Who's to Blame

"Who's to Blame?" by John Tenniel; Joseph Swain, engraver. Punch. 13 January 1877. The caption reads, "London: 'Out of your bed again, you troublesome old lunatic! Do you want to drown us all?' Father Thames.''Taint my fault! I ain't responsible! I suppose it's somebody's business to see me safely tucked in!'"

Here, London is seen as a regal figure, complete with mural crown (like the statue of Commerce on the Holborn Viaduct), comically holding up her dripping robes while a disshevelled Father Thames tips over with the cascading water. The classical urn which is often shown with him is tipping over too, and his crown has become dislodged, leaving only twigs on his head, like a birds' nest. There is a hint too, that the naughty old Thames is inebriated. In the background are the results of his tumble: submerged islands of the Thames, and the level view of the Thames Valley now awash with water.

A vivid report on the flooding of London along the Thames Valley was given in the Graphic, on the same day, and quoted among the "Opinions of the Press" in a book about the floods by a top civil engineer, which was published soon afterwards, in April:

The almost incessant rains of last week extended the inundation in the valley of the Thames to a very great extent. At Windsor about three hundred houses in the north-western suburb are flooded. Whole streets, standing nearly a quarter of a mile from the usual course of the Thames, were flooded, the houses rising, as it were, out of a lake. Punts are used as a means of communication. All the necessaries of life have to be conveyed by water to the homes of these poor people. The present inundation is as extensive as the great flood of 1875. The greater part of Oxford Road was flooded, and punts were used between Windsor and Clewer. To travellers coming eastward from the metropolis Windsor Castle, where the Queen and the Princess Beatrice are at present residing, looks like an island, so great an inroad upon the Home Park having been made by the floods, The Mayor of Windsor has formed a committee for the purpose of relieving the sufferers from the inundations, and Her Majesty has sent a donation of £50. On the Eton side of the Thames matters were nearly as bad. Punts navigated the Eton Wick Road, and the traffic between Eton College and Slough was kept open at Willow Brook in a similar way. The water was out extensively near Staines, Thorpe, Chertsey, Bray, Taplow, and Maidenhead, and hundreds of acres of land between Kingston and Richmond were submerged. [qtd. in Palmer 31]

The Thames, so important to London from ancient times and even now, still has a propensity to flood, despite all the measures that have been taken to mitigate the effects of excessive rainfall. Rising sea levels are a newer factor.

Image capture and text by Jacqueline Banerjee. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the Internet Archive and Harvard University and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Palmer, Francis Ingram. Floods in the Thames Valley, and the relief of London Bridge and Its Approaches. London: Watterlow and Sons. Google Books. Free Ebook. Web. 7 September 2021.

Punch. Vol. 72-73: 7. Internet Archive. Contributed by Robarts Library, University of Toronto. Web. 7 September 2021.

Created 7 Septmeber 2021