It was a paradox of nineteenth century Britain that while work was the bedrock upon which the Victorian vision of progress and improvement was constructed the years from 1837–1900 saw the greatest upsurge in leisure pursuits hitherto witnessed. [Horn 1]

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o writes Pamela Horn in her 2011 account of Pleasures and Pastimes in Victorian Britain. Many of those ‘pursuits’ were conducted from home in the form of parlour games and more energetic, outdoor activities. Another distinctive subset of Victorian leisure was tourism, which developed from an early start in the 1840s, became a significant part of everyday life, and enriched the holiday season.

Tourism was facilitated by a number of developments, political, economic, and technological. The rise of the railway system in the United Kingdom and in many of the countries of Europe meant that travel at home and abroad was more easily accomplished than it had been in previous decades, while the opening of the continental mainland following the Napoleonic Wars made it possible for British tourists to move around relatively freely. These new freedoms were realized, moreover, by the commodification of tourism, which became a well-established business. Thomas Cook invented the idea of the ‘travel agent’ in 1841 and thereafter several operators entered the market, offering cheap excursions and longer journeys to a variety of destinations, with details of the events both costed and neatly organized. Like all aspects of Victorian life, tourism was a product of the Industrial Revolution, allowing entrepreneurs and service providers to make money by exploiting an ever-growing desire for travel. The world, once so vast, seemed to shrink, with access to every known place in a period when exploration was revealing new territories. George Cruikshank lampoons the new appetite for movement in his illustration of travellers journeying without impediment over the surface of the globe to see the Great Exhibition; the world itself has been reduced to a simple ball, a commodity to be played with, and distance is no object.

George Cruikshank’s pictorial frontispiece for Henry Mayhew’s 1851: or, The Adventures of Mr and Mrs Sandboys. [Click on this and the following images to enlarge them, and for more information about them.]

Cruikshank’s illustration stresses the universality of the need to see new attractions, and the rise of tourism was certainly characterized by its democratizing effects. It enabled working-class people to move around with greater freedom than ever before, but at the same time social constraints were stretched in the other direction: from the mid-Victorian period it was mainly bourgeois consumers who could afford to take holidays at home or in Europe, and new cohorts of visitors, drawn from the respectable, business and professional classes, were able to gain access to the tourist sites, landscapes and desirable resorts that had previously been the domain only of the privileged. The aristocratic Grand Tour, with its pilgrimages to the cultural hot-spots, was refigured as a leisure activity enjoyed by middle-class tourists who emulated their social superiors and aimed to acquire the cultural capital of British elites.

The imprint of this activity is well-known, finding expression in the development of a vast network of foreign hotels offering ‘package’ style accommodation for British consumers, in the publication of travel guides for foreign and home destinations, in the marketing of a huge variety of souvenirs, in the rise of the photographic postcard and, most importantly of all, in the formulation of a series of cultural expectations, rapidly hardening into a series of conventions, which specified the sorts of things a tourist should do.

Some tourist artefacts of the time. Left: A mauchline-ware binding from Scotland. Right: A postcard from Wales, the end of the period.

This behaviour was both celebrated and reviled. For many observers the rituals of tourism – taking the air, looking at antiquities and art-works, walking to see impressive and outlandish sights, buying souvenirs, sampling foreign food, engaging with foreigners and writing home – were ridiculous, and regarded with contempt, the worst expression of nouveaux riches vulgarity. The diarist Francis Kilvert exemplifies this position, noting of English trippers looking around Llanthony Abbey in Monmouthshire that the ‘most noxious’ [of all animals] is the tourist’, whose pretentious ‘attitude of admiration’ in perusing the ruins was ‘vulgar, ill-bred, offensive and loathsome’ (26).

Kilvert’s views are extreme, but for other commentators ‘the tourist’ was indeed an object of ridicule, ready-made for satire. Mockery of the leisure traveller was a key focus of early and mid-Victorian illustrators, providing a rich field of comic material satirists such as George Cruikshank, John Leech, Richard Doyle, Hablôt Knight Browne (Phiz), and W. M. Thackeray. The antics of tourists becomes in these artists’ hands another opportunity to satirize cultural mores, allowing them to anatomize social behaviours in telling detail as their subjects engaged with new and unfamiliar experiences. In an age when practically every aspect of behaviour was interrogated in serious and humorous literature, making fun of tourists added another stratum to the British fascination with the society of the present, focusing on home-grown foibles as an object of critical analysis.

