In Search of Winston Churchill’s First Political Cartoon

In Search of Winston Churchill’s First Political Cartoon

First Cartoon? The Current Contender

We are asked: what was the first Win­ston Churchill polit­i­cal car­toon? The ear­li­est dis­cov­ered so far is this one, from the “Essence of Par­lia­ment” col­umn in Punch on 5 Decem­ber 1900. It appeared about two months after young Win­ston was elect­ed Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment for Old­ham, Lan­cashire, on 1 Octo­ber. Alas the car­toon (artist unknown) pos­es more ques­tions than it answers. Churchill is being urged to exhib­it mod­esty, a qual­i­ty he was not known for. But who is doing the urg­ing? We asked sev­er­al authorities.

I first thought the man at right might be Joseph Cham­ber­lain, known for his mon­o­cle. The “Great Joe” was an ear­ly men­tor of Churchill, though they soon divid­ed over Free Trade. But Andrew Roberts points out that Cham­ber­lain had a slim­mer build and nev­er wore a mous­tache. Also, his bou­ton­niere is not Chamberlain’s sig­na­ture orchid, but what looks like a carnation.

And who is the chap at left, who has his right hand replaced by a hook? We asked Lord Dobbs, author of sev­er­al fine Churchill nov­els. He referred to Lord Bak­er, for­mer Home Sec­re­tary and Chair­man of the Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty, who has an inter­est in polit­i­cal cartoons.

Lord Bak­er kind­ly searched for MPs with dis­abil­i­ties and found Michael Davitt, Irish Par­ty, who last served as MP for South Mayo in 1895–99. Davitt had lost his right arm at the age of eleven. He became a promi­nent mem­ber of the Fen­ian move­ment, Lord Bak­er writes. “There are pho­tographs and stat­ues, but they do not show a hook and the sleeve of his coat was left empty.”

None of the Above?

Michael Davitt in 1882. We can­not tell if the car­toon fig­ure is bald, and he would have need­ed to go grey by 1900. (Pho­to by Char­lie Farr, pub­lic domain)

Davitt left Par­lia­ment in 1899, but might fill the bill. He did sport an elab­o­rate mous­tache, though the car­toon fig­ure is old­er than his Wikipedia pho­to. Per­haps he’d gone grey—he died aged only 60 in 1906. Was Michael Davitt still noto­ri­ous enough to get into car­toons in 1900? Did he wear bell-bot­tom trousers? I don’t know. Also, Davitt appears nowhere in Churchill’s books, speech­es, let­ters and papers. We can find no Churchill rela­tion­ship, except that both  were sym­pa­thet­ic to Irish Home Rule.

Is this car­toon num­ber 1? It seems like­ly that Old­ham if not Lon­don jour­nals pub­lished Churchill car­toons when he was first cam­paign­ing, in sum­mer 1899. (Remem­ber, 1900 was his sec­ond attempt at office. His first end­ed in defeat in July 1899.) His image might have appeared in the papers then.

Anoth­er expert con­sult­ed was Tim Ben­son of the Polit­i­cal Car­toon Soci­ety in Lon­don. He agrees with Andrew Roberts that the right­hand fig­ure is not Joseph Cham­ber­lain, but has no con­jec­ture on either fig­ure. Tim believes this is not the first polit­i­cal car­toon. He rec­om­mends a jour­nal called Judy and Fun, which we couldn’t find on the web.

Punch, hap­pi­ly, is archived online, but this too presents prob­lems. Search­ing for “Churchill” dig­i­tal­ly pro­duces five ref­er­ences in 1900: two to Lady Ran­dolph Churchill, two on Winston’s escape from the Boers, and one on WSC address­ing Old­ham vot­ers. But the search engine does not apply to images. We’d have to sift through 1899 and 1900 page by page. For­tu­nate­ly Mr. Gary Stiles, who is pub­lish­ing a book of Punch Churchill car­toons, has sift­ed already and assures us that 5 Decem­ber 1900 saw the first car­toon in the famous magazine.

Earlier non-political cartoons

First ever? The “Sat­ur­day Her­ald,” 18 Novem­ber 1899, depicts cor­re­spon­dent Churchill encour­ag­ing an armoured train sol­dier, three days after his cap­ture by the Boers.

Churchill first achieved noto­ri­ety in the Sec­ond Boer War, when went he went “over the wall” and escaped the POW camp in Pre­to­ria. He’d been sent there after help­ing British defend­ers in the famous armoured train inci­dent. Arrest­ed, he claimed he was a war cor­re­spon­dent. The Boers rea­son­ably asked, then why was he among the British combatants?

Com­ic strip car­toons of “Brave Win­ston Churchill” fol­lowed in the “Illus­trat­ed Police News,” 1 Jan­u­ary 1900.

Churchill’s response was to escape, leav­ing a jaun­ty note to M. de Souza, the Boer Sec­re­tary of War. For gen­er­al amuse­ment, I repro­duce it here from my book of quotes, Churchill by Him­self:

 Sir,—I have the hon­our to inform you that as I do not con­sid­er that your Gov­ern­ment have any right to detain me as a mil­i­tary pris­on­er, I have decid­ed to escape from your cus­tody. I have every con­fi­dence in the arrange­ments I have made with my friends out­side, and I do not there­fore expect to have anoth­er oppor­tu­ni­ty of see­ing you.

I there­fore take this occa­sion to observe that I con­sid­er your treat­ment of pris­on­ers is cor­rect and humane, and that I see no grounds for com­plaint. When I return to the British lines I will make a pub­lic state­ment to this effect. I have also to thank you per­son­al­ly for your civil­i­ty to me, and to express the hope that we may meet again at Pre­to­ria before very long, and under dif­fer­ent circumstances.

Regret­ting that I am unable to bid you a more cer­e­mo­ni­ous or a per­son­al farewell, I have the hon­our, to be, Sir, Your most obe­di­ent ser­vant, Win­ston Churchill.

Nat­u­ral­ly his col­or­ful escape engen­dered var­i­ous car­toons. But these were not polit­i­cal. So the search goes on.

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