Bonar Dunlop and the Piebald Question

If you are pushing on a bit, as I am, you will find that there is a large tranche of the pony book reading public who see things entirely differently to you. Say Jill and Black Boy to them, and the pony that gallops through their mind is piebald. They read Ruby Ferguson's Jill books in the post-1980s printings, and in them Black Boy was a (rather porky) piebald on the front cover, and he was also (mostly) described as piebald in the text. These readers are incredulous when told that actually, Black Boy was created black.

I first read the Jill books in the 1970s, and as my paperbacks were a mix of 1960s and 1970s editions, I was confused. In some he was black, and in some piebald. It seemed odd to me at the time, but I put it down as as a strange thing the publishers had done, but not one I needed to worry about. In my mental picture of the pony, he could be whatever colour I wanted.

It wasn't until some decades later that I wondered why Black Boy was black when Ruby Ferguson created him, but morphed into a piebald. Once I knew a bit more about the author herself, and found out she died in 1966, I realised that she couldn't have had anything to do with the changes, which first appeared after she died, in Knight Books' 1968 edition of Jill's Gymkhana. This was Knight's first paperback edition of the books, and they'd commissioned artist Bonar Dunlop to provide new covers and internal illustrations for some of the books. Dunlop did covers and internal illustrations for three titles (Jill's Gymkhana, A Stable for Jill (1968) and Jill Has Two Ponies (1968).

This is probably a mystery destined never to be solved: whether the publishers wanted a piebald pony and not a black, or whether Black Boy was, inadvertently, drawn piebald and the books altered to suit, I do not know. One explanation I've heard is that Knight found printing an all-black pony a struggle on the quality of paper they used.

Whatever the explanation of Black Boy's chameleon act is, I like the Bonar Dunlop illustrations, particularly those for A Stable for Jill. In Dunlop's portrayal of her, Jill is a much more sophisticated character than in her Caney incarnation.  She certainly looks a true child of the sixties. She's lost the neat schoolgirl plaits, and has a scruffy pony tail. The Dunlop illustrations capture the vigour of the stories, if not always the quirkiness, and the Dunlop ponies are generally good examples of equine portraiture. His covers are full of action: a Dunlop pony is one on the move.

Bonar Dunlop was an artist about whom I'd not been able to find out much, but recently his daughter got in touch with me, and I was able to find out more about this artist whose pictures of Jill still live in many people's minds.

Bonar Dunlop was a New Zealander, who moved backwards and forwards between the Antipodes and Europe until finally settling in England with his family in 1959. He was born John Bonar Dunlop in 1916, in Dunedin, New Zealand, and it was on the family farm in Dunedin that he started riding. He kept up riding, and drawing horses, even after his father died when Dunlop was still a teenager, and the family moved to Europe. They arrived in Europe at a time of considerable cultural activity; settled in Vienna, and it was there that he studied art. He continued studying in Paris and London, and in Stockholm, where he spent 1940, having volunteered to help the Finns fight the Russians.

Bonar Dunlop always enjoyed drawing and sculpting horses, and his daughter still has several of his equine sketches and sculptures. There was considerably more to him than just equestrian art: his daughter described him as having "an incredible gift for drawing which hardly needed training," and when he returned to Australia after his war service with the RAF in North Africa, he soon became sought after as an illustrator.

Although a success in Australia, there were far greater opportunities in Europe. Dunlop had married an Englishwoman, and so the young family moved to London. It must have been daunting to start all over again, but Dunlop soon built up another successful career, working for top flight clients like Harrods.

He illustrated a few children's books in the 1960s: Calixte (1964) by Daniel Roberts, and True Tales of Mystery (1967) by Kathleen Fidler, amongst them. Still a great horse lover, he was commissioned in the late 1960s by Knight to provide illustrations for their paperback versions of the Jill books in the 1960s.

He had a successful career in illustration, but sculpture was always his passion, and he sculpted in his spare time during his career as an illustrator. In the early 1970s, he took up sculpture full time, creating several sporting pieces. He started doing sculptures of rugby players after watching Saracens play in 1975, and created a statue of Gareth Edwards, which was unveiled in 1982 in Cardiff.

Bonar Dunlop died in Sussex in 1992.

Thank you to Fiona Dunlop, Bonar Dunlop's daughter, for her help with this piece.

My book, Heroines on Horseback, is out in April 2013.
Pre-order from me - if you'd like the book signed, please add this in the Special Instructions section
Pre-order a copy from Waterstones


Goldielover said…
I'd always assumed that this was all part of the "politically correct" changes that also included changing the name to Danny Boy. Having grown up with the original Caney versions, both pictures and text, I'm not a huge fan of any of the various changes that have taken place over the years. The text changes are worse, in my opinion. They alter the character of the books much more than a change of illustrator does.
Anonymous said…
I agree with the previous post. Doubtless Bonar Dunlop was a good choice once the books were updated with a piebald Black Boy although I loved the chunky, workmanlike ponies that Caney drew.The problem was the inconsistency of it all. The updating was much weaker than that carried out by Goodchild editions of Monica Edwards-Ruby Ferguson not having had input. A classic example is Amanda's clothing in Jill and the Perfect Pony. Updating never really works. The books were written to be of that time and changes put them in a sort of no-man's time.
How wonderful that you were able to finally provide a portrait of the illustrator of these books. I remember being puzzled about Black Boy's switcheroo in coloring, too--he was clearly black in the text and on the cover of my editions but piebald in the illustrations. I was tempted to color in the illustrations to right this wrong.
Jane Badger said…
I agree with you on the updating. As far as I know, no one's ever updated the Frances Hodgson Burnetts. I hope that they can be read as period pieces now: after all Jill's Gymkhana is now 65 years old!

Christina, I think maybe we should provide some illustrations to be coloured in with the magic of
Christine said…
Interesting about the colouring of Black Boy!

And very exciting about your book! :)
madwippitt said…
I know I've said I want a copy of your book but it was so long ago I can't remember if I've actually put in an order or not?
Jane Badger said…
I don't think so! But I'm very glad that you want to.
madwippitt said…
Jusat thoiught I'd better check - have been looking forward to this for a long time - just posted my order!
Jemima Pett said…
Thanks to Juxtabook I've just found you! I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw Black Boy had been pc'd. Words fail me. I still have my six orignal Jill books (in hardback). Sadly the paperback Pullein-Thompsons and loads of others were thinned out along the way. I kept the Silver Brumby four, though.

I'm in the process of writing a modern Black Beauty, I expect a lot of people have done that. Meanwhile I write about the animals I managed to fit in my house - my guinea-pigs. One vet called them mini-horses, not rodents, and he's right :)

Jemima at Jemima's blog

Jane Badger said…
Are the guinea pigs mini horses because of the trouble they cause?!
Unknown said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Popular posts from this blog

Dick Sparrow - 40 Horse Hitch, and Neil Dimmock's 46 Percherons

The Way Things Were: Pony Magazine in the 1960s

Lauren Brooke: Heartland