Charley the Smasher (March 1859) by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne), fortieth serial illustration for Charles Lever's Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Time, Part 20 (March 1859), Chapter LXXIII, "Mrs. Seacole's," facing page 689.

Bibliographical Note

This appeared as the fortieth serial illustration for Charles Lever's Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Time, steel-plate etching; 3 ½ by 5 ¾ inches (9.3 cm high by 15 cm wide), vignetted. The story was serialised by Chapman and Hall in monthly parts, from July 1857 through April 1859. The fortieth and forty-first illustrations in the volume initially appeared in reverse order at the very beginning of the twentieth monthly instalment, which went on sale on 1 March 1859. This number included Chapters LXXI through LXXXIII, and ran from page 609 through 640, providing the last 32-page instalment.

Passage Illustrated: An Heroic Endeavour Recounted in Flashback

They were actually in the Crimea. The men around them had actually just come off duty in the trenches: that little dark-bearded fellow had lost his arm in the attack of the Mamelon; that blue-eyed youth, yonder, had led a party in assault on the Cemetery; the jovial knot of fellows near the stove had been “plotting” all night at the Russians from a rifle-pit. There was a reality in all these things that imparted a marvellous degree of interest to individuals that might otherwise have seemed commonplace and ordinary.

Amidst the noisy narratives and noisier commentaries of the moment, there seemed one discussion carried on with more than usual warmth. It was as to the precise species of reward that could be accorded to one whose military rank could not entitle him to the “Bath.”

“I tell you, Chidley,” cried one of the speakers, “if he had been a Frenchman there would have been no end of boasting amongst our amiable allies, and he'd have had Heaven knows what grade of the Legion and a pension, besides! Show me the fellow amongst them could have done the feat! I don't speak of the pluck of it, — they have plenty of pluck; but where's the rider could have sat his horse over it?”

“What height was it?” asked another, as he leisurely puffed his cigar.

“Some say six feet, — call it five, call it four, anything you please: it was to go at a breastwork with two nine-pounders inside, that was the feat; and I say, again, I don't know another fellow in the army that would have thought of it but himself!” [Chapter LXXIII, "Mrs. Seacole's," page 562]

Commentary: Sublime Military Propaganda

Although Lever has previously narrated the actions of the British and Sardinian military in the Crimea in 1854 through flashbacks which he has inserted into scenes far removed from the theatre of war, now the author moves readers to the doorstep of combat operations, the port of Balaklava, with Grog Davis's confident agent, the polyglot Reverend Paul Classon. When he and his Irish travellling companion Terry Driscoll arrive at the Black Sea port from Constantinople, they jostle soldiers and sailors in the streets as they make their way to the port's premier rooming-house. Finally Lever has transported his readers to the Crimea, just five years after the military actions that he has described. However, in the incident which Phiz has illustrated so masterfully the novelist does not present an historical account but yet another exploit by his mythologized hero, Charles Conway, the one-armed "Slasher."

The story which the British soldiers of various units in the coffee-room narrate at Mrs. Seacole's rooming-house in Balaklava immediately attracts the attention of the Rev. Paul Classon as he knows through Grog Davis that Charley Conway is the next Viscount Lackington. The flashback is set very near the scene of events in the anecdote, the action of which has but recently transpired:

As for Classon, he arose at once, and, drawing near the narrator, politely begged to know if the Conway mentioned was a one-armed man.

“The same, sir, — Charley the Smasher, as they used to call him long ago; and, by George, he has earned some right to the title!”

“And he escaped unhurt after all this?” asked Classon.

“No, I never said that; he was almost hacked to pieces, and his horse had four bullets in him and fell dead, after carrying him half-way back to our lines.” [pp. 639-40]

Commentary: Another Phiz Illustration with a Horse

As with his work for the dashing romances of William Harrison Ainsworth, Phiz achieves some of his most successful designs when realising dynamic scenes involving horses. Here Browne emphasizes Conway's daring and heroism by surrounding him with hostile Russian riflemen and members of the cannon squad. Whereas the field piece whose emplacement he has attacked represents modern, mechanized warfare, the image of the lone horseman armed not with pistols or carbine but a sabre renders him a gallant figure from the earlier era of the cavalry charge, and undoubtedly in readers' minds in would have associated the daring, one-armed Conway here with the gallant charge of the Light Brigade on 25 October 1854, commemorated in the Tennyson poem. However, whereas the Light Brigade of the 17th Hussars were armed with lances (as in Phiz's frontispiece for the novel), in his single-handed charge on the Russian cannon Conway is armed only with a sabre. In Phiz's illustration, the British cavalryman has already incapacitated or slain half a dozen Russians, but three Russians are preparing to club him wih their rifle-butts, and one trooper has Charley in his sights, even as clouds of discharged gunpowder frame all he figures. Compelling as the kinetic figures of the combatants may be, Phiz's galloping steed and dauntless rider seem to hover in the air, as if divinely animated.

Working methods: Phiz and Horses

Related Material

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, March 1859 (Part XX).

Last modified 13 October 2020