‘Bread upon the Waters’

Notes on the text

These notes, edited by Alastair Wilson, are partly new, and partly based on the notes on this tale in the ORG. The ORG Editor was glad to acknowledge the professional advice of F.E. Langer, Esq., OBE, MRINA, MIMarE on certain engineering aspects of the story. Likewise, the present Editor is pleased to acknowledge help from Captain D.P. Richards, RD*, RNR. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of The Day’s Work, as published and frequently reprinted between 1898 and 1950.



[Title] The title is part of a quotation from the Bible: “Cast thy bread upon the waters; for thou shalt find it after many days.” (Ecclesiastes 9,1)

[Page 280, line 3] McPhee This Chief Engineer, is a subsidiary character in the 1891 story “Brugglesmith” (Many Inventions), as Chief Engineer of the Breslau, but in that story is spelt M’Phee: here he is the central character.

[Page 280, line 4] dingey should be spelt “dinghy”.
Brugglesmith the suggestion (line 5-6) of another tale on the same subject was never carried out.

[Page 280, line 7] He was never a racing engineer in the 1880s and 1890s there was a quest for higher and higher speeds (the blue riband for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic dates from the 1860s), and between 1880 and 1900 the record average speed for crossing the Atlantic rose from 15.76 knots to 23.06 knots, cutting some 2½ days off the time for the crossing. So there were marine engineers who specialised in the running of high power engines at high speed, without too much regard for cost.


[Page 280, line 8] Liverpool men the Chief Engineers of the “Atlantic flyers”. Liverpool was then the main transatlantic port in Great Britain. Southampton’s development did not come until the 20th century.

[Page 280, line 12] the bursting of a water gauge the water gauge was a critical part of the equipment of any boiler (cf “Steam Tactics” in Traffics and Discoveries, and the description of the water-gauge on the ‘Locomobile’ steam car). Since the water in the gauge was subjected to boiler pressure, breaks were not infrequent, with the consequent spraying around of slivers of glass. Today, where you still find steam, the gauge glass is protected by an outer casing of reinforced glass.


[Page 280, line 22] Royal Humane Society Founded in 1774 for the purpose of rendering first aid in cases of drowning and restoring life to the apparently drowned. It distributes money awards, medals, clasps and testimonials to those who save or attempt to save drowning people and in other cases of exceptional bravery in rescues from mines, wells, blast furnaces and sewers. It is maintained by private donations and bequests. It awards silver and bronze medals for saving life at sea, which are worn on the right breast of uniform clothing.

[Page 281, line 1] steerage-passengers the lowest class of passengers, usually, at the date of this story, emigrants. Quite frequently they were provided with little more than space, fresh water, and toilet facilities. They brought their own bedding and food.


[Page 281, lines 2 and 3] does not approve of saving lives at sea the Secretary of the Royal Humane Society, in conversation on the point, suggested that McPhee might have absorbed Eastern ideas on the question of saving life. The Chinese, and some other races also, made no great efforts to save life, for they feared that they would be held responsible for the sins thereafter committed by the rescued person. Professionally, McPhee would not approve of any delay which spoiled the regularity and timing of the run. But it should be noted that nowadays, by the Maritime Convention Act, 1911 (still in force in 2006, though modified in some respects by later Acts), a shipmaster who does not render assistance to a person in danger of being lost at sea is guilty of a misdemeanour.

[Page 281, line 4] stokers and trimmers the stoker’s job was to feed the furnace under the boiler, and tend the fire: removing and disposing of ash and clinker. The trimmer usually worked in the bunker bringing the coal forward for the stoker to feed the furnace. Both jobs involved substantial physical labour, and stokers tended to develop substantial upper body musculature – so long as they were well-fed.

[Page 281, line 7] fourth and fifth engineers in the merchant marine, the Engineer was a skilled artisan, and manager. He took charge of the watch in the Engine Room or Boiler Room (sometimes referred to as the stokehold or stoke-hole), overseeing the work of the stokers, trimmers and oilers (cf “McAndrew’s Hymn”: “Below there! Oiler! What’s your wark?”)


[Page 281, line 11] Robert Burns the famous Scottish poet (1759-1796). It would be interesting to know whose verse is more quoted, Burns or Kipling. The Editor of these notes would lay no more than evens on either man.


[Page 281, line 12] Gerald Massey Editor, poet and author (1828-1907): associated with Maurice and Kingsley in Christian Socialism.

[Page 281, line 13] Wilkie Collins William Wilkie Collins (1824-1889). Published 26 novels, including “The Woman in White”.

[Page 281, line 14] Charles Reade another Victorian author (1814-1884). Author of the play “The Lyons Mail” and the following novels: “Hard Cash”, “The Woman Hater”, and – much admired by Kipling – “The Cloister and the Hearth”.

[Page 281, line 15] Hard Cash some early editions of this story give the title of the book “Hard Cash” as “Very Hard Cash”.

[Page 281, lines 15/16] In the Saloon his table is next to the captain’s the reference is to the dining saloon in a ship carrying passengers. It was the custom for the ship’s officers each to preside at a table, and passengers would be allocated to tables in accordance with an established social pecking order. The Captain’s (or more properly the Master’s) table carried the most prestige: the Chief Engineer ranked second.

[Page 281, line 23] Holdock, Steiner and Chase the combination of Holdock, a Methodist (see line 28 below), with the Steiners (Jews – see page 293) in the ship-owning business suggests an uneasy association for both parties.

