“A patched-up treaty of Peace that humiliates nobody except England”: Rock Brothers & Payne’s 1856 Treaty map depicting Europe at the end of the Crimean War

Yesterday, March 29th 2017, marked an historic landmark in British relations with Europe, with the delivery of Theresa May’s letter to Donald Tusk triggering Article 50 of the 2007 Lisbon Treaty and Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union by March 2019.

Today, March 30th 2017, marks the anniversary of another historic landmark in Britain’s international relations.

Events leading up to it had also left indelible scars on Britain’s collective consciousness and produced a storm of news coverage that had divided the country both socially and politically, almost as never before.

The issue of that day however was not so much the “European Question” as the “Eastern Question”. It was one which would repeatedly strain Britain & Europe’s relationship with Turkey and Russia throughout the 19th Century.

For it was on March 30th 1856, exactly 161 years ago today, that the hostilities of the Crimean War were brought to a somewhat unexpected and hasty conclusion by the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Its signatories at the Palace of Versailles were Russia on the one side and Great Britain, France, Ottoman Turkey and the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont on the other.

It is interesting that British Prime Minister at the time, Lord Palmerston acknowledged the underlying public mood at home by refusing to order that church bells to be rung across the nation in celebration of the news.

It was after all an event which marked the end of one of the bloodiest & costliest conflicts of the mid-19th Century. During the course of two years of war on the shores of the Black Sea, British casualties had totalled over 21,000 men, of whom over three quarters died not in action or as a result of wounds but the devastating impact of diseases such as dysentery and typhoid. French casualties were over four times as great with some 60,000 fatalities (almost two thirds) the victims of disease. Staggeringly Russian casualties were some four times that of of the British & French combined: over 450,000 men – some authorities say nearer half a million.

It was also War that for the first ever time saw events on the ground in the conflict zone recorded at first hand by a new breed of in-theatre correspondents & journalists, such as William Howard Russell of The Times. These  uncensored reports were quickly relayed by telegraph back to the avid British newspaper reader at home, giving the daily events of the war an unprecedented impact & immediacy.

Indeed the whole “Crimean experience” had lasting repercussions not only on the British Army but also on the entire British social order & political hierarchy. It also left an indelibly deep scar & impression on the collective public consciousness of Victorian Britain.

Sebastapol and Redan soon became familiar names for innumerable British pubs and streets, whilst a new generation of young Florences and Almas would testify to the War’s wider demographic impact.

So it seems a fitting point to examine a recently uncovered “Treaty Map”  designed by the renowned Dickens illustrator, Thomas Onwhyn [1814-1886] and published by the firm of Rock Brothers & Payne as a direct successor to their 1854 Comic Map of the Seat of War.

Onwhyn’s 1856 Treaty Map was recently offered for sale by specialist British auctioneers, Dominic Winter in their Book and Map Sale of January 25th 2017. That it is extremely rare and hitherto bibliographically unrecorded is beyond doubt. However it is a map that is not completely unknown. This example may well be the exact same map (Lot 236) sold by French auctioneers Brissonneau at the Hotel Drouot in Paris in October 2008.

I am extremely grateful to John Trevers and Dominic Winter Auctioneers for granting me permission to re-use the images from their January 2017 auction catalogue in this post.

Onwhyn’s original 1854 Comic Map and a group of pirated European copies was the focus of my previous June 2015 post. Collectively this series of maps can probably be regarded as the first identifiable examples of the 19th Century “serio-comic” map genre.

Thomas Onwhyn – Rock Brothers & Payne

Comic Map of the Seat of the War [1854]

Following the final fall of Sebastapol in September 1855 after a year-long siege, Russia was brought hastily to the peace table in early 1856 not so much by the military situation on the ground, as by the imminent threat of her former ally Austria intervening on the side of her enemies.

In stark contrast to the amusing & light-hearted tone of their 1854 Comic Map, published at the beginning of the British campaign and even before Allied troops had even reached the shores of the Black Sea, Onwyhn & Rock’s Treaty Map  offers a surprisingly downcast & pessimistic view of Britain’s international position and political status with the sudden advent of Peace.

