"Judson and the Empire"

Notes on the text



[Page 327, introductory verse] Gloriana ! The Don may attack us... This is taken from Henry Austin Dobson’s Ballad to Queen Elizabeth. Dobson was born in 1840, so the piece was relatively recent. It’s a bit over-the-top for the tale about to be told – colonial Portuguese weren’t exactly the might of Spain attacking ‘plucky little’ Britain – but it does match RK’s imperialism.

[Page 328, line 31] The Cape of Storms An early Portuguese name for the Cape of Good Hope. Some say it was so called by Bartholomew Diaz, who discovered it in 1488, and that King John II of Portugal altered the name. Others believe that Cape of Good Hope was the name fancied by Diaz.

[Page 328, line 32] Camoens Luis de Camoens (1524-1580), Portuguese epic poet of renown: one of the greatest lyric poets of the 16th century.

[Page 330, line 22] It was then that Fate sent down in a shallow-draught gunboat. The accuracy of RK’s description of the ‘flat-iron’ has been remarked in the introduction, in so far as it refers to the Griper. The Griper and her class were once described as “a somewhat numerous flotilla of coast defence ‘flat irons’, unsafe in rough weather and doubtfully useful even in smooth”.

[Page 330, lines 29-30] a four-inch gun forward, which was trained by the ship;“Training” a gun is altering its direction in the horizontal plane, i.e. aiming it, as opposed to “laying”, which is altering its elevation.

The massive 18 ton, ten-inch gun carried by the Griper had a patent mounting which enabled it to be lowered into the hull to improve the ship’s stability at sea and had an arc of training of no more than 30º on either side of the fore-and-aft line of the ship. The gunboat would therefore have to be headed in the general direction of the target. In addition, the rate of training might well be slower than the rate at which the ship might swing in a tideway or a strong wind, so many captains would prefer to do all the aiming by pointing the ship. There is no reason why a four-inch gun (which weighed a mere 26 cwt (1,323kg), mounted as described in the introduction, should not have had a better arc of fire and a much faster rate of training.

The original Harbord remarks that “in the Science Museum in South Kensington, London, there is a model of a river/harbour gunboat of the 1870s armed with the massive old-fashioned ten-inch gun. A note says the wheel was placed just abaft the gun because most of the aiming was done by pointing the ship. It seems clear that Kipling worked on this basis in his description, but it also seems clear that it was a mistake to use such a rustic technique with the four-inch gun with which he armed Judson’s gunboat.” It has not yet been possible to establish whether this model is still on display.

[Page 330, line 31] three degrees worse than a torpedo-boat. At this time, there were in the fleet, first- and second-class torpedo boats (HM King George V commanded one around this time), and "Their Lawful Occasions" (in Traffics and Discoveries) says more about them than I can. Suffice to say that they were not comfortable to live in at sea.

[Page 331, line 7] second post in the Anson or the Howe. British naval officers invariably live in and not on their ships The lower deck, the Merchant Navy and the US Navy are less dogmatic on this point. RK uses “on” again in line 13 and in two or three later places. However, at some point a correction has been made. The author of these notes has a 1918 pocket edition in which “on” is used, and a 1949 standard edition, in which it has been changed to “in” The reference is to being the assistant navigator (remember, Bai-Jove Judson was a Navigating Lieutenant), in one of the latest battleships: Anson and Howe, two ships of the Admiral, class were then the latest thing in battleships, completed in May and July 1889 respectively.

[Page 331, line 15] Simon’s Bay An indentation on the west side of False Bay, which lies east of the Cape of Good Hope. On it is Simon’s Town, now usually written Simonstown, with a naval dockyard, the headquarters of what in 1891 was called The Cape of Good Hope and West Africa Station (usually shortened to “The Cape Station”). The dockyard was transferred to the Union of South Africa (now the South African Republic) in 1957, and remains the headquarters of the South African Naval Forces.

[Page 331, line 19] a preparation of powdered cork that was sprinkled over her inside paint. The theory is that the cork absorbs the moisture of the condensation, and this was still in use in the 1950s – though how the cork could absorb moisture from the surrounding air when it was covered with umpteen layers of paint is less clear!

[Page 331, line 21] her foc’s’le was a dog-kennel. The foc’s’le (strictly fo’c’s’le, if we are to put an apostrophe wherever there are letters omitted from the full word – in this case forecastle) was where the crew, other than the Petty Officers, lived. And dog-kennel is a pretty kind description. The word derives from the structure on mediaeval warships, from which armed men could launch their weapons against an enemy ship. By the eighteenth century, it could mean either the forward part of the weather deck or, as in this case, the space underneath it. Again, a visit to the Gannet at Chatham will provide an illustration. She was a slightly larger version of the real Redbreast, but the accommodation for at least some of her lower deck ratings was in a fo’c’s’le like the ‘flat-iron’s’.

[Page 331, line 22] Judson’s cabin was practically under the water-line. Actually, Judson wasn’t doing too badly. Until the 1870s, or slightly later, the officers’ accommodation in most ships of any size (though not usually the captain’s) was below the water-line, with no illumination other than a candle in your cabin. The wardroom itself (the officers’ dining-room) was usually lit by a sky-light. A visit to Warrior at Portsmouth will show these features. There, the cabins do have scuttles (portholes), but these are a later addition. The wardroom itself is illuminated by a skylight to the deck above, which itself is illuminated by a skylight in the deck above that: so there wasn’t an awful lot of light got down to the wardroom, and when the upper deck skylight was covered, as it would be for much of the time at sea – especially in a small ship – there was no natural light down below. It is not surprising that naval officers had a reputation for not being very well-read: the opportunities for reading comfortably and without eye-strain were few and far between.

