Eighteenth-century Dublin could very well be described as the second city of the British Empire. It was the seat of Ireland’s government, home to one of the most respected universities in the English-speaking world, and sat at the centre of a complex imperial commercial network which stretched out across the Atlantic into the West Indies and the southern colonies of British North America. By the end of the century Dublin had a population of some 170,000 inhabitants, making it twice as big as the largest provincial cities in England and second in size only to London itself . The city was also home to an overwhelming majority of the nation’s landed gentry, merchants, and industrialists, ensuring it enjoyed the same degree of cultural and economic dominance in Ireland as London did in England. The wealth which poured into Dublin from estates out in the Irish countryside, and from trade with other British colonies, also spurred on the development of a vibrant domestic market for luxury goods of all kinds, including books and prints. It was this combination of rising wealth and the presence of a political and professional class that was distinct from that of the rest of the British Isles, which led to the development of an Irish trade in satirical prints. By the early nineteenth-century this trade was easily the largest carried on outside London and Irish publishers had even begun to import their caricature prints into England. Dublin was not only the second city of empire, it was also, to borrow Vic Gatrell’s phrase, the long eighteenth-century’s second city of laughter.
Books, prints and publishing business in eighteenth-century Dublin
The initial flourishing of Dublin’s print trade seems to have coincided with the foundation of the Guild of St Luke the Evangelist during the latter quarter of the seventeenth-century. The Guild represented the collective interests of cutlers, painters, paper-stainers and stationers and was able to win a series of commercial and political privileges for its members which provided the basis for much of the growth in publishing activity which was to occur in Dublin during the early 1700s . Dublin’s publishing trade had originally been based in the area around Skinner Street on the south side of the Liffey, but by the 1720s publishing businesses, engravers and bookshops, had started to colonise more exclusive streets in the area around College Green and along the major roads which ran north to the expanding middle class suburbs on the northern edge of the city . During the early part of the century, much of the trade in published materials was carried out on a semi-professional basis by individuals dabbling in bookbinding, bookselling or printing, alongside other occupations. These good were often sold from large wooden boxes which were fixed to the walls on the south bank of the Liffey, or from stalls which had been rented in the rooms above the coffee houses in Skinner Street, Essex Quay and Crampton Court . Auctions of printed goods were also common, and by 1724 the market for prints in the city had become large enough to support the staging of specialist sales of “prints and cuts”.
By the late eighteenth-century Dublin’s book and print trade had come on by leaps and bounds. Stallholders and itinerant traders had to some extent been replaced by a large number of specialist shops offering books and prints to consumers in some of the city’s most affluent shopping districts, while ad hoc book auctions had been superseded by regular commercial agreements for wholesale supply with publishers in Dublin and overseas . This growth was driven by both a high level of demand for books within Ireland itself and the development of a thriving export trade with England. The domestic market was dominated by a relatively small customer base of aristocratic and wealthy consumers who were based in Dublin, London and the country estates of the Irish provinces . The business practices of those operating at the top end of the market for printed materials therefore came to reflect the itinerant lifestyles of their clientele, with standing orders, generous credit and quarterly or annual billing being commonplace.
In good years the demand for books in Ireland could propel prices up to levels which were equal to, or even in excess of, those for similar goods sold in London. In 1792, one Irish book collector noted that the prices at a recent book auction in Dublin were “more than London would have afforded” and that “four Scotch and two English booksellers” who had come to the city in the hope of acquiring cheap books “were disappointed in their impudent expectation of finding Ireland a land of ignorance where the best books might be purchased for a trifle” . In addition to domestically published items, Irish book and printsellers also offered their customers a wide range of imported goods. Typically these were purchased through wholesale agreements with London publishing houses but there is also evidence that the city’s most prestigious bookshops entered into substantial commercial agreements, valued at several hundred pounds, with publishers in France, Holland and Northern Italy. If the advertisements which Dublin’s booksellers placed in the city’s newspapers are to be believed then it appears as though it was not uncommon for a single wholesale order from London to contain some 2,000 separate titles by the early 1790s . These would typically be sold on by the Irish retailer with a 12% mark-up added to the original retail price . Given the degree the familiarity which Irish publishers seem to have had with British caricature designs in this period, it seems reasonable to speculate that substantial quantities of prints also passed between London and Dublin in this period.