[Page 281, line 29] gave me dinner with the governess there is a great temptation when reading and appraising Kipling’s stories of this kind, to identify the author with the narrator. This must be resisted, although Kipling in some instances almost invites such an identification. In this passage he is at pains to write himself down as an obscure “penny-a-line journalist” (as the phrase then was, and which he never was after he left India), eating the crumbs from the rich man’s table, rather than the world-famous author he had then become. The object was clearly to paint Holdock in the darkest colours as a parvenu of the worst type, in the interests of the story. There are a number of other such references in the story.

The governess (as distinguished from the nursemaid) occupied an intermediate position in a well-to-do Victorian household. She was an educated woman, a cut above the generality of the staff, and did not take her meals in the servants’ hall, but frequently did not take them with the family. She could, and often did, become effectively a member of the family, but much depended on the degree of social enlightenment in the family.

[Page 282, lines 7 & 8] Bouverie the name of a street in the City of London (E.C.4), where many papers and periodicals used to be published. Punch and the Boys’ Own Paper (both of which had been in publication when the story was written, and when the ORG was produced, some 70 years later) were highly respectable ones, but there were others of a more sensational type.
Byzantine Byzantine architecture was developed under the Eastern Roman Empire from the time of the Emperor Contantine (323-337AD). Its surviving examples usually have great dignity. Westminster Cathedral (London’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, half-a-mile from Westminster Abbey) built in the 20th century, is a modern example.
baroque and rococo ‘baroque’ is a term describing the prevailing tendencies in European art during the sixteenth, seventeenth and the first part of the eighteenth centuries. At first marked by a stateliness of form, it becomes in the eighteenth century more playful and piquant in character, and is then called ‘rococo’, which is a decorative style characterised by motifs taken from shells (rocaille). It is seen at its best in French furniture and architecture of the Louis XV period (1715-74). ‘Bouverie-Byzantine’ seems to imply, therefore, a flamboyant, but dignified style of writing, pompous but florid. The phrase is Kipling’s own invention (though one knows what he means – it is still found in such things as the glossy brochures put out by car manufacturers).

[Page 282, line 10] Dinah she was Dinah Shadd, Mulvaney’s wife, who had done work for the author (as narrator) in former days in Lahore.

[Page 282, line 13] twelve pound house a house, the rent of which was twelve pounds per year, or less than five shillings (£0.25p) a week. At the end of the nineteenth century, the great majority of people of all classes lived in rented accommodation. It is unlikely that they would have got a decent small house in London, even “close to the shipping”, at that price – lucky to get it at £26 (i.e., in the East End of London, close to “the docks” – the East and West India Docks, and the Albert Dock, now filled in and built over by such buildings as Canary Wharf and luxury housing).

McPhee on his Chief Engineer’s pay could easily have afforded a much better house in a much better neighbourhood – Forest Gate or Upton Manor, let us say – but still close enough to the river and docks – a penny or twopenny tram-ride (horse tram, of course). Alternatively, one of the dignified houses, in which it is said the East India merchants lived, in the square surrounding the church of St. Matthias, Poplar, three minutes walk from the south section of the West India Dock, would have been more suited to his status, but it would have cost many times twelve pounds a year. The Holdocks, however, might well have lived here. (See page 282, line 22.)

[Page 282, line 15] Lloyds the London insurance market is collectively known as Lloyds, having had its origins in Edward Lloyd’s coffee-house in the late seventeenth century. It has become a centre of the collection and diffusion of maritime information. It publishes Lloyd’s List, giving the reported movements of ships (far fewer in 2006 than in 1964, or 1894), which in turn are repeated in the principal newspapers, in which Mrs. McPhee read the shipping news. (In 2006 this no longer happens, a measure of how much we take for granted the movement of goods around the world, on which so much of our livelihood depends in Great Britain.)

The classification of merchant ships (e.g., A1 at Lloyds – an expression which once used to be commonplace as an expression for the best, but which is rarely used now) is a different matter, coming under Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, a separate society with headquarters in London, but which also originated in Edward Lloyd’s coffee-house. It exists for the survey and classification of merchant ships.

[Page 282, line 19] brougham with celluloid fittings a brougham was a four-wheeled, closed, horse-drawn carriage. Celluloid, introduced in 1871, was the first economically successful ‘plastic’. One of the reasons for its development was that there was a shortage of ivory, and celluloid was used for making such things as false teeth. In the case of a carriage, it would be used for door handles, etc. It may be suggested that this is another indication of the parvenu nature of the Holdocks: they might keep a carriage, and so become ‘carriage folk’, but their carriage was a cheap one.

[Page 282, lines 22-23] a big brick garden a brick-walled garden.

[Page 282, line 26] Theydon Bois and Loughton the outer fringes of north-east London, in Essex, in Epping Forest, then as now a favourite resort of Londoners seeking country air. Readers may remember that it was to a farmhouse in Epping Forest that Kipling’s mother took him when she ‘rescued’ him from Lorne Lodge in Southsea, on her return from India in 1877.

