1854: Clipping the Russian Bear’s Claws – “Rock & Droll” – The Comic Map of Europe is born…..

Strolling around the London Map Fair at the Royal Geographical Society last weekend, I was delighted to have drawn to my attention a mid-19th Century Comic map of Europe which, to my great surprise, I had never seen nor encountered before:

Jules Geruzet - Carte Comique du Theatre de la Guerre - Bruxelles - 04-12-1854
Jules Géruzet – Carte Comique du Theatre de la Guerre – Bruxelles – Dec 1854

Though cited in contemporary 19th Century bibliographies (without clarification as to its design and content), this extremely rare separately published folding Belgian broadsheet bears the date 4th December 1854.

With three closely-related companions, this cartographic quartet provides a unique perspective on the way in which these fascinating comic maps were pirated, plagiarized and copied by printers and publishers in different countries across Europe and around the World, such was their popular appeal, one that transcended  international borders and boundaries.

The four maps prove that 1854 was indeed the year in which the Comic Map of Europe was first born, the design template and anthropomorphic national characterizations taking a shape and form that would be reprised, recast and reinvented again and again during the ensuing Century.

The drawback of having so many similar maps all published within a relatively short period is that it is often extremely difficult to unravel and identify the exact publishing sequence and primacy of one map  over another.

However we are extremely fortunate that the four maps we compare here can all be dated quite accurately by reference to contemporary newspapers and official bibliographies. This allows us to see the evolution, development & dissemination of a single comic map design and image across Europe from London to Bruxelles and finally to Hamburg within the space of six months.

Interestingly this self-evident plagiarism would bring with it something of a legal sting in the tail for one of those European copyists.

It was a pattern of unauthorised international distribution and dissemination that was to be repeated in 1870-71 in the case of Paul Hadol’s French Carte drolatique of Europe, when pirated copies of the original French issue appeared as far afield as Scandinavia, Italy, Germany, the United States, Canada and Australia. And it would be witnessed again, and perhaps on an even wider worldwide scale, with Fred W. Rose’s Serio-Comic “Octopus” War Map in 1877-78.

My good friend and fellow map dealer, Tim Bryars, has already focused on the first of the maps in this quartet, Rock Brothers & Payne’s Comic Map of the Seat of War with entirely new features, designed by the Victorian illustrator, Thomas Onwhyn, as covered in his detailed July 2012 blog post.

Rock Brothers & Payne - Comic Map of the Seat of the War - May 1854
Rock Brothers & Payne – Comic Map of the Seat of War with entirely new Features – May 1854

Tim does not appear to have access to the original paper wrappers and printed key to the map:

Rock Brothers & Payne - Comic Map of the Seat of the War - May 1854 - front cover of wrappers
Front cover of Comic Map of Seat of War “Designed & Etched by T.O”
Rock Brothers & Payne - Comic Map of the Seat of the War - May 1854 - back cover with explanatory key
Key to Rock’s Comic Map of the Seat of War

presented here for the first time, which make it absolutely clear that the graphic design and artwork for the map is indeed the work of TO (Thomas Onwhyn [1814-1886]). Onwhyn had in fact been  been regularly employed by Rock Brothers & Payne over the previous decade as an illustrator and engraver of humorous letterhead designs and of their very distinctive output of popular booklets and pamphlets which managed to poke fun and find humour in many aspects of everyday Victorian life. (More to come on Rock Brothers & Onwhyn in a future post). Indeed Onwhyn is formally credited as designer of the map in a contemporary review of the map that appeared in the Sunday, June 18th 1854 issue (#821) of the Era:

COMIC MAP OF THE SEAT OF THE WAR. Rock and Co., 11 Walbrook.

Each of the principal States is emblematically represented, not always by comic features, but by others which are very serious. What indeed is there allied to comicality in the condition of nearly every Continental State? Russia, of course, figures as the Great Bear, with the knout in its paws; Prussia, with a deeper meaning, appears with two heads and hands, each playing its own cards, which so far, is an apt signification of her policy. The artist (Mr T. Onwhyn) hits Austria quite as hard, in exhibiting her as playing off two Diplomatic notes – one in gratitude to Russia and the other of concurrence with the objects of the Western Powers. Let us hope that this satire on the German Power will soon be true only of the past. We have said enough to show the design and character of this geographical and pictorial jeu d’esprit. A glance at it will afford both amusement and instruction, and information as to the policy of each State not very wide of the mark

Founded in the City of London in the early 1830’s by William Frederick Rock [1801-1890], one of the North Devon town of Barnstaple’s most famous & philanthropic sons with his brother Henry (who were later joined by their brother-in-law John Payne a decade later), Rock Brothers & Payne rapidly established itself as one of the capital’s most successful firms of commercial & fancy stationers, specialising in both wholesale & export markets. Its core business was founded upon the supply of commercial stationery items and writing paper; bill, account, scrap & memorandum books, as well as customized letterheads, valentine cards & decks of playing cards. They also marketed and sold a wide range of cheap & popular illustrated views & view books, booklets, pamphlets and maps.