This complicated narrative has several dimensions, involving a range of comedic strategies. Principal among them are satirical hyperbole and caricature, which exaggerate appearances and focus, especially, on facial expressions; the language of gesture; and the inappropriateness of costumes, with ladies’ vast crinolines and gentlemen’s over-elaborate suits and hats being roundly mocked when they appear in a series of unexpected settings. These techniques are brought to a sharp focus in the artists’ cast of emblematic comic characters, clowns who embody the worst failings of the middle-class tripper. Creating narratives around Mr. Briggs, Messrs. Brown, Jones and Robinson, the Sandboys, Miss Impulsia Gushington and several others, the artists develop a rich situational comedy, examining in penetrating detail social faux-pas, incongruous encounters, cultural misunderstandings and unexpected events. Each of these is amusing in itself and humour is generated the ironic interaction between the image and the caption, what is said or stated, and what is shown to be done or is being done. As in all interplays between illustration and literature, each amplifies the other, creating meaning in the form of a typically Victorian bimodality. Within this focus there are several key targets, a list of satirical concerns which ranges from the mechanics of travel to class, social behaviour and the encounters between the naïve and new situations.

Getting There: The (In) Convenience of the Train

The development of the railway, as historians such as Michael Freeman have shown, had a significant impact on the Victorian imagination, penetrating all aspects of life while changing older notions of space, time, and movement. At a less philosophical level, attitudes towards railway travel and its vicissitudes were generally divided between acceptance and anxious resistance, especially in the early part of the century when for many it seemed both dangerous and incongruous. Many travellers were uncertain, even, of how the railway worked: Tennyson famously misunderstood how locomotives ran on rails, commenting on the ‘grooves of time’ in ‘Locksley Hall’ (1842), and others were baffled as to how a train could keep to a timetable, change direction, move so quickly or reach high speeds, without killing the passengers.

Graphic satirists were not interested in those who embraced the new technology, but there was much to be made of making fun of travellers who were uncertain of the process or etiquette of journeying by train. This subject was made into an extended joke, focusing on aspects of passengers’ behaviour, and articulated in terms of a series of encounters with the railway station, the platform, the buildings, the railway staff, and finally the train itself.

A recurring source of humour is class attitudes and the snobbish unwillingness of bourgeois travellers to accept the authority of the workers who operated the railways; faced with a new situation in which for reasons of safety it was necessary to follow directions from members of the servant class, many middle-class travellers are shown to be either too arrogant to comply or completely ignorant of procedures. John Leech especially is a cool observer of this social discordance, depicting in Punch and elsewhere a series of class tensions.

Leech excels at satirizing the over-particularity of travellers who seemed determined to detect insolence in their inferiors. In A Little Farce at a Railway Station (Punch, 1859), he satirizes a misunderstanding in which an ‘old maid’ is insulted by the ticket clerk enquiring what sort of ticket she requires – the ‘single’ in question being misconstrued as a question about her marital status. Typically, Leech highlights the humour by depicting the participants as caricatures, one as a severe-featured old woman and the other with a sullen and uncooperative face. Figured as a piece of situation comedy, the image typifies the misogyny that underpins much of Punch’s mockery.

Three cartoons by Leech: (a) A Little Farce at a Railway Station. (b) Good Reasons. (c) Cool Assurance.

Harsher still are Leech’s satires mocking travellers’ self-important resistance to rules and those enforcing them. Smoking in a non-smoking area is a particular focus of droll reflection. Good Reasons (Punch, mid 1850s) exposes the arrogance of some travellers in the form of an encounter between an angry railway official, who is trying to enforce the non-smoking rule, and a miscreant. Leech focuses on the smoker’s mischievous deflection of the order not to partake (joking ‘that’s what my wife and doctor say’) while placing him next to a prohibitive notice. Leech’s contrasting of the two characters’ facial expressions – one frustrated, the other supercilious – accentuates the clash of cultures while also seeming to question, with marked irony, whether it is necessary to have the rule at all in an environment immersed in smoke; a fire is placed behind the smoker and an engine billows smoke as it stands at the platform. Nevertheless, smoking on the train and in the station was a key point of contention – with Leech and George Du Maurier showing several scenes of passengers’ disregard for the rules, accompanied with a caption reporting their insolence as they offend both staff and fellow passengers.

Another target, again connected with class, was the issue of middle-class excursionists mingling with the lower orders; though segregated in terms of first, second and third class waiting rooms at the station and the same division in the carriages, the lower, middle and upper classes were brought into close proximity in other parts of the building. The site of particular social anxiety was the platform, where jostling to catch the train created a free intermingling of ranks, and it was here that some of the worst behaviour, informed by snobbishness, could be found.