From a British perspective, it was a Peace that yielded few material prizes of any substance, excepting a face-saving agreement over the shared custody of Jerusalem’s holy places and the full-scale demilitarization of the Black Sea.

And it is clear from the Treaty Map, where the Russian bear was now refocusing his attentions – further East, casting his eye on central Asia and its independent khanates (“Paws off the Persian carpet!”).

Onwhyn’s sketch for front cover of 1856 Treaty Map – signed & dated April 25th 1856

The battered British lion, with eye patch and boxing gloves, the epitome of national pluck, still spoils for a fight against the Russians despite the sudden advent of Peace. His actions in the Crimea have been constricted & constrained by Army incompetence and nepotism, administrative red tape & a group of vociferous pacifists….

(courtesy of Dominic Winter Auctioneers)

The “butcher’s bill” – the Battles of Alma (Sept 1854), Balaklava (Oct 1854) – with the tragically misdirected yet much-vaunted Charge of the Light Brigade (celebrated by generations of schoolchildren in Tennyson’s famous poem) – then misty Inkerman (Nov 1854) and the two inglorious & costly (failed) assaults on Sebastapol’s Great Redan (June & September 1855) – together with the self-evident lack of preparedness for wild Black Sea storms & the bitter Crimean winter of 1854-55 had opened the flood gates of criticism in the domestic Press and amongst the government’s political opponents.

Accusations of incompetence were levelled against the aged commander of the “Army in the East”, Lord Raglan and against his subordinates in the Army High Command, many of whom were elderly & ineffective and lacked any recent war service or concrete military credentials. They were typified by such pettifogging figures as Lords Lucan and Cardigan, who had simply “bought” their way into the army through exploiting the purchase commission system.

The outcry of radical politicians such as Austen Henry Layard and John Arthur Roebuck over the winter situation in the Crimea had led directly to the fall of Lord Aberdeen’s coalition government in January 1855, immediately replaced by a new ministry led by man of the moment, Lord Palmerston.

He sought a more hard-line policy towards the Russians, forcing the French to break off peace negotiations with the new Russian Tsar, Alexander II, in order to push home the military assault on Sebastapol in the hope that its capture would leave the Allies in a far stronger negotiating position.

Following Britain’s fateful ultimatum to Russia in March 1854, British war aims and strategic planning had been confused and unclear. Some like Stratford Canning wanted a war “for the benefit of Poland and other spoliated neighbours to the lasting delivery of Europe from Russian dictation”.

We see that on the Treaty map, notably in the Poland’s “gravestone of Defunct Nationality” with the hope that its “rust-worn chains might yet break and “the policy of Peter the Great” may still be erased from the Map of Nations”.

Treaty Map: detail of Poland

(courtesy of Dominic Winter Auctioneers)

In fact the War evolved from a punitive expedition against Russia to safeguard Turkish suzerainty in Wallachia and Moldavia, with British military & naval forces based at Varna in the Western Black Sea. By June 1854, following the Russian withdrawal from Wallachia & Moldavia, it quickly morphed into a full-scale invasion of Russian Crimea, viewed by the British government as an easy & accessible way of “teaching the Tsar a lesson”. So the Allied Army was drawn into the Crimea, landing at Kalamita Bay on September 14th 1854 yet with almost no up-to-date intelligence or information about the strength or disposition of local enemy forces.

Onwhyn & Rock’s map is quick to focus attention on a very unsatisfactory “Crimean job” – “work half-done” – and to point the finger of blame regarding the political, logistical & administrative mismanagement of the War.

Thomas Onwhyn/Rock Brothers & Payne Treaty Map (of Europe)

[dated April 20th 1856]

(courtesy of Dominic Winter Auctioneers)

Treaty Map: detail of Great Britain

As the printed Key inside the paper wrappers explains:

England, represented by Britannia, sits mournfully upon the waves she once ruled. Just as she has “got the steam up,” she receives without joy, a patched-up treaty of peace, that humiliates nobody except England, and benefits nobody, except Russia. Britannia’s arm is held in confinement by “the Horse Guards”; Nepotism at her shoulder knot; and the “Manchester Peace Party” at her right hand, weigh it down. Red tape ties her sword in its scabbard. The British lion, although couchant is by no means satisfied by the half-done work; his eye is blinded by a blow from the Redan, and above him is the balance of accounts, a payment of fifty million of pounds sterling, for the little jobs of Kinburn and Bomarsund, not worth fifty pence.