In addition to the buoyant domestic trade in printed goods, Ireland’s publishers were able to establish a hugely lucrative export trade based around the wholesale supply of retailers in the Irish provinces, Scotland and England. The trade with Britain seems to have been particularly important to many Irish publishers by the closing years of the eighteenth-century, and was largely based upon the sale of pirate versions of books and prints that were originally published in London. This was possible because home rule meant that Irish publishers were exempt from legislation governing copyright over printed material in England, while lower labour costs and taxes on paper, allowed Irish publishers to offer goods at a fraction of the price of an original London edition. The level of undercutting was often severe; a 1791 advertisement for the Dublin bookseller John Archer indicating that customers could typically expect to buy a pirated Irish edition at half, or even a quarter, of the price of the original London edition. . Consequently, Dublin’s publishers began to emerge as serious rivals to London’s dominance of the wholesale market in printed goods in Britain. By the 1790s many retailers in Scotland and the Northern England were abandoning the London publishing houses in favour of new commercial arrangements with Irish wholesalers who could supply works of a similar standard that could be sold on with a much greater mark-up .
By 1801 Dublin was home to a substantial number of businesses dealing in the production and / or sale of printed goods. Wilson’s Dublin Directory for 1801 contains entries for 59 printers, publishers and engravers, 39 booksellers, 9 map and printsellers, as well as 9 other businesses that sold products such as inks, paint, copperplates and paper which could be used in the printing process. Their locations have been plotted onto the modern map of Dublin below.
In 1798 the Reverend James Whitelaw carried out a survey of Dublin in which he divided the city’s inhabitants into the upper, middle and working class groups, based on the occupation of the householder. The picture that emerges is of a contrast between the new affluent western districts of the western half of Dublin and the older, much poorer, districts of the east . Overlaying this data onto our map of print-related businesses reveals a close degree of correlation between the affluence of a particular area and the number of bookshops, printsellers and publishers that were located there. If we look at the map below then it would appear as though roughly 90% of Dublin’s print-related businesses were located to the east of the a north-south axis running from Castle Street in the southside to the top of Capal Street in the north.
The early years of the nineteenth-century were turbulent times for the Irish publishing trade. Union with Great Britain resulted in the extension of English copyright laws to Ireland and the valuable export trade in copied English books withered in the face of threats of legal action from London publishing houses. Meanwhile, the domestic market for printed materials slumped as many of the upper class customers who had formed the core of the domestic market, closed up their homes in Dublin and relocated to London. This forced many Irish booksellers to shift the focus of their businesses towards markets that were drawn primarily from the emerging urban middle classes, resulting in a change in the type of books being sold, with expensive European imports being replaced by domestic fiction and instructional textbooks in many sellers catalogues . The impact of these changes on the market for prints is less clear, but it appears as though caricature prints, which were typically thought of as middle class products, were published in much greater numbers in Dublin in the years after 1801. It’s therefore possible that the development of a distinct Irish trade in printed satire was a byproduct of the fundamental restructuring of Ireland’s publishing trade that took place in the years following the Act of Union.
The Irish trade in caricatures
Detailed analysis of the Irish trade in satirical prints is hampered by the lack of surviving information on the people responsible for producing and publishing many of the prints that were sold in Dublin during the period, and the absence of a publicly-owned collection of Irish satires to rival the large museum holdings of English material. What follows is therefore a narrative history based upon an analysis of the 100 or so Irish prints currently held in the British Museum, and a number of secondary sources which describe the sorts of prints that were circulating on Dublin’s streets during the course of the long eighteenth-century .
It has been suggested that the publication of satirical prints began in Ireland during the Regency Crisis of the late 1780s, but in fact the trade goes back much further than this and was in operation by at least the middle years of the 1760s . The majority of these early satires were copies of English prints which were presumably sold to domestic audiences as well as being exported back across the Irish Sea as part of the wider trade in cheap copies of English books. The outbreak of revolution in America and the resulting push for political and constitutional reform in Ireland, resulted in the publication of a small number of original political satires in the years between 1779 and 1784. However the commissioning of original designs ceased as soon as the years of crisis had passed, indicating perhaps that the domestic market for Irish caricatures remained too small to make the regular publication of such materials a worthwhile commercial venture .
