Source 15 - Father Thames

This cartoon was originally published in 1858 in Punch, a weekly magazine founded in 1841. The magazine was one of the most successful periodicals of its day, perhaps because of its satirical and humorous yet inoffensive interpretations of topical subjects, events and debates.

The cartoon was published during a period known as the 'Great Stink' which affected the city of London in 1858. Over the summer, residents of central London were overwhelmed by the smell of raw sewage, heightened by the hot weather, coming from the Thames. The river had been contaminated by the overflowing cesspits found throughout the city.

This cartoon depicts personifications of London (seen as a woman with a crown and a shield), the Thames (seen as a large male figure with long hair) and the three diseases Diphtheria, Scrofula and Cholera. The three diseases are represented by figures who display the symptoms of those diseases. The river from which they emerge is full of debris and sewage. Factories can be seen in the background.

  • Look at sources 14 and 15. How effective is the use of political cartoons and imagery in communicating a campaign message?
  • Which cartoon do you think has a stronger impact? Why? How?

Taken from: Punch
Date: 1858
Copyright: By permission of the British Library Board
Shelfmark: p.p.5270.ah