Christmas in the collection - Charades and the Death of Captain Cook

We have a whole host of Christmas related material in our collection and archive. If you've ever wondered how to re-enact the death of Captain Cook for a guaranteed charade win or what James Bond author, Ian Fleming, was doing in Trafalgar Square with a Norwegian Spy and a smuggled Christmas Tree then we have some material for you. Not to mention an army of cruise-ship Santas scaling funnels and handing out presents!

Today we'll be looking at a special edition of the Illustrated London News.

illustarted london news title

The paper began in 1842, when Herbert Ingram realised that people wanted to view the news as well as read about it. Our Caird Library holds various copies from 1842 – 1989 and the paper's legacy remains one of the finest pictorial social histories for British and world events.

1845 Christmas cover Illustrated London News Christmas cover 1845

Christmas was frequently a time for 'seasonal specials', and Christmas 1854 was no exception. An article about the popular Victorian pastime Charades starts 'A Christmas evening without a good frolicking game of Acting Charades is simply a Christmas evening lost!'. A Christmas Day classic even now, Charades involves members of a party acting out a word or phrase whilst others try and work out what it is. This particular article goes on to print a guide for 'CAPTAIN: A Charade in Three Acts'. 'Act I. CAP-', 'Act II. -TAIN (TEN)' and 'ACT III. CAPTAIN. Dramatis personae: Captain Cook, Officer, Sailors, Savages'.

Illustrated London News December 1854 Illustrated London News December 1854

The above image is reproduced from Act III and is accompanied by directions to act out the fate of Captain Cook in the drawing room, complete with a music roll for a telescope, and hairbrushes as epaulettes. As the 'savages' attempt to steal the 'sofa lifeboat' they are about to be executed by 'walking stick shotguns', when suddenly Captain Cook is run through with an 'umbrella spear'. Far from belittling the achievements of the great explorer this demonstrates the influence of naval heroes in popular culture of the time.

Death of Captain James Cook National Maritime Museum The Death of Captain James Cook in our Art & Science of Exploration exhibition

We look at the voyages of Captain Cook in our free Art & Science of Exploration exhibition in The Queen's House. It includes this unfinished painting c.1798 which also represents his death.

Keep an eye out as next time we're seeing what our collection can tell us about Ian Fleming's escapades in Trafalgar Square with a Norwegian Spy and a smuggled Christmas Tree!