[Page 283, line 15] P. & O. and Orient Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. was one of the very earliest successful steamship companies. Originally they traded to the Spanish peninsula – hence the peninsular part of their name – and the Mediterranean Orient. They had expanded their operations to the Red Sea and India before the opening of the Suez Canal, but they were, essentially, two halves of the same company.
However, the opening of the canal in 1869 enabled them to operate a through route, and the P. & O. became the life-line of the British Empire (“China-going P. & O.’s/ Pass Pau Amma’s playground close” – “The Crab that Played with the Sea”, from Just So Stories). The Orient Line was amalgamated with P. & O. under the P. & O. name in the 1960s: and now (2006) P. & O. is about to disappear as a company, bought by a port operating company from the Gulf state of Dubai.


[Page 284, line 14] garance-coloured a French word meaning madder root and madder red, a reddish-brown.

[Page 284, line 15] freeboard the author’s playful term for a bosom of generous proportions, but literally it is the space between the gunwale (pronounced “gunnel”) and the waterline of a ship.

[Page 284, line 22] Canton China one of the many types of oriental china ware.
Lichis lichi, litchi, or lychee. The favourite fruit of Southern China, where it has been cultivated for 2,000 years and well-known in India, whither it was introduced from China. The pronunciation in North China is “leechee”; in Southern China, “lychee”.

[Page 284, line 24] chow-chow orange peel, ginger, etc., preserved in syrup by the Chinese.

[Page 284, line 30] Madeira cigars a misnomer. There is no evidence of cigars or other tobacco products ever having come from Madeira, and it is probable that the author is referring to the cigars produced in the district of Madura in the Madras presidency from the tobacco grown chiefly near Dindigul. The mistake might in these circumstances be one of mis-hearing, or an undetected printer’s error.

[Page 285, lines 25-26] We’ll have it made west In the ‘West End’ of London, and thus, by implication, more expensive and of better material, and of better cut and design. At this date, most people’s clothes were still made to measure (either in the home, or by a tailor/dressmaker). Although the East End of London, close to the docks, was then (as it remains) a centre of the garment trade, to have a gown (definitely superior to a mere dress) made “up west” inferred that Janet McPhee was treating herself to a luxury.

[Page 285, line 28] Twenty-five thousand pounds see the general note on salvage later. In round terms this equates to £1.7M in 2006.


[Page 285, line 29] twenty-five …. pound a month it sounds small, but today, 75 years later, it may be considered as £1,400 or £1,500 a year: in 2006, the figure is more like £20,000, or £1,666 a month. At the start of the 21st century, it is difficult to make meaningful comparisons with the money values of a century ago. In Britain, in particular, inflation (first experienced during World War 1), and rising taxation have totally destroyed the relative stability which had lasted for over a century. McPhee probably paid no direct tax to the Government. His successor, who will earn an average of 40,000 depreciated pounds a year, will pay about 20% in direct taxation.


[Page 286, line 8] jocose waggish, playful in style. Not in common use nowadays.

[Page 286, line 20] models of the Colombo outrigger boats these were ornaments easily bought in Colombo at that time. (cf “McAndrew’s Hymn”, line 58: “fillin’ my bunk wi’ rubbishry the Chief put overside.”).

The Editor of these notes recalls the fishermen in Trincomalee using such boats: the outrigger is a secondary hull (often little more than a single baulk of timber) extended on booms to one side of the boat to give it stability. It should not be confused with the outriggers of a racing eight, four, pair or sculler known on English rivers, or as seen in the Olympic rowing events.

[Page 286, line 28] my indents my list of defects; to indent for something is to submit a request for work to be done.

[Page 287, line 7] wisdom is justified o’ her children Matthew 11,19.

[Page 287, line 14] hither and yon a Scotticism meaning ‘here and there’, ‘indiscriminately’. It indicates that there had been changes in the company.

[Page 287, line 18] Steiner’s son – the Jew it must be said that there is a slight but distinct undertone of anti-Semitism in the words which Kipling puts into his characters’ mouths, both McPhee and, later, McRimmon. There is, to be fair, no positive expression of anti-Semitic sentiment, but young Steiner appears as a stereotypical Jewish businessman.


[Page 287, line 20] Chief Engineer this means he was Chief Engineer of the Breslau. Today, in the aftermath of this story, had there been a press-release from Holdock, Steiner and Chase, it would have been said that there “had been a communication failure”. But the Board dictated, and their employees had to make the best of it – see page 298 “Obey orders, if ye break owners”.

[Page 287, line 23] sixteen days From internal evidence elsewhere in the story, this line ran its ships between the UK, London and/or Liverpool, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. From London to Rio is 5,750 statute miles, great circle measurement (i.e., the shortest distance on the surface of the globe, though not necessarily the route which must be followed, due to navigational constraints). From Liverpool the distance is slightly less. The distance is therefore 5,060 nautical miles. To perform the voyage in 18 days calls for an average speed of 11.7 knots, which would be good going for a ship of the Breslau’s period, size and type. A 16 day voyage would call for an average speed of more than 13.1 knots, which McPhee rightly regarded as being impossible of achievement, the more so since the owners expected it to be maintained in winter. “Eighteen days is her summer time” infers that her winter time would be longer: fully one-third of the voyage to Brazil would be through the waters of the North Atlantic, and in winter-time, the North Atlantic could be one of the roughest seas in the world. The Board are expecting the Breslau, driven by her captain and crew, to improve her winter time – perhaps 19 or even 20 days – to 16.
To the question whether Lloyds or other insurance brokers would have protested at the reduction in the scheduled time the answer is no. It is a matter for the owners entirely. [ORG]

The present Editor suggests that, at the least, this is an oversimplification. The insurers have an interest in the ship’s well being, and that of its cargo: and they would be well aware of the Breslau’s capability, or lack of it. They could not prevent the owners from advertising the reduced timings, nor prevent the ship from sailing, nor the crew from trying to achieve those times. But they would have substantially increased the insurance premium if they thought there was any risk to the ship and cargo, to the extent that it would not have been worth-while to the owners. But at the end of the tale, the inference to be drawn is that Holdock, Steiner and Chase carried their own insurance (see note on p. 314, line 16).

