The Boar of the Year


(notes by John McGivering and John Radcliffe)


This poem was first published in the United Services College Chronicle no. 21 on October 30th 1884, over the signature N.W.P. (North-West Province). (See Andrew Rutherford
p. 148.) Although it was written in India when Kipling was working as a journalist, it was later collected among his Schoolboy Lyrics because of its association with USC. It is listed in ORG as No. 98.

It is collected, under the title “The Boar of the Year” with some textual variations from the original, in:

  • The Outward Bound Edition vol xvii (1900)
  • Edition de Luxe vol xviii (1900)
  • The Sussex Edition vol xxxv (1939)
  • The Burwash Edition vol xxviii (1941)
  • Early Verse by Rudyard Kipling (1986) Ed. Rutherford, p. 148
  • Cambridge Edition (2013 Ed. Pinney) p. 1178.

The poem

The story of a boar hunt in the Punjab in India, in the 1880s, in heroic narrative verse. The hunters include young men who are ‘old boys’ of various English public schools, Rugby, Haileybury, Cheltenham, and Kipling’s United Services College. There is – as ever – lively rivalry between them for the honour of their old schools, to which they feel strong tribal loyalty.


Boar hunting, or ‘pig-sticking’, was a dangerous sport, enthusiastically pursued in British India, in which
mounted men armed with spears sought to kill wild boars. Andrew Rutherford notes
(p. 148):

The pig-sticking activities of the Lahore and Mian Mir Tent Club were regularly reported in the CMG. There is no record of Kipling having taken part in them, though he implies as such by a note in the USCC. In that version, line 2 of the third stanza ended: ‘And we marked him for thirty-three good’, on which Kipling comments:

‘Thirty-three inches at the shoulder. On measurement he wasn’t much more than two inches under our estimate, though as I have said, he looked as big as a bullock.’

Kipling wrote in his letter to Cormell Price (August 10 1884, Library of Congress):

A Crofts
House boy took a “first spear” off a thirty-inch boar in one of our Tent Club meetings—to my intense disgust, and I have recorded the fact in verse of the White Melville order.


1. The CMG was the Civil and Military Gazette of Lahore, for which Kipling was the Assistant Editor.

2. At USC the boys of Croft’s House (King’s in Stalky & Co.) were the deadly rivals of Kipling’s Pugh’s House (Prout’s in Stalky & Co.). Rivalry between Houses within schools was probably even stronger than rivalry between schools. See the further notes on houses below.

3. Whyte Melville (1821-1878) was a soldier, fox-hunter, and poet.

See Something of Myself Chapter II, “The School Before its Time.”

‘Tent Clubs’ were much like Hunts in the U. K.


Notes on the Text

[Verse 1]

fourteen stone about 89 kg.

claret-cup a very enjoyable and refreshing punch-type drink usually made from red wine, sherry, and curaçao, and served chilled in tall glasses with soda-water and ice.

Old Haileyburian a man who has attended Haileybury and Imperial Service College, an independent school near Hertford in England. It had been founded as the ‘East India College’ in 1806 to provide education for future administrators for the East India Company. Cormell Price, the Head of USC had been Head of Modern Languages at Haileybury, and after a series of amalgamations it now incorporates the old USC. It was a much more prestigious school than USC.

sounder the collective noun for a group of pigs, in mediaeval usage ‘a sounder of swine’. .

[Verse 2]

Bull-huge a slight exaggeration: wild boar grow to some forty inches high at the shoulder (just over a metre) and are armed with savage tusks which they use to good effect.

brawn a good play on words meaning ‘muscle’ or ‘strength’, and also a succulent dish made from the meat of the pig.

[Verse 3]

Cheltenham A ‘public school’ founded in 1841, to ‘educate the sons of gentlemen’. Rather than being public, these are privately run fee-paying boarding schools, largely attended by the British middle-classes. Cheltenham had a strong military tradition, like USC.

Arab in this context an important and expensive breed of horse with a high tail carriage.

Thrice-born ‘Twice-born’ is a Hindu of the highest caste, a phrase also used of senior members of the Indian Civil Service. Here sarcastically exaggerated.

R. E. a Royal Engineer – see the verse “Sappers”.

Rugby Founded in 1567, Rugby was re-established by Thomas Arnold during his time as Headmaster (1828-1841) and became a pattern for the British public school.

In 1823, according to legend, it became the birthplace of ‘Rugby football’ when William Webb Ellis picked up the ball during a football game, and ran with it.

Waler a horse imported to India from Australia

O.U.S.C.s Old United Services College former pupils – Old Boys.The college was founded in 1874 and was absorbed by the Imperial Service College in 1906, which in turn merged with Haileybury in 1942. See
Andrew Lycett pp. 53-56.

tats country-bred ponies

nullahs watercourses, usually dry in hot weather

[Verse 4]

coachy a word of several meanings pertaining to horses and rather derogatory, here perhaps meaning an animal suitable for hauling a coach or a gun but not good-looking enough for a gentleman to ride.

[Verse 5]

jinked swerved, dodged.

black-cotton furrows Possibly rough cotton grass, but not identified definitely. Information from readers will be welcome.

mouth like a brickbat hard-mouthed and so difficult to control.

chouses tricks

Houses British public schools were and are divided into boarding ‘houses’, managed by a Housemaster, who is responsible for the lodging, welfare, and discipline, of the boys (now boys and girls). At the ‘Coll.’ Stalky & Co. were in ‘Prout’s House, deadly rivals of King’s House, (see below). The ‘house’ system was supposed to promote discipline and esprit-de-corps but Stalky & Co. were not impressed; See Isabel Quigly’s Notes, headed by splendid pictures of the three, two of them in their school caps.

[Verse 7]

Right wheel a marching party turns to the right.

best foot foremost to do one’s best. An echo of Shakespeare’s “King John”:

Nay, but make haste, the better foot before.
[Act IV, scene 2]

off-hock a joint in the right leg of a quadruped such as a horse, dog etc.

[Verse 8]

first-spear the first rider to get his spear into a boar was awarded the head and tusks whoever kills the Boar.

the Black and the Red believed to be the colours of Pugh’s house (Prout’s) of which Kipling, Beresford and Dunsterville were members.

the Black and the Yellow the colours of Crofts’ house (King’s). See “The United Idolaters” (page 213 in The Complete Stalky & Co.) where Brer Terrapin was (heraldically) “painted or and sable – King’s House-colours.”

[Verse 9]

Barrack the College was adapted from a terrace of houses at Westward Ho !



©John McGivering and John Radcliffe 2017 All rights reserved