Harry B. Neilson
Harry B. Neilson
From The Fox's Frolic (1917)
|Born||Henry Bingham Neilson|
Birkenhead, Cheshire, England
|Died||13 October 1941 (aged 80)|
West Kirby, Cheshire, England
|Occupation||Children's author and illustrator|
|Notable works||Mr Fox's Hunt Breakfast on Xmas Day (1897)|
The Fox's Frolic (1917)
Henry Bingham Neilson (1861 – 13 October 1941), who signed his work and was usually credited as Harry B. Neilson, less often as H. B. Neilson, was a British illustrator, mostly of children’s books.
His first career was as an engineer and electrician, working for a Liverpool shipbuilder, at sea, and in India, where he was a part-time Indian Army cavalryman, but by the 1890s his career as an illustrator was established and he lived his last 37 years in an English village.
Life and work
Born at Birkenhead, in an area called the Wirral, which was then in Cheshire, Neilson was the son of Andrew and Isabel Anne Neilson and had seven older brothers and sisters. His father was a Scottish merchant who for some years had lived and worked in Brazil, while his mother was a British subject born in Cartagena, Colombia. The family moved to England in the 1850s and was settled in Birkenhead by the time of young Harry's birth in 1861, at 39, Westbourne Road, Birkenhead, a house then set among open fields which stretched into Claughton.
In 1863 the growing Neilson family moved to a new house called Airliewood which Andrew Neilson had had built on an acre of land in Forest Road, Claughton. Neilson later recalled "My father still wore half-Wellington top boots and the old fashioned stocks. The ladies wore poke bonnets, crinolines, Paisley shawls, and many-flounced, voluminous skirts, while young men of fashion affected peg-top trousers, little pork-pie hats with fluttering ribbons, and Dundreary whiskers. Policemen still wore top hats. Croquet was practically the only outdoor game played by ladies."
In 1879 Neilson was apprenticed as an engineer with Laird Brothers, a major shipbuilding firm in Liverpool. After completing this training in 1884, he worked as an electrician on the new Red Star Line transatlantic steamer SS Noordland until 1886. In August of that year, his unmarried sister Isabel Anne died, aged 36, and in administering her estate their father was named as "Andrew Neilson, Gentleman".
Neilson had a cousin in Bihar in British India who was in charge of an indigo plantation there, and in 1887 he went out to join him. While there, he enlisted in the Bihar Light Horse as a part-time trooper. In 1889, his first illustrated book, The Adventures of Sam Pippins, Esq., with the Kilkenny Hunt, was published by Simpkin, Marshall, & Co. Meanwhile, at home in Birkenhead, in 1890 his father died, aged 73, followed in 1893 by his mother, aged 66. His father left property valued at £3,896, with his mother and brother John Robertson Neilson, a cotton broker, appointed as Executors.
During the 1890s, Neilson became active as a book illustrator, and by 1903 had returned to England to live with a sister at a house called Meadowbank, at 36 School Lane, Bidston, a village in his native Wirral. He stayed at Meadowbank for the rest of his life.
Neilson illustrated many children's books, several of them for the children's writer S. H. Hamer, who conveniently was also an editor with Cassell & Co. Neilson also worked as an illustrator of magazines and designed postcards and Christmas cards. In much of his work he depicted animals dressed as people, like his contemporaries Beatrix Potter and Harry Rountree, but often showing them in more vigorous activities. In France he has been compared with Benjamin Rabier. His best-known work, "Mr Fox's Hunt Breakfast on Xmas Day" (pictured) is said to represent five members of the Blankney Hunt, in Lincolnshire and has been widely reproduced. Dressed for hunting, the breakfast party is eating pheasant and drinking Renard champagne. Pictures on the wall behind are of hunting scenes, but with foxes in pursuit of men, one of whom is going to ground. The original, a large chromolithograph, was a free gift to readers with the Christmas issue of the Penny Illustrated Paper in December 1897. One hundred years later, in December 1997, this was used as the cover art for the Christmas-week issue of the British magazine Country Life.
Neilson returned to the theme of "Mr Fox's Hunt Breakfast" in The Fox's Frolic; or, A Day with the Topsy Turvy Hunt (1917), illustrating a long narrative poem by Sir Francis Burnand in which the usual fox hunting roles are reversed, with the foxes riding hounds and hunting men. An American edition appeared in 1935.
