Old Mat's last resting-place by Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne), facing page 449. (February 1856). Steel-engraving. 9.8 cm high by 16.5 cm wide (3 ⅞ by 6 ⅜ inches), vignetted, full-page illustration for The Martins of Cro' Martin, Chapter XLV, "Mr. Repton Looks in," facing page 449. See Michael Steig, Dickens and Phiz, Plate 124, by permission of the author [Return to Steig. [Click on the image to enlarge it; mouse over links.]

Passage Illustrated: Old Mat Landy's Final Resting-place

On the day after that some of whose events we have just recorded, and towards nightfall, Mary Martin slowly drove along the darkly-wooded avenue of Cro' Martin. An unusual sadness overweighed her. She was just returning from the funeral of poor old Mat Landy, one of her oldest favorites as a child. He it was who first taught her to hold an oar; and, seated beside him, she first learned to steer a “corragh” through the wild waves of the Atlantic. His honest, simple nature, his fine manly contentedness with a very humble lot, and a cheerful gayety of heart that seemed never to desert him, were all traits likely to impress such a child as she had been and make his companionship a pleasure. With a heavy heart was it, therefore, now that she thought over these things, muttering to herself as she went along snatches of the old songs he used to sing, and repeating mournfully the little simple proverbs he would utter about the weather.

The last scene itself had been singularly mournful. Two fishermen of the coast alone accompanied the car which bore the coffin; death or sickness was in every house; few could be spared to minister to the dead, and even of those, the pale shrunk features and tottering limbs bespoke how dearly the duty cost them. Old Mat had chosen for his last resting-place a little churchyard that crowned a cliff over the sea — a wild, solitary spot — an old gable, a ruined wall, a few low grave stones, and no more. The cliff itself, rising abruptly from the sea to some four hundred feet, was perforated with the nests of sea-fowl, whose melancholy cries, as they circled overhead, seemed to ring out a last requiem. There it was they now laid him. Many a time from that bleak summit had he lighted a beacon fire to ships in distress. Often and often, from that same spot, had he gazed out over the sea, to catch signs of those who needed succor, and now that bold heart was still and that strong arm stiffened, and the rough, deep voice that used to sound above the tempest, silent for ever. [Chapter XLV, "Mr. Repton Looks in," 449]

Phiz's New Picturesque: The Rugged Irish Coast

Although technically this atmospheric composition is not a dark plate of the type that Browne used so extensively in Bleak House (1852-53), Phiz has employed the intensely dark boulders in the foreground to create a dramatic chiaroscuro that highlights the headland on which the wind-swept figure of Repton turns away from the Atlantic to observe the interment of the old Martins' retainer. Contributing to this melancholy sense of the picturesque is the ruined Celtic church and headstones that imply that once a remote fishing village thrived here. Two fisherman bend over the grave with Mary Martin in mourning, but the rugged crags and oppressive sky dwarf the three actors in the funeral in so desolate a place so far from civilisation.

Commentary by Michael Steig (1978)

Up through Lever's The Dodd Family Abroad (1852-54), Browne's use of emblematic details in illustrations remains fairly steady, but from 1855 on their number dwindles, and although Little Dorrit has a few, Lever's The Martins of Cro' Martin (1854-56) has none at all. Browne's etched line becomes darker and bolder, but it has not lost its sensitivity, and there are a number of plates for this novel which are scenically splendid. They reveal Browne's new interest in composition, and in the arrangement of light and dark shapes almost for its own aesthetic, as distinct from conceptual, value. But what I think must be considered the last three major sets of illustrations are those for Mayhew's Paved With Gold (1857-58), Lever's Davenport Dunn (1857-59), and the completion of the suspended Mervyn Clitheroe (1851-52; concluded 1858). Dark plates abound in all three, and a certain coarsening of technique is not yet evident. [Chapter VII, "Phiz the Illustrator: An Overview and Summing Up," p. 310]

Commentary: Mary visits Old Mat Landy's Remote Burial Place

Although the recent case failed to secure the Martins' interest, Mary congratulates attorney Joe Nelligan's mother on his victory in the local court. Through a legal technicality Joe has prevented Scanlan, the Martins' agent, from evicting Tom Magennis, Joan Landy's rough-and-ready husband, from Barnagheela on the Cro' Martin estate. Mary confides to Mrs. Nelligan that she is on her way to deliver a bottle of medication to Kilkieran. Mrs. Nelligan would like to have Mary as her dinner guest, but Mary declines because she has promised to look in on "poor Mat Landy" (444). Thus, we come to the scene that follows Mat's dying of the cholera, unattended except for his granddaughter, Joan, because all the other members of his family have either died or emigrated to America.

In Phiz's highly atmospheric engraving, Mary attends the two fisherman, Patsey and Jerry, who have carried the coffin to the remote cemetery, and are saying a prayer over the grave they have just dug. The stranger in the dark boat-cloak who dominates the foreground asks the fisherman as they pass who the young woman is, who, having raised a little monument, is now descending the cliff:

“Who would she be?” said the fisherman, gruffly, and evidently in no humour to converse.

“A wife, or a daughter, perhaps?” asked the other again.

“Neither one nor the other,” replied the fisherman.

“It is Miss Mary, sir, — Miss Martin, — God bless her!” broke in the other; “one that never deserts the poor, living or dead. Musha! but she's what keeps despair out of many a heart!”

“And has she come all this way alone?” asked he.

“What other way could she come, I wonder?” said the man he had first addressed. “Didn't they leave her there by herself, just as if she wasn't belonging to them? They were kinder to old Henderson's daughter than to their own flesh and blood.”

“Hush, Jerry, hush! — she'll hear you,” cried the other. And saluting the stranger respectfully, he began to follow down the cliff. [450]

Since we later learn that the stranger from the cemetery is stopping at the inn, Lever leaves us in suspense as to whether the mysterious figure is that of Herman Merl or the mysterious "Mr. Barry," who is, in fact, the rightful heir of Cro' Martin, Mary's own father, recently returned from military service abroad.

Geographical and Socio-political Associations: Victorian Ireland

Typhus and Cholera Outbreaks in 19th century Ireland

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Buchanan-Brown, John. Phiz! Illustrator of Dickens' World. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1978.

Lester, Valerie Browne Lester. Chapter 11: "'Give Me Back the Freshness of the Morning!'"Phiz! The Man Who Drew Dickens. London: Chatto and Windus, 2004. Pp. 108-127.

Lever, Charles. The Marins of Cro' Martin. Illustrated by Phiz [Hablot Knight Browne]. London: Chapman & Hall, 1856, rpt. 1872.

Lever, Charles. The Marins of Cro' Martin. Illustrated by Phiz [Hablot Knight Browne]. Novels and Romances of Charles Lever. Introduction by Andrew Lang. Lorrequer Edition. Vols. XII and XIII. In two volumes. Boston: Little, Brown, 1907. Project Gutenberg. Last Updated: 28 February 2018.

Steig, Michael. Chapter VII, "Phiz the Illustrator: An Overview and Summing Up." Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U. P., 1978. Pp. 299-316.

Created 17 August 2002

Last modified 7 October 2022