Monday, January 18, 2010

A Tale of Two Roberts


By Steve Holland

Robert Prowse (1826-1886 ) and Robert Prowse Junr. (1858- )
Born in Liverpool in 1826, the son of Richard (a lapidary) and his wife Elizabeth, Robert Prowse was a prolific artist for penny dreadfuls, rated amongst the best of the woodcut artists working in the field. His illustrations accompanied some of the most famous of the ‘dreadfuls’, including many of Edward Harrison's publications (The Blue Dwarf, Black Bess, Blueskin, etc.), Charley Wag, Fanny White and many of the novels from the Emmett family.

His earliest known artwork appeared in The Weekly Magazine (1860) and his illustrations accompanied a number of long-running serials in the London Herald including Percy B. St. John's ‘The Sailor Crusoe’ (Nov 1861-Jun 1862) and ‘Lealliwah, or the Valley of Cedars’ (from May 1862), engraved by Walter Gorway. Around the same time he was also illustrating ‘Ethel Grey, or Alone in the World’ by W. Stephens Hayward (Halfpenny Journal, 1861).

Prowse became one of the leading contributors to boys' adventure weeklies in the 1860s, contributing to Vicker's Boys' Journal, The Young Englishman's Journal (approx. 1867-73) where he illustrated many of George Emmett's famous stories, including the famous ‘Shot and Shell’ series and ‘Charity Joe’ -- and The Boys' Standard (1878).

Robert Prowse's brother Henry Prowse, born c.1821, was an engraver, who, I believe, died in 1873. His son, Henry (born 1851), was also an engraver.

Robert Prowse was married to Jane Anne Smith in Clerkenwell in 1858 and had seven children: Robert (1858), Jessy Jane (1860), Arthur (1862), Jane Adelaide (1864), Maud Elizabeth (1873), Grace Ethel (1876) and Frederick Ernest (1879). Jane Prowse was ten years his junior, and during his early artistic career the family lived in Clerkenwell, London EC, where four of their children were born (the last registered in Islington). The Prowses later moved to Battersea where a further three children were born. In the 1881 census the family was living at 80 Freke Road, Battersea, Surrey. The senior Robert Prowse died in 1886.

There has been some confusion over the years about Robert Prowse's long career, which seemed to extend into the 20th century. His work was usually signed “R.P.” which has led to some confusion over the years. There was a second Robert Prowse, the son of the penny dreadful artist, born in Clerkenwell in 1858. Prowse junior married Josephine Veillard in Wandsworth in 1878 and had thirteen children: Josephine (1880), Beatrice (1881), Robert (1883), Jessie J. (1884), Kate E. (1887), Richard M. (1889), Charles G. (1891), Tom (1894), Rene (1896), Albert E. (1898), Mildred A. (1899), Dorothy M. (1901) and Marjorie Adelaide (1903).

His earliest known work appeared under the byline R. Prowse Junr. In 1877 when he provided illustrations for The Vacant Throne! by Oswald Allan (London, E. Head, 1877) and Everybody's Christmas Annual whilst still in his late teens. He provided covers for a number of E. Harcourt Burrage's novels when they were published in the “Best for Boys” series in 1892-93.

It was around 1893 that Robert Prowse junior began his association with the Aldine Publishing Co., producing illustrations for their partwork publications of Burrage's The Lambs of Littlecote and The Island School amongst many other contributions. His illustrations appeared in Aldine's Garfield Boys' Journal (1894-95) and Aldine Cheerful Library (1894-95), and he worked for most of Aldine's library titles, becoming their main cover artist from the mid-1890s. His work can be found on Boys' First-Rate Pocket Library, Aldine Detective Tales, and Aldine Romance of Invention, Travel and Adventure Library in the 1890s. Probably his most famous covers were for the Aldine Robin Hood Library, and he continued to provide cover art for years to come, his last known work appearing on the Aldine Invention Library (1913) and Aldine Cinema Novels (1915).

Robert Prowse Junr. was living in Tottenham, Middlesex, in 1901 with his wife Josephine (born in Paris) and two children, Josephine and Beatrice, both born in Battersea. I'm still not sure when Robert Prowse Jr. died but my best suspect died in Romford, Essex, in 1934 aged 76. Unfortunately, there's no way of confirming this without a copy of the death certificate.

Illustrations by Robert Prowse Sr.