[Page 331, line 23] Not one of her dead-lights could ever be opened. Following on from the above, a scuttle was a circular opening in the ship’s side or superstructure, containing thick glass in a hinged frame, acting as a window (referred to as a porthole in merchant vessels). It opened inwards, and over it was a further circular hinged plate, the deadlight, to prevent the glass from being burst in by the sea, or spreading splinters around if struck by enemy fire. The scuttle was hinged at the side, and the deadlight was hinged at the top. It is quite possible that, at this time, the ‘flat-iron’/Griper had no glass in her scuttles – merely an opening, closed by a deadlight. Since she was so low in the water, these could never safely be opened when she was at sea.

[Page 331, line 24] and her compasses, thanks to the influence of the four-inch gun, were a curiosity even among Admiralty compasses. One of the reasons why shipbuilding in iron did not start as early as it might otherwise have been expected to, was that no-one knew how to correct a magnetic compass when it was put into an iron ship. (When the Aaron Manby, the first iron ship to steam from England (London) to France (Le Havre), did so, she went down the Thames, coasting from point to point until she reached Dover, then, when she could see the coast of France, dashed over, and then coasted down the French shoreline until Le Havre was reached. This was in 1822, or thereabouts) By the 1850s, sufficient work had been done to enable magnetic compasses to be corrected sufficiently to enable them to be used in iron ships, but the compasses were (and, come to that, still are) susceptible to any changes in the ship’s magnetism, so the movement of any proportionately large chunk of ironmongery in a ship could affect the compasses (plural – you always had more than one, as a check).

Thus the “four-inch gun” represented a quite a large proportion of the ‘flat-iron’s’ iron-work, and its training would affect the compasses. In a similar vein, a seaman on the wheel always took out of his pocket any iron he might be carrying, such as his seaman’s knife – a habit this author still retains from his earlier days in the Navy, when he served in a little Minesweeping Motor Launch which had no gyro-compass, only magnetic ones.

[Page 331, line 28] Mr. Davies, the second-class engine-room artificer.. We will meet Henry Salt Hinchcliffe, a first-class Engine-Room Artificer, in “Their Lawful Occasions”, and RK showed his admiration for artificers’ skills in his description “If you hand ‘im a drum of oil an’ leave ‘im alone, he can coax a stolen bicycle to do typewritin’.” Mr. Davies is another such. Engine Room Artificers (ERAs), now known as Marine Engineering Artificers (Propulsion), (and their later colleagues the Ordnance Artificers, Electrical Artificers and Radio Electrical Artificers, etc.) are the Navy’s skilled artisans, who complete a demanding apprenticeship, and are then qualified fitters and turners, or coppersmiths, or boilermakers, etc.. Like RK, the author of these notes has an immense admiration for their skills, and has yet to find one who couldn’t tackle anything mechanical/electrical and make it work.

Davies, as a second class Artificer, would rate as a Chief Petty officer, the equivalent of a junior Warrant Officer in the army, but still a rating. Judson would have been most unlikely to address him as ‘Mister’, which title was strictly reserved for Warrant Officers, and officers under training, e.g., midshipmen. It was also used to address more senior officers on formal occasions, usually preceding a reprimand.

Even at a considerably later date, RK, in common with many others, was not clear about the status of the Petty officer, the Chief Petty Officer and the Warrant Officer – the last being an officer with no exact counterpart in the Army. The naval Warrant officer disappeared in 1946, becoming a Commissioned Gunner/Boatswain, etc. (although his provenance, that of an extremely experienced man, promoted from the lower deck, remained unchanged). In 1956, he became a Sub-Lieutenant (SD) (SD standing for Special Duties), and from 1999, he (and now she), on promotion from the lower deck, becomes an ordinary Sub-Lieutenant along with the various other types of officer entry.

[Page 331, line 32] to slack off a single rope on a dewy night. The implication is fairly obvious here. Ropes expand and contract as they get wet, and one slacked off the running rigging when it was wet. The introduction of iron wire rope (later steel wire rope) for standing rigging (the shrouds and stays which are fixed at both ends, and don’t run through a block (pulley)), reduced the need to worry about standing rigging, but so long as running rigging was made of natural fibre, one took care to slack it off at night, or in rain.

[Page 332, line 2] Her fenders were done all over with white sennit, which was truly white; ‘sennit’ is braided cordage: so the ‘flat-iron’s’ fenders have been decorated with fancy ropework, the mark of a ship’s company which took pride in its ship’s appearance. For it to be truly white, it would have had to be painted, or pipe-clayed; a time-consuming task, and there was no allowance for the materials used, so the captain would have had to pay for them himself.

[Page 332, line 9] with the naval brigade in the Burmese war. This had taken place in 1884-5, and continued intermittently until 1892. Three bars to the Indian General Service Medal, 1854-1895 were given for the various campaigns 1885-7, 1887-9 and 1889-92. A short disquisition on the British system of honours, awards and campaign medals may be appropriate here, since they are mentioned variously in RK’s works.

The “fruit salad” (coloured medal ribbons) and “gongs” which decorate the chests of serving and retired members of the British and Commonwealth armed forces, and of others on ceremonial occasions, can be classified as follows:

Honours, which imply membership of one of the Orders of Chivalry, such as the Garter (the senior order) and the Order of the British Empire (the most recent). Awards were, and are, made for service to the nation in all walks of life, and to all conditions of men and women. At one end of the scale is the Medal of the Order, through Membership of the Order, Officer, Companion, Knight (or Dame) Commander and Knight Grand Cross. Not all orders have all grades. Honours are awarded for service in peace and war.

Awards are made for distinguished or gallant conduct in war, or a war situation. The senior award is that of the Victoria Cross, awarded to anyone who shows extreme bravery in face of the enemy (see “Winning the Victoria Cross” in Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides): then follows the Distinguished Service Order, and after that, the awards made to members of the individual armed forces. In general terms, officers receive a Cross, other ranks and ratings a Medal, e.g., the Military Cross would be awarded to an Army Officer, the Distinguished Service Medal to a Naval rating. There are equivalent awards for civilians: the civil equivalent of the Victoria Cross is the George Cross.

