittles opened the door to its full width, and confronted a portly man in a great-coat; who walked in, without saying anything more, and wiped his shoes on the mat, as coolly as if he lived there.

"Just send somebody out to relieve my mate, will you, young man?"​ said the officer; "he's in the gig, a-minding the prad. Have you got a coach 'us here, that you could put it up in, for five or ten minutes?"

Brittles replying in the affirmative, and pointing out the building, the portly man stepped back to the garden-gate, and helped his companion to put up the gig: while Brittles lighted them, in a state of great admiration. This done, they returned to the house, and, being shown into a parlour, took off their great-coats and hats, and showed like what they were.

" The man who had knocked at the door, was a stout personage of middle height, aged about fifty: with shiny black hair, cropped pretty close; half-whiskers, a round face, and sharp eyes. The other was a red-headed, bony man, in top-boots; with a rather ill-favoured countenance, and a turned-up sinister-looking nose.

"Tell your governor that Blathers and Duff is here, will you?"

         [Chapter 31, "Involves a Critical Position," p. 109]


Having dragged himself to the Maylies' front door after being dumped in a ditch by the fleeing Sikes, Oliver, near death, providentially encounters his mother's sister. Although George Cruikshank took obvious delight in depicting Oliver's reception by the Maylies' suspicious servants in Oliver at Mrs. Maylie's door (Part 13, April 1838), and the interrogation of the sickly child in Oliver waited on by the Bow Street Runners (Part 15, May 1837), for Chapter 31 Mahoney both attempted and achieved less in a scene that depicts neither the Maylies nor Dr. Losberne nor Oliver himself; indeed, it is as if Mahoney expected that readers would already be familiar with Cruikshank's steel engravings, and therefore avoided duplicating those earlier, highly successful realisations, both of which continue Oliver's "progress" out of the underworld and back into his proper station in English society. Indeed, Dickens establishes the pattern of Oliver's being apprehended as a thief and then exonerated and released into the custody of people associated with his parents (for Mr. Brownlow from north of London was his father, Edwin Leeford's best friend; and Rose, Oliver's aunt, was adopted by the Maylies in Surrey). The butler, Mr. Giles (candle in hand in the Cruikshank and Mahoney illustrations), and Mr. Brittles, the odd-job lad, had taken it on themselves to send for the Bow Street Runners — much to Dr. Losberne's chagrin. Through the self-important Blathers (whom Mahoney has depicted at the front door, and his comedic foil, the taciturn Duff, Dickens expresses his contempt for investigatory ineptitude of the Bow Street Runners, the predecessors of the Metropolitan London Police (the original force of just six constables having been founded by magistrate Henry Fielding in 1749 and not disbanded in 1839), in the names he gives the officers in Chapter 31 of The Adventures of Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress . Given their limited ability to conduct the interview, the evasive account that the attending physician, Dr. Losberne, provides, and the contradictory narratives of the servants Giles and Brittles, it is not surprising that the constables return to London without having made an arrest. George Cruikshank has made the bed-ridden, feverish Oliver, recovering from his nocturnal ordeal, look like a miniature adult, and has not subjected the four adults to much visual satire. Unfortunately, in choosing to depict instead the arrival of the heavy, middle-aged, self-important officer in a great coat — representative of the metropolitan police, Mahoney has passed over the scenes with the greatest visual interest in these chapters.

Mahoney's realisation of the figure of the obtuse, garrulous lead detective as a "portly man in a great-coat" (109) adds the missing piece to the earlier Cruikshank illustrations since Losberne has little difficulty in putting the London police constables off the scent. However, the arrival of the uniformed officer of justice is not without suspense, as the reader reasonably expects that this external "expert" will be more successful than the local police in extracting the truth from Oliver. The only humour that Mahoney extracts from his text is that his butler, Brittles, is hardly a "young man," so that his Blathers, gesturing towards the horse and gig beyond, is either self-aggrandizing or quite imperceptive — in either case, his investigation of the attempted burglary is likely to go nowhere.

Subsequent illustrators, too, have enjoyed to varying degrees the opportunity for depicting the sensational and melodramatic events in the "Chertsey" chapters. In 1910 Harry Furniss carefully graphed the events leading up to Oliver's integration into the Maylie household, from his being fired upon by the servants and left in a ditch to die to his being watched over in his sleep as he recovers from the ordeal of "The Burglary."

Relevant Illustrations from the serial edition (1837-39) and Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910)

Left: George Cruikshank's Oliver at Mrs. Maylie's door (1838). Centre: George Cruikshank's Oliver waited on by the Bow Street Runners (1838). Right: Harry Furniss'sThe wounded Oliver thrown into the Ditch (1838). [Click on images to enlarge them.]


Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. New York and Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1990.

Cohen, Jane Rabb. "George Cruikshank." Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1980. Pp. 15-38.

Darley, Felix Octavius Carr. Character Sketches from Dickens. Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, 1888.

Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.

Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Illustrated by George Cruikshank. London: Bradbury and Evans; Chapman and Hall, 1846.

Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Household Edition. 55 vols. Il. F. O. C. Darley and John Gilbert. New York: Sheldon and Co., 1865.

Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Diamond Edition. 18 vols. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.

Dickens, Charles. The Adventures of Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Household Edition. Illustrated by James Mahoney. London: Chapman and Hall, 1871.

Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Works of Charles Dickens. Charles Dickens Library Edition. Illustrated by Harry Furniss. London: Educational Book Company, 1910.

Last modified 10​December 2014