[Although veteran illustrator George Cruikshank, 1792-1878, adopted a reformist and even radical stance on some issues — for example, he embraced Temperance or Teetotalism from the late 1840s in two narrative-pictorial sequences, The Bottle and The Drunkard's Children — his his twenty illustrations for the 1845 revised edition of Maxwell's History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798 (1803) betray the traditional English biases against the Irish and Irish independence.]

In 1845, he achieved one of his most remarkable successes in the twenty-one plates he made to embellish W. H. Maxwell's History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798 (Cohn 541). There is nothing in the artist's work to prepare one for the brutal savagery of this picturing of the horrors of civil warfare; indeed, to match the stark ferocity of such etchings as "Murder of George Crawford and his Granddaughter," "The Rebels executing their Prisoners, on the Bridge at Wexford," or "Rebels destroying a House and Furniture," one would have to go to Goya's Los Desastres de la Guerra. — E. D. H. Johnson, p. 19.

Above: George Cruikshank's realistic steel-engraving of the valiant Protestants' defence of their house and property against the Irish insurgents, The Reverend McGhee's house successfully defended against the Rebels [Click on image to enlarge it.]

In The Reverend McGhee's house successfully defended against the Rebels — Cruikshank's thirteenth illustration for William Hamilton Maxwell's History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798 (1845), the illustrator, adopting a conventional English stance towards his subject matter, shows the Protestant clergyman's cool demeanour as the badly outnumbered Protestants of Hacketstown, with but a single soldier (seated at the table) for professional military leadership, defend the second storey of the Reverend McGhee's house. Here, at least Cruikshank does not denigrate the Irish rebels (whom he has elsewhere depicted as drunken louts ruled by a mob psychology rather than military discipline), showing only the determined resistance of seven defenders (one apparently a mere youth, and one a woman, the minister's wife, at the fireplace, making bullets from the pewter plates before her on the floor. Of a more genially humoristic order are his well-known book illustrations, now so deservedly esteemed for their inimitable fun and frolic, among other qualities, such as the weird and terrible, in which he excelled. But here, without hyperbole, distortion, or embedded symbols or texts, Cruikshank only implies the opposition without by the bullet-holes in the shutters and the smoke of the burning buildings blowing into the windows and mingling with the gunpowder smoke. Billowing white and darker smoke rises dramatically as one man, kneeling, discharges his weapon, two reload, and one prepares to fire. Cruikshank has made several noticeable changes: although there are two windows, as in the text, he has reduced the number of defenders from ten to six (since several men are guarding the front and the back of the house on the lower level), and has the wounded lieutenant rather than the clergyman making cartridges at the table, throwing the focus onto the middle-aged man in waistcoat and white breeches whom we may assume is the owner of the house, the stalwart Reverend McGhee.

Thus, Cruikshank does not depict the rebellion as a military action, but an instance of widespread civil disturbance, with drunken and blood-thirsty Irish insurgents attacking innocent civilians and private property rather than engaging British regulars in combat. The illustrator never questions the rights of the Protestant minority or the denial of rights of the Catholic majority, whose scurrilous conduct implies that they are underserving of such rights under the benign rule of law in this closest colony of the British Empire. Although Maxwell's book is essentially a treatise (and not an unenlightened one) on the 1800 Act of Union, Cruikshank explores only the most lurid and sensational episodes in the book.

Above: George Cruikshank's realistic steel-engraving of the insurgents' murdering an unarmed prisoner, a mere boy, for defying them verbally: The King's drum shall never be beaten for Rebels [Click on image to enlarge it.]

