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[“Geographical Fun”] Ireland

  • Author: Lilian [Eliza Jane] Lancaster (artist / map designer) - William Harvey ['Aleph'] (author of accompanying text))
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton, London
  • Engraver: Vincent Brooks, Day & Son, Lithographers, London
  • Date: 1868
  • Dimensions: sheet: 23 x 27 cms


Comic map of Ireland designed by Victorian teenager, Lilian Lancaster for “Geographical Fun”, London 1868

About this piece:

[ Geographical Fun ] Ireland

Colour-printed lithograph. Sheet edges and outer margins slightly browned, soiled & creased, especially at lower right and lower right corner. With all a very attractive & presentable example.

Attractive Victorian comic map of Ireland, The Emerald Isle, land of herrings & potatoes, represented by the figures of a “naturally graceful” Irish woman wearing a colourful turquoise bonnet,  a wicker basket strapped over her shoulder and a young child on her back, the latter enfolded in a green plaid tied around the woman’s waist. The child holds a small fish in its right hand, whilst the mother carries in her left hand  what appears  to be a curiously designed Victorian picnic case.

The map appeared in Geographical Fun: Being Humorous Outlines of Various Countries with Introduction and Descriptive Lines by “Aleph.”, first published by the London firm of Hodder & Stoughton in December 1868. The twelve map designs were the work of the talented teenage artist, Eliza Jane Lancaster [1852-1939], whom the Introduction to the book claims first came up with the idea “when seeking to amuse a brother confined to his bed by illness.”

Eliza Jane would subsequently become a successful Victorian actress adopting the stage name Lilian Lancaster. Initially trained under the auspices of the Haymarket Theatre’s stage manager, Thomas Coe [c1820?-1886], well-known for his schooling of juvenile Victorian actors and actresses during this period, her stage debut took place at the Haymarket in April 1871 in Tom Noddy’s Secret. She rapidly became a popular provincial actress, comedienne and pantomime artiste, working mainly in the North of England, especially for the companies of theatrical impresarios Sefton Parry and Wilson Barrett. She became particularly closely associated with Barrett’s Theatre Royal in Hull. She toured New York and the Eastern United States in 1880-81, initially with English actor George Conquest’s Grim Goblin Theatre Company. Her renditions of the comic song, Lardy Dah, at New York’s Wallack’s Theatre during performances of the ill-fated Grim Goblin in the summer of 1880 brought further US fame & popularity. In late 1883 she toured the British Isles & Ireland in the Company of famous Shakespearean actor, Barry Sullivan. Her stage career effectively ended following her marriage to William Edward Tennant in August 1884. Even in her later years, she continued to remain active as an artist and map designer, working with female author, E L Hoskyn, to produce a series of twelve attractive map designs to illustrate the latter’s retelling of popular fables & fairy tales, Stories of Old [London, 1912].

The descriptive lines are by London journalist and antiquarian, Dr. William Harvey [1796-1873], who worked under the pen name “Aleph”. It is probable that Harvey and Lancaster had become acquainted in North London’s Islington area, where both Harvey and Lancaster’s mother’s family appear to have been close neighbours in the 1860’s.

The twelve comic maps that comprise Geographical Fun were in fact published primarily a self-improving mnemonic aid for young Victorian students, as Harvey himself highlights in the book’s Introduction:

It is believed that these illustrations of Geography may be rendered educational, and prove of service to young scholars, who commonly think Globes and Maps but wearisome aids to knowledge, by enabling them to retain the outline of various countries so humorously caricatured in the work, by associating them in their mind’s eye with odd fancy figures. The bluffs and headlands of Scotland would be identified with the struggling Piper….If these geographical puzzles excite the mirth of children; the amusement of a moment may lead to the profitable curiosity of youthful students, and embue the mind with a healthful taste for an acquaintance with foreign lands. No history, no journal can be understood without a knowledge of maps, and good service is done when we make such information more easy and agreeable. 

Ireland was a country to which Lancaster returned with some regularity in several map designs through a long & successful artistic career. She subsequently produced an extremely rare series of Comic Geographical Sketches of England & Wales, Scotland & Ireland in 1878, published by the Scottish firm of Ormiston & Glass, later reproduced in postcard form. For this, as with her subsequent map of Ireland for EL Hoskyn’s Stories of Old [1912], Lancaster drew inspiration for her design from the legend of St.Patrick, banishing all snakes & serpents from the Emerald Isle.

Several of Lancaster’s original manuscript maps are now held in the collections of the British Library. Many of the themes and much of the content for these remarkable maps was drawn directly from her first-hand experiences on the Victorian stage and particularly the fabulous magical world of late 19th Century pantomime.

Refs: Lilian Lancaster