This engraving titled, ‘An interesting scene on board an East-Indiaman, showing the effects of a heavy lurch, after dinner’, is by the famous British caricaturist George Cruikshank. Published on 9 November 1818, the work depicts a grand cabin on board an English East India Company ship in disarray. The ‘lurch’ has caused the dining table to slide squashing one of the passengers against a cannon, other passengers and their servants are being tossed about and a member of the crew exclaims: ‘My precious eyes Tom!!! here’s a smash!!!! – hold on my hearties!! hang on by yr eyelids’.
SignificanceGeorge Cruikshank was one of Britain's most renowned and prolific caricaturists. His engraving portrays a cynical view of the regulated and hierarchical life on board an English East India Company ship.
HistoryGeorge Cruikshank is one of the most famous British caricaturists and was active during a time where satirical prints were in high demand. Along with his contemporaries James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson, Cruikshank produced an array of social and political critiques in the form of colourful caricatures. Among the many themes he illustrated, the anti-abolitionist movement, British politics and patriotism featured most prominently.
The English novelist William Makepeace Thackeray wrote in admiration for the caricaturist in his work, 'An essay on the genius of George Cruikshank', (June, 1840). Thackeray claimed that a ‘greedy public’ ‘bought, borrowed or stole’ a ‘heap of personal kindnesses from George Cruikshank’ and therefore owed a great deal to the caricaturist.
Among Thackeray’s many descriptions of Cruikshank there’s one which seems to stand out as particularly ironic. Labelled a ‘humble scraper on steel’, there is nothing modest or self-deprecating about the way that Cruikshank chooses to portray his subjects and themes. The son of a caricaturist, Cruikshank became known for his sharp satirical illustrations and the engraving from the museum’s collection is no exception. Titled, ‘An interesting scene on board an East-Indiaman, showing the effects of a heavy lurch, after dinner’, the work depicts a grand cabin on board an English East India Company ship in complete disarray. The ‘lurch’ has caused the dining table to slide squashing one of the passengers against a cannon, other passengers and their servants are being tossed about and a member of the crew exclaims: ‘My precious eyes Tom!!! here’s a smash!!!! – hold on my hearties!! hang on by yr eyelids’. Published on 9 November 1818, it is one of his earlier works and illustrates what life may have been like on board an English East India Company ship, fighting the rough voyage across the Indian Ocean. Only the higher ranking passengers were allowed to dine in the more lavish cabins and we can see in Cruikshank’s illustration, through the exaggerated way he has chosen to depict his subjects, that he expresses this in a rather cynical way. Excess is a word that springs to mind and the contorted faces of each individual demonstrate the power of the grotesque in communicating a political point.
Cruikshank’s works achieved great success and were published widely throughout his career. They were a medium through which attitudes and themes could be translated to the masses in a way that was easy to understand. As Thackeray notes in his essay, Cruikshank’s works were essentially an expression of popular culture:
'How we used to believe in them! to stray miles out of the way on holidays, in order to ponder for an hour before that delightful window in Sweeting's Alley! in walks through Fleet Street, to vanish abruptly down Fairburn's passage, and there make one at his "charming gratis" exhibition. There used to be a crowd round the window in those days, of grinning, good-natured mechanics, who spelt the songs, and spoke them out for the benefit of the company, and who received the points of humor with a general sympathizing roar. Where are these people now?'
According to Thackeray, despite Cruikshank's slight fall in popularity he had a ‘natural’ ability to connect with the ‘“little people”’ by creating art that imitated life. He noted that it took a degree of ‘honesty’ for Cruikshank to convey the messages featured in his caricatures and that he ‘would not for any bribe say what he did not think’. Yet despite his talent for telling ‘a thousand truths in as many strange and fascinating ways’, Cruikshank accepted a bribe of £100 from Kind George IV in 1820, ‘in consideration of a pledge not to caricature His Majesty in any immoral situation’.
During the 1840s, Cruikshank went on to become a passionate teetotaller, campaigning with the temperance and anti-smoking movements. He later developed palsy and died on 1 February 1878.
[Source: Nicole Cama, 'George Cruikshank: Satirising the Eastern trade', 5 June 2013, ANMM blog ]
Primary title: An interesting scene on board an East-Indiaman, showing the effects of a heavy lurch, after dinner
Exhibition object title: An interesting scene, on board an East Indiaman
Web title: 'An interesting scene on board an East-Indiaman, showing the effects of a heavy lurch, after dinner'