This page last revised 23 June 1999
The intention of this short piece is to give an idea of the range of visual commentary on the great Famine of 1845-50. Many are found the pages of Punch and the Illustrated London News, and are increasingly reproduced in publications as varied as academic histories, popular paperback collections, commemorative anthologies and, of course, on the internet. The examples reproduced here are small selection chosen to tentatively explore how colonial attitudes may be explicitly or implicitly discerned in the representations of the Famine produced by and delivered to the imperial centre.
It must be stressed that these notes in no way attempt to provide a history of the famine.
ILN was founded by Herbert Ingram and first published on sat. May 14th 1842. It was priced at sixpence and targeted a broadly middle class readership. Its aim was to bring within the public grasp the very form and presence of events as they transpire; and whatever the broad and palpable delineations of wood engraving can achieve, will now be brought to bear upon every subject which attracts the attention of mankind. That pictorials were viewed as important a vehicle as text for this reporting is shown in this extract from the Address of the first issue. The paper claimed to be non partisan, its first editorial stated We commence our political discourse by a disavowal of the unconquerable aversion to the name of Party. This may have been no more than a desire to gain the widest possible readership and as time progressed the paper displayed its Whig inclination. It displayed moderation and caution in its reportage and this extended to that given the famine, which was largely sympathetic if not quite able to denounce the inadequacy of government policy or the ideas of prevailing economic or political orthodoxy. None of the overt negative stereotyping found in the most acerbic Punch cartoons. Overall an attitude that England had a responsibility towards the victims of what was largely interpreted as a natural disaster.
Below is a selection of images which features in the pages of the journal between the years 1845 and 1850.
First published in 1841 as a weekly journal by Bradbury and Evans. At three pence per copy it soon reached a circulation of 30,000 by 1849. It also claimed to be above party and revelled in its image as jester of the nation. It enjoyed a popularity throughout the century as the leading satirical publication and pontificated through Mr. Punch on many of the political, literary, and social questions of the day. In its early days it espoused certain causes and insisted that it was a supporter of the working man it became less of an advocate for electoral reform as the century wore on. By the last quarter Punch had become increasingly conservative.
In its treatment of Irish affairs the journal concentrated upon political satire and sometimes outright hostility in times of tension, such as during the Repeal Movement, or periods of agrarian unrest. During the famine the journal paid more attention to the political campaign for repeal than it did to the plight of the hungry, preferring to characterise the poverty and destitution as an example of an Irish propensity to laziness and poor husbandry.
Litton, H. The Irish Famine: An Illustrated History
Gray, Peter. Punch and The Great Famine in History Ireland Vol. 1 No. 2 Summer 1993
Kinealy, Christine. Food Exports From Ireland 1846-47 in History Ireland Vol. 5. No. 1 Spring 1997
Online: Vassar's Views of the Famine for copies of several ILN and Punch illustrations of the time.
See also Annotated Bibliography
This project was completed under the direction of Dr. Leon Litvack as a requirement for the MA degree in Modern Literary Studies in the School of English at the Queen's University of Belfast. The site is evolving and will include contributions from future generations of MA students on other writers and themes.
This page was written by Edel Magill. E-mail me with your suggestions.
The Imperial Archive Project is supervised by Leon Litvack. E-mail me with your suggestions.
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