Their Comic map bears an imprint date of May 30th 1854 and was issued in direct response to the unravelling diplomatic and military situation in Europe and the Orient. The War had its initial roots in French Emperor Napoleon III’s dispute with the Turks over the control of the Shrine of the Holy Sepulchre in Palestine. The spark was lit when the Turks refused to formally acknowledge Russia’s own priviliged status as protector of Palestinian Holy Places and of all Greek Orthodox Christians throughout the Ottoman Empire, resulting in Tsar Nichaols I’s invasion of the Turkish provinces of  Wallachia and Moldavia in July 1853. Turkey declared war against Russia in November, and soon witnessed the destruction of their entire Black Sea Fleet by the Russians at Sinope. Britain and France despatched a joint fleet to the Black Sea in January 1854 and another, commanded by Admiral Sir Charles Napier, was hastily assembled and departed Spithead for the Baltic in early March 1854.

Napier’s Fleet can be seen on Rock’s map making slow progress up the Gulf of Finland helped along by the supportive blast of a Danish bellows and accompanied by shouts of encouragement from the southern shores of Sweden.

Rock Brothers & Payne - Comic Map of the Seat of the War - detail 03
Admiral Sir Charles Napier in his flag ship, HMS Duke of Wellington, progresses with the British Fleet through the Baltic intending to give the Russian Bear “a flea in his ear” – detail from Comic Map of the Seat of War – May 1854

At the end of February Britain and France issued an ultimatum to the Russian demanding withdawal from Wallachia and Modavia. War against Russia was finally declared by the two allies on successive day, March 27th & 28th.

Much of the summer of 1854 was spent in high-level diplomatic European negotiations, especially in Britain and France’s attempts to secure the support of Austria, who had a long tradition of political alliance and cooperation with Russia. Austria was also the closest European neighbour to the invaded provinces of Wallachia and Moldavia. One of the key elements of the emerging quest for a peaceful settlement was the so-called “Vienna Note”, which it was hoped would accommodate Russian demands relating to its status as protector of Greek Orthodox Christians within the Turkish Empire. It is shown on Rock’s map amid the numerous documents tucked under the wing-feathers of the double-headed Austrian eagle. In August 1854, having called the European Allies’ bluff, Russian forces withdrew from the invaded regions and the Tsar acceded to come to the negotiation table at the Vienna Conference. The Conference in fact remained in session throughout the subsequent 1854-55 campaign and ultimately tabulated the proposals that formed the basis of the Paris Peace Treaty, in March 1856.

The Comic Map is first advertised in the classified columns of The Times on Saturday June 17th, alongside Rock’s New Map of London under Victoria and Rock’s Map of the whole Seat of the War:


Just published, price 1s. coloured, a COMIC MAP Of EUROPE, which while correctly embodying the usual geographical information of the Ordnance maps, shows in humorous forms the Russian Bear – Turkey no longer “the Sick Bird” – Austria, Prussia, and every country in Europe in their proper “features”. Assisted by the key which accompanies each map, State secrets are unlocked, and a geographical and political lesson imparted in a few minutes, not readily forgotten. Rock Brothers and Payne, 11 Walbrook.

The map was evidently extremely popular, being re-advertised widely in national newspapers in August and then again in October and November:

Rock Brothers & Payne - Comic Map of the Seat of the War - detail 02
Detail of the Black Sea and the Russian Bear’s Claws being clipped – Comic Map of the Seat of War – May 1854


  AT SEBASTAPOL as graphically foretold in Rock’s COMIC MAPOF THE SEAT OF WAR, price 1s coloured, from which may be learnt at a glance the geography, secret politics and probable destiny of every Country in Europe.

Of all booksellers, or Rock & Co, London

[Advert: London Daily News – 19th October 1854]


price One shilling coloured, gives in a few minutes a Geographical lesson on the Map of Europe, more impressive than a month’s study of the ordinary maps. It is also a Hieroglyphic, and has already in the case of Sebastapol proved prophetic. Twenty-second edition.