Two cartoons by Doyle. Left: Title page for The Foreign tour of Messrs, Brown, Jones and Robinson. Right: The Railway from Cologne to Bonn.

Richard Doyle focuses on this situation in his title page for The Foreign Tour of Messrs. Brown, Jones and Robinson (1854). In this design, the artist travesties his mock-heroes’ class-attitudes by representing their disdain. Casually alighting, they look at the crowd milling around them with a cool distaste, an attitude subtly conveyed partly by their absolute stillness, surrounded by a wrestling mob, and partly by the way in which they place their hands in their pockets, fearful that one of the throng will lift their valuables. Doyle returns to the same subject in The Railway from Cologne to Bonn, though this time the anxiety is in a higher register; hurrying across a crowed platform to squeeze into a carriage, Doyle makes them pass by the common people in third class, who look on with louche and insolent expressions. Informed with the class-consciousness of his readers, Doyle plays on the democratization of travel, the breaking down of social barriers, that many bourgeois travellers disliked and becomes a source of sly humour. His sharpest comment on the situation is implied in the title-page design which creates a comic analogy between the carriages and a wagon of cattle. The passengers, he suggests, are no more than livestock being moved around.

Equally amusing is the spectacle of tourists who have no idea of the railway system’s strict timetables. In Enough to annoy a fellah, by an anonymous artist working in Fun (1865), the apparent incapacity of some travellers to grasp the impositions of time is roundly mocked in the form of a ‘Languid Swell’, shown in an indolent pose, who is unwilling to accept that his train is indeed departing at 4.45, even though the ticket-clerk sarcastically ridicules his enquiry by telling him that the 4.45 departs at 3.45. Clearly, the gentleman fails to understand that the railway is not there for his personal convenience; too stupid to understand he is being ridiculed, he can only complain of those ‘wailway fellas, you are always altering the time!’ For this passenger, as for many others, the train was indeed annoying, but the comedic focus is always on the annoyed. In particular, the incapacity of some travellers to allow enough time is repeatedly satirized, especially those whose departure is impeded by carrying heavy or awkward luggage or taking too much time to buy refreshments. Leech shows his comic characters struggling up the platform carrying the accoutrements of vacationing – guns, rods and far too much baggage to load with only seconds to spare. Funniest, perhaps, is Mr Briggs is off again shooting, labouring with equipment as the train is about to depart, with the guard desperately trying to get him aboard.

Left: An anonymous artist, Enough to annoy a fellah. Right: One of Leech’s images of his anti-hero on holiday, Mr Briggs is off again shooting.

In these cartoons the travellers’ journeys are reduced to a series of rapid departures in which time and speed are essential ingredients in the artists’ critique of tourism, offering images of crowds of passengers generated by the need to congregate in the limited spaces of railway platforms and to move quickly once their train arrives. Doyle focuses on this modern experience in his Foreign Tour designs and provides a withering critique in his satirical series for Manners and Customs of Ye Englyshe (1849), visualizing the moment when travellers are ‘refreshynge themselves’. In part a pastiche of Pepys’s Diary and in part a parody of the linear style of the German artist F. A. M. Retzsch, Doyle’s mock-heroic represents modern travel as a frenetic, febrile race. Reduced to child-like scrawls, the travellers gobble down their food and are (quite literally) thrown onto the train. Doyle focuses the passengers’ status as tourists by including a tiny notice announcing an ‘extra train’, and his representation of the facts of leisure travelling is underscored by Percival Leigh’s indignant comedic description:

Doyle’s A Raylway Statyon, Showyne Ye Travellers Refrshynge Themselvese.

... all pushing, and jostling, and trampling on each others’ toes, striving which should get served first … Before we had half finished, the guard rang the bell, and my wife with a start, did spill her soup over her dress … and to think how ridiculous I looked, scampering back to the train with my meat-pie in my mouth. [no page number]

Leigh’s account is a perfect match with Doyle’s design, and the author tellingly combines hurriedness with a sense of class anxiety, noting how running ‘hurry-scurry to the sound of a bell, do seem only fit for a gang of workman’, the ‘dignity of travelling’ being altogether ‘less grand’ when it is subject to the pressure of the timetable, which features prominently in the design’s background.

