Game Laws & Country Sports in PUNCH

Over at the Risky Regencies, Carolyn has written a post about the Game Laws in the Regency period. When I mentioned that I have cartoons from PUNCH on the Game Laws (of course, I have cartoons from PUNCH on the Game Laws!!! *g*), she asked me to share them. 🙂

In the early Victorian Age PUNCH was extremely critical of the Game Laws, which together with the Poor Laws caused a lot of tension in rural areas. Shooting and hunting game was a special privilege of the landowners, and poaching was met with drastic punishments (even transportation!). The situation of rural workers, on the other hand, had gradually worsened since the Napoleonic Wars until many of them were practically starving in the 1840s. In the early 1840s the tensions erupted in the murders of several gamekeepers (this situation forms the background to FALLING FOR A SCOUNDREL: ALLAN’S MISCELLANY 1844: in the prologue the heroine finds the body of her father’s murdered gamekeeper).

cartoon The Game Laws by John Leech

“The Game Laws; or The Sacrifice of the Peasant to the Hare” by John Leech

In “The Game Laws; or, The Sacrifice of the Peasant to the Hare” the artist John Leech points out the miserable situation of the poor country folk: a poacher is about to be sacrificed to an idol statue of a hare, while in the background his wife and his children are walking towards the workhouse.

Moreover,  blood-sports were often associated with idleness and, in the case of politicians,  incompetence. This can be seen in the following illustrated border by Richard Doyle, which shows politicians on a shooting holiday: in the foreground we have Sir Robert Peel and the Duke of Wellington (the guy with the very pronounced, hooked nose!), at the top left is a young Disraeli, at the top right is Brougham on a horse on the way to his villa in Cannes.

Illustrated border by Richard Doyle

Illustrated border by Richard Doyle

Later in the century, financial difficulties in rural areas opened up country sports for middle-class amateur huntsmen, who happily paid for the pleasure of participating in a pastime that had once been reserved to the landed classes. Amateur sportsmen were made the butt of the joke in various PUNCH cartoons: they were generally depicted as extremely incompetent, shooting at each other, at their host, at the gamekeeper, or, indeed at nothing at all.

"A Hit! A Palable Hit!"

cartoon of amateur sportsman from PUNCH
You can read more about country sports in the nineteenth century on my website.

One thought on “Game Laws & Country Sports in PUNCH

  1. Carolyn Jewel

    Oh, thank you for this wonderful post!

    When I was doing my research I came across this commentary, which thoroughly resonates with your post.

    restrictions were for “the prevention of idleness and dissipation in the husbandmen, artificers, and others of lower rank, lastly and principally, for the prevention of popular insurrections, and resistance to the government, by disarming the bulk of the people”

    Here in the US, that last sentiment is causing us a world of trouble. It is fascinating to me that so close in time (That quote is from 1817 — ish I think) to the US revolution of 1776, that this was openly stated in Britain. Perhaps a fresh recollection of the American Colonies and the French Revolution. Not to mention the growing unrest among the poor. That quote reeks of privilege looking to keep things from changing in a world racing toward Reform.

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