The Ballad of Fisher’s Boarding House

(notes edited by David Page)

Publication history

First published on 3 March 1888 in the Week’s News. It was first collected in the Fourth (First English) Edition of Departmental Ditties and Other Verses with Additional Poems, published in 1890 by Thacker & Co in London and Bombay.


After his move from Lahore to Allahabad at the end of 1887, Kipling went on an extended tour from Allahabad along the Ganges and Hughli rivers to Calcutta in January/February 1888. His reports appeared in the Pioneer and were later collected in From Sea to Sea, the group for Calcutta appearing as City of Dreadful Night.

There was one report titled “On the Banks of the Hughli” which describes the work of the Hughli river pilots. It is clear that Kipling learned much more about the geography of the river from his visit than ever appeared in this report. It also yielded the story “An Unqualified Pilot” (first published in the Windsor Magazine for February 1895), and later collected in Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides.
“The Ballad of Fisher’s Boarding-House” draws on this information, as well as Kipling’s visits, under the guardianship of the police, to the less salubrious areas of Calcutta. The poem was actually published six days before “On the Banks of the Hughli”. Andrew Lycett in his biography of Rudyard Kipling records that at Syracuse University:

Unusually, a diary fragment survives of ‘notions to be worked out’: it shows the ballad was finished on 22 February [1888] and published in the Week’s News a fortnight later.

Critical Commentary

There is little in the way of critical commentary on this poem, but Peter Keating in Kipling the Poet notes that :

The “Other Verses” of Departmental Ditties offer a representative sample of the different kinds of poetry Kipling was writing at the time. Browning’s influence was still strongly present . . .; while “The Ballad of Fisher’s Boarding-House”, and “The Grave of the Hundred Head”, an exceptionally nasty tale of a village massacre, pointed forward to the more successful, extended narrative poems that he would write after he had left India.

Andrew Lycett comments about the Ballad that:

While lusty and colourful, this poem is interesting because its subject matter was close to Rudyard’s side-lined novel Mother Maturin.


This poem was the basis for the Hollywood short feature “Fultah Fisher’s Boarding-House”, directed by Frank Capra, who claimed that this was his first exposure to film. It was released in the USA on 2 April 1922.

The cast included Mildred Owens as Anne of Austria, Ethan Allen as Salem Hardieker, and Olav Skanlan as Hans, and was produced by Walter Montague. See   this web-site.


©David Page 2009 All rights reserved