These are a collection of chromolithographic plates – copies of the famous aquatints produced for Rudolf Ackermann by Thomas Rowlandson between 1797-98. Ackerman was a German with acute business instincts who settled in London and became a successful publisher based in the Strand. Rowlandson was an English artist and caricaturist. The original plates have a good claim to be regarded as the best aquatints that Ackerman’s colour plate process produced, many of the plates being heightened with gold and silver.
Volunteer companies had existed for some time but were disbanded when the American War of Independence ended. Parliamentarians distrusted large standing armies, but the threat from Napoleon encouraged passage of the 1794 Volunteer Act adding Volunteer associations to the Militia and the standing army. Often chaotic and distinctly unorthodox, recruitment accelerated following the mutiny in the Royal Navy at Nore and Spithead in 1797. It was estimated there were over 410,000 men in the volunteer forces between 1794 and 1804.
Rowlandson’s book is an invaluable record of these years when danger threatened, and the government organised the ordinary people’s talents and enthusiasm for the defence of the country.