Doyle’s teeming, breathless crowds are among the defining images of Victorian tourism, and others imitated his critique of endless movement and compressed space. J. F. Sullivan’s Fun cartoon of 1878, The Holiday Season, shows that nothing had changed in the period between Doyle’s commentary of 1849 and his own: a ‘grand extra special’ train has been laid on for the tourist, but it is still overwhelmed with impossible numbers of travellers in claustrophobic proximity, propelled forward by the pressure of time. The currency of this imagery suggests that its crowded scenes are barely exaggeration, and it is interesting to compare Doyle and Sullivan’s take with W. P. Frith’s more elegant depiction of The Railway Station (1862). Frith’s painting is certainly dynamic, with a rushed embarkation taking place, but the artist’s figures are carefully arranged to create an overall sense of compositional unity; the painter tries to find order and poetry in a modern experience, while the illustrators more honestly depict its chaos and tension. Aimed at a mass rather than an elite audience, the graphic artists make comedy out of the facts of tourism, reducing what was supposed to be a pleasure to the level of ridiculous burlesque.

Left: Sullivan’sThe Holiday Season. Right: W. P. Frith’s The Railway Station.

Such illustrations had two effects: they mocked the pretentions of bourgeois behaviour, as I have shown, and they acted as a means of neutralizing – or at least deflecting – the social anxieties surrounding the process of catching a train. Deployed with pin-point accuracy, these farcical designs worked to challenge and reassure. There was a notable attempt to apply humour to the considerable fears accompanying the travel itself. In the early and mid-Victorian period railways were subject to a large number of accidents especially trains chartered for holiday makers; many passengers were overwhelmed by ‘the prospect of instant death’ (Freeman, 84), and it was not surprising that satirists should explore this very topical fear. The dangers of the train, involving terrible accidents, are brutally asserted in Dickens’s ‘The Signalman’ (1866), in the same author’s Dombey and Son (1847–8), and in Ellen Wood’s East Lynn (1861); but artists at work on Punch and Fun take the power out of the grim reality.

Leech’s comic take on the risks of railway travel in Alarming.

Leech offers a number of visual assessments. In Alarming (Punch, mid-1850s), he shows a lady’s encounter with the new-fangled train as she contemplates a poster advertising insurance for accidents, with ‘Loss of life’ prominently displayed. Leech does not show her face; her gesture, with arms outspread, and her bag and umbrella flung to one side, crystallizes the feelings of horror and fearfulness that many passengers experienced. At the same time, he minimizes the emotion by making it seem absurd, converting it into the over-carefulness of a conservative elder and may have emboldened others to take the risk. But Leech does acknowledge travellers’ feelings of insecurity, satirising the apparent indifference of some railway companies by arguing that the only way to be sure of being safe is to strap a couple of directors to the locomotive. This ridiculous image is essentially a crowd-pleaser, making the point that those benefitting from the highly profitable railway should have to pay for the dangers of cutting costs by cramming passengers in or running too many trains on tight timetables. Such dream-like transpositions add another stratum to a form of comedy which is essentially based on farcical exaggeration of social situations.

We can see, in short, how graphic satirists provide amusing commentaries on the process of getting to the holiday destination. Interiors of the carriages do feature in Victorian graphic art, but an even greater emphasis is placed on the destination, with many cartoons dissecting the experience of the holiday and holiday resort.

‘Wish you were here’? Being on Vacation in the United Kingdom

The proliferation of late-Victorian postcards suggests everyone enjoyed their holidays and observed the rituals of tourism. Nevertheless, for many English trippers the experience of visiting an unfamiliar part of the United Kingdom was as foreign, and sometimes as challenging, as visiting continental Europe. The railways offered access to all of the countries of Great Britain – England, Wales, Scotland and, in the nineteenth century, Ireland – and tourists experienced cultures and unfamiliar landscapes that were markedly different from the ‘normality’ of a dominant Englishness.

In Wales, for example, Welsh was the primary language, operating within an ancient culture which, although accessible from the Midlands, was highly distinctive and quite unlike the English homelands. Scotland, likewise, was a country ruled by its own traditions and, despite the romantic idealism projected by Walter Scott’s historical novels, could not be reduced to a simple formula of tartans and highlands. With its vast landscapes and complex tongue – in the mid-nineteenth century a mixture of English, Gaelic and Scots – Scotland was unfamiliar territory; so was Catholic Ireland, a nation scarred by the famine of the 1840s, afflicted by poverty and politically unstable.

Moreover, England was essentially a collection of regions with distinct identities rather than a unified whole, with vast differences, as noted by commentators such Benjamin Disraeli and Elizabeth Gaskell, between the industrialized North and the South, although we could just as easily note the differences between the fenlands of the east and the great industrialized cities. Travelling in England alone could be a disorientating journey through complex cultural changes, and even the home-grown English, travelling to the four corners, might well be puzzled by the local architecture, landscape, customs, diet, dialects and accents.

