A Coffin Expedition

coffin expedition.jpg
Attributed to Charles Williams (1797-1830), The Coffin Expedition or Boney’s Invincible Armada Half Seas Over, 1804. Hand colored etching. Graphic Arts French prints.

In May 1803, Britain declared war against France and Napoleon I (who was known as ‘Boney’) prepared to invade Britain. The Napoleonic Wars lasted twelve years. In the beginning, the British were bold and laughed at the thought of a French flotilla trying to cross the channel. Williams transformed the French gunboats into coffins, with skulls on every mask. The French troops all wear shrouds, sailing to their certain death.

In the background are two British ships, from which comes the dialogue: “I say Messmate if we dont bear up quickly there will be nothing left for us to do,” and the reply, “Rigt [sic] Tom, & I take them there things at the mast head to be Boney’s Crest, a Skull without Brains.”

For more information, see A. M. Broadley, Napoleon in Caricature (London 1911). Graphic Arts Reference collection (GARF) DC203.4 .B8
Catherine Clerc, La caricature contre Napoleon (Paris 1985) Firestone DC203.4 .C57 1985