The cartoon depicting a man dreaming of monsters is one of two famous illustrations from Punch magazine referencing Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. In a previous post, I presented the other 1855 cartoon, “A visit to the antediluvian reptiles at Sydenham – Master Tom strongly objects to having his mind improved,” which featured a crying boy being dragged over Secondary Island at the site in an effort to “improve” him. In this post, I present the wonderfully fanciful 1855 cartoon, “The Effects of a Heart Dinner After Visiting the Antediluvian Department at Crystal Palace”. This was published in Punch on page 50 (the back page of the issue), issue 708, 03 February 1855. The illustration is unattributed. Page 50 was the back page of that week’s issue.
Punch, or The London Charivari, was a British weekly magazine famous for its illustrated commentary and satire of politics and culture across the nineteen century and twentieth century. Mr Punch became a cultural icon: part jester, part national mascot.
In May and June 1854, Punch celebrated the grand opening of Crystal Palace and Park in Sydenham. Articles in the magazine covered events and fanfare surrounding that occasion. Feature articles reviewed major events at the park and highlighted visitor attractions. Punch offered readers a summary for some of the specialised historical courts in the glasshouse.
As the initial wave of publicity and enthusiasm passed, so did press attention. Later in 1854 and moving into 1855, the Crystal Palace in Sydenham was referenced when events were newsworthy. Mostly, references focused on debates surrounding Sunday opening and the sale of alcohol at the attraction. Punch also absorbed Crystal Palace into its steady stream of cultural references, used as anchor points for other newsworthy subjects or satires.
Dreaming of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs
“The Effects of a Hearty Dinner After Visiting the Antediluvian Department at Crystal Palace” shows one white man sleeping in a postered and canopied bed. For the purposes of the conceit, he is dreaming. In the bedroom are four of the animals depicted by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins in his sculptures at Crystal Palace. These are Megalosaurus (on sleeping man’s stomach), Iguanodon (lower left; this is one of two Iguanodon statues in the park), Plesiosaurus (on chair lower right), and Labyrinthodon (above canopy upper right).
Also in the scene is an Pharaonic, spur-wearing Egyptian man riding the Megalosaurus. In the background left stands a dark-skinned African male, distinguished by a lip plate and rising hair style. Further in the background left is a cloud in which a brass-and-timpani band plays.
Without question, the most famous illustration for Crystal Palace Dinosaurs was the New Year’s Eve Dinner in the Iguanodon Model, which appeared in January 1854 in Illustrated London News, the sober weekly magazine and commercial rival to Punch.
I believe “The Effects of a Hearty Dinner…” makes direct reference to the New Year’s Eve dinner on 31 December 1853. I suspect it is light-heartedly meant to follow one of that evening’s guests from their dinner in the Iguanodon to later in the evening as they sleep off the many-course dinner and many rounds of libation. I believe it was drawn in January 1855 after reminders circulated about events one year previously, and with New Year’s Eve 1854 being the first anniversary of that highly successful promotional event. “The Effects of a Hearty Dinner…” is a clever reference and a clever appropriation.
As much as the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs have been remembered as the icon for Crystal Palace and Park, contemporary references in Punch heavily used Egyptian motifs in its referencing to the attraction. The recently restored Crystal Palace Sphinxes are the last surviving pieces of that element on the site. The A3 pullout poster (a regular feature of the magazine) for the 1854 issue celebrating the opening, titled “A Reverie at the Crystal Palace,” is another strong example. It would be impossible for visitors to the attraction to miss the giant pharaonic statues in the central nave of the glasshouse. The presence of a Pharaonic Egyptian man in the dreamscape of “The Effects of a Hearty Dinner…” is a clear reference to the Egyptian motif.
The African man in the background left of the scene is a reference to the ethnographic displays also in the main glass house. Ethnography formed part of the Natural History Department of Crystal Palace, and statues of Africans and Australians were elements of those displays. Punch used this racialising stereotype in other cartoons, such as in Punch’s Almanack for 1855, “Crystal Palace – Some Varieties of the Human Race,” published in December 1854 alongside another representation of Waterhouse Hawkins’ statues. In this illustration, the man’s fascination with his own reflection, possibly self-admiration or possibly marvelling at the technology of the mirror, is inserted as a supplement to the main image. I find the exoticism of the ethnography distracting to the dreamscape. I find the casual racism unsettling, though it is in line with white British pop-ethnography of the time. In contrast, the inclusion of the band strikes me as complimentary. Possibly, the throbbing head of an oncoming hangover is on its way. Regardless of its interpretation, this high visual density of this cartoon is typical of Punch illustration, with virtually no space left blank.
Crystal Palace had no “Antediluvian Department,” as named in the caption. The statues and geological illustrations on site were organised into the “Geological Department” of the Crystal Palace Company. Such attribution had little meaning in practice. “Antediluvian” is the early- and mid-century term used to describe the geological time prior to the coming of humanity as described in the Bible’s Old Testament. In popular reference, “Antediluvian” was synonymous with “pre-Adamite”, “pre-Genesis”, and “pre-historic” world history and the planet not yet populated by humans. This time was widely understood to include the kinds of animals and plants being revealed by expert collectors (such as Mary Anning of Lyme and Gideon Mantell of Lewes and Brighton), philosophised about by academic intellectuals (such as William Buckland), and put on display in museums (such as the British Museum and Oxford Museum of Natural History). The antediluvian world was richly depicted in the illustration, “The Antediluvian World” created by John Emslie and published by James Reynolds in 1849.
Full page in Punch