According to Onwhyn, Britain has been fighting, euphemistically speaking, with her hands tied. The principal hindrance was first & foremost “the Horse Guards” i.e the Army itself (whose headquarters were located in London’s Horse Guards). Another constraint was the poor quality & calibre of the officer class exemplified by the prevalence of nepotism which severely restricted meritocratic officer recruitment and promotion. It was an issue that would only finally be addressed by the Cardwell reforms of the 1870’s. Administrative red tape also ties Britannia’s sword in its scabbard: the Army’s logistics and supply chain network – the  Commissariat Department – which provided both armaments and food for its soldiers in the Crimea – had developed a notorious reputation for ineptitude and corruption during the course of the War.

As Captain Fred Dallas wrote back from the Crimea:

How curiously the vein of Incapacity seems to wind through everything…With endless wealth, great popular enthusiasm, numberless ships, the best material for soldiers in the World, we are certainly the worst clad, worst fed, worst housed Army that was ever read of…

(quoted in Stefanie Markovits, The Crimean War and the British Imagination [CUP, 2011])

One of the prevailing political constraints on the aggressive prosecution of the war against Russia is also deemed to be the outspoken opposition of the so-called “Manchester Peace Party”, who are accused of weighing down Britannia’s right (fighting) hand. The Manchester group was led by radicals including Yorkshire MP, Richard Cobden [1804-1865] and fellow Mancunian MP & Quaker, John Bright [1811-1889]. The Peace Party was perhaps more vociferous than effective in their protests and opposition to the war, being widely vilified by Press and public alike for their “unpatriotic” behaviour throughout its course. Interestingly the pacifist Bright would figure prominently in one of Fred Rose’s Serio-Comic maps, over twenty years later, during the Russo-Turkish War crisis of 1877-78.

British military pride and prowess had also been dealt a heavy blow in the final months of the War with the ignominy of two failed assaults on Sebastapol’s Grand Redan in June & September 1855. For a domestic audience ever expectant of British military success, the Redan failures were all the more hard-felt given that French troops had assaulted & captured the neighbouring Malakoff Redoubt and precipitated the final surrender of the city. Queen Victoria wrote that she found intolerable the thought that “the failure of the Redan should be our last “fait d’armes””. It symbolized the way in which the siege of Sebastapol ended so unsatisfactorily for the British, not with a victorious knock-out blow but instead with inglorious retreat & failure. Hence the prominent eye patch worn by the British lion.

Onwhyn intimates that with the new Palmerston administration and an improved supply system to the Crimea Britain has finally managed to get her “steam up” and direct her resources far more effectively towards the war effort, only to see these measures all to quickly frustrated by the onset of Peace.

British achievements during  the War in the “balance of accounts”, a lop-sided pair of scales, hanging above Britannia and her battered lion, are considerably underplayed. Against a total estimated war expenditure of 50 million Pounds, all that Britain actually has to show in these scales after two years of conflict are “the little jobs of Kinburn and Bomarsund, not worth fifty pence”.

Kinburn refers to the successful Anglo-French bombardment of the Russian forts and accompanying amphibious landings of allied assault troops on the Kinburn peninsula at the mouth of the Dnieper River in October 1855.  Bomarsund refers to the successful bombardment by the Anglo-French Baltic fleet & supporting ground troops and artillery on the Russian outpost of Bomarsund in the Aaland Islands at the mouth of the Gulf of Bothnia in August 1854. The Aaland Islands would be demilitarized under the terms of the Paris Treaty, ensuring that it could not again be used as a Russian Baltic base.

