Mrs Bathurst

The timescale

We now wish to establish when Mrs. Bathurst was in England. The film was on show in mid-December 1902: therefore it left England not later than the third week in November, 1902 – the mail steamers at that time took two-three weeks to reach the Cape (17 days seems to have been the norm – Kipling’s letters confirm this). Therefore the film was taken not later than early November 1902. (There would have had to have been an exchange of cables between the film distributor and Phyllis (Fillis) before it was despatched, and the boats to the Cape did not depart daily – the fastest service, the mail-boats, left weekly). It was, however, probably taken earlier – cameras relied on natural light in those days, and a steam railway terminus in London in November 1902 was unlikely to provide adequate light for filming. We may suggest, with a reasonable degree of confidence, that the film was taken at some time between June and September.

When did Vickery leave England? We have little evidence other than the fact that “my lawful wife died in childbed six weeks after I came out.” Had he learned of her death by cable only that day (in late December), the death having occurred the previous day, then that puts the Hierophant‘s arrival at the Cape at six weeks earlier, in the first week in November: and her departure from England as early October 1902.

If Mrs. Vickery died in childbed in December 1902, then Vickery must have been in England in March 1902. Navally, it is in the highest degree unlikely that he had been out to New Zealand again and back between March and October 1902, though, of course, a monied globe-trotter could have done so.

If that assumption is accepted, then the latest that Vickery could have been in New Zealand ‘marrying’ Mrs. Bathurst would have been in early January 1902.

But Pritchard was in Auckland, visiting Mrs. Bathurst’s pub, sometime in 1901 (p. 350, line 28), and she was not observably married (in those days of respectability, would she not have changed her name?) In so small a society as Auckland was in those days, the wedding could not have been kept a secret, surely? And from the timing of Pritchard’s drafts to his various ships, Marroquin in `96-`97 , followed by a full commission in Resiliant (sic) (`98-`00) , then Carthusian, it is more likely that his visit to Hauraki was late in the year `01. Therefore the window for Vickery to woo and wed Mrs. Bathurst was a short one – not impossibly so, but we have been working on ‘latest possible’ assumptions.

If we assume that that is the case, and that Mrs. Bathurst and Vickery went through a form of marriage in late 1901/early 1902, what would have been the next move of both of them? Vickery had little option. His ship, whichever it was, was, we assume, “ordered home” almost as soon as the knot was presumptively tied, to arrive home in England in time for him to resume relations with his wife in March 1902. The timing would have been extremely tight, but not wholly impossible (the passage would take at least eight weeks). Mrs. Bathurst would presumably have planned to sell up her hotel and follow her lover back to England. If that were so, she might have arrived in England in, say, June 1902, round about the time that Vickery was joining Hierophant for a commission on the Cape station, leaving his wife pregnant (and we may assume that he was aware of that).

Their meeting and presumed marriage of Vickery and Mrs. Bathurst might also have taken place earlier, but there are two objections to that: one is that she appeared to be unmarried when Sergeant Pritchard visited Hauraki in 1901. And we have implied evidence that Mrs. Bathurst didn’t leave New Zealand until early 1902: had they gone through a form of marriage earlier, why would she have waited so long to join her lover in England?

Vickery must have left Mrs. Bathurst with a contact address for him in England – presumably false (though not necessarily so – men have been known to do strange/stupid things in such circumstances). However that might have been, when she got to England, Vickery was not where she expected to find him. What would she have done? Tried to find him?

It may be assumed that, having run an hotel for warrant officers and senior ratings, she would have been aware of the port division from which Vickery’s previous ship was manned (that is, the ship he was serving in when he visited New Zealand, and made Mrs. Bathurst’s acquaintance). This fact is an important part of the background knowledge required to interpret the tale.

In the article in KJ no. 322 for June 2007 “Emanuel Pyecroft, Second-Class Petty Officer”, it is explained that ships of the Royal Navy were manned from three naval ports, Chatham, Portsmouth and Devonport (Plymouth), and ratings and warrant officers (but not commissioned officers) stayed allocated to one Port Division throughout their career. When a sailor married, he tended to make his home in the immediate vicinity of his base port (the Merchant service was much the same – cf. Mrs. M’Phee in “Bread upon the Waters”). We know that the Hierophant is a ‘West Country’ ship because we know that Pyecroft (despite his cockney accent) is a Devonport rating (cf. “The Bonds of Discipline”), and from the implication in this tale of Pyecroft’s remark about ‘some pride of the West Country’ (page 354, lines 13-14). Thus, it is 95% certain that Vickery’s marital home was in Plymouth or Devonport.