Negotiating these differences was facilitated by the development of guide-books and hand-books which gave information about the local area: some of these were simple manuals, while others, such as George Borrow’s account of his walking tour in Wild Wales (1862), were extended reflections on cultural difference. However, graphic satire also played a part in interpreting the travails of home-grown tourism, focusing especially on the physical difficulties experienced by tourists as they tried to engage in leisure activities.

An early focus is tourists’ experience of the capital as they visited the Great Exhibition (1851), a journey facilitated for many by Thomas Cook. George Cruikshank provides a droll commentary in his illustrations to accompany Henry Mayhew’s 1851: or, The Adventures of Mr and Mrs Sandboys ... Who Came up to London to Enjoy Themselves and See the Great Exhibition.

Cruikshank’s view of tourist accommodation in (left) Looking for Lodgings, and (right) The Opera Boxes.

Cruikshank’s first target is the capital’s squalor: looking for accommodation, all the Sandboys can find is a cellar equipped with the basics. This is not the comfort they were expecting, and Cruikshank highlights the difference between the landlady’s behaviour – offering a hammock as if it were the height of luxury – and the Sandboys, whose exaggerated gestures and staring eyes convey their utter astonishment. In a single image, Cruikshank projects the discomfiture that must have been experienced by travellers as they engage with the local norm.

He makes another series of jokes about the unfamiliar architecture, notably when a fat lady is too broad to squeeze through the turnstile, and again when The Opera Boxes at the Time of the Great Exhibition are used by travellers as accommodation, with one character shaving and other sleeping; what they are not used for is watching the opera. Cruikshank’s commentary is focused, however, on overcrowding. Like Doyle, he shows how tourism creates vast throngs of people, constantly in movement. He calls the Great Exhibition the ‘Great Hive’ of activity, and extends the metaphor to imply that the visitors are insects swarming around a gigantic honey-pot. This is topical satire, a critique of a specific event, but Cruikshank more generally suggests the fundamental paradox of tourism: that everyone wants to have a unique encounter with the place they are visiting, but have to share it with many others and often have their experiences compromised by a milling crowd. Cruikshank’s critique of urban tourism was applicable to all such visits in his own time; though the visit is made to London, it could just as easily be a trip to Manchester, Birmingham, or Glasgow.

From left to right: Leech’s Mr Briggs as he struggles to enjoy his holiday. In (a) we see Mr Briggs fishing in the rain; (b) shows The Triumph of Mr Briggs, in which he is terrified of his catch; and (c) his struggles with the hardware.

Visual commentaries further satirized rural holidays, especially the effects of weather and landscape. Leech satirizes the unrealistic expectations of Mr Briggs, his archetypal vacationer, who has no idea of the impact of heavy rain and wind. Determined to partake in his hobby as a fisherman, Brigg defies the lowering skies and billowing trees; supposed to be a site of pleasure, the riverside becomes a sort of elemental hell. Leech conveys his misery at his own unpreparedness, depicting him with his back turned, his hat pulled down and his face concealed; as in so many of his illustrations, the artist does not need to use caricature but uses the language of gesture, generating humour by not showing the character’s facial expression while inviting the viewer to speculate on what can only be a mask of frustrated despair. Briggs cannot fish but is essentially a fish out of water, a creature in the unfamiliar element of the great outdoors. His incompetence as a fisherman is developed in a series of cartoons, and in each case the artist accentuates his anti-hero’s ineptitude as he struggles with baffling situations.

The same is true of Phiz’s misplaced travellers in his Sketches of the Seaside and Countryside [1880]. Phiz presents these unfortunates within a series of crowded scenes, beset by multiple hazards as if in a tableaux vivant in a comedy play or a scene from the variety hall: arrested at key moments, we see the moment when the child falls and the hat blows off. However, most of the humour is created in anticipation of what is about to happen; as viewers was can see what the characters cannot. In Mr Sousem’s Notions of the Picturesque, for instance, the artist travesties the tourist’s lack of understanding of rural life and its dangers as he turns his back to a charging bull. The Picnic Disturbed is likewise destroyed by the unexpected: a cow eats the hamper, with Mr Bounce backing away in terror, while the women panic. Mr Perkins, only familiar with ‘chimney pots and gaslights’ is similarly confounded by a donkey’s refusal to cooperate, making them realize that they prefer the urban to ‘trees and sunsets’. In each case the viewer laughs at the next, implied action in the sequence: Mr Sousem will be tossed into the air, the picnickers will flee the scene, and those in the donkey-drawn carriage will be stranded in the middle of nowhere.