Honours and Awards are marked by the holder’s use of ‘post-nominals’, i.e., the alphabet soup which may be seen after some senior officers’ names. (The late Lord Mountbatten was The Earl Mountbatten of Burma, K.G., P.C., G.C.B., G.C.S.I., G.C.I.E., G.C.V.O., D.S.O., LL.D – the last being an academic distinction.)

Medals refer to campaign medals, and the holding of a medal merely signifies that the holder had served a qualifying period of time in the appropriate theatre of war.

[Page 332, line 10] the bow-anchor was varnished instead of being painted, It is suggested that RK meant ‘bower anchor’, the usual naval term. Even a mere ‘flat-iron’ almost certainly carried more than one anchor at the bow – one or more bower anchors, and one or more sheet anchors. At the stern, as opposed to the bow, she would have carried, not a stern anchor, but a kedge anchor. ‘Bow anchor’ might almost be said to be a bit of tautology. The use of the word ‘anchor’ by itself implied, virtually automatically, an anchor at the bow, while an anchor at the stern would be qualified by the word kedge, or stream.

[Page 332, line 14] a ship's 'husband At this period, when the passing of masts and yards had removed competitive sail drill as a criterion of a ship’s efficiency, and modern gunnery was still in an early experimental stage, the importance of a ship’s smart appearance was perhaps rated more highly than it deserved. The official allowance of paint, cleaning material, etc., remained parsimonious. In 1896 the future Admiral R.A. Hopwood (who in 1891 was First Lieutenant of a sloop on the Cape Station) published The Laws of the Navy, clearly inspired by “The Law of the Jungle” which had appeared in the Second Jungle Book the year before. One verse reads:-

“Dost deem that thy vessel needs gilding
And the dockyard forbear to supply?
Put thy hand in thy pocket and gild her,
There be those who have risen thereby.”

[Page 332, line 16] a Junior Navigating Lieutenant under eight years’ standing. In 1891, the Navigating Lieutenant (the Junior was no part of his rank, and so should have read “junior”) was a relic of one stage in the process of evolution, by which navigation and ship-handling, from being the function of a small and specialized group of officers, formerly of warrant officer status, but by now commissioned officers, who could not expect to do anything else, became a requirement for all seaman officers, while experts who had specialized in the art could have equal opportunity to rise to the heights.

In Nelson’s day, the Master occupied an intermediate position between the warrant and the commissioned officer, and without an unusual combination of ability, luck, and interest could not hope to go further. In 1843, Masters became commissioned officers, but given no additional scope for a career (other than in the Hydrographic Service) until 1867, when Master’s Mates and Masters became Navigating Sub-Lieutenants and Navigating Lieutenants, respectively, who might become Staff Commanders and as such be employed as Navigator of a big ship, or a Squadron, or as Queen’s Harbourmaster of a dockyard port. The most senior rank of “the Navigating List” was Staff Captain, and command of a major fighting ship remained the perquisite of the Executive Branch.

In 1876 the final step was taken; it was decided to make Navigation a seaman specialisation, like Gunnery, and let the Navigating List die out. Officers on it were given the option of playing out time under the old rules, or of transferring to the Executive List, which most ambitious young officers chose. In 1891 there was no “Navigating Lieutenant under eight years’ seniority”, and not many above it. Judson was no doubt the new type Lieutenant (N)

The above explanation is taken verbatim from the original Harbord, but the present author can endorse it from his own family history. One great-great-grandfather was a Master in 1845, and was rewarded for distinguished service in a minor campaign in the River Plate by being transferred to the Executive Branch: he ended as a Captain. His son-in-law, a great-grandfather, was a Master’s Mate in 1867, became a Navigating Sub-Lieutenant, and stayed on the Navigating List, becoming in due time a Staff Captain

[Page 332, line 20] to enliven her official gray with a line of gold-leaf, and, perhaps, a little scroll-work. This is the better aspect of the Victorian navy’s predilection for paint and decoration. It provided a means of enhancing the esprit de corps of a ship’s company in the absence of sterner tasks. But there is little doubt that it could be carried to extremes, and at the expense of efficiency in things which mattered.

[Page 332, lines 24-30] You seem to have rather queer compasses.. The matter of compasses, and the effect that training a biggish gun in a small ship could have on them, has been remarked on already. But there is an inconsistency here. On page 330, RK says (line 29), “….. carried a four-inch gun forward, which was trained by the ship”. In other words, the gun was effectively fixed, as regards training, or traversing, and one had to turn the whole ship, if you wanted the gun to point in another direction. And, indeed, that would have been the case with the Griper, on which the ‘flat-iron’ was based. But here, on page 332, the Admiral invites Judson to train the gun, “to lay that gun over”, which ought to have been an impossibility according to the description on page 330 (though it would have been possible with a four-inch such as the Redbreast carried). And although the admiral is made to say “ …. be good enough to lay that gun over thirty degrees, please?” when, strictly, he means “train”, nonetheless, it was commonplace to use “lay” to mean a combination of laying and training.

[Page 333, line 1] You must have kept close to your convoy? A fairly obvious hint that the Admiral thought that Judson couldn’t ever have managed on his own, with compasses like that. RK is using the word “convoy” in an archaic way here: today, one would write “escort”. Rear-Admiral Brock, in writing the original Harbord notes for this tale, observes that the use of the word “convoy” to indicate the vessel escorting is to be found in both official and unofficial documents, ranging from early 18th century to the first decade of the 20th. It must be said that, although Judson may have been happy with his navigation, the captain of the ship convoying him must have wondered from time to time where he’d got to, and whether he wasn’t in trouble!

