Friday, August 29, 2014

The Legend of Highland Jessie Brown

by John Adcock

R.J.O. — The story of Jessie Brown, of Lucknow, was a fiction, and no doubt was concocted by some hard-up but clever penny-a-liner. – Notices to Correspondents, in The London Journal, No. 785, 1860

THE TRICK for the enterprising penny-a-liner was to sell his fabulous paragraphs to as many newspapers as possible. If the story was picked up by a reputable newspaper it took on a life of its own. One of those reputable newspapers was The Illustrated London News which published a long letter on December 19, 1857, supposed to have been written “by a lady, one of the rescued party.”

[2] Letter “by a lady,” Illustrated London News, 1860

Frederick Goodall A.R.A. (1822-1904) painted a stirring picture of Jessie Brown titled ‘The Campbell’s are Coming’ in September 1857 (Listen HERE). Same year, in October, Henry Lea published The Indian War Chronicle “The Sepoy Mutiny” in penny illustrated numbers. Dion Boucicault wrote and staged Jessie Brown; or, the Relief of Lucknow which was opened at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth in November 1858 for a long run. Boucicault’s play acknowledged the infamous letter by a lady as his source for the stirring melodrama.

[3] Reynolds's Miscellany, February 15, 1858

BEST USE. The best use of the invented character was in James Malcolm Rymer’s fine serial romance, The Sepoys; Or, Highland Jessie, a Tale of the Present Indian Revolt, from Reynolds’s Miscellany, February 15, 1858. Sometime in the 1870s John Dicks reprinted the tale (with lovely Frederick Gilbert cuts taken from the original blocks) in Every Week, retitled Highland Jessie; or, the Cawnpore Massacre. Rymer’s Jessie Brown was no shrinking violet; she defended the besieged British men, women and children with rifle, bayonet and cutlass.


Another legend of the Indian Mutiny involved another woman, Ulrica Wheeler. Wheeler’s fantastic and fraudulent exploits included the murder of a sowar and his entire family:
…when he came home drunk and fell asleep, she took a sword and cut off his head, his mother’s head, two children’s heads, and his wife’s, and then walked out in the night air; and when she saw other sowars, she said, “Go inside and see how nicely I have rubbed the rissaldar’s feet.”… The History of the Indian Mutiny by Charles Ball
[5] ‘A Scene of the Mutiny’
LEA. Henry Lea published another penny partswork, The Sepoy’s Daughter, a True Tale of the Indian War by an Eywitness, in 870 pages. This anonymous work was probably the last work of Thomas Peckett Prest, who died in 1859, although it has also been attributed to John Bridge.

[6] ‘Astonishing the Natives’
[7] ‘Perilous Position of the Fugitives’
[8] ‘The Thug Exercises his Vocation’
[9] ‘The Sergeant in the Folds of the Serpent’
[10] ‘The Attack’
[11] ‘Jeffur Ahib Attacking the Serpent’
[12] ‘The Shazadaii Beheads the Courtier’
[13] ‘The Entrance Into Lucknow’

See also ‘Ulrica Wheeler’ HERE.

‘Hard-Boiled Heroines’ HERE.

‘The Boys From Clerkenwell’ HERE.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Robert Prowse Jr., Sketches and Photographs

by John Adcock

…grandma used to read the stories aloud to him, so he could visualize the scenes in his mind’s eye while he hastily scribbled the postcard sketches…

ROBERT PROWSE Jr. (1858-1934?), contemporary of Paul Hardy, was one of the most prolific of all illustrator’s of British boy’s fiction at the turn of the century. Between the years 1895 and 1932 his startling paintings and drawings were reproduced in full color on the covers of Aldine’s Robin Hood, Claud Duval, Black Bess, Jack Sheppard, Spring-Heeled Jack and Buffalo Bill libraries.

ALDINE. The majority of his work was done for the Aldine Publishing Company but he also contributed to “Best for Boys” Publishing Co. where he illustrated several romances by E. Harcourt Burrage, author of the “celebrated Ching-Ching.” Charles Wright, in Speaking of Aldines, in the Christmas 1957 The Collectors’ Digest Annual, wrote that he “did illustrate a few of the early “Plucks” for the Amalgamated Press.”