[Page 287, line 25] flytin(g), kitin(g) nonsense ‘Flyting’ (Scots) as a noun means a scolding, or a heated dispute. McPhee is using it as an adjective, and together with “kiting”, another adjective, it may be taken to mean “beyond all standards of reason”. [ORG]

The ORG’s conclusion is not disputed: the meaning is quite clear from the context. But it is interesting to see how Kipling got there. As the ORG says, “flyting” is an old Scots word for a heated dispute. But “kiting” is English, and means “to make like a kite”. It may be suggested that McPhee’s literal meaning is “high-flown contentious rubbish”, but it may also be suggested that it is an example of reduplication, a made-up emphatic repetitious phrase similar to airy-fairy, helter-skelter, and suchlike words.

[Page 287, line 32] E’en [even] tell ‘em so a very Scottish construction, meaning “Well, you tell them”.
My fourth’s on the ways now, she says ‘my wife tells me that we’re expecting our fourth child’. Bannister, still a young man with a career to make, is not going to jeopardise his job with a growing family to feed.

[Page 288, line 1] ‘A boy – wi’ red hair’ an inconsequential remark, but it indicates the passage of time from “October o’ last year” (p. 286, line 24), when Bannister made his remark about his fourth child, with which his wife can barely have been pregnant, since he was not aware of the fact from his own observation. Therefore we are now in the next summer sometime after June.


[Page 288, line 26] deaf as the adders o’ scripture Psalms 63,14.

[Page 288, line 32] bottom restiffenin’ professional opinion ascribes this to author’s licence, which suggests that the major repairs involved in re-stiffening the ships bottom and renewing the bedplates (of the engines), were put forward by McPhee to support his contention that the ship, good as she was, could not possibly maintain the revised schedule in her then state.

This Editor would suggest that there is more to it than that. McPhee is telling the board that more than routine maintenance (his indents for two hundred and eighty-seven pounds) would be needed if the Breslau were to be capable of an increase of speed of somewhere between 15 and 20%. The bottom re-stiffening and new engine bedplates are required to enable the ship to withstand the increased vibration which will be the consequence of the higher speed at which the engine will have to run, and the greater power it will have to develop.
Turnin’ out the forward boilers the ORG suggests that McPhee means re-tubing (replacing the fire-tubes of the boilers, through which the hot gases from the fire-bed pass to convert the water into steam). This is certainly possible, but it is suggested that Kipling is let down by his lack of detailed professional knowledge here. Re-tubing the boilers, of itself, would not have helped greatly to generate the increased amount of steam needed for the higher speeds proposed. And if it were required for the forward boilers, then it would have been required for all.

[Page 289, line 1] all three cylinders indicating a triple-expansion engine. Re-boring the cylinders (to enlarge them, to make them capable of generating higher power, would be a “dockyard job”: the engine would have to be dismantled, and the cylinders taken to a machine shop, and bored out (but there was a limit to how much extra diameter could be given to a cylinder before the cylinder walls became too thin to withstand the steam pressure).

[Page 289, line 8/9] “If the Breslau is made a sixteen-day boat, ye’ll find another engineer” McPhee is laying his professional reputation on the line: he can afford to, since he has no large family to support, and he has some savings. But despite the criticism above (on the boiler re-tubing), Kipling has it absolutely right for McPhee. On the facts presented, an increase of speed of 15 to 20% is required: because the relationship between power and speed is an upward curve, an increase of power of around 50% would be needed (i.e., a ship may make a speed of 16 knots with 5,000 horse-power, but to make 18 knots will require 7,500 horse power). In the Breslau’s case, this might be achieved by enlarging the engine (boring out the cylinders), or increasing the boiler pressure, or a combination of both. The ship’s structure would require strengthening; the engine’s bearings would require improved lubrication; more coal would be used; costs would rise. Had this Editor been in McPhee’s shoes, he would have been even more outspoken: the Board’s proposals are, indeed, “flytin’, kitin’, nonsense”.


[Page 289, line 26] McRimmon any suggestion that the author intended this for a highland name may be dismissed. He probably intended a reference to bowing down in the House of Rimmon (2 Kings, 5,18). [ORG]

This may indeed be so, but the name McRimmon does exist; also the reference might be to the well-know tune “Crimond” to which the metrical version of Psalm 23 is sung. Rimmon was a god of the Syrians, to whom Naaman worshipped, before he was cured of his leprosy by the prophet Elishah.


[Page 289, line 28] … looked at me, proppin’ up one eyelid with his finger as McRimmon raised his upper lid so that he could better see McPhee, he obviously had a condition of dropped eyelid or ‘ptosis’, most commonly due to nerve paralysis. If he had had one sound eye, he would not have had to raise the other lid, so it must be presumed that the lids were partially dropped in both, and for this a diagnosis of nerve palsy will not do. McRimmon was known as ‘the old blind devil’ and was to some extent led about by his dog “Dandie” so that there must have been some very obvious bilateral effect of the eyes and/or lids for him to get this nickname. He must have had a bilateral ptosis associated with corneal scarring and opacity. There are a number of diseases which could do this but the most likely is trachoma, which causes thickening and heaviness of the lids and scarring of the cornea. This is rare in this country but common in the East, and it is possible that McRimmon had been a shipmaster himself when young and so picked it up in some one of a hundred ports in the East. [A.S.P.]

