Dick Swift taught a lesson

Perhaps rather oddly for a medium which was otherwise concerned with high politics and high society, there was an notable link between eighteenth-century London’s satirical print trade and the reporting of crime. Caricaturists, who were noted for their ability to quickly capture accurate likenesses, and typically cheaper to employ than ‘proper’ artists, were frequently dispatched to make courtroom drawings of noted felons. These images were then engraved in prints which were sold to rich and poor alike, such was the desire for news of lurid and extraordinary across all levels of Hanoverian society.

The fantastically named Dick Swift was one of those criminals fortunate enough to have his image preserved for posterity at the hands of a satirist. The print Dick Swift, Thieftaker of the City of London. Teaching his son the commandments was published anonymously in 1765 with copies being sold at a shilling a piece. The print was evidently popular enough to prompt lower quality imitations, a example of which survives in the British Museum collection, that were presumably sold to less affluent consumers at a reduced price. The image is a parody of Robert E. Pine and James Watson’s mezzotint Arthur Beardmore, Common-Council Man of the City of London, Teaching his Son Magna Carta, which had been published by Robert Sayer 20th May 1765, a copy of which has been loosely delineated on the wall behind Swift.

Conflicting accounts of Swift’s life were published in the decades after his death, but the most convincing of these suggest that he was born into a poor family living somewhere in the vicinity of St Luke’s Church in Old Street. He was apprenticed to a turner at an early age but gradually drifted into a life of heavy drinking and petty crime. He sweet-talked his way into a job as a publican, managing the Coach & Horses public-house in Shoreditch, which he quickly transformed into a major clearing house for stolen goods. Swift was eventually apprehended in May 1764, when a thief who had been caught taking goods from the back of a wagon parked outside a public house in Aldgate turned King’s evidence against him. He was sentenced to be transported to the colonies for a period of 14 years, but spent no more than a few months in America before absconding aboard a ship bound for Liverpool. He was eventually apprehended and transported from London again on 24th April 1765, from whence he sailed into historical anonymity.

One source suggests that Swift had obtained the title ‘thief-taker’ as a result of his association with a notorious gang of thief-takers with whom he associated in order to avert attention from his own criminal practices. However, it’s also possible that the title was awarded ironically, in reference to Swift’s willingness to take stolen goods with no further questions asked.

The print shows Swift sitting at a table holding a tattered copy of the Bible open to reveal the ten commandments. The page containing the eighth commandment has been ripped so that the text now reads “thou shalt… steal”. An instruction which his equally sly looking son immediately acts upon by relieving his unsuspecting father of his handkerchief. The pair are surrounded by symbols associated with crime – a set of lockpicks hangs from the draw along with a schematic of a set of stocks, a noose also hangs behind them. The boy holds a slate on which he has started to write out the alphabet, the task seemingly being abandoned after he has reached the letter ‘B’. The phrase “Get you gone Raw Head & Bloody Bones. Here is a child don’t fear you” are engraved on a piece of paper which hangs from his pocket. Raw Head & Bloody Bones was a bogeymanlike figure typically used to scare children into obedience. The reference here therefore conveys the sinister message that Dick Swift Junior fears nothing and is consequently prepared to do anything. The image undoubtedly speaks to middle class fears about the morals and behaviours of the poor in a way which unfortunately still resonates with modern tabloid news reporting.


Further Reading

The Newgate Calendar, 1795, pp. 296 – 299.

The Lives and Portraits of Remarkable Characters, 1819, pp. 99 – 101.

Old Bailey Online:

https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t17640502-54-defend453&div=t17640502-54#highlight

http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=s17640502-1-person808&div=s17640502-1#highlight

http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t17650417-3-defend40&div=t17650417-3#highlight

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Bilson Enamel Box c.1786

On 2nd August 1786, George III was alighting from his carriage outside St James’s Palace when a poor woman dashed towards him holding out a piece of paper. As he reached out to take the paper, which he assumed to be a petition of some kind, the woman lunged at him with a large table-knife she had concealed in her other hand. The knife had sharp edges but a blunt point and it failed to penetrate the king’s topcoat. She was quickly seized but the king shouted out: “the poor creature is mad, do not hurt her. She has not harmed me.” Upon which, the would-be regicide was led away quietly.

The lady’s name was Margret Nicholson, a former maidservant who had fallen on hard times and apparently drifted into insanity, eventually believing that she was the rightful queen of England and George and a usurping impostor. She was immediately certified insane and committed to the ‘incurables’ ward of Bethlem Royal Hospital, colloquially known as ‘Bedlam’, where she would remain for the rest of her life.

The incident proved to be something of a propaganda coup for the royal family and spawned a wave commemorative prints and other commercial tat with which loyal subjects could demonstrate their thanks for the king’s deliverance. This enamel box was probably manufactured in the West Midland’s town of Bilson, which was then the centre of the English enamel trade. It measures 2.5 cm, 3.5 cm wide and 5 cm deep and consists of a pink enamel body and hinged lid decorated with a (sadly slightly damaged) image of Margaret Nicholson’s attack.

I ain’t dead yet

If you’ve tried to access this blog via a search engine in the last few days then you’ve probably noticed that the links to the site seem to have gone down.

Don’t worry – I haven’t died in a bizarre gardening accident – the reason for the sudden change is that The Printshop Window recently reverted to its original WordPress domain name:

http://www.theprintshopwindow.wordpress.com

Unfortunately, it appears as though the domain mapping plugin that WordPress makes available to ensure that you don’t lose any traffic when you upgrade your site to a paid domain, doesn’t work when you’re moving in the opposition direction. This means that all of the Google search results which link back to the old .com address are now inactive.

