Catching a Colonel (September 1858) by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne), thirtieth serial illustration for Charles Lever's Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Time, Part 15 (September 1858), Chapter LVII, "Some Days at Glengariff," facing 474. The reader naturally wonders about the identity of the British Hussar whose daring capture of a Russian officer the illustration realzes.

Bibliographical Note

This appeared as the thirtieth serial illustration for Charles Lever's Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Time, steel-plate etching; 4 by 6 ½ inches (10 cm high by 16.3 cm wide), vignetted. The story was originally serialised by Chapman and Hall in monthly parts, from July 1857 through April 1859. The thirty-first and thirty-second illustrations in the volume initially appeared in the same order at the very beginning of the fifteenth monthly instalment, which went on sale on 1 September 1858. This number included Chapters LV through LVII, and ran from page 449 through 480 to make up the 32-page instalment. This pair of illustrations served to contrast Bella's business acumen in Ireland with Conway's military prowess in the Crimea.

Passage Illustrated: Bella Kellett comes into her own

“Well, you know, Miss Bella,” said he, faltering at every word, “we are men of peace, — we are people engaged in the quiet arts of trade, — we cannot be supposed indifferent to the interests our lives are passed in forwarding.”

“But you are Englishmen, besides, sir; not to say you are brothers and kinsmen of the gallant men who are fighting our enemies.”

“Very true, Miss Bella, — very true; they have their profession and we have ours. We rejoice in their success as we participate in all the enthusiasm of their gallantry. I give you my word of honour, I could n't help filling out an extra glass of sherry yesterday to the health of that fine fellow who dashed at the Russian staff and carried off a colonel prisoner. You saw it, I suppose, in the papers?”

“No. Pray let me hear it,” said she, eagerly.

“Well, it was an observation — a 'reconnaissance' I think they called it — the Russians were making of the Sardinian lines, and they came so near that a young soldier — an orderly of General La Marmora's — heard one of them say, 'Yes, I have the whole position in my head.' Determining that so dangerous a fellow should not get back to head-quarters, he watched him closely, till he knew he could not be mistaken in him, and then setting off at speed, — for he was mounted, — he crossed the Tchernaya a mile or so further up, and, waiting for them, he lay concealed in a small copse. His plan was to sell his own life for this officer's; but whether he relinquished that notion, or that chance decided the event, there's no knowing. In he dashed, into the midst of them, cut this colonel's bridle-arm across at the wrist, and, taking his horse's reins, rode for it with all speed towards his own lines. He got a start of thirty or forty strides before they could rally in pursuit, which they did actually up to the very range of the rifle-pits, and only retired at last when three fell dead or wounded.”

“But he escaped?” cried she.

"That he did, and carried his prisoner safe into the lines, and presented him to the General, modestly remarking, 'He is safer here than over yonder,' — pointing to Sebastopol; and, strangest part of the whole thing, he turns out to be an Englishman."

“An Englishman?”

“Yes. He was serving, by some strange accident, on General La Marmora's staff, as a simple orderly, though evidently a man of some education and position, — one of those wild young bloods, doubtless, that had gone too fast at home, but who really do us no discredit when it comes to a question of pluck and daring.”

“Do us no discredit!” cried she; “and have you nothing more generous to say of one who has asserted the honour of England so nobly in the face of an entire army? Do us no discredit! Why, one such feat as this adds more glory to the nation than all the schemes of all the jobbers who deal in things like these.” And she threw contemptuously from her the coloured plans and pictures that littered the table. [Chapter LVII, "Some Days at Glengariff," pp. 474-475]

Commentary: The Action in the Crimea comes to the Foreground

In this section, Lever alludes to a popular Sardinian general whose commander-in-chief, King Victor Emmanuel II, posted a sizeable force of 18,000 Sardinian troops to the Crimea in support of France and Great Britain. Lieutenant General Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora (1799-1855) led his Sardinian troops to a decisive victory over the Russians in the Battle of the Chernaya (16 August 1855) and at the siege of Sevastopol. However, he died shortly thereafter of cholera. But the Sardinian Prime Minister, Count Camillo di Cavour, used the heroic actions of his countrymen in the Crimea to gain the favour of France in support of a unified Italy and against the Austrian Empire. Thus, the allusion to "General La Marmora" dates the action of this chapter to the summer of 1855, when the Sardinian General would have been much in the British newspapers. The illustration constitutes a fairly specific temporal allusion as Sardinia joined the Allies on 26 January 1855, and the Russian attack which La Marmora repulsed at Battle of Chernaya occurred on 16 August 1855.

Although neither Lever's narrator, nor Mr. Hankes, nor Bella Kellett identifies the young British adjutant who snatches the Russian colonel away from his surveillance detachment, the reader suspects that the young soldier in Hussar's uniform on the wind-blown stallion is​ Jack Kellett. If he is no longer doing duty in the rifle-pits, and is now serving as a military liaison with the Sardinian command, the reader supposes that somehow, with his government connections, Davenport Dunn has arranged the transfer from the muck of the battlefield to the Italian headquarters. Phiz impresses the reader with the danger in which the British cavalryman has placed himself by the drawn sabres of the colonel's detachment. Although the inset narrative describes how the lone soldier seizes the reins of the colonel's mount, Phiz shows Jack's disarming the colonel, who seems to have lost his helmet in the fray, and can barely maintain his position in the stirrups. The illustrator effectively contrasts the self-assured, aggressive British rider and the off-balance, disarmed Russian; and likewise contrasts their horses: the bay has stopped, but the black horse is in motion, emphasizing ​Jack's dominating the encounter as he waves his sabre above the Russian's head. So effective is the illustration as a complement to the text that the reader overlooks the improbabilities of the "newspaper account" retailed by Hankes: how, for example, could the English rider at such a distance overhear the Russian's announcement about his having memorized the deployment of the Sardinian forces, especially when the remark is probably couched in Russian?

However much one might quibble about the improbabilities of the incident, one cannot help but admire the deftness of Phiz's composition with such detailed touches as the army tents on the horizon and the wind-swept trees and clouds (right) framing the figure of the Hussar. The right to left direction balanced the left to right direction of the pursuing horsemen, directing the viewer's eye to the Russian sabre suspended in mid-air.

Phiz and Horses

Related Materials: Sardinia and The Crimean War

Other Illustrations involving the Crimean War background of the story

Scanned image by Simon Cooke; colour correction, sizing, caption, and commentary 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.] Click on the image to enlarge it.


Lever, Charles. Davenport Dunn: A Man of Our Day. Illustrated by "Phiz" (Hablot Knight Browne). London: Chapman and Hall, 1859.

Lever, Charles. Davenport Dunn: The Man of The Day. Illustrated by "Phiz" (Hablot Knight Browne). London: Chapman and Hall, September 1858 (Part XV).

Last modified 3 August 2019