The Young Journalist (1882-89)

by George Engle

Rudyard Kipling left school in the summer of 1882. On September 20th, three months before his seventeenth birthday, he sailed for India to join his parents in the Islamic city of Lahore in N. India (now Pakistan).

He was to become the sole assistant editor of the Civil and Military Gazette (CMG), a provincial daily paper circulating in the Punjab, edited by Stephen Wheeler and published by a firm with a large staff of Indian printing workers which also held the printing-contract for the Provincial Government.

The job was arranged for him by his father, Lockwood Kipling, the Principal of the Mayo School of Art and Curator of the Lahore Museum, who was a friend of one of the directors. For his first five years in India Kipling lived in the family home.

Wheeler worked his inexperienced assistant extremely hard. He had to edit the day's telegrams from the news-agencies, summarise the latest official reports, skim through some 30 other newspapers of all sorts for stories, sub-edit contributions sent in by readers and others, and deal with social, sporting and other local events, as well as making up the entire copy and reading the proofs in time to go to press at midnight, working never less than 10, and sometimes as much as 16 hours a day, even in the hot season, when the indoor temperature ranged between 85 and something over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. On his first Christmas Eve, a week before he was 17 and after only a month in the job, Wheeler went sick and Kipling had to produce the whole paper himself for a while.

Gradually he was allowed to report local events himself - village festivals, riots, murder trials, the lot; and he was glad that he had learned shorthand. In 1884 he was sent by the CMG to report the Viceroy's visit to the native state of Patiala, and scooped his rivals by riding 30 miles at night to send back a dispatch, earning the congratulations of the proprietors.

In 1885 Kipling was sent to Rawalpindi as the CMG’s special correspondent to report the new Viceroy's ceremonial reception of the Amir of Afghanistan - and was shot at by a tribesman while visiting the Khyber Pass. His salary was raised from £360 to £420 a year. He then went to Simla (the lively and fashionable hill-station which was the summer seat of the Viceroy's Government) for six months as the CMG's special correspondent there - with a reminder that to do the job he'd need to waltz well! In Simla he produced editorial notes, reviews, articles, and letters describing the social scene - all of which, he said, entailed "as much riding, waltzing, dining out and concerts in a week as I should get at home in a lifetime".

His experiences during this and other periods spent at Simla were the basis for most of the stories later collected in Plain Tales from the Hills.

In 1886 Wheeler was succeeded as editor of the CMG by Kipling's friend Kay Robinson (who was not much older than him), with instructions to "put some sparkle into it". Kipling’s talents were given more scope, and he wrote many "turnover" articles (running onto a second page), 32 of which are to be found in Plain Tales published early in 1888. Robinson affectionately described Kipling as being so untidy that, at the end of the day's work, his tropical suit was spotted all over with ink-stains "like a dalmatian dog".

Kipling had for some time been contributing witty verses to the CMG satirising the ways of Government officials and the Anglo-Indian community. A collection of these was published (at first anonymously) with the title Departmental Ditties; and was enthusiastically read all over India. By the end of 1886 the name of Kipling had become widely known in the sub-continent as that of a gifted young writer.

The front cover of the London edition of Departmental Ditties, published by George Newnes Ltd in 1899


The printing works of the Pioneer press at Allahabad, on which many of Kipling's early works were printed

In 1887 he was transferred from (Islamic) Lahore to (Hindu) Allahabad as a special reporter for the Pioneer, a paper which circulated throughout India. In addition to his ordinary work he edited, and wrote longer stories for its weekly supplement, as well as travelling to various parts of the country, notably Rajasthan, about which he wrote a series of articles entitled Letters of Marque (later re-issued in From Sea to Sea ). In 1888 he visited Benares (Varanasi) and Calcutta; but although he had by now decided to retum to England in the near future, he was suddenly recalled to Lahore to take charge of the CMG while Robinson was on leave, and spent his last hot season working there.

In the same year, 1888, there were published (in a series called "The Railway Library") six paperback volumes (Soldiers Three , The Story of the Gadsbys , In Black and White, Under the Deodars , The Phantom Rickshaw , and Wee Willie Winkie, containing stories that had previously appeared in Pioneer supplements. He returned for a brief time to Allahabad during which he wrote about the railway workshops and coalfields of industrial Bengal. In March 1889 Rudyard Kipling left India, aged 23, with a commission to write a series of travel articles for the Pioneer on his journey home via Burma, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and the USA. These were later re-published in From Sea to Sea .

He was never to return to India except for a short visit to his parents in Lahore in 1891