In the years that followed the American War of Independence, Dublin reverted to its role as an emporium for cheap copies of English satirical prints. One of the most noted practitioners in this field during the latter decades of the eighteenth-century, was the publisher Thomas Walker. Walker operated from premises located at 79 Dame Street from 1771 until 1812 and was responsible for publishing The Hibernian Journal, a magazine which regularly contained octavo-sized reproductions of popular English caricatures . The popularity of these plates was such that, during the Regency Crisis of 1788-89, Walker paid the noted engraver Henry Brocas to reproduce a number of English prints which had been critical of the Irish government’s attempts to involve itself in the affair . Another notable name from this period is that of William Allan, a printseller and near neighbour of Walker’s who listed an extensive range of prints by Bunbury, Dighton and Hogarth among his stock .
By the start of the nineteenth-century the Irish trade in caricature prints had begun to enjoy something of revival, triggered in part by the reductions in the stamp duties and other costs which occurred following the brief outbreak of peace between 1801 and 1803 . The history of the trade in this period is predominately the story of William McCleary and J. Sidebotham and the bitter personal rivalry which grew up between them. McCleary began trading from premises located at 31 Lower Ormond Quay in 1791 and by 1798 his business had become sufficiently successful to allow him to move to a larger shop located on Nassau Street. The street, which overlooked College Green, was one of Dublin’s most fashionable shopping areas and home to several shops selling luxury goods such as jewellery, fine clothing and confectionary. The lack of surviving evidence makes it difficult to ascertain the exact nature of McCleary’s business during the 1790s, but from what we know about his later career and the nature of the Irish print trade in general, it seems likely that he was involved in the production of anonymised copies of English prints of some description. The first known examples of caricature prints bearing McCleary’s name are two designs after Woodward and a modified version of Isaac Cruikshank’s The Union Coach, which were published sometime during 1799-1800 .
By the mid-1800s McCleary had begun to take tentative steps towards production of original designs of his own, with A Dreamer and a two plate social satire entitled Cutchacutchoo, or the jostling of the innocents, being two of the most notable examples of these early works. Much of the inspiration for these original caricatures seems to have been drawn from political subjects, with the ambivalent or even hostile stance of many of McCleary’s satires on British policy suggesting that his shop may have been one of the few printsellers in Dublin to produce items that were ostensibly marketed at wealthier members of the city’s Catholic and dissenting Protestant communities . Perhaps the most extraordinary example this type of political print is the 1806 satire The Letrim Trashers or Paddy Trashing the 11 Sheaf!!, which is one of the few surviving caricatures produced in Ireland during this period to take a favourable view of armed insurrection. The print refers to the ‘Threshers’, a loose confederation of Irish agricultural labourers that simultaneously rose-up in several of Ireland’s rural counties during 1806-07 to oppose the compulsory payment of tithes to the Anglican church. In the foreground of the print two Threshers beat a fat Anglican clergyman who was making off with their eggs, grain and livestock. One of them says “…I wish we had them Rogues that took our Parliament House away and left us nothing but plenty of starvation. We’d trash while there would be a grane [sic] of bribery left. In the background another Thresher sets about a fat gentleman, who may be the local landowner, with gusto, saying “since trashing is in season I’ll give you a bellyful of it.” It is difficult to determine whether caricatures like this are indicative of any particular political affiliation on McCleary’s part. He was certainly responsible for producing political prints that were far more radical than those of many of his counterparts but he was also not averse to publishing satire which took opposing stances on the same issues. In 1821 for example, he had the artist Joseph Gleadah produce caricatures that both applauded and attacked the Marquis of Wellseley’s stance on Catholic emancipation .
Copies always accounted for the majority of William McCleary’s caricatures. Many of these were of designs that had been imported from London and the range of artists and publishers whose works McCleary pirated, which includes obscure names like John Cawse, John Johnston and Walker of Cornhill, alongside more obvious targets such as James Gillray and the Cruikshanks, indicates the degree of familiarity which many Irish publishers must have had with the works of their British counterparts. However, while it was evidently considered fair game for Irish publishers to produce illicit copies of English designs, McCleary’s decision to begin copying the caricatures of his rival and fellow Dubliner J. Sidebotham during the mid-1800s was to provoke outrage and result in a protracted feud being publically played out between the two men.
