CRIMEAN RELICS

Punch Magazine cartoon about the threat to Turkey by the Russian Empire prior to the outbreak of the Crimean War

An exhibition exploring aspects of the Crimean War through items held in the BRLSI collection. Satirical cartoons from Punch magazines bring themes from the war to life.

  • Above: The Russian ‘bear’ embraces Turkey, centre of the Ottoman Empire. Nicholas I, the Tsar, had been speculating for some time about a partition of the Ottoman Empire. Britain and France greatly feared Russia would seize Turkey and force Christian Orthodoxy on its European neighbours.

The causes of the Crimean War (1854–1856) were complicated and varied. Russia, under Tsar Nicholas I, provoked a declaration of war by Turkey, the centre of the Ottoman Empire. Russia had occupied areas under Ottoman control in an effort to force political concessions from the Turks, particularly in regard to the governance of Orthodox Christian populations under Ottoman rule.

Russia expected support from Britain, France, Prussia, and Austria, but European fears of an expanding Russian Empire led to increasing political tension and eventually war.

A FAILURE OF DEMOCRACY

In June 1853, after the collapse of diplomatic relationships with the Ottoman Empire, Russia occupied Moldavia and Wallachia along the Danube, principalities previously under Turkish control. Following this, the Tsar issued a final ultimatum to the Turks. Here the Hussars, representing Turkey, Austria, and France, reject the ultimatum while Britain, in the guise of Punch, looks on contentedly. Both Punch and the Times were part of a strong pro-war lobby in Britain at the time.

Punch Crimea
Punch Crimea

In Aesop’s fable, a bear is stung by a bee while sniffing round its hive and attacks the hive in anger; the swarm retaliates and the bear flees in pain. Here the ‘swarm’ is made up of Turkish, Austrian, Prussian, French, and English ‘bees’, protecting the ‘hives’ of Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, against the angry Russian ‘bear’.

Tsar Nicholas I had once referred to Turkey as ‘a dying man’ in a conversation with Sir Robert Peel and Earl Aberdeen. Nine years later, in 1853, this cartoon portrayed England (John Bull) and France (Napoleon III) beside the Turkish deathbed while the Russian spectre of death hovers overhead.

Punch Crimea

TURKEY PROVOKED

Crimea Punch

At first France and Britain tried to avoid war. However, religious leaders in Constantinople declared jihad against Russia, undermining any further attempts at diplomacy. Turkey, fearing an Islamic revolution, was forced to declare war on Russia on 4 October 1853.

Tsar Nicholas, who had saved the Austrian Empire from destruction by the Hungarians in 1849, now expected Emperor Franz Joseph (more than thirty years his junior) to aid him in the destruction of the Ottoman Empire. However, Franz Joseph was reluctant to antagonise France and England. The sub-caption to the cartoon reads “Old Nicholas – Now then, Austria, help me to finish the Porte”. The Porte was the seat of Ottoman rule in Constantinople.

Punch Crimea

WAR DECLARED

It was England, particularly Lord Palmerston, the Home Secretary, and the British press, who pushed hardest for the Western powers to declare war on Russia. Lord Aberdeen, the Prime Minister, was strongly opposed but eventually conceded to popular opinion and at the end of March, 1854, Britain and France began hostilities with Russia. Prime Minister Aberdeen is depicted vainly holding back the British lion, who strains after a Russian bear, the sub-caption reads “I must let him go!”.

Punch Crimea

In this parody of an Orthodox Christian icon, the Tsar is seated on cannon balls, with a ramrod as a crozier, a mortar as a mitre, and a halo of bayonets.

The Tsar’s aggression against the Ottoman Empire was motivated by his desire to defend the Greek and Russian Orthodox faith against Islam. He assumed Christian nations of Europe would join him in this ‘sacred duty’. However, general opinion in Catholic France and Protestant Britain was that Ottoman rule was more tolerant of their faiths than the feared despotic rule of the

From the publication of this cartoon, in which Punch reluctantly straps on his weapons, the magazine began to publish occasional propaganda cartoons and articles in support of the British troops, some of which are illustrated below.