From left to right: Phiz’s reflections on the trauma of the seaside, in (a) Mr Sousem’s Reflections on the Picturesque; (b) The Picnic Disturbed; and (c) Saved!!!.

Phiz’s burlesques provide many similar scenes of townies out of their depth in an apparently hostile Nature which turns out to be quite unlike the Wordsworthian idyll of the tourists’ imagination. Yet the most hostile environment is the seaside. Coastal resorts became increasingly popular as the century progressed, but Phiz presents the beach and its environs as another place of discord and embarrassment. As in the commentaries of Doyle and Cruikshank, overcrowding is a subject of mockery, with as many people moving around as the tourists experienced in the metropolitan centres they were trying to escape. So is the weather, with wind-blown characters struggling against the sea-breezes, and so is the tourists’ dress, with a particular focus on the inappropriateness of the vast crinolines worn by ladies as they attempt to walk through and over rocks. Saved!!! exemplifies the difficulties, with Miss Tabby (another old maid) being carried by two young men across the rocks, her dress whipped up by the wind. Making a sly sexual joke, Phiz suggests the unexpectedness of the tourists’ experiences as they encounter new situations.

Equally unexpected is the experience of looking at or bathing in the sea, with numerous droll reflections appearing in Punch and Fun. In Treasures of the Ocean and Seaside Amusement, both from the 1860s, an anonymous artist travesties the sheer boredom of the holiday in which proximity to the sea is supposed to be entertaining in itself. With nothing to do, middle-class characters engage in idling or flirting with their state of mind explained in a series of droll captions which highlight their prosaic responses to natural beauty.

Left: An anonymous artist’s view of the sheer boredom of the seaside in Treasures of the Ocean. Right: Another unknown cartoonist reflecting on the tedium of being away from home in the ironically entitled Seaside Amusement.

Most challenging of all, however, is bathing in the sea – a pastime only popularized in the middle of the century, and a radical experience for most tourists. The machinations of this event are mocked in detail by tracing the transitions from the bathing machine (which involved undressing and was charged with the risk of embarrassment), to the risks of swimming in the water. Leech is again the most astute observer, using his character Mr Briggs to satirize the uncertainties and anxieties of bourgeois tourists bound by the proprieties of strict etiquettes. Even getting undressed in a cabin is difficult for Mr Briggs; a valuable hint, Leech remarks, is to ‘bolt the door of the machine’ once you have finished, or you might end up half-dressed and falling backwards into the sea. The sea itself is likewise a source of inconvenience or even calamity, with an unidentified figure (clearly Mr Briggs) experiencing both a swim and a shower as he toils through heavy rain.

Leech’s Mr Briggs experiencing the travails of a holiday, (left) making a spectacle of himself as he flops around in a bathing machine, and (right) making the best of the dreadful weather.

This work embodies the prime concerns of satirical readings of the seaside experience, although other designers ridicule the exploitative nature of tourist’s accommodation, the absurdity of games like burying parents in sand, the ridiculousness of ladies’ bathing costumes, the mechanics of immersing the bathing machines, and children’s behaviour.

In every case, graphic satire is used to strip away pretentions and fantasies, undermining tourists’ expectations and putting in their place a robustly comedic view of the absurdities of a commodified experience. The cartoons are a satirical riposte to city-dwellers’ notion of the countryside as it was embodied in the idealism of painted representations of rural life as it was shown in work by painters such as Myles Birket Foster, while also contradicting the serene experience of the seaside depicted in W. P. Frith’s Ramsgate Sands (1854). In fine art, we have an idea of what tourism should be like; in the illustrations, the sometimes cruel, but generally ridiculous realities. If paintings of the period celebrated the ideal, the cartoons act as a mode of honest self-examination.

W. P. Frith, Ramsgate Sands.

Foreign Travel: Innocents Abroad?

The celebration of home-spun travel embodied in painting of the period is matched by the glamourizing of tourism abroad. Augustus Egg’s The Travelling Companions (1862) epitomizes the sentimental idea of harmonious journeying: composed of two identical female characters, one sleeping and one reading, the symmetrical design suggests a comfortable ease, even if the companions do not interact. The lush landscape, brilliantly lit, looks like a British perception of Italy, and the inclusion of fruit and flowers suggests opulent well-being; deploying a familiar trope, the young women are likened to the generative power of nature as part of a serene tableau. The scene is, in fact, no more challenging than the young women’s experience of leisure and time-filling as it was experienced at home, and they could easily be sitting together not in a carriage but in a parlour; only the movement of a small toggle attached to the window blind suggests they are moving in this most soporific of travelling-pieces.