Sidebotham had opened his first shop at 24 Lower Sackville Street in 1802 and by 1810 his business had moved into the ground floor of one a building overlooking the southern end of Carlisle Bridge. Copies of English works were just as much a feature of Sidebotham’s early output as they were of McCleary’s, but from the outset he also placed a much greater emphasis on the publication of original caricature designs. His business model seems to have been developed in a deliberate attempt to emulate upmarket English print shops like Hannah Humphrey’s and Rudolph Ackermann, with flattering social satires making up the bulk of many of his original works and the Brocas family being employed to ensure that the prints themselves were of the highest quality . The prints Choristers, Limbs of the Law and A Queer Fellow at College providing excellent examples of the style of caricature Sidebotham favoured .
The relative popularity of Sidebotham’s prints can to some extent be determined by the frequency with which they were copied by William McCleary. By 1809 McCleary is known to have produced pirate versions of at least ten of Sidebotham’s caricatures and was attempting to undercut his rival by selling the copies at a reduced price. Sidebotham responded making McCleary himself the subject of a vicious caricature entitled The Extinguisher! which was published in 1809. In the print a wizened and balding McCleary stands next to a huge candle snuffer that rests on a pile of Sidebotham’s caricatures and is emblazoned with the names of the prints which the publisher is accused of plagiarising. McCleary addresses the viewer, boasting that:
I am the Great Extinguishing Caricaturist! I put out the rays of Genius emanating from all my Competitors & cram my pockets with the undivided plunder of Monopoly!! I practice all unfair methods to prevent any Man from carrying on the same Trade as myself or using those means of Existence which (luckily for me) were so successful in raising me from Indigence & Obscurity;—Having but little brains of my own I feel no compunction in taking advantage of what Nature has imparted to others, by servilely copying their productions & unlawfully participating in the profits of their labour; Such is the inveteracy I bear towards my Rival that I am determined should he invent a Steam Engine or a Smoke Jack a Caricature or a Cheese toaster I will clumsily Imitate, and Sell them in N——u Street for the price of a Salt Herring!!!
He also began including lengthy denunciations of McCleary in his publication lines and the example found on the print The meeting of Doodle and Noodle at the Mansion House of the Lord Mayor of London 1813! is fairly typical in its attempt to “caution the public against McCleary of N° 32 Nassau St & his spurious copies of all S’s Original Caricatures which are uniformly made by him in the most Daring & dishonest manner for the purpose (as he publicly declares) of putting down all competition in the trade heretofore monopolized by himself”. McCleary seems to have been virtually oblivious to these attacks and, with the exception of a sly dig at Sidebotham which was inserted into the 1809 print A View of the Four Courts, was apparently happy to go on copying Sidebotham’s prints regardless .
The feud with McCleary must have come to a temporary halt in 1815, as this was the year in which Sidebotham moved to London in order to try and further his career in the capital. By early October 1815, he had acquired premises at 74 Newgate Street and established a business relationship with George Cruikshank which resulted in the production of at least two new caricatures – British Liberty at Blackheath. Or, Justice Shallow’s unwarrantable warrant against walking!!!and The departure of Apollo & the muses-or- farewell to Paris. More prints by Cruikshank followed in November and December, and the frenetic pace of Sidebotham’s publishing does not appear to have been interrupted by the sudden decision to move into vacant premises which became available at 96 Strand. The London arm of the business was to remain at this location, in the heart of the metropolitan publishing and retail district, for another two years before Sidebotham finally decided to move to the West End and acquired different sets of premises on St James’s Street, New Bond Street and finally in Burlington Arcade. In addition to this it appears as though he retained some kind of trading presence in Ireland, as his publication lines from this period also list an address at 20 Capel Street in Dublin .
