- Museum number
- Object: The reformers' attack on the old rotten tree; or the foul nests of the cormorants in danger.
Reformers (left) attack with axes a decayed tree, inscribed 'Rotten Borough System', which anti-Reformers (right) try to support, with arms or props. The tree has bare branches, on which are nests (rotten boroughs) containing cormorants. Nests and the branches near them are inscribed with the names of boroughs: 'Bossiney', 'Beeralston', 'Brackley' [twice], 'Heyden' [twice], [Higham] 'Ferrers', 'Newton', 'West Looe', 'Westbury', 'Bramber', 'Woodstock', 'East Looe', 'Seaford', 'Wendover', 'Old Sarum', 'Gatton', 'Blechingley', 'Bishops Castle', 'Wootem [Wootton] Basset', 'Bedwin', 'Petersfield', 'Boroughbridge' [large and central nest, cf. No. 16602, &c], 'Yarmouth', 'Dunwich', 'Aldborough', 'Appleby', 'Callington', 'Midhurst', 'Whitchurch', 'Orford', 'Saltash'. (A selection from the sixty doomed boroughs, but Westbury was to send one M.P.) At the base of the hollow trunk is a gaping hole from which serpents emerge, darting fangs at the Reformers. Toadstools, toad, and snake surround it.
The foremost Reformers are Brougham, in wig and gown, and Grey: the former's axe-shaft is the mace, the blade is inscribed 'Reform Reform the Laws'. Between them are a boyish Landsdowne [his axe so inscribed] and Althorp whose axe is 'Bum Chopper'. Others are poorly characterized. Grey passively holds his axe, 'Grey's Family Chopper', against his shoulder, and hides behind his back a paper, 'Nepotism' [see BM Satires No. 16578, &c.]. Burdett brandishes his axe. On the extreme left a man, probably Thomas Attwood, holds up a bludgeon with a blade inscribed 'Union Chopper'. Others are merely indicated.
On the opposite side Peel sits with his back against the leaning trunk, while Wellington supports it with both hands; Scarlett, in wig and gown, hands on knees, pushes his posterior against that of Wellington (probably an allusion to the libel actions, see No. 16009, &c). Ellenborough also supports the tree with his arms, and with an elephant's trunk attached to his profile (see BM Satires No. 16038, &c). The dandified Marquis of 'Chandos' uses a prop inscribed with his name (see BM Satires No. 16768) as does Newcastle. Others cannot be identified. From this Tory band rise the words:
'You take our house when you do take the prop
That dost sustain our house—you take our lives
When you do take the means whereby we live'.
["Merchant of Venice", IV. i, adapted.]
In the background (left), behind the Reformers, is a grassy hill, 'Constitution Hill' [cf. BM Satires No. 16634]. On this, silhouetted against a huge rising sun, the King, in admiral's uniform, waving his hat, stands arm-in-arm with the Queen. Near them, also hat in hand, are Pat brandishing a shillelagh, John Bull in a smock, and Sandy in a kilt. c. April 1831
- Production date
Height: 292 millimetres
Width: 406 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- (Description and comment from M. Dorothy George, 'Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires in the British Museum', XI, 1954)
The "Tree of Corruption" which Reformers or John Bull must cut down figures in Nos. 8817 (1796), 11323 (1809), where the fruit is placemen pensioners, or sinecurists, cf. No. 13313; here it is rotten boroughs, i.e. boroughs in Schedule A of the first Reform Bill, see No. 16610, &c. In the third Bill Midhurst, Petersfield, and Woodstock were in Schedule B, showing, as does the attitude to the King and Queen (cf. No. 16635), that this is a plate of 1831. For Attwood's Political Union see No. 16070. Cf. No. 16676.
There is a large silk handkerchief (cf. No. 16676) with this design and title is in the V. and A., Department of Textiles. See 'N. & Q.', 157 (1929), p. 233.
- Not on display
- Associated names
Associated with: John Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl Spencer
Associated with: Thomas Attwood
Associated with: Henry Peter, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux
Associated with: Sir Francis Burdett, 5th Baronet
Associated with: Richard Grenville, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos
Associated with: Edward Law, 1st Earl of Ellenborough
Associated with: Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey
Associated with: Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne
Associated with: Henry Pelham-Clinton, 4th Duke of Newcastle
Associated with: Sir Robert Peel
Associated with: James Scarlett, 1st Baron Abinger
Associated with: Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington
Associated with: William IV, King of the United Kingdom
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number