ERICA DUNHAM, granddaughter of Robert Prowse Jr., sent me several scanned copies selected from 26 of his penciled preparatory sketches (postcard-sized, approx. 12 cm x 7 cm), plus a photo and self-portrait. In her words:
My mother told me that granddad and grandma (Josephine) were a devoted couple (possibly attested to by the fact they had 17 children over 30 years!) and grandma used to read the stories aloud to him, so he could visualize the scenes in his mind’s eye while he hastily scribbled the postcard sketches preparatory to completing the final illustrations. It is interesting to note that they both lived until well in their 70s when the average life expectancy at the time was barely 50 years old.

I believe my grandfather was a very good artist, doing large paintings and theatre backdrops, but he mainly illustrated books, magazines, poetry etc. to provide a steady income.
[3] Photograph of Robert Prowse Jr. and his wife Josephine with a baby (presumably one of the grandchildren).
[9] Self-portrait done for his granddaughter Peggy (Margaret, the daughter of his son Charles; date unknown).
[11] Photograph of Robert Prowse Jr. and his granddaughter Dorothia, May 1931.

In an earlier post – HERE – I published a photograph of Robert Prowse Jr., one taken in May 1931. It was sent to me by his great grandson, Lawrence Brennan, and is reposted on this page as well.

[12] Death certificate of Robert Prowse Jr.
A Tale of Two Roberts, a biography by Steve Holland is HERE.

You can browse The Island School HERE.

[13] End-design from The Island School.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Metamorphic View of General Nathaniel Lyon

[1] Civil War Patriotic Notepaper.
A Civil War 
by E.M. Sanchez-Saavedra

AN earlier publication here — titled “A Metamorphic View of Jefferson Davis” in Yesterday’s Papers, August 23, 2012 — featured a patriotic sheet of writing paper produced in 1861, depicting Confederate President Jefferson Davis going to war a soldier and returning as a jackass. The clever image, when rotated 180 degrees, produced the transformation: 

[2a] Gen. Lyon, of Missouri — Topsy-Turvy Envelope.

SIMILAR. I recently came across a similar treatment of Union General Nathaniel Lyon (1818-61) on a patriotic envelope. Unlike the scathing Jefferson Davis caricature, this was a highly laudatory image of an early Federal war hero – the first Union General to die in the Civil War. Punning on the general’s surname, the unknown artist metamorphosed his mustachioed profile into the “king of the beasts” and in a rhymed couplet contrasted his image with the earlier well-known Jefferson Davis topsy-turvy:
A Lion, loyal, eager for the fray,
No traitorous ass discovered by the bray.
The image needs to be turned 90 degrees to see the snarling lion’s face and read the verse. 

[2b] Gen. Lyon, of Missouri — Topsy-Turvy Envelope.

YOUNG Nathaniel, a Connecticut farm boy, the seventh of nine children of Amasa and Kezia Lyon, secured an appointment to The United States Military Academy at West Point in 1837. After graduating high in his class in 1841, he served in the second Seminole War and in the war with Mexico in 1846-48. He was wounded and promoted to a captaincy before serving in California and later in the bitter 1850s Kansas struggles between pro- and anti-slavery factions.

[3] Nathaniel Lyon CDV.
TENSION. During the tense months between South Carolina’s secession in December 1860 and the commencement of open warfare in April 1861, the original “border” states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri formed a troubling “third world” of unaligned loyalties. (A “brother against brother” situation would prevail in the border areas throughout the war: East Tennessee unionists attempted to break away from secessionist Tennessee in 1861, while several Virginia counties would form the new state of West Virginia in 1863.) Elected legislators and their constituents included both Union and Secession supporters and a mass of undecided or neutral people. Missouri proved to be a dangerous flashpoint when pro-secession Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson began to cast his eyes on the Federal arsenal in St. Louis.