Only one reference to Sidebotham’s career in London seems to have survived and it is worth mentioning here because it perhaps sheds some light on the kind of man he was. Shortly after he arrived in London in 1815, Sidebotham sent a note to the shop of a rival published, the radical William Hone, asking for some copies of the print Louis XVIII climbing the Mât de Cocagne to be supplied, and warning that unless they were handed over at a reduced rate, a pirate copy would be produced and sold cheaply in order to undercut Hone. When Hone refused to give in to this blatant blackmail, Sidebotham carried out his threat, first by attempting to bribe George Cruikshank into handing over the original copperplate of the print, and then eventually by employing an unknown artist to produce a cheap copy. An errand boy was dispatched to Hone’s shop with six pirate copies of the …Mât de Cocagne and a provocative note which asked the proprietor to swap the copies for original editions of the print. Hone responded to this insolence by tearing the copied prints to pieces and sending them back to Sidebotham with a note of his own in which he thanked the Irishman for his gift. Sidebotham flew into a rage and attempted to sue Hone for the destruction of his property, however the case was thrown out of court by an magistrate who saw immediately that “Mr Hone had received great provocation, as well as serious injury by the plaintiff’s piracy” . One can only imagine how William McCleary must have reacted when he heard the news.
In 1820 Sidebotham finally gave up his plans to break into the London market and returned to Dublin. He acquired a new shop at 37 Nassau Street, just yards away from the premises owned by his old friend and William McCleary, and began publishing prints again. One of the last caricatures to appear carrying his publication line was A Taylor’s Board!!!. The overt meaning of the print is unclear but the print contains a flattering portrait of Sidebotham, who is seen perusing a substantial order for new caricatures. The print also contains evidence of a resumption of hostilities between Sidebotham and McCleary, whose name heads a list of “dirty dogs” who are to be fined for failing to keep their shop doorways clean.
The production of satirical prints appears to have fizzled out in Ireland during the course of the 1820s. The description of Sidebotham’s shop as a “general repository for music, prints &c” that appears in the in the publication line of A Taylor’s Board!!!, suggests that the move back to Dublin had prompted him to rethink the nature of his business and reduce the emphasis on caricature publication . The agrarian revolts that spontaneously erupted across the rural counties of southern Ireland during the early 1820s provided McCleary with plenty of material to sustain a final burst of creative activity during the first half of the decade, but then his name disappears from the historical record sometime around 1824. In part this decline was probably part of a wider change which seems to have taken place across the British Isles during the late 1820s and early 1830s, as single sheet caricatures began to be phased out and gradually replaced by caricature magazines, scrap sheets and other more ephemeral forms of print. It also reflects the specific political and economic changes that had occurred in Ireland since the turn of the century, as many of the factors that had underpinned the growth of Dublin’s print trade in the eighteenth century were gradually eroded following the passage of the Act Union in 1801.
1. Fagin, P., ‘The Population of Dublin in the Eighteenth Century with Particular Reference to the Proportions of Protestants and Catholics’, Eighteenth-Century Ireland, Vol. 6, (1991), p. 146.
2. Kennedy, M., ‘The Domestic and International Trade of an Eighteenth-Century Dublin Bookseller: John Archer (1782-1810)’, Dublin Historical Record, Vol. 49, No. 2 (1996), p. 94.
3. Kennedy, M., ‘Politicks, Coffee and News’: The Dublin Book Trade in the Eighteenth Century’, Dublin Historical Record, Vol. 58, No. 1 (2005), pp. 79.
4. Further information Crampton court can be found at:
5. Kennedy, M., ‘Book Mad: The Sale of Books by Auction in Eighteenth-Century Dublin’, Dublin Historical Record, Vol. 54, No. 1 (2001), pp. 48-71.
6. Kennedy, M. ‘The Domestic and International Trade of an Eighteenth-Century Dublin Bookseller: John Archer (1782-1810), p. 97.
7. Ibid., p. 98.
8. Quoted in ibid., p. 97.
9. Hibernian Journal, 22nd April 1802.
10. Kennedy, M., Ibid., p.101.
11. Dublin Chronicle, 31st March 1791.
12. Peter, I., Six Centuries of the Provincial Book Trade in in Britain, Papers Presented at the Eighth Seminar on the British Book Trade, (Durham, 1990), p. 145.
13. Fagin, P., pp. 146-151.
14. Kennedy, Ibid., pp. 101-102.
15. Seymour, J., ‘Old Dublin Caricatures’, The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. 37, No. 1, (Mar. 31, 1907), pp. 69-73. Is particularly enlightening as it makes reference to a number of Irish caricatures that are not listed in the British Museum’s catalogue but which were freely available in many of the secondhand bookshops that lined the quays of Edwardian Dublin.
