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Thomas Onwhyn’s Pictures Of London

July 25, 2020
by the gentle author

Born in Clerkenwell in 1813, as the eldest son of a bookseller, Thomas Onwhyn created a series of cheap mass-produced satirical prints illustrating the comedy of everyday life for publishers Rock Brothers & Payne in the eighteen forties and fifties. In his time, Onwhyn was overshadowed by the talent of George Cruickshank and won notoriety for supplying pictures to pirated editions of Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby, which drew the ire of Charles Dickens who wrote of, “the singular Vileness of the Illustrations.”

Nevertheless, these fascinating ‘Pictures of London’ from Bishopsgate Institute demonstrate a critical intelligence, a sly humour and an unexpected political sensibility.  In this social panorama,originally published as one concertina-fold strip, Onwhyn contrasts the culture and lives of rich and the poor in London with subtle comedy, tracing their interdependence yet making it quite clear where his sympathy lay.

The Court – Dress Wearers.


The Opera Box.

The Gallery.

The West End Dinner Party.

A Charity Dinner.


Rag Fair.

Music of the Drawing Room.

Street Music.

The Physician.

The Medical Student.

The Parks – Day.

The Parks – Night.

The Club – The Wine Bibber.

The Gin Shop – The Dram Drinker.

The Shopkeeper.

The Shirtmaker.

The Bouquet Maker.

The Basket Woman.  (Initialled – T.O. Thomas Onwhyn)

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to take a look at

George Cruickshank’s Comic Alphabet

The London Alphabet

Paul Bommer’s Cockney Alphabet

9 Responses leave one →
  1. David Ellison permalink
    July 25, 2020

    Thankyou for your ongoing emails containing all sorts of images of my home town!
    I look forward to them so much!

    David Ellison
    Port Macquarie

  2. Greg Tingey permalink
    July 25, 2020

    Doesn’t appear to have changed substantially, in 150 years, does it?

  3. Carolyn Hooper permalink
    July 25, 2020

    Just gorgeous drawings, but as I got to “The Parks – Night”, sadness arrived. I felt the cold and the destitution. So little changes in our world, if folks are poor enough.

    Thanks, gentle author – once again.

  4. Richard Smith permalink
    July 25, 2020

    Thank you for today’s blog GA. It must have been difficult to be an artist with a social conscience in Victorian times but as others have commented not much appears to have changed. A case of ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’ I think. Incidentally the shopkeeper appears to be Stan Laurel, what do you think?

  5. July 25, 2020

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, what a contrast Thomas Onwhyn draws between the “haves” and “have nots” of his day. Particularly poignant – “The Parks- Day” and “The Parks – Night.”

    While “Onwhyn was overshadowed by the talent of George Cruickshank,” he showed a subtle humor in depicting each class. Interesting how he was resented by Dickens with good cause. The great writer devoted so much of his life to supporting copyright laws and fighting fraudulent copies of his work.

  6. J. Smith permalink
    July 25, 2020

    An added fascination are the ghost images from the opposite pages —

  7. July 25, 2020

    What Amazing Paintings. I love the mother holding her son on a park seat in a raining night with no where else to go. So Sad.???

  8. jonathan van halbert permalink
    July 26, 2020

    Well you know Thomas Onwhyn’s drawings look awfully amateurish, in comparison to Cruickshank, so it is not surprising that the former fell into obscurity…

  9. Jill Wilson permalink
    July 26, 2020

    I hadn’t been aware of Thomas Onwhyn’s wonderful drawings before now – thank you for bringing them to our attention.

    It would be great if someone were to do similar drawings today to show that the haves and have-nots still exist, and that the gap seems to be widening. One obvious subject would be the haves spending hundreds of pounds on a ridiculously elaborate birthday cake for their children while the have not mothers are queueing at the food banks for bare essentials to survive.

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