The Strange Visitor by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne), thirty-third serial illustration and thirteenth dark plate for Charles Lever's Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Time, Part 18 (November 1858), Chapter 62, "The Cottage near Snowdon," facing 529.

Bibliographical Note

This appeared as the thirty-third serial illustration for Charles Lever's Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Time, steel-plate etching; 3 ⅝ by 7 inches (9.1 cm high by 18 cm wide), framed. The story was originally serialised by Chapman and Hall in monthly parts, from July 1857 through April 1859. The thirty-forth and thirty-fifth illustrations in the volume initially appeared in the reverse order at the very beginning of the seventeenth monthly instalment, which went on sale on 1 November 1858. This number included Chapters LXI through LXIV, and ran from page 13 through 544 to make up the 32-page instalment.

Passage Illustrated: A Welsh Pony cart brings an Irish visitor to Mrs. Conway's Cottage

She had good tidings, too, that the railroad — the dreadful railroad — was not to take the line of their happy valley, but to go off in some more “favoured” direction. Of the cottage itself she had succeeded in obtaining a renewed lease, — a piece of news well calculated to delight him, “if,” as she said, “grand dreams of the peerage might not have impaired his relish for the small hut at the foot of Snowdon.” She had just reached so far when a little chaise, drawn by a mountain pony, drew up before the door, and a lady in a sort of half-mourning dress got out and rang the bell. As the old lady rose to admit her visitor, — for her only servant was at work in the garden, — she felt no small astonishment. She was known to none but the peasant neighbourhood about her; she had not a single acquaintance in the country with its gentry; and although the present arrival came with little display, in her one glance at the figure of the stranger she saw her to be distinctly of a certain condition in life. [Chapter LXII, "The Cottage near Snowdon," p. 529]


Phiz uses the image of Sybella Kellett, familiar to the reader from such scenes as Miss Bella's Court (September 1858), Chapter 57, to clarify who the "Strange Visitor" of the plate's title may be. The more sombre or contemplative dark plate does not merely provide a tonal contrast as it contributes to the reader's growing interest in the possible collapse of Dunn's financial empire, even as it prepares the reader for Charley Conway's inheriting the title Viscount Lord Lackington. The interview between his mother and Sybella Kellett occurs some weeks after his heroism at the Battle of Tchernaya (literally "The Battle of the Black River"), in which Great Britain's Allies, the forces of France, Sardinia, and Turkey, on 16 August 1855 routed the Russians near Sevastopol.

A Dark Plate for a Mysterious Visit

Phiz has employed the dark plate technique to emphasize the slightly mysterious nature of the young Irishwoman's visit to the cottage in an obscure corner of Snowdonia, but without any suggestion of foreboding or misfortune — quite the opposite, in fact. The "strange visitor" whom Phiz announces in his title matches previous images of Sybella Kellett, although Lever does not actually give a name to the visitor in Mrs. Conway's letter to her son in the Crimea. The other figures in the plate include the letter-writer, her servant, and the household pet, the Spaniel "Belle." The later part of Mrs. Conway's letter to her son relates why Sybella has paid her this unexpected visit: in her development scheme for Lord Glengariff she has acquired an Elizabethan mansion once owned by the poet Edmund Spenser — and has discovered papers that confirm Charley Conway's rightful claim to the title and estates of Lord Lackingon:

And now, to my horror, I find how little space is left me to tell you. Well, in three words you shall have it. She has been here to see me on her way somewhere, her visit being prompted by the wish to place in my hands some very curious and very old family records, found by a singular accident in an Irish country-house. They relate to the claim of some ancestor of yours to certain lands in Ireland, and the right is asserted in the name of Baron Conway, and afterwards the Lord Viscount Lackington. I saw no further; indeed, except that they all relate to our dear peerage, they seem to possess no very peculiar interest. If it were not that she would introduce your name, push me with interminable questions as to what it was you had really done, what rewards you had or were about to reap, where you were, and, above all, how, I should have called her visit the most disinterested piece of kindness I ever heard of. Still she showed a sincere and ardent desire to serve us, and said that she would be ready to make any delay in London to communicate with our lawyer, and acquaint him fully with the circumstances of this discovery.

“I unceasingly entreated her to be my guest, were it only for a few days. I even affected to believe that I would send for our lawyer to come down and learn the curious details of the finding of the papers; but she pleaded the absolute necessity of her presence in London so strongly — she betrayed, besides, something like a deep anxiety for some coming event — that I was obliged to abandon my attempt, and limit our acquaintance by the short two hours we had passed together. [Chapter LXII, "The Cottage Near Snowdon," pp. 530-531]

The careful reader apprehends that the "coming event" that Sybella anticipates with anxiety must be the imminent collapse of the Glengariff real estate development, which Dunn has leveraged in a sort of ponzy scheme, using investors' contributions as the basis for loans in order to secure capital. Through a misdirected letter from Dunn to Simpson Hankes she has learned that the collapse is certain unless Dunn can secure government funding before the House rises.

Phiz has emphasizes the figure of the visitor and her equipage, but has minimized Mrs. Conway and obscured the cottage to a few leaded-paned windows behind the stone fence and the trees in full leaf in order to draw the eye away from the two women and the pony-cart and towards the picturesque mountain scenery.

Working methods

Scanned image by Simon Cooke; colour correction, sizing, caption, and commentary 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.] Click on the image to enlarge it.


Lever, Charles. Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Day. Illustrated by "Phiz" (Hablot Knight Browne). London: Chapman and Hall, 1859.

Lever, Charles. Davenport Dunn: The Man of The Day. Illustrated by "Phiz" (Hablot Knight Browne). London: Chapman and Hall, November 1858 (Part XVII).

Last modified 3 August 2019