Boer War Page 4b

Boer War Fabrics 2 - Stevengraphs

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Some of the fabric memorabilia which was produced during the Boer War era


The "Stevengraph" Woven Silk Portrait
The Stevengraph was a late Victorian creation. Thomas Stevens of Coventry, in England (right), invented a way to create these small and exquisite portraits entirely out of silk by means of a Jacquard loom. His technique was copied by others like WH Grant, and Paterson, but even these are still known as Stevengraphs - yes he dropped the "s" on his name. The first two below show how hard it was to tell the manufacturers apart.

Celebrities, including Boer War generals, were among the most popular silks that were produced. All the generals honoured with Stevengraphs are shown below.

General Buller: An early favourite was Sir Redvers Buller (below), the British commander in chief during the early months of the Boer War. Several variations in picture and design were used, hoping that people "just had to have both!"

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Stevengraph, General Redvers Buller VC, 1900 (detail)
Orig. WH Grant - oa 5.5" x 7"
Found - Boulder, CO
Silk 2.5" x 4" - backed with blank label

Foxing, a brown mold stain that attacks silk and paper, and can be seen, top right above, is a chief enemy of these kinds of memorabilia items. It can be stopped but not removed.

This Stevengraph, of a soldier who served in the Riel Rebellion, is valuable despite the stain; along with a rare dinner menu and a signed placemat photograph of Buller, it was preserved by an officer who was at the General's farewell dinner, in 1901, at the Cecil Hotel in London. He preserved a similar Stevengraph of Lord Roberts. He had probably campaigned with both commanders in South Africa.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Stevengraph, General Redvers Buller VC, 1900
Orig. Thomas Stevens - oa 5.5" x 7"
Found - Toronto, ON
Silk 2.5" x 4" - backed with T Stevens label
WH Grant: Grant, also of Coventry, was Thomas Stevens' biggest competitor. Though their silks look identical, at first glance, and both are often labelled "WOVEN IN PURE SILK," most are rather easy to tell apart.

Original "Stevengraphs" often say T Stevens on the front; Grant sometimes labelled his with his name. Also, Stevens, for bragging rights, backed his silks with the advertising paper (below), that listed all the other types of subjects he had available, including sports events, stage coaches and trains, historical subjects, and famous people. Grant used blank paper backing.

Grant also often printed large titles on his mats, to showcase series of his silks such as Empire Defenders, Empire Makers, and His Majesty King Edward VII.

The Snobby Rich: Even the rich collected Stevengraphs. And they wouldn't be caught dead with a "Grant? My Goodness No!"

And they weren't! The estate of wealthy socialite Dorothy Rothschild recently sold off her huge and immaculate collection of original Stevengraphs thank you!

Some of her lavishly framed silks appear here and feature expensive glass front and back to show off the Stevengraph label, just in case a snoopy visitor flipped her portrait silks to see if Dorothy was going cheap, with Grants!

Roll Me Over Says Dorothy

She wasn't.
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Stevengraph, Otto von Bismarck, 1898
Orig. Thomas Stevens - oa 5.5" x 7"
Found - Chicago, IL
Silk 2.5" x 4" - backed with T Stevens label, Estate of Dorothy Rothschild

The Iron Chancellor: In the late nineteenth century the world admired Otto von Bismarck, the German Chancellor who had created a powerful German Empire whose international prestige threatened to rival that of Great Britain. "Germans," the silk quotes the Iron Chancellor, "Fear no one but God!"

And Canadian immigrants of German extraction, who settled in southern Ontario in large numbers, bought his silks, and proudly named their town Berlin after the new German capital.

But Queen Victoria and British celebrities were especially popular. And the Boer War elevated the popular commanders to Stevengraph status.

General Wauchope: One of the very first so honoured, was Andrew Wauchope (below), who died under especially tragic circumstances and became a lamented hero of Victorian Britain, nowhere more so than in Scotland.

