Here a scandal, there a scandal: More fodder for cartoonists

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"Canada's Laocoon"; or, Virgil on the Political situation
John Wilson Bengough
1886, 19th century
Ink on newsprint - Photoengraving
31.5 x 25.3 cm
Gift of Dr. Raymond Boyer
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Cartoon (19139) , politics (general) (2228) , Print (10661)
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Keys to History

In 1873 Canadian newspapers were hot on the trail of a political scandal. In April the Liberals accused the Conservatives of corruption. Prime Minister John A. Macdonald (1815-1891) was alleged to have pocketed a large amount of money from Hugh Allan (1810-1882), president of Canada Pacific Railway, to finance his 1872 election campaign. In exchange for this "bribe," Macdonald promised to award the CPR the contract to build the railway that would link Eastern Canada to British Columbia. In July several newspapers published proof of the allegations: a telegram from Macdonald begging Hugh Allan to send him money.

This cartoon from July 1873 draws an analogy between the events surrounding the Pacific Scandal and the tragic death of Laocoon, a figure from Greek mythology. Hugh Allan is the main character in the cartoon: Laocoon. In Virgil's epic poem "The Aeneid," Laocoon is a Trojan priest who infuriated Apollo and was strangled by snakes, along with his two sons. The Conservative Prime Minister John A. Macdonald and Francis Hincks (1807-1885), then minister of finance, are depicted here as Allan's "sons."

  • What

    The story accompanying the cartoon reads: "When lo! Two snakes (perhaps from the Yankee shore), together trail their folds across the floor, with precious scandals reared in front they wind, charge after charge, in long drawn length behind! While opposition benches cheer the while, and John A. smiles a very ghastly smile!- and - Everybody knows the rest!"

  • Where

    The cartoon was published in Toronto in the weekly satirical magazine, Grip. The magazine was launched in 1873 in the aftermath of the Pacific Scandal by the artist John Wilson Bengough (1851-1923).

  • When

    At the time that the cartoon was published, Macdonald's government and minister of finance, Francis Hincks, had not yet resigned.

  • Who

    Sir Hugh Allan is in the middle of the cartoon. Then Canada's most important entrepreneur, he had made a fortune as president of the Allan Lines, a transatlantic shipping company. Prime Minister Macdonald is standing on Allan's left, while Francis Hincks, minister of finance, is on his left.