[Page 333, line 4] Steamship/seamanship Here is another curiosity. The original, and texts up to at least 1918, have “steamship”, but the 1949 edition has “seamanship”. In the original Harbord, the editor wrote: “One or two readers have asked if this was not a slip by the author for “seamanship”. Admiral Brock’s answer is emphatically “No”, giving these reasons:
  • In 1890, the last “masted” battleships were just being reduced to reserve or being modernized. Cruisers lagged 5 to 10 years behind. The smaller gun vessels and gunboats were still slower, on the whole. Such a small warship as Judson’s, so far afield without any sail power, was still enough of a novelty to be distinguished by the word “steamship”.
  • A reflection on an officer’s seamanship was in the same category as an accusation of cheating at cards or an affront to his wife. The Admiral would have avoided any approach to it unless he was out to “draw blood”.
  • The Admiral’s implication clearly was that owing to his inaccurate compass, Judson must have had to rely on his convoy for navigation – not seamanship.
  • The Admiral is depicted throughout as a kindly character, well-disposed towards Judson, and one who would not unfairly attack Judson’s navigation or seamanship.”
Subsequently (and before the above was published, and, one assumes, before it was written), the text was, indeed, changed to “…. resented this slur on his seamanship.” It is not quite clear, that being so, why Admiral Brock persisted in claiming that “steamship” was the correct text, if (as one must assume) the author himself had made the revision. The present author would agree in general with the comments that Admiral Brock puts forward, except the idea that Griper was sufficient of a novelty to be referred to in any naval officer’s mind as a “steamship”. Judson would have thought of her as “my ship” tout court, or “my command”, while the Admiral would have thought of her by name or type. Nor is it clear that the Admiral was intending a slur on anything or anyone. He could be thought to be making a sympathetic remark to Judson, indicating that he understands the difficulties, both in seamanship and navigation, he must have had in making such a passage in such a vessel. Judson replies “with a flush”, rather on his guard: admirals are not notorious for being sympathetic to junior lieutenants, and Judson could have taken the remark as a slur on his own ability, i.e., his seamanship (with which may be included navigational ability). It must also be said that, if his compasses were as unreliable as is suggested, even though Judson considered that he had “got the hang of most of the weaknesses”, he was being somewhat irresponsible in apparently ploughing his own way to the Cape.

[Page 333, line 6] The Admiral went over the side, according to the rules of the Service i.e. having the side piped for him, a compliment which is only paid to senior naval officers when in uniform, and the Monarch, and only during daylight hours. (Though foreign naval officers, in uniform, should be piped over the side at any hour of night or day!)

[Page 333, line 7] but the Staff-Captain A Staff-Captain was a specific rank in the Navigating Branch (the highest to which a member of that branch could aspire). As has been said above, the Navigating Branch, at this time, were not military officers – that is, they ranked after ordinary Lieutenants – so, in the event of a crisis, an executive branch Lieutenant, of no more than one month’s seniority, would take command of a ship even if there were a Navigating Lieutenant of, say, fourteen years’ seniority available. A Navigating Lieutenant aspired to be promoted to Staff-Commander, and in due course to Staff-Captain. At this time there were fifteen Staff Captains in the Navy list, all employed at home in the Admiralty, the home dockyards, or in command of the Royal and Admiralty Yachts. It is probable that RK is slightly misusing the expression here, imagining it to be akin to Army usage: it is almost certain that he means the Admiral’s Secretary, (See page 334, line 13, below)

Admiral Brock’s additional comment was that “A Staff Captain would have been a very senior (and probably desiccated) officer on the Navigating List, with whom it would be most unlikely that a junior officer would have exchanged pleasantries.” (The present author could regard this as an unwarranted slight on his great-grand-father, but will let it pass ….!) “The Admiral’s Secretary might well have been a Staff Paymaster, a rank that has successively become (in 1918) a Paymaster Lieutenant Commander, (1944) Lieutenant Commander (S), and (1956) a Lieutenant Commander on the General List who has specialized in Supply and Secretariat duties.”

[Page 333, line 11] the Mongoose, a real white-painted, ram-bowed gunboat with quick-firing guns, The present author has suggested that RK’s friend Captain Bayly’s ship the Mohawk was the fictional Mongoose, purely on the basis of their names beginning “Mo…”. Admiral Brock suggested that Mongoose was based on one of two other ships Sparrow or Widgeon, both then on the Cape Station and sister ships to Lieutenant Keary’s Redbreast. Mohawk, too, was similar to, but larger than, the assorted “birds”. At the time the tale was written, ships in home waters and the Mediterranean were painted black with white upperworks and buff masts and funnels. Ships in the East Indies, at the Cape, and in the West Indies were painted white all over with buff masts and funnels. Grey paint was introduced at home in 1902, but the overseas stations continued paint their ships white until the start of WW 2 (other than during WW 1), while HMS Sheffield, as the flagship of the West Indies station in the 1950s kept the old colours (and very fine she looked too). Survey vessels are still so painted.

Ram-bowed indicates that she had a projecting ram underwater, and that the bow curved upwards and backwards from this spur. The ram, which had been a feature of Greek and Roman warships, and Mediterranean galleys up to the end of the 17th century (indeed it was their primary weapon) had been eclipsed by the heavy gun. But at the battle of Lissa in 1866 (the first encounter between steam-propelled fleets), the Austrian flagship was sunk by the Italian flagship, and suddenly the ram became all the rage again. Most battleships built for all fleets up to 1916 featured a ram bow. In fact, none of the cruising gunboats were so fitted.

[Page 333, line 18] ten point four It would have been surprising if this gunboat could do 10.4 knots except when new and light, as on her initial trials. In fact, Jane’s All the World’s Fighting Ships for 1898 gives Griper’s speed as being a mere four knots, while a modern reference book suggest that they were designed for 8 ½ knots when new. However, 10.4 knots would have been a fair top speed for Redbreast (their nominal speed was 11-12 knots) while Captain Bayly’s Mohawk, which was altogether larger than the smaller ‘Birds’, was capable of 13 knots. Incidentally, Griper was not broken up until 1951, having survived as a hulk for many years.

[Page 333, line 22] top-hamper Upper masts and rigging.