The second of Queen Victoria's generals to die in battle, Andrew Wauchope was killed in a surprise fusillade while at the head of his troops making a silent night march upon the Boers supposed to be on top of the Magersfontein Hills... They weren't.
They were massed in trenches hundreds of yards out from the foot of the hills and decimated the surprised Tommies. The British retreated, hundreds of brave Highlanders weeping at the loss of their beloved commander.
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Stevengraph, Queen Victoria, 1901
Orig. Thomas Stevens - oa 5.5" x 7"
Found - Toronto, ON
Silk 2.5" x 4" - backed with T Stevens label
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Stevengraph, Gen. Andrew Wauchope, 1900
Orig. Thomas Stevens - oa 5.5" x 7"
Found - Toronto, ON
Silk 2.5" x 4" - backed with T Stevens label
Stevengraphs were based on photographs of the people portrayed. The famous photo of Andrew Wauchope above, was used for his silk. The result shows what amazingly realistic and life-like portraits were possible with the jacquard loom. Even the wrinkles show up...
The Queen's image - made before anyone had heard of make-overs - seems to have been made from her death mask.

Windsor was her normal home; Osborne, the cottage she bought with Prince Albert in 1845 on the Isle of Wight, is where she died.

Even though made by machine, the tiny pictures (all full portraits are shown slightly larger than life size), were capable of showing incredible detail (above).

Lord Roberts: The usual Stevengraph - if not found in a frame, like Buller (top) - looks like the one (left), of Lord Roberts, who succeeded Buller when the latter couldn't eject the Boers from British territory and suffered horrendous reverses. The woven silk itself is mounted behind a matte window of a thick card, the whole being glued closed on the back with the advertising paper (above).

The top generals, like Lord Roberts (again below left) , French, and Kitchener, had more than one portrait used to make silks. This one features Bobs' autograph.

Most of the silks on this page came from Canadian homes.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Stevengraph, Lord Roberts, 1900
Orig. WH Grant - oa 5.5" x 7"
Found - Toronto, ON
Silk 2.5" x 4" - backed with blank label
Fighting Mac: A most popular commander was "Fighting Mac" Macdonald (below), beloved by his men because, unlike almost all other British generals, whose families bought them their commissions, Mac rose from the ranks and earned his position by merit, a highly unusual achievement in the Victorian British army.
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Stevengraph, Lord Roberts, 1900
Orig. Thomas Stevens - oa 5.5" x 7"
Found - Chicago, IL
Silk 2.5" x 4" - backed with T Stevens label, Estate of Dorothy Rothschild
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Stevengraph, Gen. Hector Macdonald 1900
Orig. Thomas Stevens - oa 5.5" x 7"
Found - Toronto, ON
Silk 2.5" x 4" - backed with T Stevens label
Sir John French: The war produced numerous celebrities, including Sir John French (below in 1900 & 1913) whose cavalry gave the British the mobility they needed to sweep around the highly mobile Boer forces.

It was to be the last war in which "cavalry mobility" made the difference between victory and defeat.

The British saw French as holding the key to the final victory. Unfortunately everyone - the public and British generals alike - thought the key was "cavalry," misplacing the emphasis on the horse, when it should have been on what the horse represented - "mobility."

So French headed up the British Army during the opening months of World War 1, when this old cavalry officer led the army to disaster on the western front.

The machine gun had made horses obsolete but the cavalry officers were not going to give up that easy...

But old ideas die hard. French was replaced by Douglas Haig, who had been French's Chief of Staff during the Boer War...

Haig, another cavalry officer, at least saw the futility of sending the cavalry against machine guns, so sent out foot soldiers instead, killing millions in the process.

In one hour on the Somme in 1916, he killed 60,000 British Tommies. He is known to posterity as "Butcher Haig." We have seen no Stevengraph of him.

So two senior British Boer War officers directed the disastrous four year massacre that was World War I.

Col. Baden-Powell: Baden-Powell (far right), became the most famous Boer War general, when, as a Colonel he held out in remote Mafeking, against a Boer siege for seven months, until relieved.

He was made a Major-General and idolized around the Empire. Within a few years he founded the International Boy Scout movement, using Mafeking field craft, and his Boer War uniform, as the standard for Boy Scouts around the world.