Augustus Egg, The Travelling Companions.

This emollient scene excludes any possible difficulties, and, as before, it is graphic satire that anatomizes the problems. Leech visualizes the adventures of Giovanni Ruffini’s The Paragreens (1856) and Phiz provides a comic accompaniment to Charles Lever’s droll account of the Dodd Family Abroad (1854) as they engage with the workings of foreign travel. Thackeray mocks the manners of tourists in Punch, and in his bimodal Kickleburys on the Rhine (1850), and the sheer incongruity of foreign travel is also asserted in Lady Dufferin’s Lispings from Low Latitudes (1863), a pastiche of the journal of women travellers. This time the comic anti-heroine engages with the most outlandish rituals, from riding a camel to taking lunch at an Egyptian tomb or being offered children for sale in the market. Heavily influenced by Leech, these amateurish but amusing designs are characterized by exaggeration and the broad humour of farce.

Thackeray’s take on tourists’ experiences, (left) of the distinctly unlovely German peasant, and (right) of the absurdity of the water-cure.

Selections from Lady Dufferin [Helen Blackwood’s] pastiche of women travellers’ accounts of journeying in (a) The Tomb of King Rowdedowses the 57th, (b) A Gentle Canter, and (c) A Glut in the Market.

However, the most sustained analysis of the continental excursion is Doyle’s album of comic vignettes, for which he also wrote the captions,The Foreign Tour of Messrs. Brown, Jones and Robinson (1854). In part autobiographical and based on one of the artist’s ventures abroad (Engen 77), Doyle’s lampoon narraties the misadventures of his trio of buffoons who act, like Leech’s Briggs, as emblematic types of Englishness, bumbling their way across Europe. This travelogue provides a flexible form, enabling Doyle to ridicule the stages of the journey: the role of the railway (as noted earlier), encounters with customs, the unfamiliar experience of sharing with the lower classes, troubles with accommodation, and the weather.

These emphases reaffirm the mockery of home-tourism, suggesting it is essentially the same wherever it is conducted. But Doyle amplifies the satire by focusing on two concerns which must have resonated with his audience: one is the strangeness of the Other and negotiating with the not-British in order for the tourist to enjoy foreign climes; and the second is the commodification of experience, reducing it to something to be consumed at any cost.

Doyle’s approach to the representation of the foreign is ambivalent. Sometimes he mocks the small-mindedness of the xenophobic traveller, who, though he has gone abroad to experience a new culture, can only measure it in the most negative terms against his own. In The Great Briton, the artist satirizes the arrogance of a John Bull who snootily contemplates the Rhine, considering the scenery ‘would do’ although it would be improved by the application of ‘English institutions’. The English ‘Milord’ is likewise a tourist who nominally wants to engage with new experiences but considers the occupants of other countries as inferior to his own and ‘sits all day shut up … reading the literature of his country’ and dislikes the sound of Germans ‘laughing and talking’ in their native tongue in their own country.

This image focuses Doyle’s hit at the ignorance of the unenlightened tourist. However, he provides a more comprehensive commentary in his ridicule of the characters’ behaviour as they attempt to consume the foreign landscape and ‘high culture’. Doyle burlesques his travellers as they view European art and architecture with incomprehension. They visit Cologne Cathedral equipped with the prescribed guidebooks, but have no idea how they should respond. Doyle endows them with stupid expressions, peering upwards with open mouths. Nevertheless, this is enough; as Doyle sarcastically remarks, they are able to ‘do’ the cathedral, neatly packaged. But underpinning all of these activities is the characters’ exhaustion, limited by time and driven forward by the itinerary as they attempt to see everything. Indeed, Doyle repeatedly satirizes their fatigue in the form of wearily climbing mountains, struggling to catch their connections to the next stage, or falling asleep at inappropriate times. Overwhelmed with the need to observe a pre-determined agenda, the characters finally manage only a shallow engagement with the foreign cultures they set out to consume.

One of Doyle’s cartoons conveying the sheer fatigue experienced by overloaded tourists.

As in work by Leech, Doyle points to the breathless superficiality of tourism as a cultural event. There can be no doubt of the absurdity of his British travellers, offering a comedic reflection on their real-life counterparts. In common with all graphic satire, it allows the reader to laugh at his or her own mistakes, deflecting any sense of embarrassment by exaggerating the situations and projecting them onto fictional characters. In this sense, The Foreign Tour acts in the manner of all effective comedy, releasing social anxieties by encoding them in surrogate experiences.

