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A Good Cup of Tea (When the Duty is Taken Off)

by Jordi Gaton and Skyler Tapley

George Cruikshank. British, 1792-1878. A Good Cup of Tea (When the Duty Is Taken Off), n.d. Etching. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The William A. Whitaker Collection

This brief little cartoon from one of Great Britain’s leading caricaturists, George Cruikshank, is a political parody of the British empire’s expansion into both India and China. Cruikshank was a master of the political cartoon and was quite cognizant of current social movements and political trends. During this time period, tea was in high demand within Great Britain. Tea time had a very prominent role in all classes and much importance was placed on it. In this cartoon, Cruikshank uses British tea time as a metaphor for the extraction of both goods and resources from British holdings in both India and China.

India in this piece is depicted in the elephant decoration of the massive tea cups and China can be found in the names of the tea leaves used to make the mixed brew of tea that these women are enjoying. Everything related to tea has been depicted in excess in order to link British imperialism with the theme of gluttony. As these women appear to consume this tea by the “pint” from massive teapots, the author intends to question the British appetite for imperialism and to express the extent to which the British have grown to exploit their colonial interests.

Cruikshank suggests further with his inclusion of the separate tea container for “gunpowder” on the far wall that this relationship is one that is, in part, maintained by violence. His placement of gunpowder in a tea container could be interpreted as the other cup of tea that these women would take when they are on duty rather than in their leisure time. Duty’s connection with gunpowder, therefore, reveals Cruikshank’s opinion that British nationalism and imperialism is closely associated with both violence and death.



“Ackland Art Museum.” Collection Search | Ackland Art Museum | The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “George Cruikshank.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 22 Apr. 2005. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.



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