The Objects

10th Apr 1815

Source: © Trustees of the British Museum, reproduced with permission.

Westminster Pugilism

Contributed by: Mark Philp

This complex print by Charles Williams depicts Samuel Whitbread’s (verbal) attack on Lord Castlereagh in the House of Commons on 10 April for his part in the negotiations at the Congress of Vienna, and for the declaration of hostilities against Napoleon.

Whitbread (1764-1815) had long been an opponent in the House of Commons to the continuation of the war with France, and he became still more agitated and hostile about its resumption on the return of Napoleon. On 7 April he moved a motion deploring British involvement in attempts to determine who should rule France. In the bout with Castlereagh three days later he demanded a full disclosure of Castlereagh’s activities in Vienna.

Whitbread (who inherited his father’s brewing empire) is presented here as a drayman; Castlereagh appears as a gentleman, with the Order of the Garter over his shirt.

Williams would use the imagery of boxing on other occasions – notably ‘Boxiana, or the Fancy’ (October 1815), depicting Napoleon being kicked when down by the Prince Regent, subsequently George IV. The metaphor was an influential one. Prize fights were major public occasions: Hazlitt’s famous essay ‘The Fight’ records a bout between Bill Neate and Thomas Hickam in November 1821 that was watched by some 22,000 people.

The suggestion of cheating in some of William’s captions captures the fragility of the line between acting within the rules, and bending or breaking the rules so as to gain ascendancy, whether in war, in parliamentary controversy or in the sport.

For the longer version, including a transcription of the captions in the caricature, see Further Information

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This complex print by Charles Williams depicts Samuel Whitbread’s (verbal) attack on Lord Castlereagh in the House of Commons on 10 April for his part in the negotiations at the Congress of Vienna, and for the declaration of hostilities against Napoleon. Whitbread (1764-1815) had long been an opponent in the House of Commons to the continuation of the war with France, and he became still more agitated and hostile about its resumption on the return of Napoleon. On 7 April he moved a motion deploring British involvement in attempts to determine who should rule France. In the bout with Castlereagh three days later he demanded a full disclosure of Castlereagh’s activities in Vienna. Castlereagh is reputed to have responded that ‘To the hon, gentleman it was, no doubt, easier to calumniate his Majesty’s ministers and the Allies of the country on imperfect documents than on full information for experience had shown that when he proceeded on the latter, no one had been less fortunate than the hon. Gentleman in establishing the charges which he thought proper to adduce among public men.’ Whitbread (who inherited his father’s brewing empire) is presented here as a drayman; Castlereagh appears as a gentleman, with the Order of the Garter over his shirt.
Williams had used the imagery of boxing on other occasions – notably ‘Boxiana, or the Fancy’ (October 1815, BM 12613) depicting Napoleon being kicked when down by the Prince Regent, subsequently George IV. The metaphor was an influential one. Prize fights were major public occasions: Hazlitt’s famous essay ‘The Fight’ records a bout between Bill Neate and Thomas Hickam in November 1821, which was watched by some 22,000 people. The suggestion of cheating in some of William’s captions captures the fragility of the line between acting within the rules, and bending or breaking the rules so as to gain ascendancy – whether in war, in parliamentary controversy or in the sport.
The print also has a rather more poignant significance. The protagonists died in very similar circumstances. Whitbread suffered deteriorating physical and mental health and on 6 July 1815 he committed suicide by cutting his throat in his London home. Castlereagh went on to follow up Waterloo by negotiating a new peace treaty and alliance in the summer of 1815, but his return to peacetime politics in Britain was marred by a series of controversies – including the use of mounted guardsmen against a peaceful crown in St Peter’s field in Manchester in 1819, dubbed Peterloo – and providing Shelley the occasion for his Masque of Anarchy (1819) and the lines:
I met Murder on the way -
He had a mask like Castlereagh -
Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
Seven blood-hounds followed him.

The strains of political office finally broke Castlereagh; he showed increasing evidence of mental instability and in August 1822, he too committed suicide by cutting his throat.
Male suicide involving cutting of the throat seems to have been a common method in this period, although the problems of recording make it difficult to assess whether it was more or less common than using a gun, slashing one’s wrists, or using drugs. Its use may partly have been a matter of opportunity – the razor was ubiquitous and to hand. But it raises questions about how far this means might have been considered an honourable course; or whether in fact, it was the confluence of instrument, mirror, reflection, and inner torment that led to its adoption. It is notable that Napoleon’s one suicide attempt was with poison. And it is not clear that in France the throat was especially favoured as a target for self-destruction. So this may have been a national predilection. Montesquieu claimed in L’Esprit des Lois (1748) that the English were especially prone to suicide: he made no comment the question of method, but attributed the high rate to the English weather.
From left to right the captions are:
Hiley Addington (represented as one of Castlereagh’s seconds) clutches a bottle of Curracoa (representing Curaçoa, an island off South America which was originally colonised by the Dutch but which changed hands on several occasions in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars before returning to Dutch control after Waterloo in 1815) and shouts: That’s a prime facer, there goes the Brewer.
Backbenchers comment: Lombard Street to china orange (a phrase for uneven odds, contrasting the wealth of Lombard Street in the banking sector of the City of London, with a china orange signifying poverty) and: I knew Sam had no chance from the beginning of the battle, he hit at random.
Another responds: Why Sir if you observed he more than once pinked Brother Hiley the bottleholder instead of aiming his blows at Bob. Sam is a glutton, but has no more science than Ikey Pig. Tho he has gained easy victories over some provincial novices at th fairs at Bedford. He is not able to contend with tip top professors.
[Whitbread’s bottle holder carries a cask inscribed Entire W. ‘Entire’ refers to the beer brewed by Whitbread’s throughout the 19th century]

His second, concerned, says: Zounds Man you should have guarded your jaw better why that left handed facer will floor you.
Two backbenchers exchange comments: Who would have thought it! Sure Sam has not been in proper training. / No he has’ent taken brown stout enough!
The base of the print contains a ‘match report’
1st Round. No sparring – Sam set too, without much ceremony. He made three or four hanging hits at Bob Stewart (alias bit of Blue)’s head; but it was evident he misjudged his distance terribly. Sam acted in this round quite on the offensive, tho’ he shifted his ground constantly, and threw many hits away right and left. Towards the end of the round he lost his temper, tried a cross buttock but failed; and after an irregular struggle was thrown on his back against the ropes.-
2nd Round . in this round the Irishman showed himself a flash man, and as cool and determined a pugilist as was ever pittied [sic]; he sparred cautiously at first, parried all Sam’s hits with much dexterity, and punished him about the head and body with the greatest good humour. Sam seemed uneasy at this treatment; and at length Bob Stewart (alias bit of blue) took compassion on him, and planted a left handed facer on Sams jaw, which floored him and put an end to the round – Lombard Street to a china Orange against Sam. –
3rd Round , Sam rallied and sprung on his legs with much gaiety; his wind seemed untouched, and his jaw stronger than ever; he affected to make play but the Irishman smiled with confidence. Sam tried to pink him below the waist; loud cries of “foul, foul,” which Sam disregarded, and the battle went on, until the Irishman fibbed him severely, and Sams friends took him out of the ring.


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