The Gentleman in Kharki: But generals aside, Rudyard Kipling, the most famous British writer of the age, struck a popular chord by celebrating the ordinary British soldier, "The Gentleman in Kharki" as the long-suffering, real hero of the war. This motif (right), of a wounded Tommy Atkins, defiantly holding his ground as he puts in his last shell, was soon on cups, plates, and kerchiefs everywhere.

In spite of Lord Roberts famous March to Pretoria, after which he went home to a triumphant welcome, the Boers refused to quit, and launched a two year guerilla campaign. During that time, Queen Victoria died heart-broken at the terrible cost in lives from a war her generals couldn't seem to win.

Kitchener of Khartoum: It was left to Lord Kitchener (right), implementing ruthless policies against the civilian Boers, to end the war.

Two different heads were woven on to the same uniform of Kitchener, right.

A third view, featuring a Khartoum to Pretoria banner, celebrated his victory over thousands of Muslim troops at Omdurman in 1898 and his victory over the Boers at the capital of Pretoria in 1902.

The South Africa souvenir silk inscribed to the Prince Consort's Own, hoped to profit from the military trade. It is rarely found; perhaps the logo just could not compete with the portrait silks in popularity.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Stevengraph, Gen. JDP French, 1913
Orig. Thomas Stevens - oa 5.5" x 7"
Found - Chicago, IL
Silk 2.5" x 4" - backed with T Stevens label, Estate of Dorothy Rothschild
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Stevengraph, Col. Baden Powell, 1900
Orig. Thomas Stevens - oa 5.5" x 7"
Found - Chicago, IL
Silk 2.5" x 4" - backed with T Stevens label, Estate of Dorothy Rothschild
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Stevengraph, Lord Kitchener, 1900
Orig. Thomas Stevens - oa 5.5" x 7"
Found - Toronto, ON
Silk 2.5" x 4" - backed with T Stevens label
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Stevengraph, Lord Kitchener, 1900
Orig. Thomas Stevens - oa 5.5" x 7"
Found - Chicago, IL
Silk 2.5" x 4" - backed with T Stevens label, Estate of Dorothy Rothschild
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Stevengraph, Lord Kitchener, 1902
Orig. WH Grant - oa 5.5" x 7"
Found - Toronto, ON
Silk 2.5" x 4" - backed with blank label
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Stevengraph, South Africa, 1901
Orig. WH Grant - oa 5.5" x 7"
Found - Welwyn, UK
Silk 2.5" x 4" - backed with blank label

Royalty Stevengraphs: In peace and war, royalty celebrities were continuously popular, and both Grant and Stevens issued them in various versions.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Stevengraph, King Edward VII, 1902
Orig. Thomas Stevens - oa 5.5" x 7"
Found - Toronto, ON
Silk 2.5" x 4" - backed with T Stevens label

Edward VII: Edward VII (left) refused to be crowned for a year and a half after his mother (Victoria) died (in Jan. 1901), as long as the war went on. He became know as the Peacemaker.

He is featured in two views.

When he died in 1910, his son became King George V with Queen Mary, who was named after the ocean liner.

NB: Please note that the stevengraphs in this collection, (unlike the one right), are in "extremely fine" condition, far above what you usually find after 100 years of staining on silks and mounts.

The George & Mary stevengraph and the two below (Alexandra and Edward VII), are extremely rare, because of their spectacular size. The silks are, themselves, a huge 3.5 x 5.5 inches in size, much bigger than the normal stevengraph size one usually finds. They remain the only stevengraphs of this size we have ever seen.
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Stevengraph, Queen Alexandra, 1902
Orig. WH Grant - oa 7.5" x 9.5"
Found - Lincoln, RI
Silk 3.5" x 5.5" - backed with blank label
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Stevengraph, King Edward VII, 1902
Orig. WH Grant - oa 7.5" x 9.5"
Found - Lincoln, RI
Silk 3.5" x 5.5" - backed with blank label


c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000