The Ballad of Boh Da Thone

Notes on the text

(edited by John McGivering)


Boh: a tribal chieftain

Pretender: in this context a claimant.

Theebaw: (the spelling varies) Thibaw Min (1859-1916) was the last king of the Konbaungset Dynasty of Burma, a bloodthirsty and oppressive figure who massacred 80 members of his family. He was defeated by British forces in November 1885. and the country was annexed in 1886. Theebaw went into exile.

Burma became an independent democratic republic in 1948. Since 1962 it has been ruled by a military junta, and is now named Myanmar.

Alalone: not traced; information will be appreciated.

V.P.P.:  a footnote defines this as Value Payable Post=Collect on Delivery; the postman collects the price of the goods for transmission to the sender.

Senior Gomashia, G.B.T.: defined in a footnote as Senior Clerk, Government Bullock Train. See p. 23 of The Light that Failed.

[Verse 1]

bossed:  embossed

[Verse 2]

Peacock Banner: The peacock is a sacred bird in parts of India and Southeast Asia. It figured on the flag of the Konbaungset Dynasty (1752–1885) which was overthrown by the British.

bullion: gold thread here used in ornate embroidery.

[Verse 3]

Salween: (the spelling varies) a river flowing from the Tibetan Plateau into the Andaman Sea in Southeast Asia, through Myanmar

Chindwin: a tributary of the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) river in Myanmar.


teak: tropical hardwood trees (genus Tectona) in the mint family, (Lamiaceae). native to South and South-East Asia, and one of the great hardwoods of the world.

[Verse 4]

He filled old ladies with kerosene:  the echo of a somewhat similar incident in “The Man who would be King,” (Wee Willie Winkie), page 204, and in “A Conference of the Powers” (Many Inventions).

[Verse 5]

The patriot fights: an old problem – one man’s Freedom-Fighter is another man’s terrorist.

[Verse 9]

O’Neil: ‘Crook’ O’Neil figures in a bloody battle scene on the North-West Frontier in “With the Main Guard” (Soldiers Three).

Black Tyrone: see “With the Main Guard” in Soldiers Three, page 58, line 30.

[Verse 11]

Galway: is in the West of Ireland, Louth in the Irish Midlands, and Meath in the East, bordering on Dublin City.

[Verse 21]

Kalends of Greece: This means ‘Never’. There are no Calends in the Greek calendar, though there are in the Roman.

[Verse 23]

stockade: a fortification made from tree trunks driven into the ground to form an enclosure.

[Verse 24]

Daystar:  or ‘Morning Star’, a name for the planet Venus when it appears before sunrise, often the last star to fade as the sun rises.

[Verse 28]

slug: a bullet.

ulnar: (or ‘ulna’) One of the two large bones in the forearm between elbow and wrist.

[Verse 29]

thorn in the flesh:  something that is painful and long-lasting; see Corinthians II, 12,7-10: ‘… there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan…’

[Verse 30]

festered: ulcerated

Mandalay: the second city and the last royal capital of old Burma. 445 miles (716 km) north of Yangon on the east bank of the Irrawaddy River. See Kipling’s much recited poem of the same name.

[Verse 32]

a hundred: One hundred Rupees.

[Verse 33]

punkahs: fans operated by hauling on a line – they appear in many of the Indian stories.

Babu Harendra (Gomashta): an English-speaking clerk from Bengal in eastern India. See Kipling.s Heading. Hurree Chunder Mookerjee, also a Bengali Babu, is an important character in Kim.

[Verse 34]

Dacca: now Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. See the poem “The Dove of Dacca”.

tank: in this context an artificial lake. See Hobson-Jobson, p. 898.

[Verse 39]

Simoorie: We have not identified this station.

[Verse 46]

Kathun: a town in Southern Thailand.

[Verse 47]

ghi (or ‘ghee’): clarified butter – used in cookery throughout India. See Hobson-Jobson, p. 370

[Verse 51]

blunderbuss: a short-barrelled muzzle-loading large calibre firearm, flared at the muzzle to give a good spread of shot. A dangerous, if inaccurate, weapon at short range.

Snider: the British Army’s conversion of the Enfield muzzle-loader rifle into a breech-loader. It was replaced by the Martini-Henry rifle which was adopted in 1871. See “Black Jack” in Soldiers Three, in which the unfamiliar design of the new rifle is central to the tale.

carbine: (pronounced karbin): usually a smaller version of a rifle, firing the same ammunition at a lower velocity.

[Verse 52]

locking-ring: the part of the hilt of the bayonet that fits onto the bayonet boss on the muzzle of a rifle

[Verse 54]

onyx:  a form of quartz that comes in various colours, used in jewellery.