16. Robinson, N., ‘Caricature and the Regency Crisis: An Irish Perspective’, Eighteenth-Century Ireland, Vol. 1, (1986), p. 176. The earliest verifiable example of Irish satire held in the British Museum is a copy of James Basire’s Companion to Yae-ough which was originally published in London during the 1750s before being copied and reissued by Thomas Sillcock of Skinner Street in 1764.
17. See also BM5542, BM5543, BM6610 and BM6650. The print Inish na Gebraugh, which was published anonymously in 1779, may also have been one of the first original political satires produced in Ireland. However, the inclusion of a reference to the English Copyright Act of 1739 in the publication line and the mangling of the well-known Irish phrase “Erin Go Braugh” in the title, suggests that this was probably originally published in London.
18. Robinson, N., pp. 175 -176
19. Raftery, P.J., ‘The Brocas Family, Notable Dublin Artists’, Dublin Historical Record, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Dec., 1961), p. 27.
20. See BM catalogue for examples.
21. An advertisement placed by one Dublin bookshop in 1802 provides some further evidence to support this notion and strikes a celebratory tone by informing the reader that the proprietor was “desirous that his Customers should benefit [from] lowered… rates of Insurance, Freight, Carriage, and other Expenses attending the Importation of Books; and [from] the Duty on Paper being part taken off, by the legislature”. Hibernian Journal, 19th April 1802.
22. The prints after Woodward are Country Characters; Publican and Grumblers. See the B.M catalogue for further details.
23. The other was a publisher names T. O’Callaghan, whose shop was located near the entrance to Ross Lane on Bridge Street. The location is significant because the area around Bridge Street and High Street was home to a number of booksellers that dealt specifically to a Catholic clientele (See Kennedy, M., ‘Politicks, Coffee and News’: The Dublin Book Trade in the Eighteenth Century’, p. 78). BM11911 is the only surviving example of a print carrying O’Callaghan’s publication line that I have been able to locate. It relates to the 1812 election for the constituency of Newry and takes a favourable view of the nationalist lawyer John Philpot Curran, who had stood as an independent candidate.
24. See BM14405 and 14408 for examples of contrasting political prints by McCleary on Wellesley’s policies.
25. Sidebotham’s extensive reproduction of a number of works by Gillray suggests that Humphrey’s shop may have been a particular influence. See BM 9932a, BM10303a and BM11610a for examples.
26. The latter print is particularly interesting as it claims to be plate number 297 in a series of caricature portraits entitled Sidebotham’s Public Characters.
27. The print depicts four lawyers in their chambers. At the margins of the print are a bundle of legal papers which includes a document headed “McCleary – Si[idebotham] Action for Defamation”.
28. The exact nature of Sidebotham’s business at 20 Capel Street is unclear. The address appears on a number of prints that were published by Sidebotham and J. Le Petit between 1815 and 1820, suggesting that the two men were either occupying two different shops in the same building, or that they had entered into some form of commercial agreement before Sidebotham left for London. Given that the Capel Street address mainly appears in the publication lines of prints that were copied from an original English design, I would suggest that the relationship was based around an agreement for the supply of cheap Irish copies of English satires which Sidebotham could then sell on from his shop in London. In exchange Le Petit may have been licensed to sell copies the new caricatures which Sidebotham was producing in London. Le Petit’s experience of working in London during the 1790s may also have had some bearing on Sidebotham’s decision to relocate there. See BM12616, BM13009, BM13054 and BM14079 for caricatures by both Le Petit and Sidebotham which provide 20 Capel Street as the publisher’s address.
29. W. Hackwood, William Hone: His Life and Times, (London, 1851), p. 107. This was not an isolated incident. Sidebotham had also produced a copy of Hone’s Fast Colours in October 1815. See BM12618.
30. The British Museum catalogue tentatively suggests that an undated caricature of Colonel Sibthorp which was published by a “E Sidebetham of 38 Burlington Arcade” may have been by J. Sidebotham. The attribution is puzzling because, whilst the caricature is unlikely to have been published before Sibthorp entered Parliament in 1826, Sidebotham is not known to have published any other prints from this address after 1817 (see BM12917).