His most damning illustration is the eighth, depicting a group of neanderthal-faced Irish pikemen impaling an unarmed drummer-boy, The King's drum shall never be beaten for Rebels, otherwise known as The Loyal Little Drummer, implying the disloyalty of his assailants, who, like the depraved criminals Bill Sikes and Fagin in The Adventures of Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress, sadistically assault mere children. Here, however, Cruikshank deals with the horrors of an historical reality rather than those of mere fiction; but his method is much the same: those with whom we should identify are touchingly human, whereas the villains are insensitive brutes like house-breaker Bill Sikes in Oliver claimed by his affectionate friends, their faces likewise heavy, distorted, and animalistic. In the midst of battle, with plenty of armed adult adversaries, in spearing or "piking" the unarmed drummer-boy the rebels are reduced to the level of bullies with weapons. "In W. H. Maxwell's Irish Rebellion (Cohn 541, 1845), he enlarged on the documentary style he had developed in [Ainsworth's] Jack Sheppard (Cohn 12, 1839), and The Tower of London (Cohn 14, 1840) with formidably detail;ed reconstructions of alarms and skirmishes" (Feaver, p. 249). Consistently, Cruikshank shows no justification for the rebellion, and focuses on the sheer violence, the loss of life, and the wanton destruction of property. Cruikshank was obviously struck by the following passage describing the Wexford insurgency:

The possession of a town has occasionally, in both ancient and modern times proved any thing but advantageous to the captors. Capua demoralized an army — Torquemada, in later days, arrested the march of the two, — and to "the army of liberty" in '98, Gorey was as fatal. For five days they halted in and about the town, drinking and pillaging — destroying property not portable, and, as at Enniscorthy, visiting their vengeance upon the church. Had their fury been expended on on the building alone, it would have been a matter of little import — but unhappily the contest had now taken a religious colouring so rancorous and sanguinary, that blood alone could satisfy party hatred and thirst for vengeance — and the best interests of the cause itself were sacrificed to stupid and unproductive brutalities, from which grey hairs afforded no protection, nor boyhood could claim immunity.

"A drummer named Hunter, of the Antrim regiment, only some twelve years old, fell into the hands of the rebels in the unfortunate affair which Colonel Whalpole lost his life. He carried his drum with him — and when conducted to the town of Gorey, with some other prisoners, being ordered to beat it, actuated by a spirit of enthusiastic loyalty, he exclaimed, 'That the King's drum should never be beaten for rebels;' at that some instant leapt on the head and broke through the parchment. The inhuman villains, callous to admiration of an heroic act even in an enemy, instantly perforated his body with pikes." — Musgrave, cited in Maxwell, Chapter 10, "Town of Wexford — Detachment of the Meath Regiment cut to pieces — Wexford evacuated — Whalpole's defeat at Tubberneering — Loftus retreats on Carnew," p. 114-115.

Equally damning and appalling is Cruikshank's depiction of the Irish mob's dragging the unarmed Lord Kilwarden out of his carriage on a Dublin thoroughfare and impaling him multiple times. The Murder of Lord Kilwarden is Cruikshank's final illustration; in it he depicts the appalling murder of a political figure, the sworn enemy of the Republican organisation called "The United Irishmen."

Above:George Cruikshank's realistic steel-engraving of the insurgents' murdering Protestant political leader Lord Kilwarden in Thomas Street, Dublin, The Murder of Lord Kilwarden [Click on image to enlarge it.]

This was precisely the type of sensational and violent event for which George 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.

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.

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 George Cruikshank's Fairy Library (1853-64) — the depiction of the Ogre in "Hop o' My-Thumb" — The Giant Ogre discovers Hop's my Thumb & his Brothers whom his wife had endeavoured to conceal from him — has much in common with the facial features of Cruikshank's Irish rebels. But here we are in the realm of history rather than of folklore. 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.

Above: George Cruikshank's realistic steel-engraving of the debauched rebels destroying the home of Protestants' who have fled, Rebels destroying a house and furniture. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

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.

Feaver, William. "'At it Again': Aspects of Cruikshank's Later Work." George Cruikshank: A Revaluation. Ed. Robert L. Patten. Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1974, rev., 1992. Pp. 249-258.

"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/

Johnson, E. D. H. "The George Cruikshank Collection at Princeton." George Cruikshank: A Revaluation. Ed. Robert L. Patten. Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1974, rev., 1992. Pp. 1-34.

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 17 July 2017