The Conflict Begins

In Cervantes’ novel, Don Quixote mistook windmills for giants, and was injured by their turning sails. Tsar Nicholas is tilting at this ‘Turkish’ windmill, protected by the sails of its four allies in the war.

Throughout May and June the Russians laid siege to the Ottoman fortress of Silistra. The Turks mounted a fierce defence and eventually the Russians, fearing the imminent arrival of French and British troops, were forced to retreat across the Danube. This was reported in the Russian military newspaper, Invalide Russe, as a tactical withdrawal and a Russian victory.

Cartoon of Don Quixotes

The Western naval fleets bombarded the port of Odessa on 22 April and 12 May 1854, the first direct attack on Russian soil by the allies. The hope of both Aberdeen (the British Prime Minister) and Tsar Nicholas that a Western conflict with Russia could still be averted was now dashed. The sub-caption of the cartoon above reads: Aberdeen “Bombardment of Odessa! Dear me, this will be very disagreeable to my imperial friend” Nicholas “Bombardment of Odessa!  Confound  it! This will be very annoying to dear old Aberdeen”’.

Follow Feeling - The Bombardnment

Montagne Russe was a name given by the French to the earliest rollercoasters, brought to Paris in 1816, inspired by the Russian custom of building perilous snow slopes for racing sledges. Here the apparently nonchalant Tsar rides the sledge of despotism off a cliff edge.

The Giant and the Dwarf

Once the Russians had withdrawn from the Danubian Principalities, following their failure at Silistria, the war could have ended, with the Turks establishing a peace-keeping presence. However, Britain and France had mobilised such a substantial force that they were determined to take further action against the Russians; they chose the destruction of the fortified port of Sevastopol and the Black Sea Fleet as their next objective.The sub-caption reads ‘Giant “Well done, my little man! You’ve drubbed  the Russians at Silistria – now go and take Sebastopol”’.

A Water Party
A Water Party

Once the Russians had withdrawn from the Danubian Principalities, following their failure at Silistria, the war could have ended, with the Turks establishing a peace-keeping presence. However, Britain and France had mobilised such a substantial force that they were determined to take further action against the Russians; they chose the destruction of the fortified port of Sevastopol and the Black Sea Fleet as their next objective.The sub-caption reads ‘Giant “Well done, my little man! You’ve drubbed  the Russians at Silistria – now go and take Sebastopol”’.

The Real "Invalude Russe"

Austria swims behind France and Britain in order to attack Sevastopol, while Prussia has to be coaxed out of the bathing machine; it followed Austria’s lead in foreign affairs and Austria took no active role in the Crimean offensive.

Uniform Discomfort

Striking Effect of Choking and Overloading our Guards at a Late Review

Shako Badges, Helmet Badges, and other pieces of uniform

A shako was a tall military cap used by both cavalry and infantry troops from the French, British and Russian army in the Crimean War. Helmets were less common but some of the Russian officers did wear a leather bell-shaped helmet surmounted by a tall silver ornament. Brass badges identified the units to which these soldiers belonged.

Russian 29th Naval Infantry Regiment shako badge (EUR120)
Russian Naval Infantry shako badge with the unit number missing (EUR121)
Russian uniform buttons. Naval, front and back (EUR128)
Russian uniform buttons. Naval, front and back (EUR128)
Russian Imperial badge of the State Militia. The central boss is marked with the cypher of Emperor Nicholas I . The inscription (from the left arm, clockwise) reads: ‘for Faith and Tsar’ (EUR116)
Russian Imperial badge of the State Militia. The central boss is marked with the cypher of Emperor Nicholas I . The inscription (from the left arm, clockwise) reads: ‘for Faith and Tsar’ (EUR116)
Russian uniform buttons. Fusiliers, front and back (EUR128a)

Russian uniform buttons Left to right: 23rd Infantry   (EUR128b);   Unknown regiment   (EUR128c);   Sapper   (EUR128d);   19th Infantry   (EUR128e)

Badges of the British Royal Fusiliers. ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ is the motto of the English chivalric Order of the  Garter. Its literal translation is ‘Evil be to him who evil thinks’.

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