[Page 333, line 28] the Torpedo Lieutenant Gunnery, Torpedo and Navigation were the three specialisations then open to Executive officers. As his title implies, he was responsible for torpedoes, and also mines. Much more importantly, he was responsible for all things electrical, although in 1891, electrics were in their infancy. Griper would have had no electrical equipment, except possibly, but not certainly, batteries to operate the firing circuits of her gun. The remainder of the ships on the station would have had a dynamo to provide current for a searchlight or two, and possibly for arc-lights in the stokehold.

[Page 333, line 31] mullet 'Small fish of the mullidae family, considered edible by naval messmen (caterers). Sometimes called “main drain loungers” by their customers.' That was the Harbord entry in the 1960s. At the start of the 21st century, mullet can be regularly found in our fishmongers as the stocks of the old staples of cod and haddock have declined, and perhaps the explanation is not necessary. (And the word is also a word of opprobrium in Australian slang.)

[Page 334, line 4] a small torpedo-boat The characteristics of torpedo-boats have been noted above, but Admiral Brock added here “early torpedo-boats, about 56 feet long, were carried by some battleships, but were generally more useful for picnics than for war-like operations.”

[Page 334, line 9] dockyard tender A duty-boat, performing miscellaneous services for the dockyard and the ships it maintained.

[Page 334, line 12] Waitabeechee, Commodore This word, or something similar, was Afrikaans for the wait-a-bit thorn indigenous in South Africa; so called because of the deterrent effect of its strong spines (see also in “The Elephant’s Child” in Just So Stories, page 58, line 21).

[Page 334, line 13] Vanderhum for the "Cook and the captain bold.." Vanderhum is a South African liqueur (Original Harbord says from Peach Brandy, but see RK’s own explanation at p. 349 below). Most of our English members will recognise the quote: for the benefit of those who don’t, it comes from one of W.S. Gilbert’s Bab Ballads. In this case the reference is that in such a tiny ship as the gunboat/Griper, Judson was his own navigator, First Lieutenant, Mate of the Upper Deck, Gunnery officer, Captain’s Secretary, etc.. And Gilbert’s piece (its title is The Yarn of the Nancy Bell) was refused by the Editor of Punch as being “too cannibalistic for his readers’ taste”.

[Page 334, line 21 et seq] The Admiral’s Secretary entered and I wish I were a Staff-Captain. The implication is that the Admiral’s Secretary is a Staff-Captain, and/or the Staff-Captain is the Admiral’s Secretary. Neither of these statements could be true – an Admiral’s Secretary would have been, without exception, a Staff Paymaster (on a minor station like the Cape or East Indies) or a Fleet Paymaster (at home, or in the Mediterranean). Which reinforces the belief (see my comment page 333, line 7 above), that RK misconstrued the use of ‘Staff-Captain’.

[Page 334, line 24] the man with the bowstring. An allusion to the ancient Turkish practice whereby a person of eminence who had incurred royal displeasure received a bow-string at the hands of a mute as an intimation of his death sentence (garroting being the method of execution). The modern connotation of the phrase is: the bearer of unwelcome tidings to the recipient. RK makes use of the phrase in Stalky and Co., when the Head, in “A Little Prep.” comes to take away most of the First XV for extra-tuition.

[Page 334, line 27] tumble home “The sides of a ship near the upper deck inclining inwards are said to tumble home" (Seamanship Manual). So Sperril had more stomach than chest. (Cf HMS Victory)

[Page 334, line 29] I’m under orders for Zanzibar. Very relevant. The Times report quoted in the pre-amble mentioned (but was left out of the quote as not directly relevant to the derivation of the story) ) that the C-in-C was, at that moment, up at Zanzibar with the rest of the East Indies squadron, in the process, not, of annexing it, but bringing it within the British sphere of influence. (Great Britain did a swop with the Germans – we took Zanzibar, and they got Heligoland.)

[Page 335, line 4] snapper One of various kinds of fish, especially of the Lutianidas, a kind of sea perch.

[Page 335, line 24] My orders are not to row under any circumstances. Again, reading between the lines of the Times report, that seems to have been the gist of the orders given to Lieutenant Kearey by Admiral Fremantle.

[Page 335, line 26] Go-look-see Pidgin English, to which naval officers were particularly addicted! About the only phrase remaining in common use today, is “Cheesy-Hammy-Eggy-Topsides” as a wardroom supper dish.

[Page 335, line 32] gig A ship’s boat with fine lines, latterly 30 feet long, carvel-built (i.e., with planking flush, rather than overlapping) and handled under oars or sail by a crew of six with a coxwain, but there was an earlier four-oared version for small ships. They were the fastest of service boats under oars, and under sail in anything less than a strong breeze. The Royal Naval Museum at Portsmouth has one, which is occasionally used. When reserved for the exclusive use of the captain or senior officer she was commonly called a “galley”, and a galley’s crew commonly rowed (pulled, in naval language) in a style more akin to that of a racing eight than the normal tug-the-oar-to-get-this-lump-of-a-boat-to-move style that normal boats used.

[Page 336, line 6] The Marine at the door The sentry was there, not as a guard against mutinous sailors, but to pass messages, in the days before telephones and public address systems.

[Page 336, line 10] Their boats never come south of this, see? The reference is to the naval craft of the other Power, whom RK is careful never to name, but whom it is quite clear is Portugal.

[Page 336, line 16] Cape Hangklip The southern end of the Hottentot Holland range, forming the S.E. point of False Bay.

[Page 336, line 17] Mr. Davies, the second-class engine-room artificer, was giving her all she could carry. The meaning is quite clear, but the phrase is not really appropriate, since it is an old sailing ship phrase, indicating that a ship is being driven as hard as she can be in the prevailing weather conditions, carrying as much sail as she can without damaging her gear. And Mr. Davies would have merely obeyed Judson’s orders, rather than, as is implied, being the originator of the desire for speed.

[Page 336, line 19] the Admiral’s house Admiralty House, Simonstown, purchased in 1814, was the official residence of more than 70 British commodores and flag officers commanding (under various titles) H.M. Ships and Vessels on the station until it was handed over to the South African government with the dockyard, or a little before.

