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Angling in Troubled Waters A Serio-Comic Map of Europe

  • Author: ROSE, Fred W (designer) / HEWERDINE, Matt B (artist)
  • Publisher: BACON, George Washington (Publisher)
  • Date: 1899
  • Dimensions: sheet: 76 x 54 cms


Angling in Troubled Waters – classic 1899 serio-comic map of Europe with major powers as fishermen bagging new colonial “catches”

About this piece:

Angling in Troubled Waters A Serio-Comic Map of Europe

Separately published folding broadsheet map. Lithographically printed in colour, with occasional recent touching-in along former fold lines. Traces of old folds with some adjacent light paper toning. As so often with Rose’s maps, numerous old fold splits & clean paper separations, several intruding into printed image, all now invisibly closed and expertly reinforced on verso. Without the original wrappers. The map now entirely flattened and completely backed on verso with museum-quality archivist tissue for better conservation & presentation. With all a very attractive & presentable example.

Angling in Troubled Waters – A Serio-Comic Map of Europe – a classic though now increasingly hard-to-find satirical caricature map of Europe summarizing the international political situation in 1899, the final year of the 19th Century.

Published by the well-known London book and map sellers, G W Bacon & Co, its appearance was first announced in the British press in January 1899. The map is based on a drawing by the thirty year old cartoonist & book illustrator, Matthew Bede Hewerdine [1868-1909] following the designs of the well-known serio-comic mapmaker, Fred W. Rose [1849-1915]

There had been a strange and seemingly inexplicable gap of nearly twenty years since Fred Rose had produced his last offering in the highly distinctive genre of Victorian cartography, with which his name is now almost synonymous. That had been his “Comic Map of the British Isles”, a rousing visual endorsement of the incumbent Ministry of the then Conservative Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, Lord Beaconsfield, published at the time of the 1880 British General Election.

In this fascinating anthropomorphic map, the principal international political powers of Europe (& beyond) are shown as international fishermen, casting their lines into the unsettled & troubled waters of the contemporary World, eagerly netting new colonial and imperial catches.

Russia predominates, in the form of a giant Tsar Nicholas II [1868-1918], the fishing line in his right hand running eastwards towards China. Over his shoulder some recent big fish catches are packed into his net, including Port Arthur and Ta Lien-Wan [leased by China to the Russians after the Sino-Japanese War in 1898]; Merv, captured by Russia in 1884, and the central Asian khanate of Khiva, invaded & annexed by the Russians in 1873.

The map’s publication coincided with the Hague Peace Convention, first announced and promoted by Nicholas II and his foreign Minister, Count Mikhail Muravyov in August 1898. The pair were  the principal sponsors of the ensuing Conference which followed at the Hague in the Summer of 1899 and concluded in July with the signing of three international treaties dealing with the settlement of international territorial disputes (through a voluntary international court of arbitration), disarmament, the laws of war and war crimes. The latter included agreements over the humane treatment of enemy casualties & military prisoners of war and unarmed civilians in occupied conflict zones according to the terms of the Geneva Convention [1864]. Also included were attempts to secure international ratification of worldwide bans on the wartime use of aerial bombs dropped from balloons, poison gas, and soft-tipped or cross-tipped bullets & projectiles (so-called “dum-dum” bullets).

Reference to the Convention is clearly made in the olive branch prominently held in the Tsar’s left hand, though the array of weapons in his belt and the backdrop of stockpiled Russian armaments in Finland, and his right hand purposefully pulling on the fishing line that is cast eastwards in the direction of China, perhaps reinforce the views of many in Britain who remained deeply sceptical & suspicious of the Russian’s Tsar’s motives and agenda as the newly enrolled champion of international Peace.

As Rose notes in the accompanying commentary:

[Tsar Nicholas] is offering the olive branch to the world. All honour to him, but if he would discard those toys in his belt and the store under his right arm, and if we knew exactly which fish he is playing on his line, the world might be more ready to accept his offer…

One of the Tsar’s & the Peace Convention’s most dedicated & outspoken supporters in Britain at this time was the well-known pacifist & highly controversial journalist and news editor, W.T. Stead  [1849-1912].

John Bull personifies Britain, a fishing line cast into the North Sea, catching a crocodile labelled Egypt, a reference to the recent Egyptian-Sudanese Mahdist War [1891-1899] and its conclusion following Kitchener’s famous victory at Omdurman [September 1898]. The latter secured an Egyptian-British administration of Sudan and solidified Britain’s vital strategic control of the Suez Canal and Nile River. Other recent catches are displayed in the net over his shoulder, including Mashonaland (over whom colonial sovereignty was established by Cecil Rhodes’s British South Africa Company in 1890). France is shown locked in a violent struggle between civil and military power, symbolised by the Dreyffus Affair [1898] but still not preventing France’s involvement in North & East Africa, with Tunis shown amongst its catches and “Fashoda” about to be hooked in the Atlantic, a reference to the 1898 diplomatic and military confrontation in Sudan between local French and British forces, as France sought to exert its military influence in the Upper Nile basin and thereby threaten British control of the Sudan.

