"Judson and the Empire"

Background to the story (continued)

The conclusion of the expedition was a bit like the return half of Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, the passage down the river being made “through a howling gale and a blinding storm of rain.”

One has a sneaking sympathy for the Portuguese. After all, they had some right to consider that “the Zambesi was a private Portuguese waterway”: they’d been there for the best part of three hundred and fifty years before the British took a serious interest in that area: and even if the province was as Kipling describes it in "Judson and the Empire", it may be noted (and this is a very subjective judgement) that today Mozambique seems to be a bit more stable than many other African states. And the Times report makes the whole affair sound like imperialism at its most imperial: indeed, 90 years later, the reporter might have been writing “Up yours, Galtieri”, for the Sun. And, far from ‘the flat-iron’ being inferior to the prettily-built, white-painted Guadala, in reality, the boot was on the other foot.

Some naval notes about the above report, before turning to “Judson and the Empire” itself. Redbreast and Pigeon do not exactly sound like the wooden walls of old England – all classical or imposing names: Majestic, Powerful, Devastation, Achilles, Minotaur, etc.. But nearly all the gunboats and slightly smaller gunvessels had bird names: there were the Dotterel class, the Linnet class, etc.. (HMS Gannet, currently undergoing restoration at Chatham Historic Dockyard is of a similar type, and when completed will enable the visitor to empathise with Judson/de Horsey/Kearey). And the expedition did well for Lieutenants Kearey and Brown. Both were promoted to Commander; then as now, the most important step in a naval officer’s career. All in all, it would seem that Lieutenant Kearey was the model for RK’s Judson. There is no mention of de Horsey in the Times piece.

The ORG introduction

(The following four paragraphs are taken directly from the ORG notes)

It may be conjectured that the tales of the junior naval officers in the club in Simon’s Town extended to recent events in Mozambique. For years administration seems to have been quite as lax and ineffective as that described in RK’s foreign colony, but in 1889 international competition in Africa had stimulated Portuguese interest to an extent that impelled a Major Serpa Pinto (mentioned in the Times report above: AW) to make a foray into what is now Malawi (formerly Nyasaland), thus jumping a British claim. Since the Portuguese government felt too insecure in the saddle at home to be able to yield gracefully to a mere protest from the outside, an ultimatum and a naval demonstration off the Tagus were needed to enable it to transfer the odium to perfidious Albion. Even so, there was a republican rising and a number of officers were punished. For a time, the situation in East Africa looked so threatening that a naval force, including some ships from the Cape Station, was assembled at Zanzibar under Rear-Admiral (so wrote Admiral Brock – he was, in fact, a Vice-Admiral, as stated in the Times report: AW) the Hon. Sir E.R. Fremantle, Commander-in-Chief of the East Indies Station, whose responsibilities then extended to Lat. 23º South (some 300 nautical miles south of the mouths of the Zambesi), though a later adjustment of boundaries northward to the Equator transferred the whole area to the C-in-C at the Cape.

Tension was eased when the Portuguese government agreed to open the Zambesi to navigation, as described in The Times, but it heightened again locally some months later when two small stern-wheel gunboats of very shallow draught, the Mosquito and Herald built by Yarrow, were shipped out in sections to be assembled on the lower Zambesi. Lieutenant Keary and HMS Redbreast were opposed by a Portuguese gunboat and a fiery Governor of Quelimane (modern spelling) who seems to have been nearly as colourful a character in his own way as RK’s was in his. (The Times report skates over what must have been a somewhat nerve-wracking passage for the Redbreast and Pigeon, the uncharted channel being both narrow and with barely enough water for the gunboats’ draught: AW) In making the passage without violence, Lieutenant Kearey showed creditable skills in pilotage, diplomacy and nerve, and Admiral Fremantle in his autobiography states a firm belief that he supplied the basis for Judson.

The source of the shore engagement with “the Pioneers of the General Development Company” is stated by Mr. H.G. Willmott, in the KJ (No. 48, December 1938) to have been a skirmish between a detachment of the British South Africa Company’s police and a larger Portuguese force which took place at Massi Kessi, just inside Portuguese East Africa, east of Umtali (now in Zimbabwe).

Queen Victoria sanctioned the issue of the British South Africa Company’s medals of 1890-97 for their operations in Matabeleland 1893, Rhodesia 1896 and Mashonaland 1890 and 1897. The first two were then separate Territories adjoining Portuguese East Africa.

RK's starting point

So, there we are: there was a good story there, and RK read The Times and/or was told the story in the Naval Club in Simon’s Town, and decided to turn it into fiction. No doubt de Horsey was his “naval adviser”, and would have featured in the credits at the end of the programme had it been turned into a piece for television. To “protect his sources”, rather than use one of the actual ships of the squadron, he probably looked out of the window and saw the Griper lying in the dockyard, and used her: he probably asked his naval acquaintances how Griper had got out to the Cape, and was told, much as Judson describes it to the Admiral. Griper was exactly as Kipling described her (there is an illustration of her in the very first (1898) edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships).

