The cartoonist, Philip William May was born near Leeds in 1864. He was orphaned at the age of nine and endured several years of poverty. Moving from job to job, he finally ended up begging on the streets. However he was a talented artist and started selling pictures of stage stars to theatre audiences. This work gained him employment as a cartoonist on the St. Stephen's Review. In 1885 he moved to Australia where he worked for the Sydney Bulletin. On his return to London in 1890, he did some book illustrating until he found employment with the Graphic. He began contributing cartoons to Punch in 1893 and two years later became a member of the staff. From 1892-1904 he produced a Phil May Annual. He had a deep sympathy for the poor and his style brought a new simplicity of line to popular cartooning which was very influential on other artists of the time. He was a heavy drinker and eventually this resulted in ill health, causing an early death in 1903, at the age of thirty-nine.


 

Although this cartoon illustrates a street brawl between two boys, it references the sport of bare-knuckle or fist-fighting, which was a combat sport dating back to Ancient Greece. Specific standards for bare-fisted fighting began to form in the mid-18th century when Jack Broughton began to apply rules to make contests both safer and fairer. These rules dictated that a round ended when a fighter took a knee or was knocked down and failed to rise before the thirty count. There was no time limit, so the actual fight ended when a fighter was unable to present himself to his opponent for the next round under his own power. At the height of its popularity in the mid-19th century, nightly fights lasting sixty to one hundred rounds or more were not uncommon.

Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837 and died in 1901. She was the longest reigning British monarch and many of her subjects lived their full lives just in her reign. Prince Albert had died in 1860 and in her grief, Queen Victoria chose to live in seclusion for many years afterwards. Her ministers, fearful of growing republicanism, encouraged her to engage with her public and she slowly emerged from her mourning. With the expanding British Empire, British Naval supremacy and a brood of children who, with their descendents had married into most of the Royal familes in Europe she was the true Royal Matriach. In her dominions and colonies overseas, she had an almost mythical status. In 1897, after sixty years as queen, the country and Empire celebrated her Diamond Jubilee. In this cartoon, street urchins make a game of it.