[4] Claiborne Fox Jackson.
HE RECKONED without the fiery-tempered Union regular, Nathaniel Lyon, who had been ordered to St. Louis to protect the munitions. Raising a force of mainly German volunteers, Lyon combined political strategy with a show of force to remove the stores to Illinois. In retaliation, Governor Jackson ordered out the new Missouri State Guard to begin training for eventual Confederate service. Lyon preemptively marched his equally untrained force against Camp Jackson, took prisoners and marched them through St. Louis. Riots ensued. Lyon’s men fired on civilian mobs, killing 28 in the “Camp Jackson Affair.”

[5-6] Missouri Confederates, 1861.
Lyon was relieved of his duties, but soon received a commission as Brigadier General of Volunteers, in charge of all loyal Missouri forces on May 17. Governor Jackson appointed ex-Governor Sterling Price to command the Confederate Missouri State Guard. After peace negotiations failed, Jackson and Price attempted to reach the state capital at Jefferson City. Lyon pursued Price’s green troops westward and, in a rare early Union victory, Lyon’s equally neophyte army prevented the capture of the state capital by defeating Price at Boonville on June 17, 1861.

[7] General Sterling Price, CSA.
Lyon’s triumph put the Missouri River firmly under Union control for the rest of the war. A patriotic envelope carried a cartoon showing Missouri, depicted as a cat in a cap and apron, boiling a pot of “Secession Soup” captioned “Missouri tasting Secession Soup and gets burnt! and thinks she won’t go in.” Another cartoon, titled Strayed, punned on the names of the three principal leaders, advertising for
“a mischievous JACK[SON] who was frightened and ran away from his Leader by the sudden appearance of a Lion. He is of no value whatever and only a low PRICE can be given for his capture. (signed) [Uncle] Sam.”
[8] Strayed – Battle of Boonville Cartoon.

LUCK RAN OUT for Lyon two months later, however. Many of his ninety-day volunteers had returned home. His “Army of the West,” made up of troops from Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and some regular U.S. Army forces, was short of supplies and outnumbered 2 to 1. A combined force of Missouri State Guards and regular Confederate troops under ex-Texas Ranger General Ben McCulloch now opposed Lyon. The two armies met at Wilson’s Creek, near Springfield, on August 10, 1861.

[9] General Lyon, Harper’s Weekly, August 31, 1861.

BATTLE.  This first major battle west of the Mississippi was characterized by confusion and blunders on both sides. Lyon divided his forces, hoping to flank the enemy, but he and Col. Franz Sigel soon lost contact with each other. Attacking Louisiana troops were mistaken for their own gray-clad Iowa infantry and routed the Unionists. Lyon received two wounds and had a horse shot from under him. While rallying his troops, mounted on a borrowed horse, Nathaniel Lyon was shot through the heart. The martyred general became a rallying point for Union sympathizers.

[10] Missouri tasting Secession Soup — Envelope.
Although Governor Jackson rammed an ordinance of secession through the legislature, Missouri remained in the Federal fold. A majority of the state population still opposed quitting the Union. Although Confederate forces could not drive increasing numbers of Federal troops out of the state, Missouri would become the scene of some of the most vicious guerrilla warfare in North America since the Carolina campaigns of the early 1780s.

[11] Gen. Nathaniel Lyon — Envelope.

“BUSHWHACKERS” under William Quantrill, “Bloody Bill” Anderson and other ruthless commanders kept Missouri in a state of constant violence. Alumni of these irregular guerilla bands included Jesse and Frank James and the Younger brothers, who would carry on a private war against bankers, railroads and other capitalists until Jesse’s assassination in 1882.

[12] English Envelope, 1840.

POSTAL ACT.  The phenomenon of patriotic and comic envelopes and writing paper had begun in England during the 1840s, immediately following the introduction of prepaid postage stamps. In America, the 1845 Postal Act established rates based on weight and distance. (Previously, a separate wrapper or envelope had counted as a second sheet, and doubled the rate, which is why envelopes were rare before 1845.) With the popularity of the newfangled envelopes, merchants and politicians saw a golden opportunity to include advertising on all their correspondence.