The main exception is in the armament. As coast defenders, intended to discourage raiding enemy warships, Griper carried a massive 18 ton, ten-inch, muzzle-loading rifle resembling a huge soda-water bottle. In converting the Griper to a river gunboat, RK has replaced this old-fashioned piece with a four-inch gun which closer examination will show to have been so unusual as to suggest that it was one of his many inventions. The Griper’s gun, as has been said, was a ten-inch muzzle-loading rifle, of a very antiquated pattern, and the method of traversing it, by pointing the whole ship, was, indeed, very much as RK describes. But the four-inch (which happened to be the weapon carried by Redbreast) was more modern, being mounted on a Vavasseur mounting which enabled it to be trained through an arc limited only by the superstructure of the ship. Additionally, according to the tale, it was the gunboat’s fore-topmast which needed “staying forward” (Kipling thus implies more than one mast – if you have a foremast, you have a mainmast as well), whereas the picture shows Griper with one mast only, so obviously, as has been remarked many times, Kipling’s memory was playing slight tricks when he came to write Something of Myself.

“Judson” comes to a close with a visit by “the Martin Frobisher, the flagship, a great war-boat when she was new, in the days when men built for sail as well as steam.” This is a thinly disguised Raleigh, which had been built in 1873, specifically for the job of being a flagship on the distant stations where coal supplies were few and far between. The concluding paragraph says “And if there be no truth .... in my tale, ........, you will not find in harbour at Simon’s Town today a flat-bottomed gunboat ...... wearing in open defiance of the rules of the Service a gold line on her grey paint.” Certainly Griper was there when Many Inventions was published, though one cannot be sure at this distance of time of the gold line!

There are one or two other points of interest in the telling of “Judson and the Empire” and in the memories in Something of Myself. In the latter, Kipling talks of “a Navy Captain going to a new Command at Simons Town”. He too is identified by Carrington, as Captain Bayly. In fact, he was Commander E.H. Bayly, and he took command of HMS Mohawk on 4 August, 1891. The use of the title Captain as a form of address for an officer of inferior rank (i.e., Commander or Lieutenant), but in command of a ship, was still usual then. (Indeed, it was generally used for Commanders in sea-going appointments – there are many authenticated accounts of Captains addressing their second-in-command, the Commander, as Captain So-and-So.) Mohawk appears in “Judson and the Empire” as "Mongoose, a real white painted ram-bow gunboat with quick-firing guns” (there is a picture of Mohawk in Jane’s for 1904, looking for all the world like an Edwardian steam yacht, with guns). Mohawk’s station was “Cape of Good Hope and West Africa”, so perhaps Kipling was lucky that he was unable to accept Captain Bayly’s invitation of a cruise - West Africa was still `the White Man’s grave`.

And in Something of Myself, Kipling speaks of a “newly appointed Lieutenant Commander”. At that time, there was no such rank as Lieutenant Commander, which was only introduced in 1914, although Lieutenants in command were sometimes known as Lieutenant and Commander, and signed themselves as Lieutenant-in-Command. Lieutenant de Horsey was a Lieutenant of five years’ seniority (the Lieutenant Commander, when he appeared 23 years later was a Lieutenant with more than eight years’ seniority), while Judson was a Navigating Lieutenant of five years’ seniority. This was clearly another bit of thin camouflage - at that date, Navigating officers, the successors to the old Masters, were not military officers, and Kipling’s readers in the Navy would have understood the point. de Horsey eventually became a Rear Admiral, with a `Pension for Wounds`, according to the Navy List.

However, as suggested above, it seems certain that the real Judson was Lieutenant Kearey. It would seem that Carrington was not aware of the piece in The Times, nor of Admiral Fremantle’s autobiography.

As for Kearey, he was at the time of the events, a Lieutenant with 12 years seniority, aged about 34. Before being given command of the Redbreast, he had been surveying in HMS Myrmidon, as indicated in the Times report. He had been mentioned in dispatches shortly before the events in the Zambesi (for intelligence work up in the area of Zanzibar), and was promoted to Commander for the Zambesi affair. As a Commander, he went to be the second-in-command of the much bigger cruiser Edgar, and then was given another pretty independent command, of the sloop Swallow (a larger version of the Redbreast) on the South-east coast of South America. That seems to have been his last seagoing appointment, and in 1901 he was with the Coastguard (which the Navy ran in those days), and seems to have retired shortly afterwards.

Thus it is clear that the basis of the events in “Judson and the Empire” actually occurred, though the story got embellished a bit in the telling. And Kipling did a bit of rudimentary camouflage - the bit about Keate, “the Torpedo Lieutenant of the big Vortigern” is such. At that time there was no other `big` ship on the Cape station. The squadron consisted of Raleigh, and about ten small sloops, like the Mohawk/Mongoose, ships which, as Admiral `Jackie` Fisher said, some twelve years later, “could neither fight nor run”, though they kept the `Pax Britannica` for some 30 years at the end of the last century. And there was only one qualified Torpedo officer on the whole station, who was the Torpedo officer of the Raleigh. It is perhaps of some interest that he was Lieutenant C.E. Madden, later an Admiral - even Admirals have been known to make errors when young! Nonetheless, even if RK’s naval details are impressionistic, the general picture is clear and convincing and the spirit rings true throughout. This latter point is worth emphasizing: naval officers of succeeding generations have made the same comment. So, although one may nit-pick at details, it may be accepted that the tone of the stories is correct.