However, I can assure you that the site hasn’t gone anywhere (although I assume that you’ve already figured that out if you’re reading this) and will not be going anywhere for the foreseeable future.

Best wishes

Mathew

The Up Shut or Bonny-Fire

This interesting creamware jug caught my eye whilst browsing through some auction catalogues this week.

It’s 15cm high and probably dates to circa 1815. The body is decorated with two transfer-printed designs. The first and most substantial of these is a caricature entitled The Up Shut or Bonny-Fire. It depicts Napoleon, bound and gagged, hanging from a gallows above a pile of combustible materials to which John Bull is about to set light. The following text has been crudely etched into a speech bubble above John’s head:

Fore George! You’ve quieten’d him, He’s made a stir in’t world long enough, now’s my turn. I’ll stir him when my fire lights. 

Whilst most satirical designs which appear on creamware during this period were copied from printed caricatures, I’ve been unable to identify a source print for this image. Therefore, I can only assume it’s either an original image created by the potter, or that it has been copied from a print which has subsequently been lost to history.

In contrast to the scene of gleeful immolation displayed on this side of the pot, the observe is decorated with a nice bunch of flowers.

Rediscovering W. Newman, fl. c.1834-35

The name of the artist-engraver W. Newman appears on a handful of satirical lithographs published in London during 1834-35. These works have previously been attributed to William Walker Newman (1817 – 1870), an artist who would go on to provide illustrations for the early editions of Punch before emigrating to America to pursue a career as a political satirist [1]. Assuming this attribution is correct, Walker’s early plates, produced whilst he was still a teenager, remain uncatalogued in any of the major institutional collections of British satirical prints [2]. This post therefore aims to address that deficit by providing a brief summary of these works.

The earliest datable plate to appear carrying Newman’s name was Female Emigration! which was published by G.S. Tregear of Cheapside during October 1834. The print mimics the style of C.J. Grant’s Every Body’s Album & Caricature Magazinea popular fortnightly broadsheet of caricatures and scraps published by John Kendrick (and latterly Thomas Dawson) of Leicester Square, and presents a wholly unflattering view of life in Britain’s Australian colonies.

Newman’s name appears on the undated Frontispiece to Useful Knowledge which was also published by Tregear. The design was once again adapted from earlier works by C.J. Grant, in this case the Frontispiece for the Penny Magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge Vols. 1 & 2 which were published by Edward Lacey and  George Purkers respectively. The latter plate is dated 9th May 1833 and it is possible that Tregear hired Newman to produce his derivative version around this time, although the satirical frontispiece remained a popular trope in Grant’s work throughout the mid-1830s and the print could conceivably date from any point between 1833 and 1835.

Newman also claimed to have engraved an unspecified number of plates for Flights of Humour and Rum Jokestwo long-running series of humorous lithographs published by G.S. Tregear over a number of years between c.1832 – 35. It’s not possible to quantify the extent of Newman’s contribution to either series, because the prints were normally issued without a publication date or artistic attribution, however it seems reasonable to assume that his involvement coincided with the period in which he was working with Tregear on the prints outlined above [4].

Finally, Newman’s name also appears on at least two other lithographic satires published around this time. The first is Frontispiece to the Law-List, which is very similar in style to Frontispiece to Useful Knowledge and was published by Orlando Hodgson of Clare Market. The second is Frontispiece to the Botanical Magazine, which was published by James Pattie from his self-styled “Wholesale Periodical & Caricature Shop” at No. 16 High Street, St Giles. This print is the most interesting of the two, being executed in a style which so different from that of Newman’s other works that it could almost be by a different hand altogether. Although the print is a lithograph, it has been etched in the manner of a copperplate engraving and is made up of deep lines that have been hastily scored into the stone. There are also numerous spelling and engraving errors in the text which have not been corrected prior to publication. The overall impression is of an artist working at speed on a low-budget product which was bound for an audience drawn from the bottom end of the market for printed images.


Notes

  1. B.E. Maidment, ‘Subversive Supplements: Satirical Title Pages of the Periodical Press in the 1830s’, Victorian Periodicals Review, Vol. 43, No. 2, Periodical Supplements (2010), pp. 133-148  The remainder of W.W. Newman’s career is outlined in Jane E. Brown and Richard Samuel West, William Newman: A Victorian Cartoonist in London and New York (Easthampton, MA: Periodyssey Press, 2008).
  2. The plates could be the work of William Richard Newman (1797 – 1855), a lithographic engraver and printer whose workshop was located at 27 Widegate Street in the City of London. Newman was the son of a copperplate engraver, William Newman (1770 – 1827) who specialised in the production of trade cards, tickets and other ephemera and certainly possessed the technical skills required to produce the engravings published by Tregear and others during the mid-1830s. Newman traded under the name W. Newman, or Newman & Son. The business remained active under the latter name until the twentieth-century.
  3. It’s possible that further numbers were printed. The author’s collection includes a damaged print from which the masthead is missing but which resembles the other three numbers of The Odd Volume and carries Tregear’s publication line. Newman’s signature is also missing but it’s not possible to determine whether this is due to contemporary omission or subsequent wear.
  4. Newman signed Frontispiece to the “Law-List” as follows: “Designed & Lithographed by W. Newman. Author of the “Odd Volume”, “Female Emigration”, “Frontispiece to Useful Knowledge”, “Flights of Homour”, “Rum Jokes”, & c. & c.”.

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