It should, however, be remembered that the character is fictitious, even though it may have been drawn from life. Trachoma is one of the earliest recorded eye diseases; it was identified as early as the 27th century B.C. It is the leading cause of blindness worldwide, and afflicts over 400 million people (primarily in underdeveloped countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia). It is preventable with adequate diet, proper sanitation, and education. Today, if treated early (with antibiotics, usually tetracycline drugs or sulfonamides), the prognosis is excellent.

[Page 289, line 33] What’s here, … What is the matter?


[Page 290, line 7] He doddered into the Board-room ‘dodder’ means ‘to walk unsteadily, totteringly’. Would McRimmon have pushed his way into the Board-room of a rival company? The answer seems to be that he was just the sort of man who would do so, and it is to be assumed that the two firms were on terms that made it permissible in the course of business. [ORG] This last independent clause must be suspect. It is shown later that the two firms were on bad terms (p. 314; “I’ve waited fourteen year to break that Jew-firm”). And in any case, to interrupt the board meeting of a company, of which one is not a member is (and was) not permitted, Holdock would have been quite within his rights to have shown McRimmon the door immediately.


[Page 290, line 14] garred (Scots); meaning ‘compelled’, ‘caused’. Cf “The Fall of Jock Gillespie” (Departmental Ditties): “And syne he trumped his partner’s trick an’ garred his partner rue.”

[Page 290, line 19] daur dare.

[Page 290, line 21] Forgie’s all literally “forgive us all”, i.e., “forgive me for what I said”.

[Page 290, line 28] Come ben literally, come inside. “Come ben the hoose” (Scots), means come inside the house. It derives from the traditional Scottish cottage, a ‘but-and-ben’: this had two rooms, the kitchen, the ‘but’ end of the house, and the parlour, the ‘ben’. In this context, the invitation is to come into my office. Clearly, Holdocks and the Black Bird Line had their offices in the same building.

[Page 291, line 10] vara very; in this case the use is adjectival, emphasising significance.

[Page 291, line 18] acquaint old Scots past participle of the verb ‘acquaint’ – in correct English, one would expect ‘acquainted’, but this is correct Scots (cf Burns’ poem, ‘John Anderson, my Jo’, verse 1, line 2; “When we were first acquent”).


[Page 291, line 23] Shekinah a Hebrew word meaning “that which dwells” or “the dwelling”. The use of the word in the Scriptures was as a periphrasis for the attributes of God, especially those bearing a human similitude; in particular the attribute “glory” is so treated; so that Shekinah has been defined as “the visible glory of Jehovah above the mercy seat”. McPhee is using it as an expression meaning the touchstone or criterion of his professional integrity.

[Page 291, line 30] ordinary compound the phrase used in the first edition was ‘simple compound’, but that, to a layman, might seem a contradiction, since a simple engine was one in which the steam was only expanded once (it pushes the piston in one direction, and then is exhausted), whereas a compound engine expanded the steam in more than one stage: originally only twice (pushing a piston in one direction in one cylinder, and then passing into another cylinder to push another piston in one direction, then passing to exhaust); but by the 1890s three stage expansion (triple expansion) was common.

It became the custom to refer to two-stage engines as compound engines, while a three-stage engine was a triple-expansion engine; by the 1900s, there were four-stage engines (quadruple-expansion engines). Thus, a “simple compound” engine would have been comprehensible to a marine engineer, but might have confused a layman (“a little knowledge is a dangerous thing …”)

[Page 292, line 2] donkeys donkey engines – to provide power on deck for working the winches and derricks for handling cargo. The steam was usually supplied either from one of the main boilers or a smaller auxiliary boiler, also down below in the stokehold. (Cf, “McAndrew’s Hymn”, line 55).


[Page 292, line 9] non plus ultra Ne plus ultra is the usual version, meaning literally “not more beyond”. In this context, the point beyond which he would not go, that is the painting of his ships beyond the necessary minimum. It does sound, to this naval officer, as though McRimmon went beyond what was prudent in his aversion to paint! There is no need to gild the lily, but good paint, properly applied to a well-prepared surface, is an essential part of ship-husbandry, and ultimately saves money.


[Page 292, line 12] reject five flawed intermediates, one after the other in this context ‘intermediate’ refers without question to a section of propeller-shaft between the tail-shaft (nearest the stern) and the thrust shaft (nearest the engine). The receipt of five flawed shafts in succession from the forge-masters is a well-nigh inconceivable circumstance, and it would be equally unlikely to discover such a state of things in a ship. A marine engineer of 52 years experience has only once encountered more than one flawed shaft in any ship, and that is in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Brambleleaf, which at the moment of writing (1964) has two. [ORG]


There is a possible alternative (though similar) interpretation. As the ORG says, for a forge-master to produce – and try to persuade a ship-owner to take – five successive flawed shafts is in the highest degree unlikely. “Intermediate” could refer to an intermediate pressure cylinder for a triple expansion engine. And there is rather more likelihood of having flaws in a casting than there is in a forging. But the likelihood of having five in succession produced and rejected is similarly unlikely.

