Fantastic Finds for Friday: Satirical Drawings from the Archive

This month’s Fantastic Finds post showcases some of our archive’s satirical drawings and caricatures.

Topics such as death, disease and medical reform are fertile ground for dark humour and satire. Medicine can also serve as an affective metaphor for criticising unpopular legislation and political decisions. Likewise, prominent figures in healthcare and politics have long been subject to caricature, their fame, influence and privilege making them both recognisable and easy to parody (sometimes affectionately, sometimes brutally).

Caricature of Sir Comyns Berkeley (archive reference RCOG/PH23/20)
Caricature of Sir Comyns Berkeley (archive reference RCOG/PH23/20)

First up is this caricature of Sir Comyns Berkeley. Sir George Harold Arthur Comyns Berkeley (1865 – 1946) was a foundation member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and one of the original signatories of the collections Articles of Association. He also helped to found the Royal College of Nursing.

The print shows him in a top hat and tails holding an umbrella and a baby and is annotated ‘Bardleys the Magnificent’, which is the title of a 1906 French adventure story by Rafael Sabatini.

Next we have two black and white drawings from the papers of Sir Anthony Alment. Edward Anthony John Alment was a leading obstetrician and president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (from 1978 to 1980). While Alment was a supporter of the National Health Service, he was also openly critical of some of the associated politics. Alment’s drawings in our collections concern the controversies surrounding the establishment of the NHS by the Minister of Health, Aneurin Bevan, and his views of the medical profession.

Alment's drawing 'Crocodile Tears' (archive reference S62/3)
Alment’s drawing ‘Crocodile Tears’ (archive reference S62/3)

The first Alment drawing depicts a medical specialist kneeling at the grave of ‘The GP’, a wreath from the British Medical Association on the grave, and a Rolls Royce parked nearby bearing the number plate ‘FRCS FRCP etc’, and a signpost pointing towards ‘State Medicine’. The print bears the title ‘Crocodile Tears’ and is believed to refer to the concerns of General Practitioners about their loss of independence and status, as well as their private practices, as salaried employees of the state under the new National Health Service.

Alment's drawing 'Sail On, O Ship Of State' (archive reference S62/1)
Alment’s drawing ‘Sail On, O Ship Of State’
(archive reference S62/1)

The second print shows Winston Churchill at the helm of a battle-scarred ship, bearing the title ‘Sail On, O Ship of State…’ It is believed to refer to the speech made by the Prime Minister in February 1941 on aid to the Allies from the USA, quoting the poem by Longfellow and concluding with the words ‘Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.’*

The Rival Accoucheurs (archive reference S131)
The Rival Accoucheurs (archive reference S131)

Finally we have The Rival Accoucheurs (1800). This mounted black and white print entitled ‘The Rival Accoucheurs or who shall deliver Europe?’ depicts British statesman, William Pitt as a quack doctor whose prescription is a large sack of gold or ‘Mint seed’. ‘Doctor Bonaparte’ (Napoléon Bonaparte), dressed as Consul, argues that his pills (cannon-balls) are far more effective. ‘Accoucheur’ is an antiquated term for a male midwife, borrowing from the French term for childbirth. The drawing is a satire on Pitt’s policy of subsidising continental powers to resist France in the lead up to the Napoleonic Wars. The print has been attributed to the Scottish painter and caricaturist Isaac Cruikshank.

* Anthony Alment’s drawings are currently on display in the reception hall of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists near the entrance to the library.

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