From this, it follows that Mrs. Bathurst would have first searched for Vickery in those towns: Then, if she drew blank there, in Portsmouth or Chatham. London, though not impossible, would have been an unlikely place for her to have sought Vickery. But she would have only to have enquired which were the favourite watering holes for warrant officers to have been able to meet with someone (possibly even a former customer of hers from Hauraki) who would say, “Vickery? Yes, I know him: he’s in the Hierophant: she went to the Cape a month ago.” She might also have been told “His wife lives in such-and-such a street – I saw her last week: she’s due a baby about December, I think.”

However, another factor in considering Mrs. Bathurst’s movements in England is that she is getting off a train from Plymouth, in London. Has she come from Plymouth? The signs are that she has not. Why? Because she is only carrying a reticule (handbag). A journey from Plymouth would have taken some six hours (those were the days when the Great Western Railway was also known as the Great Way Round): you did not make such a journey as a day trip for some shopping. She would have carried an overnight bag at the least if she had come from Plymouth, probably more (Edwardians rarely travelled light). It seems unlikely that she had baggage in a luggage van nearer the head of the train, because she has just walked past two porters without trying to engage one to collect her luggage for her.

So, was she in England looking for Vickery, thinking. to take her position as his wife? This last piece of “evidence” suggests that perhaps she was not. Perhaps she was merely coming on a visit to relatives in the Old Country. We cannot know, but actually, it does not matter: it is sufficient that Vickery thinks she is.

Thus the whole of the time-scale of the Mrs. Bathurst-Vickery affaire is as follows:

Late 1901-January 1902 Vickery (a married man) meets Mrs. Bathurst (a widow) in Hauraki, New Zealand. They go through a form of marriage. It is possible that they had met previously, but nothing had resulted: however, the other signs from the tale indicate a coup de foudre relationship.
Mid-late January 1902 Vickery and his ship leave New Zealand for England.
Late February – early March 1902 Vickery arrives in England and resumes marital relations with his wife: she becomes pregnant.
March-June 1902 Mrs. Bathurst sells up and comes to England.
June-September 1902 Vickery joins HMS Hierophant and leaves for the Cape shortly afterwards.
[Mrs. Bathurst might have taken longer to leave New Zealand, and Vickery might have joined Hierophant later, but the only material fact is that there is no evidence that they met in England in the summer of 1902, although Philip Mason, in an article in the Kipling Journal for March 1992 – KJ 261, p. 11 – suggests that they did, though his only ‘evidence’ is that it can be used to make sense of the phrase about setting her foot on a scorpion.]
June 1902-late October 1902 Mrs. Bathurst is filmed at Paddington.
Early October 1902 Latest date for Hierophant to have left England
Early November 1902 Newsreel film featuring Mrs. Bathurst leaves the UK
Mid November 1902 Hierophant arrives at the Cape
Late November 1902 Newsreel arrives at Cape Town.
Early December 1902 Hierophant is sent up to Mozambique.
December 20th 1902 (approx) Hierophant returns from Mozambique: Vickery learns by letter or cable that his wife has died.
Christmas week, 1902 Vickery, accompanied by Pyecroft, sees Mrs. Bathurst in the cinematograph show in Phyllis’s (Fillis’s) Circus
Late December 1902. Vickery is sent up-country to supervise the transport of some ammunition from Bloemfontein to Simons Town.
January 7th 1903 (approx) Vickery deserts.
March 1903 He is in Bulawayo, or thereabouts, receiving a handout and quinine from the inspector whom Hooper is going to relieve.
March 1903 He and a companion are found by the line, dead, having been struck by lightning.
April 1903 The story is told in the brake-van, standing in ‘Glengariff’ siding, Simon’s Bay.

There is little hard evidence for the events prior to December 1902, but there is a lot of negative evidence which suggests that the above is a not unlikely scenario – we have presumed to insert those pieces of the ‘scaffolding’ of the story which were previously not visible.

In suggesting this timescale, we have relied (perhaps unfairly for the general reader) on specialised knowledge of matters naval. Would Kipling have such knowledge? He might indeed have done. In Kipling and the Royal Navy, we have described his three experiences at sea with the Royal Navy in 1897, 1898 and 1901, and mentioned his continuing acquaintance with Captain Bayly, Royal Navy. It also appears that he stayed at Admiralty House, Simon’s Town, as the guest of the C-in-C at the Cape in 1902, and so had the opportunity to tuck into the back of his mind all sorts of information about the Navy (which resulted in his naval tales carrying such conviction to naval officers – as quoted in Kipling and the Royal Navy). Furthermore, his host, Sir Arthur Moore, was still C-in-C when this tale was being written in 1904, and so might have been the source of more particular information to provide the framework, such as we have described.


©Alastair Wilson 2008 All rights reserved