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Boney Bothered or an Unexpected Meeting – 1808

  • Author: Charles Ansell Williams
  • Publisher: Thomas Tegg
  • Date: 1808
  • Dimensions: Sheet: 26.8 x 40.8 cms

Description:

Entertaining map-themed caricature dated 1808 referencing Napoleon’s hopes of overthrowing British power in Bengal & the Orient

About this piece:

Charles Ansell Williams (artist) – Thomas Tegg (publisher)

1808

Boney Bothered or an Unexpected Meeting

Sheet: 26.8 x 40.8 cms. Plate: 25 x 35 cms. Original hand colour. Paper pleasantly toned with occasional light marks and soiling in lower blank margin. Top right corner with very slight loss at sheet edge. Traces of old stitch binding holes along left edge of sheet in blank margin. With all a well-preserved and brightly coloured example.

Attractive map-themed Napoleonic caricature dating from 1808, designed by English caricaturist Charles Williams and published by London printer Thomas Tegg in Cheapside. The print depicts the comic Gillray-esque figure of Napoleon, his head crowned by a huge feathered tricorn hat, emerging from the nether regions of the World to place his left foot upon a stylised map of Bengal and the East Indies, a symbolic sword in the foreground highlighting the Plan of Operations in the East Indies that lies unfurled in front of him. To his great surprise and annoyance the French Emperor is greeted by the stout & portly figure of John Bull, already in situ and armed with an knarled and hefty oak staff. Stuffed in his back pocket can be seen a report labelled Secret Intelligence. In the foreground are stylised cartographic representations of France and Great Britain, the latter euphemistically labelled The Tight Little Island.

The two protagonists exchange words which are displayed in speech bubbles in the top of the image. The emerging Napoleon announces in annoyance & surprise:  “Begar, Monsieur Jean Bull again! Vat -you know I was come here!”. John Bull responds: “To be sure  I did – for all your Humbug deceptions I smoked your intentions and have brought my Oak Twig with me, so now you may go back again.”

The cartoon references supposed French military intentions to extend the existing theatre of war beyond Europe to Bengal & British India. In 1801 Russian Tsar Paul I had proposed secret plans for a joint Franco-Russian expedition against British India. The idea was resurrected again in 1807-1808. In February 1808 in a letter to Paul’s successor, Tsar Alexander I, prior to their subsequent meeting in the German City of Erfurt in September & early October of that year, Napoleon had outlined new grandiose plans for a large military expedition against Turkey via the Bosporus with some 50,000 troops as a means of threatening British interests in the Indies. Additionally it is said he also planned a naval expedition into the Indian Ocean via the Cape of Good Hope route. The Orient had been a source of huge fascination for Napoleon since an early age. He was a great admirer of Alexander the Great and the vast empire that he had established across much of Central Asia. And ever since his expedition to Egypt in 1798 he had harboured plans to form alliances with many of the native Indian princes in British India, most notably Tipu Sultan, in order to foster rebellion and overthrow the administration in Bengal. In 1807 Napoleon had also signed the Treaty of Finckelstein with the Persian Shah, Fath Ali, to secure safe passage of French troops through Persia in order to invade India. Fortunately the terms of the Treaty werre never implemented or ratified and shortly afterwards Fath Ali reneged on the agreement, falling back into the arms of his former British ally, largely through skilful British diplomatic pressure and the offering of an array of lavish gifts, including an enormous diamond valued at many thousands of rupees. Under the terms of a new treaty with Persia agreed in March 1809, Britain blocked off any chance of foreign troops entering and traversing Persia in the future, as part of a possible invasion of British India. Britain also agreed to come to Persia’s aid militarily should she be attacked by another foreign power, even if that power was also at peace with the British at the time. Large annual subsidies were also made to the Shah whilst British army officers from the east India Company were brought in to help train and modernise the Persian army. The 1809 Preliminary Treaty of Friendship and Alliance between Britain and Persia effectively brought to an end any French hopes of overthrowing British rule in Bengal.

Williams’ caricature is seen relatively infrequently on the market.

It is recorded in the holdings of numerous British and American institutional collections, including the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum, the Bodleian Library, the Victoria & Albert Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University Library, and in the Napoleonic Satires collection at Brown University Library.