[Verse 55]

Peacock Banner: The peacock is a sacred bird in parts of India and Southeast Asia. It figured on the national flag and coat of arms of Burma before the British takeover in 1885. See the Note to Verse 2 above.

[Verse 59]

pêt: a footnote defines this as ‘stomach’, but does not state in what language. (To pet in French is to break wind; could this be a joke by Kipling ?)

[Verse 60]

twenty stone: 127 kg. a substantial weight.

[Verse 61]

spleen: Dr. Gillian Sheehan writes:

The enlarged spleen is probably due to recurrent attacks of malaria (See my Notes on “Kipling’s Medicine”), the parasites of which can live in the spleen for years. When enlarged it is called an ‘ague-cake spleen’ which gives children pot-bellies. Very slight trauma may be enough to rupture it. So the Boh probably died from the haemorrhage that accompanies such a rupture, or a combination of factors such as suffocation and / or circulatory failure due to being squashed under twenty stone of Babu. [G.S.]

[Verse 64]

Chindwin: a tributary of the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) river in Myanmar.

[Verse 65]

Simoorie: We have not identified this station.

[Verse 69]

mail-runner: one of a relay of men carrying the mail. See the verse “The Overland Mail.”

dammer: a footnote defines this as ‘native sealing-wax’.
See Hobson-Jobson, p. 294.
The wax, which melts at a low temperature is not often seen nowadays, but was used for fastening envelopes and as part of the signature of legal documents.

[Verse 80]

rattlesnake: a highly dangerous North American snake, genus Crotalus.

opium: a highly addictive drug made from the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum. It was widely used in India, and produced under British control for export to China. See “In an Opium-Factory” and “The City of Dreadful Night”, both in From Sea to Sea vol. I . See also “The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows” (Plain Tales from the Hills), and “The Bridge-Builders (The Day’s Work).

Kipling’s servant gave him some to ease stomach cramps in the hot season, with rather mixed results. (See Andrew Lycett, p. 96.)

[Verse 85]

banjo: a stringed instrument played, like the guitar, with the fingers; see “The Song of the Banjo.”

[Verse 87]

black crosses: the cross is an important sacred emblem in many religions. Philip Holberton writes:

I see this as referring back to Verse 4, “He crucified noble”, and also to Verse 25: ‘A black cross blistered the morning-gold, But the body upon it was stark and cold.’

As I read it, the troops have come to another village, deserted except for crucifixions: ‘The oaths of his Irish that surged where they stood’.
The soldiers loathe crucifixion and torture – they curse at the sight and they “surge” in eagerness to get revenge. [P.H.]

Kuttamow: not traced, information will be appreciated.

[Verse 89]

Maloon: a town in Myanmar, we assume.

Tsaleer: not traced, information from readers will be appreciated

[Verse 90]

dimmers: appearing dimly, faintly, or indistinctly. (OED)

[Verse 95]

Jade: an ornamental stone, used for jewellery and other purposes, greatly valued in ancient China. It is either nephrite, a silicate of lime and magnesia, or jadeite, a similar silicate of sodium and aluminium.

[Verse 99]

Houri: a nymph of the Muslim Paradise – a beautiful woman.

[Verse 100]

Kathleen Mavournin: “Mavourneen” is a term of endearment derived from the Irish Gaelic mo mhuirnín, meaning ‘my beloved’. “Kathleen Mavourneen” is a song composed by Frederick Crouch, with lyrics by Marion Crawford., and popular during the American Civil War:

Kathleen, Mavourneen, the grey dawn is breaking,
The horn of the hunter is heard on the hill.
The lark from her light wing the bright dew is shaking,
Kathleen Mavourneen ! what Slumbering still? …

Mall: in this context the main street and social centre of the European quarter of a town.

[Verse 101]


Gules upon argent: some more of Kipling’s “Heraldry”, the colours red on silver. See “A Displaie of New Heraldrie” (Uncollected).


A Boh’s Head, erased: a play upon words. A Boars Head is the crest of many families in English and Scottish heraldry. An animal’s head on a shield can be shown as ‘erased’, by having a jagged edge, as if it has been torn off.

Stewart Cobb writes: A Victorian superstition held that, if a pregnant woman were to be suddenly frightened, the image that frightened her would appear as a birthmark on her forthcoming baby. This phrase is a description, in heraldic language, of such a birthmark. In the final few stanzas, Kipling is citing the “existence” of the infant’s birthmark as proof of the truth of his tale. [S.C.]


[J McG.]

©John McGivering 2010 All rights reserved