Sunday 28 May 2017

Billy Waters by Robert Shout

Updated 23 August 2023 with further images.

Billy Waters, King of the Beggars (c.1788 - 1823).
"Black Billy"

by Robert Shout.


Inscribed Pbld. Mar 1821 by R Shout & Son Holborn, London.

Plaster Statuette 13 inches tall.

Current whereabouts unknown.

I was alerted to the existence of this quite remarkable plaster figure when visiting the exellent website of the estimable Mathew Crowther - (a must visit site for anyone interested in Engravings and Graphic Satire of the 18th and early 19th centuries), when putting together information on Benjamin and Robert Shout.


For a look at the life of Black Billy see


Image courtesy Wellcome Collection.


From Hodgsons Cries of London. 1824.


Published by C. Reynolds, after Thomas Lord Busby.

Lithograph, early 19th century.

241 mm x 169 mm paper size.

Image from NPG.



From The True History of Tom & Jerry: or, Life in London. Pierce Egan.


Billy Waters.

Unknown artist.

glazed earthenware, circa 1840

8 1/2 in. x 3 1/8 in. (216 mm x 80 mm) overall



Enoch Wood, antique Staffordshire figure, Staffordshire pottery, pearlware figure, Staffordshire pottery figure, bocage figure, creamware, early Staffordshire figure, Myrna Schkolne,  Enoch Wood, Billy Waters

Staffordshire Pearlware figure of Billy Waters

attributed to Enoch Wood

Height 8"

Image Courtesey John Howard Antiques.


Thos. Kelly, March 1822.

London (17 Paternoster Row) 

 Aquatint with watercolour,

 image 10.7 x 18.2 cm.

Doubly interesting Aquatint of 1822, showing Black Billy and a street seller of plaster casts.
Underneath the Bronze Equestrian Statue of Charles I by Hubert Le Seuer at Charing Cross.


Cruikshank - 1819.

Image - British Museum.


Portrait of Billy Waters. 

Sir David Wilkie.

oil on panel.

274 x 212 mm.

National Maritime Museum.

A full-length portrait, slightly to the left, showing Waters wearing a red waistcoat (with a pipe? in the left pocket), white shirt, yellow neckerchief and dark trousers, with a leather belt about his waist. His left hand is on a walking stick, which supports him; a false leg is strapped to the stump of his right leg. The background is painted gold. Billy Waters (c.1778–1823) was born in America during the War of Independence. He was a sailor and lost his right leg as a result of falling from the topsail yard of the 'Ganymede'. Unable to serve at sea, he became a famous London street entertainer and was often to be seen busking with his fiddle to support his family. Waters featured in Pierce Egan’s 'Life in London' (1820–21) and was one of the characters illustrated by George Cruikshank. Indeed, Waters appeared in several Cruikshank cartoons, including 'The New Union Club' (NMM, ZBA2498). When Egan’s book was adapted into a play and performed at the Adelphi Theatre, Waters – who had been busking outside – was invited on stage to play himself. He repeated the performance at the Caledonian Theatre in Edinburgh. Waters ended his days in St Giles’s Workhouse, having fallen ill and been forced to pawn his fiddle. He was elected ‘king of the beggars’ shortly before his death.


Lead Glazes Earthenware c 1825.

Victoria and Albert Museum.

Derby Figure of about 1862.

A version of this figure was first produced in about 1823.


From the will of Billy Waters.

Thus poor Black Billy's made his Will,

His Property was small good lack,

For till the day death did him kill

His house he carried on his back.

The Adelphi now may say alas!

And to his memory raise a stone:

Their gold will be exchanged for brass,

Since poor Black Billy's dead and gone.

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