[Page 292, line 19] fill her forward deck green cargo ships of this period were mostly of what was known as the ‘three island’ type. On top of the basic rectangular box with pointed ends, containing the cargo holds forward and aft, with the engine and boilers in the middle, were the fo’c’s’le (containing the crew’s quarters): the island, on which were built the bridge, the funnel, and officers’ accommodation (and for any passengers if she took them): and right aft was the poop, containing the secondary steering gear and probably accommodation for at least some of the petty officers. In between the fo’c’s’le and the island was the forward, or fore-deck, where the cargo hatch or hatches for the fore-hold(s) were: abaft the island was the after deck, where the after holds were (cf ‘A Truthful Song’ (Rewards and Fairies):

“Then up and spake the caulkyers bold,
Which was packing the pump in the afterhold”.

To fill her forward deck green means to take heavy seas on board; a heavy sea remains solid, and is the basic colour of the sea; a light sea will break up into spray and foam.

snore away a ship pushing her way through not too heavy seas makes a noise which sounds rather like snoring. The sound is of the ships’ hull ‘working’ (cf the grumbles made intermittently by the SS Dimbula’s hull, in “The Ship that Found Herself” (also in The Day’s Work).


[Page 292, line 20] 45 to the minute 45 revolutions of the engines.

[Page 292, line 21] 3½ knots an hour This (and other references to ‘knots an hour’) is a solecism by Kipling. Speed at sea is expressed in ‘knots’ rather than ‘knots an hour’ and no sailor would use the latter expression.


[Page 292, line 33] the Solent one of the two sheltered channels between the Isle of Wight and the mainland of the South of England (Hampshire) both leading from the open sea to Southampton Water. The other is Spithead.

[Page 293, line 3] after stuffin(g) box to the after bulkhead this means that the space between the stern-gland (through which the tail-shaft passes from the inside to the outside of the hull), and the after engine-room bulkhead was flooded. At that time, it was evidently still possible to have the shaft rotating in an open space in the ship, leaving a large volume to flood if the stern-gland (quite commonly, though not entirely correctly, called ‘the stuffing-box’) should leak (cf the description of the machinery of the Sarah Sands as she entered Port Louis, Mauritius, in “The Burning of the Sarah Sands”, in Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides). Later, the shaft was enclosed in a tunnel (see note on p.310, line 8, infra), large enough for a man to enter, but much smaller in volume, and so less dangerous in the event of a flood. See “McAndrew’s Hymn”, line 159:

“clear to the tunnel where they sit, my purrin’ dynamos”

[Page 293, line 4] lay star-gazing adrift and lying idle on the sea.

Seventy-nine squealing passengers to the objection that a firm like Holdock, Steiner and Chase would never have run such a passenger ship, the answer can be given that the records show that towards the end of the last century combined passenger and cargo ships were not at all uncommon on the Atlantic traffic routes. The ordinary cargo steamer, or tramp usually has accommodation for passengers up to a limit of twelve. (Such opportunities do still exist in 2006, but they are few and far between.) The story, naturally enough, provides insufficient information for the reader to estimate the extent and type of the business undertaken by Holdock, Steiner and Chase, but a combination passenger and freight service should have been within their capability.

A factor to be considered by a ship-owner in deciding on passenger-carrying is that a British ship with a hundred souls or more on board must by law carry a doctor. (The Breslau must have had about 130 on board.)

[Page 293, line 8] Admiralty Court the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division of the High Court of Justice in England, [ORG]. Since 1971, the Admiralty Court has come under the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court.


[Page 293, line 21] Quem Deus …. this line is sometimes ascribed to Euripides (who, however, wrote in Greek), but its correct form is Quem Juppiter vult perdere dementat prius – ‘Whom Jupiter would destroy he first makes mad’ – by James Duport (1606-1679) master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.

[Page 293, line 24] Grotkau See the list of ships.

[Page 293, line 29] would neither steer, nor steam, nor stop when ye asked her this phrase has echoes of the old sailing ship description: “will neither stay (tack), steer, nor stop”.

[Page 293, line30] Whiles (Scots); meaning ‘from time to time’, or ‘occasionally’.

[Page 294, line 9] Her plates were pitted With corrosion? Possibly not, because good wrought iron rusts very little, and the Grotkau is built of iron. More likely the pitting was due to electrolysis: two dissimilar metals and sea-water form an electric cell, and the resulting current will eat away at the iron plates. Normally, it is a big bronze propeller which is the prime cause of this form of deterioration, but here we are told that the propeller was of iron. Possibly this is a case of Kipling being a bit too clever, but he could always have said, justifiably, that there are plenty of other underwater fittings made of such things as brass to form a cell.


[Page 294, line 12] Thresher propeller the name is fictitious. [Although it was a less litigious age than today, no reputable firm would have liked its product to be associated with a tale of maritime disaster like this.]


[Page 294, line 14] on the tail o’ the shaft, behind the boss this refers to the short space between the rope-guard (which prevents trailing ropes or other flotsam from getting tangled in the propeller) and the propeller boss (the hub): an unusual place to find a flaw. Flaws in the neighbourhood of the propeller usually occur in the keyway, a relatively shallow slot milled into the shaft, and into which a key, or wedge is driven which secures the propeller itself to the shaft, so that it turns when the shaft rotates. As a result, such flaws are usually hidden by the propeller. An interesting point to be observed is that if the ship were undergoing a Lloyd’s survey whilst in dock, the surveyor would undoubtedly have detected the crack and condemned the shaft.