Rock Brothers & Payne, London

[Advert: London Daily News – 3rd & 6th November 1854]

It is equally interesting to watch the change in the popular mood in Britain, as the War develops and as Franco-British forces engage in direct hostilities with the Russians, firstly at the hard-fought & very costly Battle of Alma (20th September 1854) and subsequently during the Siege of Sevastapol and the Battle of Balaklava (25th October 1854), with an ever-lengthening list of British casualties & increasingly heavy loss of life.

By late November and early December, newspapers around the country were beginning to reflect a changed mood and to voice serious concerns over the manner in which comic theatricals and literature, based around the events of the war, were an offence to common decency, propriety and public morality.

Matters came to a head when a one-act comedy by Samuel Lover entitled the “Sentinel of the Alma”, based directly around events in the Crimea, opened at London’s Haymarket Theatre in late November, amid considerable popular outcry.

An article in Lloyd’s Newspaper of November 26th, the day after the Sentinel had been withdrawn, summarizes  popular sentiment at the time and includes a forceful critical sideswipe at the latest edition of Rock’s map:


The Lord Chamberlain is, by virtue of his office, controller of the licences of plays, and as such, we would ask what is the use of him?….as licenser we have to protect the public morals and the public decency. And how he acquits himself of the task is illustrated in the dull brutalities called burlesque….The most recent outrage of the kind permitted is in “the comic drama” – comic mind! – of “The Sentinel of the Alma”, played at the Haymarket. On the day before, the columns of newspapers were, to the mind’s eye, streaming with the blood of the wounded and dead – there was wailing in hundreds of households; there were broken hearts of the widowed and the plighted, and we have the national calamity treated “comically”. The licenser of plays thinks it droll that the Sentinel of Alma should crack jokes – such jokes! – by way of an accompaniment to Russian cannon balls, considers it very decent that, with the generosity of Englishmen, we should represent Russian officers as poltroons and pantaloons, and deny to the Russians themselves, the common decencies of courageous manhood. This it is to be “comic”. A few days since we saw advertised – it must have been designed by an ape, and not a rational creature – “the comic map of the war!”….We suppose we shall next have comic undertakers, who will advertise “funerals humorously performed!” 

As sales of Rock’s map presumably nose-dived amid this tidal wave of popular opprobium, it is interesting to note that three new re-incarnations of the map emerge in Europe at this exact time, all three appearing almost simultaneously during November – December 1854: two very distinct & different editions in Belgium and a third version of the map published in northern Germany.

We have already noted the Carte Comique du Theatre de la Guerre, published by Jules Géruzet in Bruxelles and dated December 4th 1854. French-born Géruzet [1818-1874] was an established Belgian bookseller who has first settled in Bruxelles in about 1840 in the Rue de L’Ecuyer. After moving briefly to Antwerp to study photography, he returned to Bruxelles in the late 1840’s and established new premises at No 27bis, Rue de L’Ecuyer and quickly became one of Bruxelles foremost photographers, as well as a popular book and print seller. Jules’ two sons Albert [1842-1890] and Alfred [1845-1903] would continue the business and the immensely successful & popular photographic studio as Géruzet Frères, absorbing the adjacent former studio of their father’s rival & competitor, Ghemar.

Jules Geruzet - Carte Comique du Theatre de la Guerre - Bruxelles - 04-12-1854 - Detail of Onwhyn imprint now a feature of map
The River Done in Asia Minor – Géruzet’s Carte Comique

An amusing error on the Géruzet map is the inclusion of the River Done – “Done.R” – on the southern coasts of Asia Minor. Géruzet has clearly taken as a local topographical feature the first part of the inscription “Done by T.O” which had been added by the engraver and designer, Thomas Onwhyn, in this location on the original Rock map!

Signature of Thomas Onwhyn (TO) - Comic Map of Seat of War - Rock - May 1854
Signature of Thomas Onwhyn (TO) – Comic Map of The Seat of War

A second Belgian map, also directly derived from the Rock map, was published in Bruxelles at the same time as Géruzet’s, but on a slightly larger scale and with an entirely different title and amended design format:

Louis Mols-Marchal - Carte Drolatique et Comparative des Etats de L'Europe - Bruxelles - Dec 1854 - Copy
Louis Mols-Marchal – Carte Drolatique et Comparative des Etats de L’Europe – Bruxelles – Dec 1854

Official Belgian publishing records indicate that Louis Mols-Marchal’s map, Carte drolatique et comparative des Etats de L’Europe mise en rapport avec les cironstances actuelles, also appeared in Bruxelles in December 1854.

