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William Blake

1757 – 1827

Flagellation of a Female Samboe Slave by William Blake

Flagellation of a Female Samboe Slave   c.1791

  Engraving with etching by William Blake after Stedman.
With Blake’s name in the plate.
Ref: Essick XXXIII 10; Ray 2; Bentley 408a; Keynes 111
S 265 x 207 mm; I 182 x 134 mm
Engraving with etching by William Blake.

Exceptionally fine impression from the first edition, as published in Narrative, of a Five Years’ Expedition, Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam, by Captain J.G. Stedman (J.Johnson & J.Edwards, London, 1796). Scarce.

This engraving depicts an event which brought out Stedman’s compassion and which he felt “confident must inspire the most unfeeling reader with horror and resentment…... a beautiful Samboe girl of about eighteen, tied up by both arms to a tree, as naked as she came into the world, and lacerated in such a shocking manner by the whips of two negro-drivers, that she was from her neck to her ancles literally dyed over with blood. It was after she had received two hundred lashes that I perceived her, with her head hanging downwards, a most affecting spectacle.” Stedman implored that she be unbound, but due to his interference the overseer doubled the punishment and ordered the negro-drivers to whip her once more: “Thus I had no other remedy but to run to my boat, and leave the detestable monster, like a beast of prey, to enjoy his bloody feast, till he was glutted..... Upon investigating the cause of this matchless barbarity, I was credibly informed, that her only crime consisted in firmly refusing to submit to the loathsome embraces of her detestable executioner. Prompted by his jealousy and revenge, he called this the punishment of disobedience, and she was thus flead alive."

The appalling brutality of the treatment of slaves described in Stedman’s book undoubtedly influenced William Blake’s own views on slavery. William Blake had been working on the engravings for this book during the year 1791 and later went on to express his own anti-slavery position in Visions of the daughters of Albion of 1793; more than this, William Blake adapted figures which he had used in the Surinam engravings for the illustrations to his famous America, also of that year.

On warm white antique laid paper, watermarked 1794, with wide margins beyond the image on all sides but trimmed almost on the platemark, as issued. Very fine condition.