[Page 294, line 21] Superficial Gehenna ‘Gehenna’ is a euphemism, nor uncommon in Kipling’s works, for Hell.

[Page 294, line 22] solution o’ continuity a fanciful phrase, to be interpreted as a short route to eternal life by way of drowning at sea. Philp Holberton adds: This is McPhee’s definition of the crack in the tail-shaft. Bannister says it’s a “superfeecial flaw”. McPhee replies that it’s a (dis)solution o’ continuity – of the tail-shaft, not of human life. The shaft is already virtually in two pieces. [P.H.]

[Page 294, line 26] ‘I e’en said what was gi’ed me in that hour’ ‘Well, I gave him a piece of my mind’. And to my mind, the Scots phrase is far more telling than its English equivalent.


[Page 295, line 7] a kail stump a cabbage stalk.

[Page 295, line 13] fend (Scots); meaning, prevent. The word is akin to ‘forfend’ in English, meaning ‘avert’, ‘keep off’.

[Page 295, line 27] cuddy the very small cabin in a barge, tug or fishing boat. In the Royal Navy it is used in a jocular sense by his staff, for the Admiral’s or Captain’s quarters. The Admiral’s staff say that they ‘mess in the cuddy’, which means at the Admiral’s table, and at his expense: and a ship’s officer invited to dinner with the Admiral will say he is ‘bidden to dine in the cuddy’. McPhee doubtless meant the Engineer’s mess room, not a large apartment in those days. [ORG]

But later on (p. 299, line 28), McPhee uses ‘cuddy’ in the sense of the captain’s quarters, and it is suggested that this is what is meant here.

Neither McPhee nor McRimmon would have suggested that McPhee alone should have ‘pumped’ Bannister and Calder: Bell, as Master of the Kite would have to be involved, and it would have been appropriate to entertain their opposite numbers in the Master’s quarters, if the entertainment were to be on board.

[Page 296, line 6] Preserve’s ‘Heaven preserve us’.

[Page 296, line 7] fey (Scots); clairvoyant, other-worldly.


[Page 296, line 9] Dod (Scots); God. It is also a Scottish diminutive for the name George.

[Page 296, line 16] Cowes a town at the northernmost point of the Isle of Wight: the centre of British yachting, and the home of the Royal Yacht Squadron, the premier yacht club.

[Page 296, line 22] six magnums a magnum size champagne bottle contains the equivalent of two bottles, or one-and-a-half litres, or two and two-thirds imperial pints. Thus the four at dinner each drank four pints of Champagne, plus the whisky.

[Page 296, line 30] wutty witty.

[Page 296, line 32] greeted wept.


[Page 297, line 1] galley-green to the question, was any galley (ship’s kitchen) ever painted anything else in those days?; the reply is, yes, white more often, but in fact the name “galley-green” has been retained for a certain shade.

[Page 297, line 8] this side o’ losing their certificates all ships’ officers and engineers have to have a certificate of competence, issued by the Board of Trade, or its present day equivalent. It can be taken away in much the same way as a driving licence can be lost. Mariners with British certificates are rightly regarded as being supremely competent and reliable, but it has to be said that the same is not always true of other nations. It is possible to purchase a certificate from some so-called marine colleges, mostly in Asia, without ever attending any courses.

[Page 297, line 12] wauken the deil wake the devil.


[Page 297, line 20] chartered Liverpool-side meaning that the ship was to be chartered (hired) for a voyage starting from Liverpool.

[Page 297, line 32] gyte (Scots); crazy, mad.

[Page 297, line 33] He’s withdrawn the Lammergeyer the withdrawal of the Lammergeyer has no direct bearing on the story, except that the freight she thus surrendered, to the advantage of the Grotkau, made the latter a much richer prize as salvage.

[Page 298, line 14] bottoms a shipping term meaning “ships”.

[Page 297, line 33] Syne literally “since” (Scots), but here meaning “in the course of time”.

[Page 299, line 15] pairfect eemage o’ senile dementia the perfect image of the loss of wits that often accompanies extreme old age.

[Page 299, line 18] sealed orders it may be taken that McRimmon had issued a series of instructions to be followed in certain circumstances, times and places, as would be indicated on the envelopes, hence the requirement that they be opened seriatim – in sequence. But because of the possibility that the whole scheme might have to be postponed or abandoned owing to an alteration in the Grotkau’s programme, the Kite was to stand in towards the Lloyd’s signal stations on the south and west coasts to receive possible telegraphic orders from McRimmon to that effect. The shuffling of the envelopes is intended to convey nervous reaction.

[Page 299, line 23] buttocked “bucketed” is intended. As a verb, ‘to bucket’ means ‘to make progress jumpily’. It is suggested that Kipling knew this very well, but he is putting a malapropism into the mouth of McPhee.


[Page 299, line 26] Holyhead a small town on Holy Island, on the west side of the Isle of Anglesey, itself at the north-west corner of Wales. It is (1964, and remains, 2006) the packet station for a passenger and vehicle ferry service to Dublin.

[Page 299, line 33] mouth of the Mersey the entrance to the port of Liverpool. [It is easy to see that the ORG was written before the Beatles made Liverpool and the Mersey famous througout the world. In 2006, it may be suggested that whether our readers are in Tottenham, Tucson,Toowoomba or Timbuktu, the association of the Mersey and Liverpool will be well-known.]


