A death struggle between a “tyger” and a serpent

Author unknown / illustration by Abel Bowen, A Tyger destroyed by a Serpent ! Near Madrass, in India, on the 20th February, 1816, in presence of one of our Missioners (a native of New-Hampshire.)  Boston, late 1816-early 1817?
Letterpress broadside, 17 3/8”h x 10 ½”w. Three columns of text surmounted by headline title and a large (5 1/8”h x 6”w) wood-engraved illustration. Spot color to illustration.

A remarkable, vivid and unrecorded broadside, in the form of a letter to Boston from an American missionary in India, giving an eyewitness account of a death struggle between a tiger and a massive snake, probably a python. With a dramatic illustration of the battle by Abel Bowen.

The broadside consists of a large wood engraving followed by a headline title and three columns of text. The first two columns relate the battle between the tiger and serpent, reading in part:

“The Serpent commenced the attack by darting his head from the lowest branches of the tree, to within a few feet of the Tiger’s head, his jaws extended, and venomiously [sic] shooting fourth his forked tongue in quick succession—the attack was repelled by the Tiger, in no other way than by raising his forepaws and striking at the head of the Serpent—the latter having for several minutes diverted himself in this way, at length made a sudden and fatal dart at the Tiger, dropping his whole body and entwining it in a number of curls around the trembling body of the beast!—the tiger bellowed and tore the ground with his claws, but so completely was every limb of his body secured by the dexterous Serpent, that it was in vain that he attempted to defend or extricate himself…. You may form some idea of the astonishing strength and dexterity of the Serpent, when I assure you that so taught [sic] did he coil himself about the body of the Tiger, that I very distinctly heard the bones of the latter crack at every movement, while the blood gushed from his mouth, eyes and nose!”

The wood engraving illustrates the climactic moment of the battle, as the serpent entwines itself around and begins to crush the tiger. Touches of red highlighting to the creatures’ mouths lend additional ferocity to the image. It is signed by “Bowen,” presumably Boston engraver, printer, publisher and author Abel Bowen (1790-1850).

The final column of text describes a separate encounter between the missionary and a “handsome royal tiger.” To his credit the missionary makes no attempt to glamorize his own role in either affair, indeed admitting at one point that he “felt the greatest terror imaginable.”

The broadside is unrecorded in the usual sources, and a full-text search of Readex’ America’s Historical Newspapers failed to yield any other publication of the text.  However, my brother in law John Vaillant was kind enough to supply a link to a YouTube video of an actual tiger-python encounter.

Not recorded in North American Imprints or OCLC.


Rather uniformly toned, old tideline consistent with folding, and a few small stains. Separation along horizontal center fold and pinpoint losses at three intersections affecting a few letters but not legibility.