[Page 336, line 19] the ancient and retired bo’sun... On the face of it, the job sounds more suitable for a boatswain’s mate than a boatswain who, though commonly of different background, age and experience, ranked “with but before” a second lieutenant in the Army. Various changes have been made with the object of clarifying the warrant officer’s position and of giving greater scope to the many outstanding officers among them; until very recently (1999), their successors were sub-lieutenants, lieutenants, lieutenant commanders and commanders on the Special Duties List of the Royal Navy. Today, all officers promoted from the lower deck, as the warrant officer and his successors were, join a single list of naval officers, taking their place as the full equals of officers entered as officer candidates. It is, of course, possible that a Boatswain might have been very willing to sink his dignity for a quiet number in pleasant naval surroundings, but most naval officers would probably agree that “feeling dimly” was not a frequent practice among boatswains of their acquaintance.

[Page 336, line 27] Cape Agulhas Cape Agulhas is the southernmost point of the African continent, and lies some 70 sea miles east-south-east of Simon’s Town.

[Page 336, line 31] Kroo boys that made the majority of the crew. On foreign stations the Royal Navy made use of locally entered men to do many of the more mundane tasks on board ship. They were entered as members of the ship’s company, but messed separately, were paid differently (and less), and had their own petty officers. In the Far East, there were Chinese cooks and stewards – 99% from Hong Kong): in the East Indies, there were Goan stewards, and Somali stokers: in the Mediterranean there were Maltese cooks and stewards, and at the Cape there were Kroo-men.

Kroo, or Kru, is the West African name for a Negro race skilled as sailors who were mostly natives of Liberia, but it was unusual for these Kroo-men to be more than a small proportion of a ship’s company. (In 1956, HMS Superb, a cruiser with a complement of 650, had approximately 40 Somali Stokers, enlisted at Aden, under their Head Tindal, who ruled them much as a village headman would.) The flat-iron gunboats on the Cape Station were an exception, presumably due to the combination of their very uncomfortable forecastles and their insignificant fighting value. Although Liberians, the Kroo-boys (or men) were recruited in Sierra Leone; many had some Mission School training but naval opinion was not convinced that it had much lasting influence on their morals. When one of HM Ships from the Cape visited Sierra Leone most of the Kroo-men would take the opportunity to “enjoy the blessings of the land with the fruits of their labours” and a fresh batch would replace them.

[Page 336, last line and top of page 337] She ran along a very badly-lighted coast. RK is doing a bit of camouflage again here. As we know, the real events on which Judson is based took place in the Zambesi, using ships of the East Indies Squadron. But the ‘flat-iron’ has come from the Cape, and belonged to the Admiral commanding that station – the border line was some 200 miles north of Natal. The mouth of the Zambesi is, in fact, closer to Zanzibar than it is to Simon’s Town. And there is a touch of the Just So Stories about his description of the mouth of the fictional river – reminiscent of the “great, grey-green, greasy Limpopo River”, which enters the Indian Ocean just inside the southern boundary of Mozambique, some 400 miles south of the Zambezi.

[Page 337, line 27] a leadsman took soundings Leadsman, pronounced as in the metal. Until the advent of the echo-sounder, the depth of water was ascertained by means of a lead weight (seven bounds normally, fourteen pounds for a deep-sea lead, and four pounds for a boat’s lead, as in this story) on a suitably marked lead-line, manipulated by a leadsman. (From a ship under way, it was “hove”, not “swung”.) The slang phrase “to swing the lead”, meaning to be idle whilst simulating industry, derives from the fact that when the leadsman is not actually heaving the lead to ascertain the depth of water, the lead-line, with the lead clear of the water, hangs idly in his hand.

[Page 338, line 6] Can you back her against this current? The object of this evolution would be to enable Judson to find the position of the shoal, on his return passage down river, first approximately by the general look of the shores as they would appear on this course, and then accurately by taking bearings of particular landmarks. Kipling is making Mr. Davies do all sorts of things not normally done by ERAs. Here, he would seem to have the conning of the flat-iron, from her exiguous bridge, and generally to be acting as second-in-command.

[Page 338, line 15] with a slip-rope on the anchor. More accurately, on the cable. When time cannot be spared to weigh the anchor, the cable is let go (slipped), with a buoy attached to its inboard end to enable it to be located, oicked up, and the nachor recovered at leisure, after the emergency has subsided. In the old days, with hemp cables, it was necessary either to cut the cable or let the whole length go. Chain cable, introduced into the Navy c.1810, is, however, made up in lengths connected by joining shackles and can be “broken” at the nearest shackle by removing the pin of the shackle.

In the absence of a fixed slip (a device rather like a very much enlarged safety-pin), fitted in the larger types of HM Ships, a slip rope could be secured to the cable outboard of the shackle, and used to take the strain while the cable is unshackled and to let the end go quickly when ordered.

[Page 338, line 22] to slip her moorings. A seaman would be unlikely to refer to his own single anchor as “moorings”, which are a comparatively elaborate arrangement of anchors laid out permanently in a harbour where it is necessary to make the most of a limited space. Judson would have said “Stand by to slip”, or “Stand by to slip the cable”.

[Page 338, line 26] with a blue and white flag bearing a red boss in the centre. This ensign will be sought for in vain in the usual books. Kipling was either sparing Portuguese susceptibilities or indicating that the tale is not strictly factual, or both.

[Page 338, line 28] abaft the windlass! "Windlass: a machine used in merchant ships instead of a capstan, to heave the anchors up from the bottom, etc." This definition, from an old Nautical Dictionary, would still serve if qualified by mentioning that steam windlasses have been fitted in some small warships, especially those of merchant ship design modified for naval use. A windlass differs from the capstans and cableholders normally fitted in HM ships chiefly in having the axis of its working drum horizontal instead of vertical; it also makes rather less demand on manpower to attend it, an advantage in a small ship.

