While the centenary of the outbreak of World War One currently attracts understandable coverage, this year also marks the 160th anniversary of the start of the Crimean War, which has echoes in current events. This was a conflict that arose from Russian moves into the Crimea, following the decline of the Ottoman Empire, which drew a response from Britain and France. While the rationale was the protection of orthodox Russians, it represented a growing expansionism, which Britain, France and Sardinia were eager to prevent, and consequently they landed in Sevastopol in September 1854.
This week’s image is a John Leech cartoon from our Punch collection, and refers to perhaps the most famous incident of the conflict, the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava in October 1854. While the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson immortalised and glorified this action, many were appalled at the disaster of the charge and its attendant loss of life. Punch is calling attention to this during the investigation into the charge in 1856, perhaps one of the first major government inquiries into a British military setback.
The Crimean War gave us a famous phrase -the Thin Red Line – and the naming of clothing items such as the balaclava and cardigan (named in honour of Lord Cardigan from the ill-fated charge). It also saw the rise of familiar names such as Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole in the field hospitals.
We hold a long run of Punch in print from 1841-1936, and access to this material is by arrangement with the LJMU Archivist. In the summer of 2014 the complete full text of Punch will be published online by Gale Cengage, incorporating a database of the contributors to Punch compiled by Dr Clare Horrocks from LJMU’s Research Centre for English and Cultural History. This important work identifying the anonymous contributors will, for the first time, provide crucial data on the social network of writers and illustrators who worked in the literary marketplace of the nineteenth century. Further information about this project can be found at http://www.ljmu.ac.uk/HSS/124772.htm.