Louis Mols or Mols-Marchal [1817-1884] was a Belgian artist, map publisher and member of the Etablissement géographique in Bruxelles. The example of the map held in the collections of the Belgian Royal Library in Bruxelles originates from the mappothèque of the famous Belgian cartographer, Philippe Vandermaelen.

The final and fourth map in the quartet, engraved on stone by Johannes Guntrum and published by the firm of B S Berendsohn in Hamburg, also appeared in the final months of 1854. With a marked price of 12 Silbergroschen (1 Mark) this folding map had paper wrappers bearing the printed title, Europa aus der Vogelschau – Komische Karte von Kriegsschauplatz. With its actual title, Komische Karte des Kriegsschauplatzes, this German derivative directly replicates the original Onwhyn design of several months earlier though entirely omitting the accompanying explanatory key:

B S Berendsohn - Komische Karte des Kriegsschauplatzes - Hamburg - Nov 1854 - Copy
B S Berendsohn – Komische Karte des Kriegsschauplatzes – Hamburg – circa Nov 1854

Bernhard Salomon Berendsohn [1800-1856] had established his bookselling & publishing business in Hamburg in 1833 and particularly specialized in high quality prints and engravings, mostly of the local Hamburg area.

Berendsohn’s map was clearly popular, with at least three successive editions known, but it may have been the omission of a translation of Rock’s original explanatory key which brought unexpected legal ramifications when the map fell foul of press censors in the Southern German Kingdom of Bavaria in early December 1854.

The 1848 Revolution in Germany had seen the sudden explosion of Press freedoms. In its aftermath these were gradually clawed back by state authorities across the German Federation in the early 1850’s with increasingly restrictive provisions. The August 1851 “Federal Reaction Resolution” encouraged all state governments to suppress all anti-monarchical and atheistic, socialist and communist periodicals, and led eventually to the Allgemeine Bundesbestimmungen, die Verhältnisse des Mißbrauchs der Presse betreffend (“General Federal Provisions Regarding the Abuse of the Press”) of July 6, 1854. The Press Law outlined an array of caveats, regulations and controls, both financial, legal & distributive, that sought to deliberately hamper and constrain the liberal free Press throughout the German Federation. Ultimately these new regulations were only implemented in a small number of states and many, including Bavaria, continued to rely on their own pre-existing state Press laws.

Documents published in the Köninglich Bayerisches Kreis-Amblatt reveal that an official meeting of the Bavarian Regional and State Tribunal, headed by Karl Christoph, Freiherr von Mulzer, was convened in Munich on 30th October 1854 to investigate and consider a case of “Rißbrauchs der Presse” – abuse of the Press – focusing exclusively on Berendsohn’s Komische Karte. The final decision of the Tribunal was published on November 28th.

The Tribunal found particular fault in the allegorical representations of the Russian Kaiser (presumably the Russian Bear) which were seen as offensive and in breach of Art. 22 of the Bavarian Press Code of March 21 1850. The Tribunal also found fault in the allegorical representation of “Braunschweig” (Brunswick) – as a lake? – which were also deemed offensive and fell foul of Art.21 of the same Press Law. It must be supposed that the Bavarian authorities, ever responsive to the sensibilities of their own King, regarded the map’s comic content as both subversive and, in some respects, anti-monarchical, at least in terms of the manner in which the Russian Tsar was undoubtedly represented as a tyrannical & despotic knaut-wielding Bear.

Whilst it does appear the distribution of the map, excluding examples already in private hands, may have been suppressed within the Kingdom of Bavaria, the pursuit of criminal proceedings against Berendsohn seems to have been little more than an idle threat to a publisher based five hundreds miles away in the Northern port city of Hamburg and who was not even present to offer a defence or response to the charges.

Whether these legal proceedings affected the publisher’s health is not known, but it is recorded that Berendsohn passed away on 3oth January 1856, aged about 55, and exactly 2 months to the day before the Crimean War ended and Peace was finally concluded with the signature of the Treaty of Paris on March 3oth 1856.

For information on a recently discovered April 1856 Treaty Map by Thomas Onwhyn published by Rock Brothers & Payne, which updates their 1854 Comic Map of the Seat of War, see our recent March 2017 post, published on the 161st anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Paris.