The New Union: Club, Being a Representation of what took place at a celebrated Dinner, given by a celebrated - society

George Cruikshank’s ‘The New Union Club’ is one of the most racist and most complex prints of the 19th century. It purports to show a dinner held at the African Institution that becoming increasingly drunken and debauched as the evening progresses.

In ‘The New Union Club’, Cruikshank employs many common 19th-century racist stereotypes of black people – drunkenness, aggressiveness, and sexual promiscuity – and lampoons the idea that black people could aspire to behave like white people. In the print, the white abolitionists are portrayed as unsuspecting and bewildered innocents who find themselves entirely out of their depth. Cruikshank seems to suggest that their association with black people has corrupted them – that they are being ‘uncivilised’ rather than black people becoming ‘civilised’. Meanwhile, the idea of relationships between races is ridiculed.

Many familiar and important figures are represented. Abolitionists like Wilberforce, Stephen and Macaulay appear next to the street entertainer Billy Waters and the radical Robert Wedderburn. Around them, mayhem prevails.

Cruikshank was influenced by a pamphlet entitled ‘More thoughts still on the state of the West India Colonies and the proceedings on the African Institution with observations on the speech of James Stephen Esq.’, which was published in London in 1818. It was written by Joseph Marryat MP, the agent for the island of Grenada, and was a challenge to the abolitionist cause. Cruikshank was also influenced by a print by James Gillray – ‘The Union Club’ (1801) – which showed a drunken dinner celebrating the Anglo-Irish Union of 1801. In Gillray’s print, the objects of ridicule were the Irish and their supporters. For Cruikshank, the targets of racist caricature and abuse were black people and the abolitionists.

While there are clear political and social comments in this satirical print, it was also intended to be entertaining. For all its racial prejudices, it was meant to be funny, and thus tells us something about wider public attitudes to black people and racial difference. This print, and others like it, suggests the depth of racial prejudice in 19th-century Britain.

Object Details

ID: ZBA2498
Collection: Fine art; Special collections
Type: Print
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Cruikshank, George; Humphrey, George
Date made: 19 July 1819
Exhibition: The Atlantic: Slavery, Trade, Empire; Trade and Commerce
People: Humphrey, George; Cruikshank, George
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Michael Graham-Stewart Slavery Collection. Acquired with the assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund
Measurements: Sheet: 361 mm x 525 mm; Image: 312 mm x 482 mm; Mount: 484 mm x 635 mm

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