Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mokeanna; or, The White Witness (1863)

‘…The Chapeau Blanc, rooted to the spot, follows the Mokeanna…’
by John Adcock

The origins of Mokeanna; or, The White Witness. A Tale of the Times, form an interesting story. The serial began in Punch on February 21, 1863. That year Francis Cowley Burnand – later Sir Francis – ‘frequently saw Reynolds’s Miscellany’ on the newsstands and ‘much did I admire the dashing pictures by that master of his craft John Gilbert…’

[2] as visualised by John Gilbert, Punch, 21 February, 1863.
Burnand was mistaken; Frederick Gilbert supplied the illustrations to Reynolds’s; his brother John Gilbert supplied them to the London Journal. Burnand then began writing a parody in the penny serial style and approached proprietor Mr. M’Lean (Burnand’s spelling) who bought jokes from him on occasion, at his looking-glass shop in Fleet Street, downstairs from the FUN office, and began to read to him. But ‘He never chuckled; he rubbed his hands and slightly coughed, that was all.’

[3] as visualised by George du Maurier, Punch, 28 February, 1863.
Burnand then read the manuscript to his friend Fred. Collins Wilson who said ‘Bravo! We’ll have it illustrated! I’ll get the artists to burlesque themselves! Gilbert will do it! And I’ll get Jack Millais! And Hablot K. Browne! It’s first rate!’ Wilson’s connections got Burnand a deal with Punch.

Each installment was ‘Dramatically divided into Parts, by the Author…’ And when Mokeanna started appearing on February 21, 1863, ‘It created a sensation.’
In the first place, so well had Mark Lemon kept the secret, that the senior partner, Mr. Bradbury, who, having been invalided for some little time, had been unable to attend at the office, on receiving his early copy of Punch on the Sunday previous to its date of issue, was utterly horrified, on opening it, to see, as he thought, the first page of the London Journal (or of Reynolds, for I forget which it was) appearing as the first page of Punch! The error was just possible, as the London Journal (or Reynolds) was at that time printed by Messrs. Bradbury and Evans.    
[4] as visualised by Charles Keene, Punch, 14 March, 1863.
Bradbury considered it risky business but by the second number they knew they had made a hit with the public. Burnand said W.M. Thackeray told him that ‘he wished he had written it.’ Mokeanna (no doubt from ‘mockery’) was illustrated by John Gilbert, Hablot K. Browne, Charles Keene, George du Maurier and John Everett Millais. Mokeanna, by the way, was the name of the mule — shades of Black Bess!

[5] as visualised by John Everett Millais, Punch, 21 March, 1863.
Burnand wrote tons of stage burlesques with titles like Faust and Loose and Sir Dagobert and the Dragon; or How to run Through the Scales and The Frightful Hair; or, Who Shot the Dog? He would rise to the editor’s chair at Punch and crown his career by receiving a knighthood. One of his most famous books was The New History of Sanford and Merton (subtitled: Being a True Account of the Adventures of “Masters Tommy and Harry,” with their Beloved Tutor “Mr. Barlow”) which boasted 77 illustrations by Linley Sambourne.

[6] Some of Punch’s editors: Mark Lemon, Shirley Brooks, Tom Taylor and Francis Cowley Burnand.
The 1873 book version of Mokeanna can be read online HERE.

[7] Our Boys’ Novelist, Harry Furniss did the pictures, Punch, 11 March, 1882.
Punch tried something similar (under editor Burnand) with the serial Our Boys’ Novelist, illustrated by Harry Furniss and starting March 11, 1882. The serial parodied the boys’ periodicals of Edwin J. Brett and George Emmett. The heroine ‘Cachuca’ is named after ‘an uninhibited dance craze of the 1840s, something like the Lambada crossed with a Cancan.’ Mike Saavedra notes of the spoof advertising pages that
The ‘advertisements’ for ‘Bamboozelum’ sound suspiciously like the old bawdy ballad of ‘Kafoozalem, Kafuzalem, the Harlot of Jerusalem, Prostitute of Ill-Repute and daughter of the Baa-Baa.’ Oscar Brand recorded it back in the 1950s.
♦ Francis Burnand’s Records and Reminiscences (1903), in 2 volumes.

[8] 11 March, 1882.
[9] 25 March, 1882.
[10] 25 March, 1882.
[11] 3 June, 1882.
[12]  3 June, 1882.
[13] Spoof advertising page. ‘The Way We Advertise Now,’ in Punch, 12 November, 1881.
[14] Spoof advertising page. ‘Our Recreations; or, How We Advertise Now,’ in Punch, 28 January, 1882.
[15] ‘Man is but a worm,’ illustration by Linley Sambourne, in Punch’s Almanack for 1882, published 6 December, 1881.

Thanks to E.M. Sanchez-Saavedra.


  1. As one of the characters is a mule, a 'moke', it's possible that the intended pronunciation was 'moke-anna'.
    This work also made fun of pseudo-scientific explanations in contemporary narratives in the following passage, ‘The pressure of the atmosphere beneath him opposed his descent, and as he had calculated, impelled him with a fearful velocity upwards into space, but with an inclination towards the west’, associated with a detailed footnote beginning ‘This apparent phenomenon may be easily and scientifically explained [...]’ (Punch, 44 (21 March 1863), 115). Is it possible that this was already parodying Jules Verne, whose first adventure novel _Ciinq semaines en ballon_ was published in Paris in January 1863?

  2. Thanks for pointing that out, Richard. It is very possible that Burnand was making reference to Verne's novel. Balloons as a mode of transportation were common in the penny papers, particularly for boys, but the pseudo-scientific explanation is something I have never seen and makes it very likely that his intent is to parody Jules Verne.