“Well, I’ll Be Blowed!” is a political cartoon mocking the blow to Britain’s naval pride about the issues they were facing in 1931. The cartoon was illustrated by John Francis Knott and published on September 20th, 1931 in the Dallas Morning News. It was Autumn, 1931. The First World War had ended in 1918 and the roaring twenties followed until the stock market crash of 1929 (History.com). When the economy of the industrial world collapsed, more problems arose for Great Britain to battle. In September of 1931, Great Britain was facing many disruptions due to the start of the Great Depression and a loosening grip on not just their precious empire, but one of their own military forces.
The title of the cartoon, “Well, I’ll Be Blowed!” is an expression that became popular in Great Britain during the turn of the century to mid-1900s and was used to express great surprise, similar to “well, I’ll be darned” (Simpson “well, adv. and n.4.”). The cartoon depicts John Bull, the personification of Britain, with a bewildered expression as he looks at a naval officer representing the British navy, often referred to as the Royal Navy. The naval officer is sitting with Mohandas Gandhi on a blanket labeled ‘Passive Resistance.’ Gandhi, named Mahatma meaning ‘saint’ in Hindi, was the Nationalist leader of the passive resistance protests in India during the late 1920s and early 1930s (BBC News). Gandhi and the navy are sitting on the same blanket of resistance against Great Britain, which is unexpected because the navy was Great Britain’s strongest military force. The military was how Great Britain kept tight control over India and all of the British Empire. In the background of the cartoon, many ships are out at sea, but on shore John Bull stares at the navy sitting the blanket of passive resistance that Gandhi laid out.
John Bull became the popular persona of England and all of Great Britain in the early 1900s. He was commonly depicted as a stout middle aged white man wearing a tailcoat, waistcoat, and boots, all from the Regency Period of the early 1800s. He also usually holds a cane and has a low top hat. John Bull is the personification of Britain in a similar manner to how Uncle Sam represents the United States of America (Johnson). John Bull is supposed to represent the majority of Great Britain and his surprise to what is happening in the cartoon represents the reaction that Great Britain was having at the time.
When this cartoon was published, Britain had been struggling to keep control over India for almost 20 years. India, known as “the jewel in the crown” of Great Britain began non-violent protests for independence in 1920. India had been under the control of the British since they arrived in India in the 1600s (BBC News). Leading up to 1931, Mahatma Gandhi had been campaigning for India’s independence through passive resistance. Gandhi had been working as a lawyer in South Africa during the early 1920’s, but after the the massacre in Amritsar in 1918, where 379 unarmed nationalist demonstrators were killed, Gandhi decided India had to stand up to Great Britain and that they would be better under their own rule (Wolpert). He quickly became a prominent leader in passive resistance against the British rule.
In the Fall of 1930, Gandhi attended the first Round Table Conference in London to discuss a new form of government for India (Trager). In September of 1931, Gandhi was back in England for the second Round Table Conference. He wanted India and Great Britain to “exist in the Empire side by side as equal partners, held together ‘by the silken cord of love.'” As it was worded in the editorial that accompanied the cartoon in the Dallas Morning News, “It is a conflict between an idealism of a far-away future and a realism that sees things as they are.” Although, Gandhi’s desires for the country sounded beautiful, many in Great Britain didn’t think that giving India autonomy to self govern would be good for the Indian people (Dallas Morning News). Also, Great Britain’s Empire was threatened.
Not only was Great Britain having trouble with India, but with their own military, which they used to enforce their power, began protesting against them. Headline in the New York Times read, “NATION SHOCKED BY NEWS”, on September 15th of 1931, the Royal Navy conducted a protest against Great Britain at Invergordon and on the 16th there was another at Rosyth Base (Selden). The Royal Navy was the pride of Great Britain and for the first time in centuries, there was discontent there. Since far before world war one, the Royal Navy had been considered the strongest navy in the world and put much of their resources and manpower into building up their navy and keeping it strong and growing stronger. The Royal Navy became the dominant sea power in 1805 when it defeated the French and Spanish fleets during the Battle of Trafalgar (“Royal Navy History”). When the Great Depression hit them at the end of the 1920’s however, many budget cuts needed to be made and they chose to make 25% pay cuts to the royal navy (Lowry).
With the discussion for an independent India and their protests in the air, the disorder in the navy was a slap in the face that Great Britain should have seen coming. The political cartoon by John Francis Knott laughs at the discomfort that Britain was facing as their grasp on world power appeared to be slipping. Not only was “the jewel in the crown” seeking independence, but the pride of the military was in resistance as well. In the cartoon, John Bull looked surprised and maybe scared and he had reason to be.
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John F. Knott Cartoon Scrapbook, [ca. 1930-1942], 1952, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.
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Lowry, Sam. “The Invergordon Mutiny, 1931.” Libcom.org. Libcom.org, 9 Mar. 2007. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. https://libcom.org/history/1931-invergordon-mutiny.
“Royal Navy History.” Royalnavy.mod.uk. Royal Navy, 2014. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/news-and-latest-activity/features/history-timeline.
Selden, Charles. “Disorder in the British Nave Follow Economy Pay Cut; Manoeuvers Are Cancelled.” New York Times (1923-Current file)Sep 16, New York, N.Y., 1931. http://ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/99307291?accountid=7118.
Simpson, John A. “well, adv. and n.4.” Def. P6. www.oed.com. Oxford University Press, Dec. 2014. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.
Trager, James. “1931.” The People’s Chronology, 3rd ed., Gale, 2005. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 29 Nov. 2016. go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX3460601931&it=r&asid=b446869dc318d220d9663e0d9c575d74.
Wolpert, Stanley. “Gandhi, Mahatma M. K.” Encyclopedia of India, edited by Stanley Wolpert, vol. 2, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006, pp. 119-125. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX3446500239&it=r&asid=2b657833b7ab29e7e1e5fd3c8699f99d. Accessed 29 Nov. 2016.