He was taken on board, and instantly manacled at the wrists and ankles. (Vol. V, page 446) — thirty-seventh wood-engraving for Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, first published in Harper's Weekly for 13 July 1861), Chapter LIV. 11.4 cm by 11.5 cm wide (4 ½ by 4 ½ inches), vignetted. This is Plate 31 (facing p. 246) in the T. B. Peterson single-volume edition of 1861. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Passage Illustrated: Magwitch captured; Pip rescued

It was but for an instant that I seemed to struggle with a thousand mill-weirs and a thousand flashes of light; that instant past, I was taken on board the galley. Herbert was there, and Startop was there; but our boat was gone, and the two convicts were gone.

What with the cries aboard the steamer, and the furious blowing off of her steam, and her driving on, and our driving on, I could not at first distinguish sky from water or shore from shore; but the crew of the galley righted her with great speed, and, pulling certain swift strong strokes ahead, lay upon their oars, every man looking silently and eagerly at the water astern. Presently a dark object was seen in it, bearing towards us on the tide. No man spoke, but the steersman held up his hand, and all softly backed water, and kept the boat straight and true before it. As it came nearer, I saw it to be Magwitch, swimming, but not swimming freely. He was taken on board, and instantly manacled at the wrists and ankles.

The galley was kept steady, and the silent, eager look-out at the water was resumed. [Chapter LIV, 446]

Commentary: Rescued from the River

Although the large-scale format of Harper's Weekly permits the reader to encounter the weekly instalment's pair of illustrations before even discovering what the latest number holds, McLenan here is careful not to give away the sensational events that the 13 July 1861 number contains: Magwitch's taking his revenge on Compeyson, and then being taken into custody by the River Police. The caption does not indicate whether it is Compeyson or Magwitch who is being fished out of the Thames at the moment realised, or whether the second man who went overboard survives. Thus, McLenan uses this week's vigorous seascape to heighten rather than reduce suspense.

In fact, the crew of the galley (foreground) rescue two men from the river: Pip (now seated in the stern, and apparently no worse for his near-drowning) and Magwitch. The text establishes the identities of the uniformed crew of the skiff, along with the identity of the middle-class passenger who is seated in the prow. Such a light, four-oared galley would have been "used commonly by customs officials patrolling the Thames" (Guiliano & Collins, II, 1090). As the Rotterdam paddle-steamer, by which Magwitch had hoped to escape to the Continent, recedes into the shadowy distance that afternoon, the reader wonders about the presence of the sailing vessel in the middle-distance when the text mentions "the smoke of another steamer" bound for Hamburg. In fact, a careful perusal of the accompanying letterpress reveals that the skiff should have, in addition to the four rowers and a steersman (clearly visible, holding the rudder), Pip (in the stern), as well as Startop, and Herbert. But including them as well as the fifth uniformed rower, who pulls Magwitch aboard, would have made for a crowded composition. The illustration purports to capture the precise moment at which the skiff adds a further passenger: Magwitch, who is being "taken on board," and momentarily will be "manacled at the wrists and ankles," as the caption of the climactic main 13 July 1861 serial illustration proclaims.

Related Material, Including Penal Transportation and Film Adaptations

Other Artists’ Illustrations for Dickens's Great Expectations

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


Allingham, Philip V. "The Illustrations for Great Expectations in Harper's Weekly (1860-61) and in the Illustrated Library Edition (1862) — 'Reading by the Light of Illustration'." Dickens Studies Annual, Vol. 40 (2009): 113-169.

_______. "'We Can Now See That the Days of Illustrated Novels Were Drawing to an End' — Not So." The Dickens Magazine. Haslemere, Surrey: Bishops Printers. Series 1, Issue 3, pp. 6-7.

Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization. Illustrated by John McLenan. Vol. IV-V (24 November 1860 through 3 August 1861).

______. ("Boz."). Great Expectations. With thirty-four illustrations from original designs by John McLenan. Philadelphia: T. B. Peterson (by agreement with Harper & Bros., New York), 1861.

______. Great Expectations. Household Edition in 22 volumes. Illustrated by F. A. Fraser. London: Chapman and Hall, 1876. Vol. XI.

Guiliano, Edward, and Philip Collins eds. Dickens's Great Expectations in The Annotated Dickens. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1986. Vol. II: 822-1115.

Paroissien, David. The Companion to "Great Expectations." Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2000.

Watts, Alan S. "Why Wasn't Great Expectations Illustrated?" The Dickens Magazine. Haslemere, Surrey: Bishops Printers. Series 1, Issue 2, pp. 8-9.

Waugh, Arthur. "Charles Dickens and His Illustrators." Retrospectus and Prospectus: The Nonesuch Dickens. London: Bloomsbury, 1937, rpt. 2003. Pp. 6-52.

Created 30 November 2007

Last updated 13 November 2021