[13] Charles Magnus Envelope.

DESIGNS.  The four-way election of 1860 gave scope for stationers and printers to produce and market decorative envelopes touting the candidates, but the outbreak of civil war a few months later spurred the creation and distribution of perhaps 15,000 different designs. Many people were captivated by their color and variety and began to collect them for their own sake or as mementos of the national crisis. They ran the gamut from crude and amateurish anonymous prints to the finely lithographed and hand colored products of Charles Magnus. Lacking the manpower and essential paper, inks and presses, a handful of Confederate publishers nevertheless managed to issue a small number of Southern inspired patriotic envelopes.

[14] General Boar-a-Guard, On Duty — Envelope.

PUBLISHERS.  One of the more prolific publishers was the New-York Union Envelope Depot at 144 Broadway, New York City. The Lyon/Lion design was one of hundreds of patriotic, sentimental and comic envelopes issued by the firm. One design lampooned Confederate General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard as “General Boar-a-Guard,” as a porker in uniform, a Confederate “Stars and Bars” flag attached to his curly tail.

[15] A Southern Gorilla (Guerilla) — Envelope.
Another memorable cartoon showed a monstrous “Southern Gorilla (Guerilla)” accoutred with a musket, a sword, two pistols, a bowie knife, a whip and a canteen of “rot gut.” (The accompanying verse was plagiarised from the New York Daily Tribune for June 17, 1861, the day of Lyon’s victory at Boonville.) A more subdued design imagined “Jeff Davis’ Passport: Mr. Jeff. Davis and friends are permitted to leave the State of Virginia, (signed) Winfield Scott.

[16] Recruits wanted for the Brave Southern Army — Envelope.

BY 1863, after both sides began to tire of the unending battles and high casualties, the patriotic stationery fad waned, although printed envelopes with war themed designs continued to be produced though 1865. These tended to be more serious and sober than the unbridled hyper-patriotic messages of 1861. A popular theme was “the Soldier’s Farewell.” 

[17] Jeff Davis Passport — Envelope.
[18] Soldier’s Farewell — Envelope.
[19] General Frans Sigel, CDV.
[20] General Ben McCulloch, CSA.
For Further Reading: Steven R. Boyd, Patriotic Envelopes of the Civil War: The Iconography of Union and Confederate Covers (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2010).

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Nelvana of the Northern Lights

“There are strange things done in the midnight sun” Cremation of Sam McGee, by Robert W. Service, 19o7
“Many of my sketches were painted after ten P.M., some of them at midnight while the sun was skipping along the horizon till it finally bounced back up. It seemed strange after the sun had passed its full day of shining to see it sink in the northwest and then rise in a few minutes. I saw it but I didn't believe it. The skies I found very fascinating and often quite queer – that is, they would be if seen over a pastoral landscape – but naturally perfect in the settings where sketched.” Franz Johnston, quoted in Canada Moves North by Richard Finnie, 1942

by John Adcock

MY OWN infatuation with superheroes did not last long. I began reading Superman and Batman in 1956 and outgrew them when Steve Ditko left Marvel comics in 1966, just when the stories and art were becoming stale and formulaic and comics began turning to the Burroughsian fantasy and horror genres. My interest these days is mostly in the historical background of comic books and their creators. The 14 year old boy that still lurks somewhere deep in this craggy exterior enjoyed this present Nelvana collection very much but the adult is a little more critical.

[2] “The Devil Ship” – Nelvana of the Northern Lights 
NOT surprising. Since Canadian comic talent was drawn from newspaper staff, high school kids, art school students, sign painters, failed fine artists and a lumberjack or two, Canadian comic books consisted of 90% filler pages and 10% semiprofessional material. Despite the wretched and amateurish color printing (which is part of the charm of Golden Age comic books) these comics had a captive audience when American comics were restricted at the border. For the most part the generation that bought them fresh off the newsstands did not remember them fondly – most I have talked to were relieved to return to superior American product.

