Magic lantern body and lens, circa 1857. [composite image] . Rouse Hill House & Farm Collection, Sydney Living Museums. Photo © Jamie North

Tale of Tiger and Tub

The Rouse Hill House set of magic lantern slides titled on the slide mounts as ‘Tiger in the Tub’ is a comic story, told in eight scenes, of two Anglo-Indian residents of Bengal who decide to have a picnic in the countryside.

They instruct their servants to pack food and drink into a barrel, or tub, and take it to a suitable glade. The barrel is full of good things and the men indulge themselves, but the picnic is disturbed by the arrival of a Bengal tiger. The two men - one short and stout and one tall and thin - play dodge with the tiger around the tub until they manage to get the tub on top of the tiger and hold it down by standing on it. But the men are trapped too because they cannot leave without freeing the tiger. It's a stalemate until the tiger's tail emerges from a bunghole in the tub. They tie a knot in the tail and thus hobble the tiger.

The slide set was produced by Newton & Co, probably around 1860, and listed in their catalogues as ‘Tale of tiger and tub’ or simply as ‘The tale of a tub’. The story and the scenes are based closely on a book titled The new tale of a tub; an adventure in verse, by F.W.N. Bayley with seven lithographed illustrations. It was first published in London in January 1841 and provided the source not only for Newton & Co but also for other makers of lantern slides.

A company named Millikin and Lawley produced a seven slide set accompanied by a reading that used scene titles derived directly from the lithograph titles in Bayley‘s book: Opening the Question; Bengal Ease; The Artful Dodge; Look before you Leap, Under Cover, Increasing the Interest of the Tail; and a Knotty Point.

Sydney merchants Brush and Macdonnell advertised just such a seven slide set of ‘New Tale of a tub ’in May 1863. Newton’s extra slide - number two in the set, depicting the tiger rousing from slumber - enabled their set to be mounted in timber frames in two sequences each of four views and seems to have been created by Newton's own artists.

Related objects

  • Two static, timber-framed glass slides for a magic lantern. These slides feature a sequence of individual hand-painted scenes of two men on a desert island with a tiger.

    ‘Tiger in the Tub’, full set of slides

  • The new tale of a tub an adventure in verse

    The new tale of a tub: an adventure in verse

  • Tale of a tiger

    ‘Tale of a Tiger’

The new tale of a tub: an adventure in verse

The new tale of a tub: an adventure in verse by F.W.N. Bayley, with illustrations designed by Lieutenant J.S. Cotton, lithographed by Edward Aubry, was first published in January 1841 by London printsellers Colnaghi & Puckle. The ‘new’ in the title refers to an early 18th century publication by Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, poet and cleric Jonathan Swift. Swift’s satirical tale was intended as a defence of the Anglican church, but widely interpreted by contemporary readers as an attack on all religion. The new tale of a tub is a rather more light-hearted parody of the foibles of human nature, set in India during the British Raj.

It was Colnaghi & Puckle’s first book, produced as a large-format quarto and promoted as “a pictorial comedy of illustration, lithographed to the life in seven narrative designs of adventure”. It was an instant publishing success, going into three editions in its first year of publication. The reviews were especially enthusiastic about Aubry’s finely engraved illustrations, declaring it be an “an excellent book to be laid on a drawing-room table, like a portfolio of caricatures, for the amusement of an evening party.”

In 1847 the tale was published in a reduced format, a cheaper edition, followed by an even cheaper American edition in 1854 and a new English edition published by George Routledge & Co in 1857, all retaining the original illustrations. The first modification of the original illustrations came in 1867 when Routledge published an abridged children’s version in their series of Shilling Toy Books, with new lithographs by Messrs Leighton Brothers.

For further details, see library catalogue.

A tale of a tiger

The illustrations for the New tale of a tub were based on drawings by Lieutenant John Stedman Cotton of the Madras Light Infantry, a regiment of the British East India Company. He was born in 1812 at Tranquebar (now Tharangambadi), a town in the Nagapattinam district of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu on the Coromandel Coast. His father John Cotton was a Director of the East India Company and his mother Sophia Charlotte Stedman also came from an East India Company family. Cotton was thus well placed to tell a comic satirical story of two gentlemen employed in the company’s civil service. Cotton entered the company’s military service in January 1834 as a cadet. He was promoted from Senior Cornet to Lieutenant in the Madras Light Infantry in January 1837 and to Captain in March 1840. He died on 17 October 1843 at Chittoor in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

Cotton was surprised by the publication of Bayley’s New tale of a tub which he saw for the first time in June 1841 when a copy reached him at Arcot in Tamil Nadu. Cotton’s own version of the tale, A tale of a tiger, with his original drawings, was published in 1842. His characters have a different back story and different comic names and his tiger is a tigress, but the main elements of the narrative are similar. The real, Lamarckian twist in the tail/tale in Cotton’s story comes sometime after the tiger is hobbled and the men escape. One of them hears that ‘about a year of two after, two cubs were killed in the vicinity, having each a most extraordinary entanglement at the root of the tail, about the size and form of an oyster barrel’. Cotton suggests that these cubs might provide the answer to the ‘long disputed question’ of ‘to what extent the effects of external objects on a mother can inform the physical conformation of her unborn offspring’.  Cotton’s twist found visual expression in at least one set of magic lantern slides published later in the nineteenth century which included a final slide depicting several little tigers, each with a tub on its tail.

For further details, see library catalogue

Watch the animation

About the authors

Head and shoulders photo of woman holding up card to face with conservator's white glove on hand.

Megan Martin

Former Head, Collections & Access

Megan is the former head of Collections & Access at Sydney Living Museums. She has a particular interest in the working of the historical imagination, in teasing out the meanings of objects in museums collections and in crafting the stories that can be recovered/discovered through a close reading of those items of material culture.

Portrait of woman against background of prickly pear foliage.

Holly Schulte

Curator Digital Assets

Holly is the Curator Digital Assets with Sydney Living Museums where she is part of the Collections & Access team.