Late last year the British Library uploaded onto Flickr over one million high-quality scanned images images from its rich collections. As The Appendix explained, the images are in the public domain, free for people around the world to peruse and reproduce to their hearts content.
You can spend hours and hours looking through this treasure chest of historical illustrations and prints (we have!). The fantastic illustrations from Francis Grundy’s Australian children’s book “The Demon McGuire” published in Sydney in 1885 is one of the most exciting set of images that HiTM has discovered so far.
The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature describes the book as ‘a verse story… about an enormous demon who roams around Sydney causing havoc in his wake”. The Demon is a metaphor for a great wind or a storm. This villain “is finally exiled to the Moon by Father Christmas and Father Time” (The Oxford Companion to Australian Children’s Literature, 196).
Why do we like these illustrations so much? Well, first off it is one of the oldest examples of illustrated Australian children’s literature. In addition, the giant, ugly protagonist is very amusing, and you can catch glimpses of real Sydney architecture and landscapes in some scenes. For example, Government House and Sydney Harbour are visible in the title page below;
(compare the illustrated turrets above to this contemporary photograph of government house)
It’s not surprising that a book written in a port-city had strong maritime themes: several of the drawings (like the one above) depict the demon destroying ships in port.
Other illustrations show the demon threatening children, or at least terrifying them by his proximity (including a group hanging out on the roofs of their homes), which is befitting of a book that targeted a young audience.
Unfortunately the British Library Flickr project only scans images, so you cannot read the full story online. The good news is that there are four copies in Australia between the National Library, and the State Libraries of NSW, Victoria and South Australia.