Treaty Map: detail of France

(courtesy of Dominic Winter Auctioneers)

There is equally a clear sense in the Treaty Map that Britain has come out of the War politically bruised and militarily battered, with few tangible gains or benefits, whilst her former ally, France, has emerged as the conflict’s principal winner. Fed by an undercurrent of popular Russophobia and essentially a diversionary foreign adventure to ease Napoleon III’s domestic difficulties, despite considerable casualties, French military pride & confidence has been preserved reasonably in tact throughout the Crimean campaign. A French cockerel in the 1854 Comic Map,  the beaky avian features now morph seamlessly into the profile of the Emperor Napoleon III, who struts south-westwards in tall military boots and tricolour sash towards the Pyrenees & Spain. His young son, the Prince Imperial, born just a month earlier on March 20th 1856  – “a young chick, just out of his egg” – appears as an almost identical miniature clone, standing on the Emperor’s back, the pair crowing triumphantly in unison over the self-evident political kudos & goodwill generated by the successful conclusion of the Treaty at the recent Paris Peace Congress.

Onwhyn’s treatment of the two other principal protagonists – Turkey and Russia – is equally illuminating.

According to the Key:

Turkey seems more at ease, resting on a better foundation, it appears determined to reply on its own renewed strength, whilst its old and defunct imbecility, cupidity and ignorance have found dishonourable graves.  

Treaty Map: detail of New (European) & Old (Asiatic) Turkey

(courtesy of Dominic Winter Auctioneers)

A clear cultural and geographical distinction is drawn between the renewed Young European Turkey, modern & dynamic, now re-built on solid foundations & located west of the Bosphorus. This contrasts directly with a now supposedly defunct “Old Turkey” located in Anatolia, east of the Bosphorus, littered with the ruins & detritus of its former character.

Onwhyn’s map confirms the political reality that by the terms of the Paris Treaty, Turkey had at last been admitted to the European Concert and that her territorial integrity and independence (the “secure foundations”) were now guaranteed by the principal European Powers.

Moreover the Black Sea had been entirely demilitarized as Onwhyn acknowledges in the caption: “Neutralisation of the Black Sea, formerly a Russian Lake”. 

Treaty Map: detail of Russia

(courtesy of Dominic Winter Auctioneers)

“Russia, the Northern Bear, enchained by the treaty with the Allied Powers, and kept tied nearer to the North Pole, turns its head for a little while from the East, to lick his wounded paw of the Crimea. Bristling bayonets interpose to keep his sinister paw from Circassia – (Paws off the Persian carpet!) but the Russian hide is only half “tanned” – brute force seems still its collar of merit; falsehood and cruelty on its lips, ignorance and bigotry on its forehead, treachery lurking behind, its is still under the shade of its ancient protector.”

Onwhyn’s map offers a pervasive sense of dissatisfaction with regard to the 1856 Paris Peace Treaty.

Traditional national rivalries, not least with old enemy France, quickly re-surfaced.

And, as Onwhyn & Rock intimate, there was every likelihood that the complexities of the “Eastern Question” might never be permanently solved except through recurrent European military intervention (“Steel pens”). The post-war map of Europe might be open to the prospect of having its eastern borders continually revised & redrawn. As the Key concludes cryptically:

The Treaty Map of Europe, which shall yet be formed, must be written with Steel pens, of which many millions are nearly ready.

Key to the Treaty Map

(courtesy of Dominic Winter Auctioneers)

Indeed, twenty years later Russian territorial ambitions in Turkey and the thorny “Eastern Question” would once again cast their long shadow over British foreign policy and deeply divide both the country & the Tory ministry of Benjamin Disraeli. Britain would be drawn to the brink of war with Russia in defence of Turkish sovereignty  and British imperial interests in the East.  The word “Jingo” would enter the English vocabulary.

At least from a cartographic perspective, the events of 1876-78 would inspire a fresh wave of remarkable political cartoon maps, including the Octopus War map of Fred W Rose.

Onwhyn’s Russian Bear & Rose’s Russian Octopus remain the most enduring visual tropes to emerge from the serio-comic maps of this 19th Century period. They continue to be recycled by modern cartoonists in their portrayal of the modern “Eastern Question” that is present-day Crimea & Ukraine.

Refs: Orlando Figes: The Crimean War [Metropolitan Books, 2011]; Stefanie Markovits: The Crimean War in the British Imagination [CUP, 2011]