[Page 338, line 33] white ensign at her one mast-head. Bad editing by Kipling! Readers will remember that, at the beginning of the tale, reference was made to the gunboat’s fore-topmast, implying two masts. Admiral Brock’s comment was “The ensign is usually flown from either a gaff on the after mast, or from its own ensign staff, but perhaps in the absence of a gaff, Judson chose the masthead as being more conspicuous than the ensign staff.” All absolutely correct, but in fact Griper (RK’s model) did have a gaff, as evidenced from the drawing in Jane’s. But more importantly, it has long been the Navy’s custom, when going into battle, to fly (a) battle-ensign(s) in the most conspicuous positions in the ship. So Judson, recognizing the significance of the occasion, would surely have followed the old custom, and flown his ensign from the masthead. It is suggested that this was the kind of advice which RK would have picked up from his young informants and “technical advisers” in the club in Simonstown.

[Page 339, line 20] Just the half of a fraction of a point more. Judson is referring to the angle by which his bearing of a shore object will have to alter before it indicates that he is over the shoal. As there are 32 points in the 360 degrees of a compass card, one point equals 11¼º.

[Page 340, line 17] to her lower strakes, A strake is a continuous line of plates from stem to stern in the hull of a ship. The lower strakes would normally be below the waterline.

[Page 340, line 25] 'and écrazer your vile tricks'. To overwhelm, crush (Fr.). Modern spelling “écraser”.

[Page 341, line 23 et seq.] I want to get this gun on that house. Once more RK is inconsistent: when the Admiral was trying out the effect of the gun on the compasses, he had it trained round – but here we are, doing it as it would have been done in reality by the ‘flat-iron’/Griper.

[Page 341, line 32] whistle Usually called a “syren” or “siren” in the Navy.

[Page 342, line 22] Ten pounds of gunpowder shut up in a hundred pounds of metal was its charge. Once again RK hasn’t got it quite right. If the gun were a four inch, then the projectile would have been no twenty-five pounds in weight, and the propellant would, by this time, have been cordite: and yes, one could have described it as so much propellant "shut up” in so many pounds of metal, because it used fixed ammunition – i.e., the propellant was contained in a cylindrical brass cartridge case, and the projectile fitted into the front of it, the whole becoming one item to be loaded into the gun. But a ten-inch muzzle loading rifle, such as Griper carried, had separate ammunition – the charge would have been black powder contained in a flannel bag, and I’ve no doubt ten pounds was the amount, for a short-ish range, while the projectile would, indeed, have weighed about 100 pounds.

[Page 342, line 32] an Isabella-coloured petticoat, 'The yellow colour of soiled linen, so called from Isabella of Austria who, at the siege of Ostend, vowed not to change her linen until the town capitulated. The siege lasted three years!' Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable gives this derivation and another, but then spoils it by saying “There is no reason to accept these fanciful derivations”!

[Page 343, line 11 and 22] dragged quick-firing guns with them. and ten little gatlings. RK was not quite au fait (when this story was written, anyway), as to the exact meaning of a quick-firing gun, and the difference between a quick-firing gun and a machine gun. He tends to use the former expression when he means what we would refer to as a machine-gun.

A quick-firing (QF) gun, to a Naval gunner, was a gun with a vertically sliding breech-block (used, at this time, on guns of 4" calibre and below: later on guns up to 5.25" calibre), as opposed to a breech-loading (BL) gun, which had a hinged and swinging breech-block, with an interrupted screw thread. The former was, indeed, able to fire at a faster rate than the latter, but in both types, each round had to be loaded individually. A machine-gun, on the other hand, has each round fed into the breech automatically from a belt, or hopper.

The Gatling gun was an early form of machine-gun, having a number of barrels arranged concentrically round a common axis. At this time, the machine-gun was the latest and most frightening piece of military hardware. There were basically three types: the Gatling, as described above; the Nordenfeldt, similar in principle to the Gatling, but with its seven barrels arranged in a horizontal line; and the Maxim, a water-jacketed, belt-fed machine gun, the same in its essentials as the heavy machine guns used by today’s armies. (Cf Hilaire Belloc’s “The Modern Traveller”:

“Whatever happens we have got
The Maxim gun, and they have not”.)

[Page 343, line 32] but they’ve snaffled the lock-actions. Part of the mechanism had been removed to make the guns unserviceable: analogous to “spiking a gun”, in the days of muzzle-loaders and flint-lock firing.

[Page 345, line 12] hang you at the yard-arm According to the Admiralty Manual of Seamanship, that part of the yard (the horizontal spars across a mast) on either side of the mast is known as a yard-arm. Admiral Brock wrote:- “I have now seen quite a number of photographs and drawings of the flat-irons and without exception they either have no mast at all or else a mere smear one. It will be recalled that it was the flimsiness of Judson’s masts that made his very proper desire to have it stayed in a seamanlike manner so jeered at. So Judson was merely trying to sound fierce or Kipling had forgotten what a yard-arm is.” It is suggested that the former was the case, as is made clear from the next sentence! And “mere smear” is a very good description of Griper’s mast!

[Page 345, line 21] Hum! There are popular uprising in Europe, Captain – in my country. Admiral Brock’s
commentary, quoted in the introduction before this word-by-word interpretation, makes it clear that there had been a minor insurrection in Portugal at this time.

[Page 346, line 11] He throw away everything – Gladstone her all, you say, hey? I am indebted to Mr. Ken Frazer, one of our members, who has provided the answer for this phrase. “Various dictionaries of slang refer to Gladstonize 1885-1900 meaning either "to evade and prevaricate" (Cassels) or "to say a lot and mean a little"....both allegedly Gladstonian characteristics. It is suggested that the Governor here is criticizing his King for his handling of the “popular uprising” – as might be said today “all mouth and no trousers.”.

[Page 347, lines 4 and 13] Badajos, Almeida, Fuentes d’Onor(o) and Ciudad Rodrigo Battle (Fuentes d’Onoro) and sieges (the remainder) of 1811-12 in the Peninsula War, in which Portuguese troops served under Wellington, their light troops, the Caçadores, enjoying a particularly high reputation. However, in putting these words into the Governor’s mouth, Kipling removes any doubts that it is Portugal which is the colonial power concerned.