The Double Man; or, The Revelations of an Old Jailer. London, John Lofts, 1860?

Charley Wag, the New Jack Sheppard. London, United Kingdom Press, 1860.

The Blue Dwarf, by Lady Esther Hope. London, E. Harrison, 1861[1860-61].

Jessie, the Mormon's Daughter. A tale of English and American life. London, E. Harrison, 1861.

The Mysterious Man; or, The Three in One. London, Webbe, 1861.

Black Bess; or, The Knight of the Road [by Edward Viles?]. London, E. Harrison, 1863.

Blueskin. A romance of the last century [by Edward Viles?]. London, E. Harrison, 1863.

The Women of London. Disclosing the trials and temptations of awoman's life in London, with occasional glimpses of a fast career [by Bracebridge Hemyng?]. London, George Vickers, 1863.

Fanny White and Her Friend Jack Rawlings. A romance of a young lady thief and a boy burglar. London, George Vickers, 1863.

The Boy Brigand; or, The Dark King of the Mountains. London, Henry Lea, 1864.

The Boy Rover; or, The Smuggler of the South Seas, by Lieutenant Parker. London, Henry Lea, 1864.

Gentleman Clifford, and his white mare Brilliant; or, The Ladies' Highwayman. London, E. Harrison, 1864.

The Life and Career of a London Errand Boy, by John Bennett. London, Henry Vickers, 1865.
Rose Mortimer; or, The Ballet-girl's Revenge. London, London Romance Co. [Newsagents' Publishing Co.], 1864.

Red Ralph; or, The Daughter of the Night, by Percival Wolfe. London, London Romance Co. [Newsagents Publishing Co.], 1865.

Wild Will; or The Pirates of the Thames, by Percival Wolfe. London, London Romance Co. [Newsagents Publishing Co.], 1865.

Hounslow Heath and its Moonlight Riders, by Julian St. George. London, London Romance Co., 1866.

The Mystery of Marlborough House. A tale of trial and temptation. London, E. Harrison, 1866.

The Sailor Crusoe, by Percy B. St. John. London, "London Herald", 1866.

The Black Highwayman [by Edward Viles?]. London, E. Harrison, 1869.

Robin Hood and the Outlaws of Sherwood Forest, [by George Emmett].London, Temple Publishing Co., 1869.

Dick the Diver; or, The London Treasure-seeker. London, T. Roberts,1870?

Union Jack. The British boy sailor, by Charlton. London, A. Ritchie, 1870?

Captain Tom Drake; or, England's Hearts of Oak. London, A. Ritchie,1870?

The Gipsy Boy; or, The Green Woods and Battle Fields. London, Edwin J. Brett, 1870 [1869-70].

Tom King and Jonathan Wild; or, The Days of Young Jack Sheppard. London, A. Ritchie, 1884.

Charity Joe; or, From Street Boy to Lord Mayor, by George Emmett. London, Hogarth House, 1885?

The War Cruise of the Mosca, by George Emmett. London, Hogarth House, 1885?

Illustrations by Robert Prowse Junr.

Ching-Ching’s Own, by E. Harcourt Burrage. London: W. Lucas, 1888 [covers].

Dashing Duval; or, The Ladies' Highwayman. London, Palmer & Co., 1889? [**].

Hal o' the Heath, the Wandering Heir, by E. H. Burrage. London, "Best for Boys" Publishing Co., 1892. [cover].

Lionel the Bold; or, The Circus Rider's Revenge, by E. H. Burrage. London, "Best for Boys" Publishing Co., 1892. [cover].

Jack Jaunty; or, Friend and Foe, by E. H. Burrage. London, "Best for Boys" Publishing Co., 1893. [cover].

The School of the Regiment; or, Life at Bangfire Barracks. London, Aldine Publishing Co., 1893.

The Lambs of Littlecote. A thrilling school story. London, Aldine Publishing Co., 1894-95. The first 13 numbers were illustrated by Harry Maguire, the rest by Prowse.

The Island School. A story of school life and adventure. London, Aldine Publishing Co., 3 vols. 1895-96.

Happy Jack, the Rover. London, Aldine Publishing Co., 1895.

Broad-Arrow Jack, by E. Harcourt Burrage. London, [Hogarth House?], 1897?

Dick Strongbow, the Diamond King, by E. Harcourt Burrage. London, [Hogarth House?], 1897?