Neilson was a keen rider, keeping his own horse, which he groomed himself. In 1935 he published Auld-lang-syne, a book of memoirs and reminiscences of Claughton, Birkenhead, and Bidston, arranging to have it printed by a local firm, Willmer Brothers. One of the brothers, Wrayford Willmer, later remembered the arrival of a "persistent, eccentric little man" with his manuscript.
An archive of 325 items, including drawings, watercolours, and manuscripts by Neilson is held in the Manuscripts Division of the Charles E. Young Research Library, at the University of California, Los Angeles.
A new edition of The Fox's Frolic was published by Applewood Books in 2009.
The cartoon style is best represented by the work of Harry Neilson, ribald and almost crude in his use of line, working in a style to which certain modern comics are still indebted. Along with Neilson, we may list Stewart Orr and Harry Rowntree... Neilson, and indeed a whole host of Victorian draughtsmen who told animal moralities and fairy stories, portray their animals in clothing... However, the important point is that, for all their human clothing, for all that they speak where necessary with human tongues, and point their morals with something verging on human gesture, these creatures always look like animals.
- H. B. Neilson, The Adventures of Sam Pippins, Esq., with the Kilkenny Hunt (Simpkin, Marshall & Co., London, and John Heywood, Manchester, undated, 1889)
- S. H. Hamer, Micky Magee's Menagerie, or, Strange animals and their doings, illustrated by Harry B. Neilson (Cassell & Company, London, Paris, New York & Melbourne, 1897)
- S. H. Hamer, Whys and Other Whys, or, Curious Creatures and Their Tales, illustrated by Harry B. Neilson (London: Cassell, 1898)
- Harry B. Neilson & the Cockiolly Bird, Droll Doings, Illustrations by Harry B. Neilson, with Verses by the Cockiolly Bird (London: Blackie & Son, 1900)
- Harry B. Neilson, An Animal A B C (London: Blackie & Son, 1900)
- S. H. Hamer, Harry B. Neilson, Topsy-Turvy Tales, or The Exception Proves the Rule (London: Cassell, 1901)
- Francis T. Buckland, Curiosities of Natural History, Illustrated by H. B. Neilson (London: Methuen, new edition, 1904)
- S. H. Hamer, The Jungle School; or Dr. Jibber-Jabber Burchall's Academy, With Illustrations by H. B. Neilson (London: Cassell, 1900)
- S. H. Hamer, Peter Piper's Feepshow, with Illustrations by H. B. Neilson and Lewis Baumer (London: Cassell & Company, 1900)
- S. H. Hamer, The Ten Travellers, and other tales in prose and verse, illustrated by H. B. Neilson (Cassell & Company, London, Paris, New York & Melbourne, 1902)
- H. B. Neilson & John Brymer, Games and Gambols Illustrated by HARRY B. NEILSON; with Verses by JOHN BRYMER (Blackie and Son, 1902)
- H. B. Neilson & John Brymer, Juegos y gambols ilustrado por Harry B. Neilson, versos por John Brymer (undated)
- Sabine Baring-Gould, Amazing Adventures Drawn by H. B. Neilson and Written by S. Baring Gould (London: Skeffington & Son, 1903)
- William Boyle, Comic Capers, Pictures by H. B. Neilson, Verses by William Boyle (1903)
- William Boyle, Christmas at the Zoo: Described in Verse by William Boyle, with Coloured Illustrations by H. B. Neilson (1904)
- Clifton Bingham, The Animals' Academy, illustrated by Harry B. Neilson (London: Blackie & Son, 1904)
- S. H. Hamer, Topsy Turvy Tales, with 4 Coloured Plates and numerous Illustrations by Harry B. Neilson (1906)
- F. C. Burnand, The Fox's Frolic; or, A Day with the Topsy Turvy Hunt, illustrated by Harry B. Neilson (London & Glasgow: Wm. Collins, Sons & Co., 1917)
- Harry B. Neilson, Jolly Jaunts (Collins, London & Glasgow, undated)
- Birdie's Picture Book, with stories and illustrations by Harry B Neilson, H. G. C. Lambert, and others (London: S. W. Partridge & Co., undated, c. 1919)