[Page 351, line 7] Swing, swing together, This is from the "Eton Boating Song".

[Page 351, line 30] only ward-room, not fo’c’s’le drunk. The typesetter has got the right number of apostrophes in fo’c’s’le! And the meaning is:- drunk by the standard of the officers’ mess, as opposed to that of the ship’s company. Admiral Brock wrote: “Things have changed now but at one time “fo’c’s’le drunk” was illustrated by the remark, alleged to have been given in evidence by a witness at Captain’s Defaulters: 'Drunk, sir? `E wasn’t drunk – I saw ‘im move.'”

[Page 356, line 2 and 3] Their spar-colour and our free-board tint. Probably fairly self-explanatory – the paint which was the colour of the Guadala’s spars would, when judiciously mixed, be the same colour as the ‘flat-iron’ was above the waterline. The point being that every ship had an allowance of so much paint etc., per quarter, and no matter that any deterioration was not the ship’s fault, once used couldn’t be increased – so your ship looked scruffy (or the captain paid out of his own pocket). So the opportunity to acquire some suitable extra paint at no expense, was not to be disregarded. And “freeboard” is that part of the ship’s side between the waterline and the deck level.

[Page 357, line 10] “Your, ah! – jolly-boys shall spoke their bayonets!” “With drums beating, flags flying, and bayonets fixed” – the Honours of War accorded to an honourably beaten foe. In this case, the “jolly-boys” are the Royal Marines, one of whose nick-names is “The Jollies”. This name was originally given to the Trained Bands of the City of London, from whose ranks, after the Restoration in 1660, many men were recruited to form the Admiral’s Regiment of Foot, the 1664 precursors of the Royal Marines.

[Page 358, line 19] leave the books Gold leaf was supplied (by the Navy, in minute quantities, and to big ships only) on tissue paper, made up into booklets.

[Page 359, line 21] “enough for two first-rates,” Admiral Brock wrote “the first-rate was a three-decker, the largest and most powerful ship of the line in the days before steam. The Navy used to be conservative, but the term seems archaic for an ERA 2 to use in 1891.” Which is all absolutely correct, but I think Kipling might have his ear well-tuned in this case. The last wooden three decker was taken out of active service in 1867, only 24 years earlier, and, as Admiral Brock remarks, the Navy was conservative (in speech and expression, certainly, though not in everything). And there were plenty of former first-rates in harbour service – Mr. Davies might even have been trained on board one. Furthermore, there were First-class Battleships and Second-class Battleships at this time, so, the use of “first rate” probably continued for longer than it might otherwise have been expected to.

[Page 359, line 30] the Martin Frobisher Admiral Brock wrote at length, and as follows: “The flag-ship, a great war-boat when she was new. Sir Martin Frobisher (c.1535-1594) was a noted Elizabethan seaman. The name and description of the ship were no doubt suggested by HMS Raleigh, flagship on the Cape of Good Hope and West Africa Station for three consecutive commissions between 1885 and 1895. Launched in 1873 as a “steam frigate”, she was termed a “screw cruiser, 2nd Class” in 1891. Though “war-boat” may have been a catchword of the period and was clearly written facetiously, with particular reference to her obsolete design and armament, it must have set many naval teeth on edge, as applied to one of the very last ships to bear the noble name of “frigate” in its original sense, which included the more powerful and faster types of cruiser. (The “frigate” of Hitler’s War, though invaluable in defence of convoys, was not a particularly happy revival, since she was capable of only one of a true frigate’s functions).

The Raleigh was considered expensive, in initial cost and upkeep, by frigate standards, but in other respects was a remarkably successful attempt by the constructors to reconcile the conflicting requirements of steam and sail. Her active life was nearly the longest of any British warship of the mid-Victorian era, and much the longest of an unarmoured one. She was our last frigate to pass Cape Horn under sail and the last full-rigged ship to carry an Admiral at sea, in 1895. She was still in commission, wearing the broad pendant of the Commodore in command of the Training Squadron, in 1899, when the uneasy international situation led to that squadron being paid off, to man ships of more immediate fighting value. She was eventually sold in 1905, one of Sir J.A. Fisher’s much-advertised economies.

[Pages 360-361] 'Last week down our alley came a toff...' The nine lines of verse are from an old Music Hall song, "Knocked ‘em in the Old Kent Road", made famous by Albert Chevalier (1861-1923) who wrote and sang the words.

A final note (Written by R G Harbord in 1962)

We must not attach too much real history to this wonderful tale but it will interest readers to have an outline of the long association of Portugal with Britain before them.

At the time the story was written we had a Treaty with Portugal, the oldest of our allies, and that Treaty is still unbroken and it is 600 years old. Portugal recently lost Goa to India by direct military action, and seems to want to blame Britain for the loss, presumably because we gave India independence in 1947. It is to be recorded that Portugal does not think her possessions (colonies), Angola and Mozambique, in West and East Africa respectively, are ready for self-government.

Admiral Brock who contributed to these notes has sent the Editor a photograph to see. It was taken on board HMS Raleigh (i.e., the Martin Frobisher of the story) in Simonstown 1890. It shows four Lieutenants in frock coats:

Lieutenant P.G.V. Van der Byl (First Lieutenant, retired 1899).
Lieutenant Reg. G. Gregory (Commander, 1899).
Lieutenant Charles Madden (Torpedo Officer).
Lieutenant S.V.Y. de Horsey.

Madden was the future Chief-of-Staff to Admiral Jellicoe during the latter’s command of the Grand Fleet, 1914-16. He commanded the 3rd Battle Squadron and was Second-in-Command to Admiral Beatty in 1916-18, First Baronet Admiral of the Fleet 1924, First Sea Lord 1927-1930. de Horsey also reached flag rank; it is thought that he was the original of “Judson” as far as the “topmast” was concerned (see Carrington, p. 186).


[A. W]