Two Limericks on the Madras Scandals


(notes by Philip Holberton drawing on the research of
Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)

the poem

[May 1st 2020]


These verses were published in the Civil and Military Gazette on 20 and 22 November 1886, attributed to "The Office Crow" and are probably by Kipling. They were not collected by him, but are to be found in Rutherford (p. 345) and Pinney at pp. 2175 and 2185 in his Vol. III - 'Uncollected'. (Pinney groups them with Kipling's many limericks, of which there are 44.) Though there is no external evidence for attributing them to Kipling, both Rutherford and Pinney agree that he almost certainly wrote them.

The verses

Both comment satirically on the "Madras Scandals", which arose from a feud between two ICS officers, in which Charles Crole, the Collector of Madura, accused H.E. Sullivan, a senior colleague, of improperly buying a tea estate. When Crole protested about this rather vigorously he was relieved of his post. His successor, when out in his doolie, was beaten and robbed by dacoits, and his lawyer accused Crole of involvement in the attack. This is the theme of the first verse about the 'old man in a doolie', confirming the Pioneer's rejection of the idea that Crole was implicated. See our notes on "At the Bar".

A doolie (left) is a covered litter.

C——e is Crole, and P——r is the Pioneer of Allahabad, senior and sister paper to the Civil and Military Gazette. Kipling was transferred to the Pioneer in November 1887.

The second limerick, about the 'man of Madras' is about an earlier clash over the purchase of a very second-rate old horse which Crole's predecessor in his post had tried to foist on him, insisting in court that although it was an inferior mount it had 'processional value'. See our notes on "A Logical Extension".

The Office Crow

In 1896 E. Kay Robinson, Kipling's Editor at the CMG and a friend, published a memoir, “Kipling in India”. In it he describes the origin of 'The Office Crow':
Other of our researches into natural history concerned 'Obadiah', a tame crow which we had picked up in a crippled condition in the road. He became our 'Office Crow', and we had just determined to open a column in the paper for 'Caws by the Office Crow', upon politics and things in general, when Kipling was translated from Lahore to Allahabad, and left me to become assistant editor of the Pioneer.
[Harold Orel, Interviews and Recollections (Vol 1 p. 75), first published in McClure’s Magazine, Vol. VII No 2, July 1896.]


©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved