he Murder of Lord Kilwarden for History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798 (1845), facing p. 409 — Cruikshank's final illustration depicts the appalling murder of Viscount Kilwarden, the sworn enemy of the Republican organisation called "The United Irishmen." 10.1 cm high by 14.8 cm wide, framed (source: McLean, p. 79). The image is the climax of the program which Cruikshank completed for the 1845 revised edition of the 1803 historical work which justifies England's iron suppression of the rebels, whom Cruikshank consistently as a brutal, savage, angry, and destructive mob rather than patriots. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

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 the Victorian Web in a print one.]

Passage Illustrated

It was during the height of the insurrection that the venerable magistrate, accompanied by his daughter, Miss Wolfe, and his nephew, a clergyman, arrived in Thomas-street, in his way from his country house to the castle. Lord Kilwarden, and Mr. Wolfe, his nephew, were inhumanly dragged from the carriage and pierced with innumerable mortal wounds by the pike-men. Before he expired he was rescued by a party of the military and of the police; and hearing some violent expression employed as to the punishment of the rebels, he had only time, before he breathed his last, to prefer a petition 'that no man might suffer but by the laws of his country.' Such a death was more honourable than that of a commander who dies in the arms of Victory, and who possibly acts a part to secure a posthumous reputation. — Maxwell, "Chapter 37. The State of Ireland in 1801," p. 409.


This was precisely the type of sensational and violent event for which Cruikshank was looking when completing the pictorial sequence for the History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798 (1805, republished in 1845). Although Cruikshank has been accused of partiality amounting to sheer jingoism in his depiction of the insurgents (members of The United Irishmen, founded in 1791 to agitate for equal political and religious rights for both Protestants and Catholics), he is more likely guilty of mere sensationalism, of exploiting violence to make a dynamic and engaging visual comment on the nature of mob violence. In this particular chapter towards the close of the book, amidst the discussion of the political and economic state of the kingdom after the proclamation of The Act of Union, Cruikshank found a small scene of collective murder upon which to elaborate. Indeed, the text is not nearly so interesting as Cruikshank's interpretation of it, as his Irish pikemen spear to magistrate in the middle of a public thorough, congested as far as the eye can see with armed insurgents.

The other dominant element in Cruikshank's later compositions (aside from an interest in vigorous action) is his fondness for the grotesque, as seen here in the distorted visages of the rebels, and in his ogres in Fairy Library (1853-64). After the passage of the Act of Union (to take effect on 1 January 1801), which he supported, Lord Kilwarden was created Viscount Kilwarden on 29 December 1800. In 1802, he was appointed Chancellor of Dublin University. Despite his actions on behalf of Wolfe Tone, Kilwarden was hated by the Republican organisation which called itself "The United Irishmen" for his prosecution of one of its leaders, William Orr, in 1797.

The United Irishmen — A society formed in Belfast and Dublin in 1791 by Theobald Wolfe Tone to agitate for parliamentary reform and equal religious rights. Initially led by Protestant merchants and professionals from Belfast and Dublin, its members included both Protestants and Catholics. Later it became militantly anti-English and republican, and in 1795 was driven underground. — Villanova University Archived Collections, Falvey Memorial Library, https://exhibits.library.villanova.edu/archive/rebellion/irishmen/

On the evening of 23 July 1803 in Dublin, the rapid approach of the armed rebels from County Kildare compelled Lord Kilwarden to flee his suburban residence, Newlands House, with his daughter and his nephew, Reverend Richard Wolfe. Thinking himself and his party safer if they remained among crowds, he ordered his driver to proceed by way of Thomas Street. This, however, was occupied by Robert Emmet's rebels, who quickly dragged Kilwarden from his carriage and stabbed him repeatedly with pikes (the violent moment that Cruikshank has realised shows Kilwarden impaled by three pikes simultaneously). His nephew was despatched in a similar fashion by the rioters, who (surprisingly) allowed his daughter to escape to Dublin Castle, the party's original destination. When British troops repelled the rebels, Kilwarden was found to be alive, and was carried to a nearby watch-house for medical attention, but he died shortly thereafter.

Replying to a soldier who swore to avenge his death, Kilwarden, presented as a martyr to the rule of law and civil polity, in his final words stipulated that "Murder must be punished; but let no man suffer for my death, but on a fair trial, and by the laws of his country." Cruikshank's depiction of the events reduces Kilwarden's assailants to the level of savages, epitomizing the ten pike-men in the foreground as mere sadists, and elevating their unarmed, elderly victim to saintly status with his pale, gentlemanly face, white waistcoat, and gesture heavenward, as concerned middle-class matrons watch the ghastly proceedings from second storey windows, and his driver and footman in their gorgeous uniforms watch the scene in horror, powerless to intervene. Torches held by several rebels create a theatrical chiaroscuro that highlights the open carriage door and the murdered peer, as well as a cloud of smoke (right), suggestive of a conflagration that threatens the city, just as the lawless conduct of the rebels threatens civilisation. The whole is like some violent diorama in a play by Anglo-Irish dramatist Dion Boucicault.

The rebellion made some headway and succeeded in driving the British army from many areas around Dublin, but the main British garrisons held out and were soon reinforced. The British brutally repressed the rebellion, carrying out many killings of civilians and collective punishment of entire communities, actions which would today be considered war crimes.

Nevertheless, the British considered themselves the victims of the traitorous Irish and the popular media consistently portrayed the Irish as murderous savages, while the British army and their Protestant allies were portrayed as underdogs and victims. George Cruikshank was a fiercely patriotic Brit, who had helped develop the character of John Bull, the personification of the British every man.

[Cruikshank's twenty-one, full-page steel engravings] depict actual historical events, but must be regarded as jingoist propaganda. Despite their obvious bias, the illustrations have artistic merit for their rich detail and effective depiction of various characters from all strata of society. — "The Irish Rebellion — Propaganda as Art."


Art.com. "Cruikshank." "The Irish Rebellion — Propaganda as Art." http://cruikshankart.com/illustrations/Irish-Rebellion/index.html

Burton, Anthony. "Cruikshank as an Illustrator of Fiction." George Cruikshank: A Revaluation. Ed. Robert L. Patten. Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1974, rev., 1992. Pp. 92-128.

Cohen, Jane Rabb. Part One, "Dickens and His Early Illustrators: 1. George Cruikshank. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio University Press, 1980. Pp. 15-38.

"The Irish Rebellion of 1798." Villanova University Archived Collections. Falvey Memorial Library, https://exhibits.library.villanova.edu/archive/rebellion/irishmen/

"The Irish Rising of 1798." The Oxford Companion to British History. Oxford, New York: Oxford U. Pr, 1997. https://exhibits.library.villanova.edu/archive/rebellion/1798/

Kitton, Frederic G. "George Cruikshank." Dickens and His Illustrators. London: Chapman & Hall, 1899. Pp. 1-28.

McLean, Ruari. George Cruikshank: His Life and Work as a Book Illustrator. English Masters of Black-and-White. London: Art and Technics, 1948.

Maxwell, William Hamilton. History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798; with memoirs of the Union, and Emmett's insurrection in 1803. Illustrated by George Cruikshank and E. P. Lightfoot. London: Baily Brothers, Cornhill, 1845. [Cruikshank, not mentioned on the title-page, provided etchings; he is more prominently mentioned on the title-page of the George Bell edition of 1884.]

Paulson, Ronald. "The Tradition of Comic Illustration from Hogarth to Cruikshank." George Cruikshank: A Revaluation. Ed. Robert L. Patten. Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1974, rev., 1992. Pp. 35-60.

Last modified 15 July 2017