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Splendid Jem

Date: 1821
Overall: 370 x 450 x 15 mm
Medium: Ink on paper, watercolour
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Engraving
Object No: 00030857

User Terms

    A convoy of convicts bound in leg chains is depicted being led to a series of prison hulks and convict transports at Chatham Dockyard, England alongside fashionably dressed citizens in this aquatint etching. This cartoon drawn and engraved by Robert Cruikshank shows 'Splendid Jem, once a dashing hero in the metropolis, recognised by Tom amongst the convits in the dockyard at Chatham'.
    SignificanceThis caricature demonstrates convict transportation during the 18th century and the social disgrace that was sometimes associated with it.
    HistoryIsaac Robert Cruikshank began his career creating satirical political cartoons and often challenged the policies of the British Whig and Tory parties. He made a number of cartoon etchings that dealt with the topic of transportation and immigration to the Australian colonies. Cruikshank's cartoon depicting 'Splendid Jem' in convict chains is seemingly a depiction of a 'flashman' of London who would once have cut an imposing figure living from his ill-gotten gains until he was caught. Cruikshank is stressing a moralistic warning in this work by indicating that no matter who you are transportation to Australia was the great social leveller.

    The cartoon was produced for Pierce Egan's weekly LIFE IN LONDON series and then published in 1828 in a compilation of Egan's works titled THE FINISH TO THE ADVENTURES OF TOM, JERRY AND LOGIC, IN THEIR PURSUITS THROUGH LIFE IN AND OUT OF LONDON. Egan's characters meet a bad end - Tom breaks his neck in a steeplechase fall, Logic is killed, and Jem becomes a convict.

    The British Transportation Act of 1718 effectively established transportation to the colonies as a punishment for crime. British courts sentenced criminals on conditional pardons or those on reprieved death sentences to transportation. Prisoners were committed under bond to ship masters who were responsible for the convict's passage overseas in exchange for selling their convict labour in the distant colony.

    Transportation became an increasingly common form of punishment during the 18th century; a solution that helped solve the overcrowding in British prisons and provided much needed labour for the American colonies of Virginia and Maryland. After the American War of Independence effectively stopped transportation to the Americas, Britain sourced Australia as a replacement penal settlement and colony. Between 1788 and 1868 over 160,000 men, women and children were sentenced to transportation to various Australian colonies.

    Additional Titles

    Primary title: Splendid Jem

    Web title: Splendid Jem

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