[3] Triumph-Adventure Comics, No. 1, August 1941
DUE to the use of heavy blacks and the over-reliance on a paint-brush inking style Adrian Dingle’s artwork somewhat resembled that of Milton Caniff. His inking was most impressive in the early issues which took place under mystical northern lights. The sky shimmers and shakes and everything is wet and glistening. The stories are typical of the Golden Age and its stereotypical heroes and villains. Story and art are above average for Golden Age comics.

“Many, many years ago – as legend has it – KOLIAK the Mighty King of the Northern Lights married a mortal. This so angered the gods that a curse was placed upon Koliak forbidding him to be seen again by earthly beings. His spirit may still be seen in the form of brilliant lights that streak majestically across the northern skies. His beautiful daughter NELVANA inherits her mother’s earthly characteristics and is often seen by human eyes. Her brother TANERO carries the curse of his father and so must never be seen by those of the white race.” – introductory blurb to Nelvana of the Northern Lights

CANADIAN WARTIME comics, which survived in such small quantity, have been highly sought after by collectors at home and abroad. The real value of this nostalgic collection is the rediscovery and reintroduction of Canadian heroes, by Canadian creators, to a new audience. Comic book fans (and Canadian cartoonists) have proudly and enthusiastically embraced Nelvana of the Northern Lights and further collections are planned.

[4] “The Devil Ship”
Canadian Patent Office Records for June 24, 1941, credit Nelvana of the Northern Lights to Franz Johnston, Paul Johnston and Adrian Dingle. Franz (originally Francis) Hans Johnston (1888-1949) and Adrian Dingle co-wrote the first story in the first issue of Triumph-Adventure; and the cartoonist Adrian Dingle took over all writing with the second issue.

Nelvana made her entrance as one of many features in the first monthly issue of Triumph-Adventure Comics, published by Hillborough Studios in Toronto, Ontario in August 1941. Hillborough’s founders were Adrian Dingle and brothers René and André Kulbach. The editor was Henry Helier Hamon. (A curious echo of that name can be found in Harry J. Halperin who edited the comic books Canadian Heroes and Famous Adventure Stories for Educational Projects Inc. of Montreal in 1942 and 1943.)

AFTER the seventh issue of Triumph Comics, as it was titled from issue No. 5, it was published by Commercial Signs of Canada/Bell Features from 1942 until 1946. Six adventures were printed in Bell’s single issue Nelvana of the Northern Lights in 1945. One story was published in Super Duper Comics, published by F.E. Howard in 1947.

[5] Trappers by Franz Johnston
Hope Nicholson, one of the two comic fans responsible for this Nelvana collection (the other is Rachel Richey), discovered that Nelvana was based not on legend, but on a real person, an Inuit woman Franz Johnston met in the Coppermine community in the Northwest Territories in 1939 (read her account, The Real Nelvana, HERE). Johnston may have sketched the real-life Nelvana; perhaps she was the “Eskimo madonna” in the Johnston quote below.

“The majority of my studies were landscape, this being necessary because figure subjects later developed into serious paintings must have convincing settings. I painted trees, rock, snow, ice, freezing, melting, dogs, carioles, sleds, komatiks, igloos, Indians, Eskimos, buildings, trappers, the doctor and his dogs, Indian madonnas and Eskimo madonnas, wild flowers, canoes, etc. – countless subjects, all of which will constitute an authentic record of the country.” Canada Moves North by Richard Finnie, 1942
Nicholson and Richey gained the rights to Nelvana in 2013 and formed CGA Comics to introduce the obscure character to a new audience. The result was this great hardcover volume of Nelvana of the Northern Lights featuring the complete collection of Nelvana stories in black & white and four-color. Due to scarcity, and after a painstaking search for surviving issues, one complete story had to be captured from microfilm.

[6] Adrian Dingle panel detail
Nelvana of the Northern Lights is available in digital or hardcover HERE. 
IDW Publishing copies will be available on Amazon in November HERE.

Hope Nicholson’s Brok Windsor project (HERE) has been fully funded and should be available by this time next year. Rachel Richey’s Johnny Canuck (HERE) is ongoing.