The deflection of embarrassment is also realized by transferring incompetence and stupidity from Brown, Jones and Robinson to the people they encounter. Informed with the mind-set of the period, Doyle suggests that European countries, whatever their attractions, are essentially absurd and, worse, threatening; run by disorderly populations engaged in incomprehensible rituals, foreign lands are in all respects inferior to England. Most of the graphic satire of the period aims to enlighten, to allow the home-audience to laugh at itself, but here the effects are partly created by affirming a deluded sense of superiority.

To modern eyes this seems like racism, and there is no doubt that Doyle deploys a variety of racist tropes, especially in his use of caricature and stereotypes. The Germans, for example, are either criminals with menacing faces (such as the corrupt customs official who takes a bribe in Cologne), hirsute heavy-drinkers and pipe-smokers, or martinet soldiers. Foreign settings are similarly picked apart, creating a comparison between the implied convenience of England and the inconvenience of European weather; funniest, perhaps, is Brown’s experience of mosquitoes during A Night in Venice.

But there are many inconsistencies. Doyle presents his imagery with no sense of irony, there being many vignettes in which the foreign places are indistinguishable from home – but are represented, nonetheless, as unappealing. The trio’s visit to a Quarter in Frankfurt exemplifies Doyle’s determination to reveal the inferiority of other countries by figuring the scene as a gallery of caricature villains who implicitly threaten the British innocents. However, this is a sight any observer could have seen at any time in the backstreets of London: there is no difference between the British capital and Frankfurt, and yet Doyle presents the German city as the exemplar of threat and strangeness.

Doyle’s satire shifts its emphasis, in short, from the inconvenience created by tourists’ incompetence to the problems created by foreigners. Although he mocks his British trippers, the real problem, he insists, are the alien others: if the British are ridiculous, then they still superior to the inhabitants of the countries they are visiting. The effect is deeply conservative, suggesting foreign tourism creates needless inconveniences. Go abroad, Doyle argues in his cautionary book, and these are the difficulties that you will encounter. Functioning as a pendent to the guide-books which set out to facilitate easy transitions, The Foreign Tour is a wise-cracking riposte, a tale of comic calamities, xenophobia presented as a knowing joke.

Making fun of foreign travel, or mocking tourism at home, Doyle and his contemporaries provide a rich commentary which is still amusing today, and in many ways remains as pertinent as it was at the time of production.

Related Material


Primary Sources:

Borrow, George.Wild Wales. London: John Murray, 1862.

Dickens, Charles.Dombey and Son. London: Bradbury & Evans, 1848.

Dickens, Charles. ‘No 1. Branch Line: The Signalman’. 1866; rpt. Selected Short Fiction.Ed Deborah A. Thomas. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1988. 78–92.

Doyle, Richard.The Foreign Tour of Messrs. Brown, Jones and Robinson.. London: Bradbury & Evans, 1854.

Doyle, Richard.Manners and Customs of Ye Englyshe. London: Bradbury & Evans, 1849.

Dufferin, Lady [Helen Blackwood]. Lispings from Low Latitudes. London: John Murray, 1863.


Kilvert, Francis.Kilvert’s Diary (a selection). Ed. William Plomer. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977.

John Leech’s Pictures of Life and Character from the Collecton of Mr. Punch. London: Bradbury, Agnew, & Co., 1886.

Lever, Charles.The Dodd Family Abroad. London: Chapman & Hall, 1854.

Mayhew, Henry and Cruikshank, George.1851: or, The Adventures of Mr and Mrs Sandboys and Family, who Came up to London to Enjoy Themselves and to See the Great Exhibition. London: Bogue 1851.

Phiz [Hablôt Knight Browne].Sketches of the Seaside and Countryside. London: The Graphotyping Company [1880].

Punch, 1841–1880.

[Ruffini, Giovanni].The Paragreens Abroad. Edinburgh: Constable, 1856.

Titmarsh, M.A. [W.M. Thackeray]. The Kickleburys on the Rhine. Written and illustrated by Thackeray. London: Smith, Elder, 1850.

Wood, Mrs Henry [Ellen Price]. East Lynne. Leipzig; Tauchnitz, 1861.

Secondary Sources:

Engen, Rodney. Richard Doyle. Stroud: The Catalpa Press, 1983.

Freeman, Michael.Railways and the Victorian Imagination. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999.

Horn, Pamela.Pleasure and Pastimes in Victorian Britain. London: Amberley, 2011.

Created 7 May 2019