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Sambourne House

Linley Sambourne

Meet Edward Linley Sambourne (1844-1910) the illustrator and photographer who lived at 18 Stafford Terrace. 

Edward Linley Sambourne, February 1888.

Edward Linley Sambourne (known as Linley Sambourne) was a cartoonist, illustrator and photographer. Born in 1844, Sambourne was the son of Frances Linley and Edward Mott Sambourne, a partner in a fur importing business. His Aunt Jane Barr was a talented amateur watercolourist, and it was probably from her that he had his first introduction to art. Perhaps with her encouragement, Sambourne enrolled in the South Kensington School of Art in 1860 but left after just three months, becoming an apprentice at marine engineering firm John Penn & Son. In 1867, through a fellow apprentice at the firm, Sambourne managed to show some of his drawings to Mark Lemon, the editor of Punch magazine. Lemon was obviously impressed, and his first drawing was published in Punch later that year.

Read the diaries of Linley Sambourne

Punch magazine

Founded in 1841, Punch was a weekly satirical magazine with cartoons and articles which provided humorous commentary on politics and current affairs. By 1867, when Sambourne’s first drawing was published in its pages, Punch was an institution bought by around 50-60,000 people a week, most of whom were from the growing urban middle classes. Sambourne began working for Punch on a casual basis, mainly producing smaller cartoons, title letters and a series of drawings, which poked fun at women’s fashion trends. But in 1871 he was given a permanent position on the staff as Junior Cartoonist and began producing more political work. Punch was to dominate Sambourne’s career; he worked for the publication for 42 years, producing roughly 3,000 cartoons and rising to the prestigious position of First Cartoonist.

Browse Punch  archives here


A pair of photograph and cartoon by Linley Sambourne
Linley Sambourne, Photograph of his coachman for A Political Conference, and A Political Conference, Punch 1894.


A Political Conference published in Punch in 1894 is in many ways typical of Sambourne’s cartoons. It shows Gladstone on the left dressed as Homer lecturing his successor as Prime Minister, Lord Rosebery who yawns wearily. Sambourne often made cultural references within his cartoons, on other occasions parodying Alice in Wonderland, and well-known art works by his contemporaries including Leighton. These references would have been immediately familiar to Punch readers, although they sometimes appear a bit obscure today.

Subjects for cartoons were agreed at the weekly Punch dinner held on a Wednesday evening and attended by the magazine’s contributors, owners, and publishers. While there would sometimes be disagreements over next issue, in general these were convivial events with plenty of good food and wine. After the dinner Sambourne would then have just two days to produce his cartoon – a deadline he often struggled with.


In the early 1870s Sambourne had begun collecting postcards and images which he came across in magazines, as useful references for his cartoons. In 1883 he went a step further and purchased a camera, which revolutionised the way he produced his designs. From this point onwards, following the Punch dinner he would begin planning out his cartoon by taking photographs of the key figures. This often involved dressing up and posing in the backyard – with Sambourne’s family and the household servants recruited to play various roles. He would then develop these images and they would form the basis of the cartoon. Over time, Sambourne’s interest in photography went beyond its practical use as an aid for cartooning. He joined the Camera Club and took up street photography. By the time he died in 1910, he had amassed an extraordinary 30,000 images, which remain in the museum’s archive.

Marion in classical dress, photographed by her husband at Sambourne House, 1894.

Work outside Punch

In addition to his work for Punch, Sambourne took on additional commissions, illustrating books, producing drawings for advertisements, and designing invitations and diplomas. Perhaps his best-known illustrations were for Charles Kingsley’s book The Water-Babies, many of which his two children Maud and Roy posed for.

A 1885 edition of C. Kingsley's Water Babies signed by Sambourne for his son, Roy

His most ambitious work, though, was the Diploma award for the International Exhibition of Fisheries, held in South Kensington in 1883. Large scale exhibitions were incredibly popular in the late 19th century. Following the success of the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, cities across the world hosted similar events, attracting international exhibitors in a wide variety of fields, from carriage-making to fine art. The International Exhibition of Fisheries attracted an extraordinary 2.6 million visitors, with displays including an aquarium and a garden with sea-lions, beavers and seals, as well as more technical exhibits of fishing machinery. An important part of these exhibitions were the prizes available to exhibitors, and recipients would have received a diploma card with Sambourne’s design. Sambourne worked hard for nine months on this elaborate drawing and viewed it as one of his greatest artistic achievements.

Diploma Aware by Linley Sambourne
Linley Sambourne, illustration for the Diploma Award for the International Fisheries Exhibition, 1883.