- Partridges Children's Annual - Fourth Year of Issue with Illustrations by Louis Wain, Cecil Aldin, H G C Marsh Lambert, Harry B. Nielson, Frank Hart, M. Bowley etc. (London: S. W. Partridge & Co Ltd, c. 1920)
- Harry B. Neilson, A Little Pickle (undated, c. 1920)
- Harry B. Neilson, Mr. Jumbo at Home (Blackie, October 1921)
- Harry B. Neilson, Auld-lang-syne: recollections and rural records of old Claughton, Birkenhead and Bidston with other reminiscences (Willmer Brothers, 1935)
- S. H. Hamer, Escuela de Animales, illustrado por Harry B. Neilson (Barcelona: Ramon Sopena, 1942)
- Christopher Proudlove, Life and times of a Comic Genius at writeantiques.com, accessed 5 March 2019
- Harry B. Neilson, Auld-lang-syne: recollections and rural records of old Claughton, Birkenhead and Bidston with other reminiscences (Willmer Brothers, 1935), p. 11
- England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1837-1915: “Neilson, Isabel Anne, aged 36”, in Register of Deaths for Birkenhead Registration District, vol, 8a, p. 319; "NEILSON Isabel Anne", Grant of probate at Chester dated 30 September 1886, in Probate Index at probatesearch.service.gov.uk, accessed 7 March 2019
- The Publishers' Circular and General Record of British and Foreign Literature, Vol. 52 (Sampson Low, 1889), p. 61
- England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1837-1915: “Neilson, Andrew, aged 73”, in Register of Deaths for Birkenhead Registration District, vol. 8a, p. 385
- England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1837-1915: “Neilson, Isabel Anne, aged 66”, in Register of Deaths for Birkenhead Registration District, vol, 8a, p. 390
- "NEILSON Andrew... late of 20 Forest-road Claughton", in England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), for 1890, at probatesearch.service.gov.uk/Calendar, accessed 7 March 2019
- They worked together on Micky Magee's Menagerie (1897), Whys and Other Whys, (1898), Topsy-Turvy Tales (1901), The Jungle School (1900), Peter Piper's Feepshow (1900), The Ten Travellers, and other tales in prose and verse (1902), and Topsy Turvy Tales (1906)
- Denis Gifford, Encyclopedia of Comic Characters (Longman, 1987), p. 218
- Fred Gettings, Arthur Rackham (London: Studio Vista, 1976), p. 81
- Alan Clark, Dictionary of British Comic Artists, Writers and Editors (The British Library, 1998), p. 120
- Mr Fox's Hunt Breakfast Art print by Harry Neilson at kingandmcgaw.com, accessed 5 March 2019
- "THIS WEEK'S COVER Adapted from Mr Fox's Hunt Breakfast by Harry B. Nielson" [sic] in Country Life, Volume 191, Issue 51, dated 24 December 1997, p. 32
- Mr. Fox's Hunt Breakfast on Xmas Day by Harry Nielson at berkeleystudio.co.uk, accessed 6 March 2019
- H. B. Neilson & John Brymer, Games and Gambols Illustrated by HARRY B. NEILSON with Verses by JOHN BRYMER (1902)
- Frederick Wilse Bateson, The Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, Volume 2, p. 1,065
- The Publishers Weekly, Volume 130 (1936), p. 753: "Burnand, Sir Francis Cowley, The fox's frolic, or, A day with the topsy turvy hunt; ill. by Harry B. Neilson ... [N. Y., Wm. Collins] A story, told in verse form, of a hunt in which the foxes are the hunters, and the hounds are their horses."
- "NEILSON Henry Bingham otherwise Harry Bingham", in England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995 for 1942, at probatesearch.service.gov.uk/Calendar, accessed 6 March 2019
- The Fox's Frolic; or, A Day with the Topsy Turvy Hunt (New edition, Applewood Books, 2009, ISBN 978-1429090797)
- POPULAR NATURAL HISTORY in The Spectator dated 5 March 1904, p. 18, at archive.spectator.co.uk, accessed 7 March 2019
- The Publisher, Volume 115 (1921), p. 407: "Mr. Jumbo at home. Illus. by Harry B. Neilson. Ryl. 8vo. 4s. net, bds. 3s Blackie, Oct. '21"
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