Brazilian Sketches III

The Father of Lightning

(notes edited by John Radcliffe, drawing on the edtion of Brazilian Sketches published by Paul Waters in 1989, and on the work of the ORG Editors)




Published in the Morning Post (London), December 6th 1927, and in Liberty (New York) on January 28th 1928. Collected in Brazilian Sketches, Doubleday Doran, New York, 1940, in the Sussex Edition Vol. xxi, and in an edition by P E Waters and Associates in 1989.


After leaving Rio, as Paul Waters writes:

Kipling sailed for Santos, the traditional route to Sao Paulo before air and long-distance bus travel. From Santos he travelled inland beside the Sao Paulo Ralway to visit the Cubatao hydro-electric scheme of the Sao Paulo “Light” (The San Paulo Tramway, Light and Power Co).

This was inaugurated in 1927 with two penstocks (sluices) and an installed capacity of 35,000 kw and was expanded over the years to eight penstocks and 484,000 kw, before the unstable mountain-side dictated further expansion as an underground scheme. The “little astonished river” was the Cubatao river and the one whose system was diverted to fill the dam was the Rio Tiete. [P.W.]

Since these developments the San Paulo “Light” has continued to increase the capacity of the plants on the Cubatao river. The Henry Borden complex, located on the foot of the Serra do Mar, in Cubatão, encompasses two high (720 m) fall power plants, called External and Underground, with 14 groups of generators, powered by Pelton turbines, with a total installed capacity of 889 MW.

Notes on the Text

Avenida Avenue.

Copacabana beach The celebrated beach in the heart of Rio.

Balkis herself The Queen of Sheba in Arabic legend. See I Kings,10, and II Chronicles, 9. She figures, with King Suleiman bin Daoud, in Kipling’s “The Butterfly that Stamped”” in the Just So Stories.

Santos, port of San Paulo

Gadarene swine See Mark 5,13, Luke 8,30, and Matthew 8,28. Jesus healed a man from the country uf the Gadarenes, who was possessed by Devils. The devils went into a herd of swine, and dashed down a steep place into the sea, to their death.

black and scarlet funnels Perhaps one of the meat ships of Houlder Brothers (left) or a liner of the Nelson Line.

godowns Warehouses.

slave barracoons Enclosures for holding slaves.

a sort of Brighton Brighton is an elegant seaside town 50 miles from London, with a stylish but somewhat raffish reputation, dating from the early 19th century, when the Prince Regent, ‘Prinnie’, held court there. It is still popular for a day or weekend away from London.

chaired, not spiked The rails on British railways were secured to timber sleepers by ‘chairs’, specially designed steel supports. American railroads, built faster, over larger distances and often flatter terrain. simply spiked the rails into the sleepers (or ‘ties’as the Americans call them), arguably a less secure system.

Bahia A port city, north of Rio, now known as Salvador.

chafe A scar on the hillside.

Roquefort cheese A celebrated French blue cheese, which crumbles and breaks easily.

Silesia A historical region rich in mineral resources, then largely in Germany. After 1945 the bulk of Silesia became part of Poland.

twelve-bores parallel, like the barrels of a shot gun.

Pelton Wheel A form of impulse turbine or water-wheel.

Abu Bijl Hindustabi for ‘The Father of Lightnings’.

Adam’s own According to the Book of Genesis, Adam was the first man, created by God. He and his wife were expelled from the Garden of Eden for eating the forbidden apple that gave them the knowledge of Good and Evil. From then onwards man was never without sin.



eyeless in Gaza See the story of Samson, the powerful hero of ancient Israel, in Judges 16,21. After losing his strength, he is captured and blinded by the Philistines, but when he becomes strong again, he topples down the temple on top of his enemies, and dies in the ruins. This is a quotation from the poet Milton’s “Samson Agonistes” (1671). The electric power is being applied at a distance, far out of sight.

syenite A crystalline rock named from Syene, Aswan, in Upper (southern) Egypt.

Rameses The name of several Pharaohs whose statues stood in ancient Egypt.

a few years hence Kipling’s vision of the universal use of electrity for transport has not yet come to pass, although there is a good deal of interchange of electric power across national borders.

twenty-five North and sixty South… This covers a belt of land and sea nearly 6,000 miles wide, more than half-way round the world.

ponies Kipling’s playful word for Horse Power.

©John Radcliffe 2009 All rights reserved