A group of lines coming across the Atlantic from America can be seen catching three fish named Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines, a reference to the United States’ recent acquisition of Spain’s former colonial possessions, as ratified by the Treaty of Paris [December 1898] after  war between the two countries. The American diplomatic delegation which met with their Spanish counterparts in Paris in 1898 ultimately secured the acquisition of the Philippines through the offer of a payment of $20 million (about a tenth of its estimated value)  presented in peremptory fashion & almost as a fait accompli to Spanish negotiators, amid American mutterings of a possible re-opening of hostilities (hence: “whose $20,000,000 gaff recently secured a specimen of “piscis Philippinus” in the accompanying commentary).

The growing industrial might of Germany is indicated by bags of coal, borne on the back of her uniformed Kaiser, who looks eastwards towards Russia and the Orient, the recent catch of Kiao-Chau (Tsingtao, a German protectorate in North eastern China ceded to Germany in 1897/8) dangling around his waist. The Austro-Hungarian Empire appears a country in deep mourning, still grieving the tragic assassination of their much-loved Empress Elizabeth in September 1898.

Spain is a crowned torreodor reduced to his knees by the recent American hostilities, the Spanish royal pretender Don Carlos [1848-1909] lurking in the background, ready to take advantage of the resultant political uncertainty. Portugal holds on to its recently ratified claim to the Mozambique territory of Delagoa (Delauga).

Italy appears as the ageing King Umberto I [1844-1900], well-known for his desire to expand Italy’s colonial empire in North and East Africa, and shown holding some of his most recent catches, including Massowar [1885], Benadir (Somalia [1889]) and Eritrea [1890]. It was a colonial policy that had become increasingly unpopular at home after the disastrous defeat of Italian forces at the Battle of Adowa in Ethiopia in March 1896. Umberto’s popularity had further waned as a result of growing domestic unrest and the rise in socialist ideas. These were reflected in a recent assassination attempt [April 1897] and the imposition of martial law on the City of Milan [May 1898] following protests over rising bread prices and their brutal local suppression with the loss of some 2000 lives. All of which explains the King’s evidently sad demeanour as, with head bowed, he stands “crushed by the burthen he has to bear”. Just 18 months later, in July 1900, Umberto would be assassinated at the hands of Italian anarchist, Gaetano Bresci, supposedly seeking to avenge the deaths of the Milan protesters in May 1898. 

Turkey appears as a reclining Turk, upper body in Europe, lower body across the Bosphorus, the island of Crete its most recent catch, a reference to the recent Cretan insurrection and Greco-Turkish War of 1897 which led to the intervention of the 4 European powers (France, Great Britain, Russia & Italy) and the establishment of Cretan autonomy on Crete under Turkish suzerainty initially with the military control of the European powers & subsequently (from late 1898 onwards) administered by a High Commissioner (Prince George of Greece) elected by the European powers for 3 years.

The increasingly close political and commercial ties between Turkey and Germany are referenced in the tea cup visible in the Turk’s right pocket, stamped with the words “Made in Germany” – “the present for a good boy” as Rose notes dryly in the accompanying description.

The brutal suppression of ethnic Bulgarians at Batak in the so-called April Uprising of 1876 (the focus of William Gladstone’s viciously anti-Turkish Bulgarian Horrors pamphlet [1876] & referenced in similar fashion in Rose’s earlier 1877 Octopus map) together with the more recent Armenian uprisings in Turkey’s eastern territories in 1894-6. The latter “Hamidian massacres” are reported to have resulted in the deaths of as many as 300,000 Armenians and left 50,000 Armenian children orphaned. These are also alluded to in the symbolic skulls (labelled “Bulgaria”  –  referenced in similar fashion on Rose’s earlier 1877 Octopus map –  and “Armenia”) visible on the recumbent Turk’s left elbow & knee. This is the “terrible stain upon his clothes” alluded to in the commentary.

An inset map of Europe appears in the top right corner with a detailed key and explanation in the lower right.

Refs: Barron Catalogue 2005/1 – Cartographica Curiosa, #32; A. Baynton-Williams The Curious Map Book, Angling in Troubled Waters, pp.192-193