Buffalo Bill Library. London: London: Aldine Publishing Co. [1st series] 1897-1909, [2nd series] 1909-1913, [3rd series] 1912-1918, [4th series] 1918-1932. All covers were by Prowse.

Buffalo Bill Novels. London: London: Aldine Publishing Co., 1901?

The Robin Hood Library. London: Aldine Publishing Co., 1901-1906.

The Dick Turpin Library. London: Aldine Publishing Co., 1902-1909.

The Claude Duval Library. London: Aldine Publishing Co., 1902-1906.

The Spring Heeled Jack Library. London: Aldine Publishing Co., March to September 1904, 12 numbers.

The Jack Sheppard Library. London: Aldine Publishing Co., 1904.

The Black Bess Library. London: Aldine Publishing Co., 1909-1910.


[**] Dashing Duval is dated by James/Smith as ca 1875 but describes itself as the “most interesting and thrilling story ever presented to the boys of Albion.” The short-lived magazine, Boys of Albion was launched by Palmer in 1888, hence the likely date for Dashing Duval in 1889.


  1. Hello, I am the great grandson of Robert Prowse Jnr and have two brilliant watercolours of Dick Turpin RP(1903)recently given to me by my father and now proudly adorn my dining room wall. Rene was my grandmother who lived in Seven Kings (London)and reached age 99(1995) and I remember the pictures hanging in her front room. I have some scribbled notes and photos about the family that I will be investigating and have enjoyed reading your contents.Thanks, Lawrence Brennan

    1. Hello Lawrence - I am a family historian & author for the Prowse/Prouse family & would be most interested in contacting you as I am in the planning/research phase of several more books about the family including one on the growing list of Prowse artists and celebrities. Although born in India & raised in the UK, I am currently living in North Carolina, USA, & can be contacted at
      Sincerely, Susan Prowse Tako
      189 Stone House Rd., Hendersonville, NC 28739, USA

    2. Hi, it only took six months or so for me to return to this page & spot your post!
      Feel free to email me:
      Lawrence (Larry)

  2. Hi Lawrence, Good to hear from you. If you have a photo of Robert Jr., or Sr., would love to see it. I can be emailed at

  3. Would be interesting to know if Lawrence Brennan has any family stories handed down about his ancestors' work for Viles. We still know so little about the supposed author of Blueskin and Black Bess.

    1. Hi Peter,
      I'm afraid I don't really have any insight for you. I do know he was was commissioned to paint Buffalo Bill when the Wild West Show came to London.
      Feel free to email me:

  4. I am curious as to the possibility of Robert Prowse Jr. being the artist responsible for the Garfield Library Series I (92 issues) and II (8 issues) covers? Any ideas would be helpful?



  5. I don't have any information on the Garfield Library but the Aldine Garfield Boys' Journal, begun 26 Sept 1894 featured illustrators Paul Hardy and W. H. Overend in the first issue. One serial, "Adrian the Swordsman" by Ernest Brent was illustrated by William Boucher. E. H. Burrage also contributed as an author. It ended in July 1895 after 45 numbers and was incorporated into the Cheerful Library [New Series].

  6. Hi, I am a granddaughter of Robert Prowse Junior. My mother was Marjorie Adelaide, born in 1903, the last surviving child who is not mentioned in your biography. That makes 13 who survived to adulthood plus 4 who died in infancy.
    The only works I have of my grandfather's are numerous postcard sized preparatory pencilled sketches. Imagine the whole Battle of Culloden depicted on a postcard - fantastic!
    I have just been referred to your website by a cousin in London. I live in Australia, have recently retired and acquired a computer, so will be delving further into the family history

    1. Hi Erica,
      Two years later I spotted your post!
      The Death Cert was fascinating showing my Nan was 'In attendance' as she would have been around 7 months pregnant with my dad!
      I hadn't seen the pencil drawings or that great photo either!
      Had you seen the one I provided with Dot?
      My email address is:
      Larry X

  7. I can add one small publication for which the elder Robert Prowse drew occasional comic illustrations in the 1860s and 1870s: the London, Provincial and Colonial Press News, a trade journal edited by William Dorrington. Prowse and Dorrington may have come to know each other through Dorringtons own occasional forays into Holywell Street penny dreadfuls. Dorrington mentions him by name as "our regular artist" in Press News Nov. 16, 1868 p 18.