[Page 300, line 9] She looked her name … she coughed like it the name “Hoor” is implied. As regards coughing, the implied suggestion is that many seaport prostitutes were infected with Tuberculosis, which produces a racking cough; though it is not quite clear why the Grotkau should have made such a noise, unless it were her steam siren.


[Page 300, line 13] squattering in her wake plunging through the water with great splashing. See the poem “The Wet Litany” in Traffics and Discoveries:

“when the fog-buoy’s squattering flight …”.

McPhee uses the word in another sense in line 19 of page 306. It is important for the understanding of the story to observe that this phrase does not mean that the Kite was following in Grotkau’s wake, but that she was incidentally in it while crossing astern to take up position just abaft her port beam to observe the port light.

[Page 300, lines 10-12] Calder tauld me at Radley’s what ailed his engines, but my own ear would ha’ told me twa mile awa’, by the beat o’ them in this Editor’s view, McPhee is to some extent ‘drawing the long bow’. A marine steam engine, exhausting into a condenser, does not ‘chuff’ like a steam railway locomotive does; and, although not silent, it is asking a lot to expect its sound to be heard at a distance of two miles above the noises of the sea, and the wind in the rigging of the listener’s own ship, and all the other ambient noise. But (see “Poseidon’s Law”, in Traffics and Discoveries), it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that McPhee is being “splendaciously mendacious”.


[Page 300, line 16] middle watch midnight to 4.a.m.

[Page 300, line 18, et seq.] Ye canna see green so far as red, or we’d ha’ kept to leeward the ORG goes into a substantial discussion on the text from this point to the middle of the next page, describing the progress of the Grotkau and the Kite down the Irish Sea.
The ORG observes: “Kipling, as a good craftsman should, when he builds a tale, first erects a scaffolding of facts and circumstances, to which he refers each incident as the story unfolds. He does not – it is not his method – let the reader see more of the scaffolding than is necessary for understanding the action, and this has caused some of the author’s critics to make assumptions which are not justified by the narrative. First, let us take some of the stated facts of the story:

  1. “Before the middle watch, it was a sou-wester in airnest (earnest)” (page 300, line 16).

They had left Liverpool Bar at about 6.p.m. in heavy weather, with the Grotkau making, say, eight knots (she was unlikely to have been able to steam significantly faster than the Kite, or McRimmon would not have set the Kite to follow her). It is some 60 nautical miles more or less due west to a point off Carmel Head, at the NW corner of Anglesey where one can turn south and west to go down the Irish Sea, so they will have reached there shortly after the start of the middle watch.

  • “She’d no walk into that gale for ony consideration”.

The direct course down the Irish Sea to clear Carnsore Point at the SE corner of Ireland would have been SW, into the teeth of the gale, which would have resulted in the Grotkau pitching, with the consequent danger to her propeller.

  • “She’ll edge into Ireland, this gait” (Page 300, line 18).

Not being able to turn to her direct course, she has turned a bit, W by S, or WSW at the most, and is edging across to the Irish shore to get a bit of shelter in the lee of the land. At this stage, being just abaft the Grotkau’s port beam, the Kite is to windward of her, though not to any significant degree.

  • “We lapped along the weary way to the Fastnet”.

Having reached a point nearer to Ireland, off Wicklow, or thereabouts, they would have turned to a course of S by W, to fetch Carnsore Point. There, they would have turned WSW again to make their way along the south Irish coast to the Fastnet Rock,

Thus, on the initial leg along the north coast of Wales, the Kite was to windward of the Grotkau, and remained so until the latter turned S by W, when she would have been on the lee side. Once ‘round the corner’ and heading WSW once more, the Kite would again have been to windward.

This Editor is not sure quite why Kipling gave McPhee the remark in the first place, nor why it provoked such a discussion in the ORG. It is correct that a red light is more easily distinguished that green, but it may be suggested that given the conditions, a full gale with spray everywhere, and an open bridge, it is easier to look downwind, with your back to the wind and incoming spray, than it is to look upwind, ducking every time a wave breaks inboard. Under the circumstances – it is nowhere mentioned, but the ships must have been at least half a mile apart, for courtesy and normal safety’s sake – there is no advantage to be gained, in terms of shelter from the movement caused by the waves, from being on the lee side.

This whole passage may be said to have similarities in its construction to the later story “Sea Constables” in Debits and Credits, in which a similar maritime tracking takes place.

The ORG continues: The only ostensible error in this passage is that the author has overlooked the fact that the Grotkau’s white stern light would have been visible from right astern and therefore there was no need to watch either the green or red side lights. A ship overtaking another on the port side could see either the red port light or the white stern light, but not both. Each light should be visible for two miles.

All the above is quite correct. It must be remembered that the navigation lights would have been relatively feeble oil lamps – in the Royal Navy, we did not fully trust electricity until sometime in the 1960s, and provided stand-by oil lamps for navigation lights until that date: in the merchant marine, oil lamps would have been standard on ships like the Kite and the Grotkau; electric lamps would have been another unnecessary expense. But Bell would have wished not just to keep the Grotkau in sight: he would have wished to know her course. And for that, a sight of the side light and more importantly, a feature that Kipling does not mention, her white steaming light, was essential. (The white steaming light, mounted on the foremast, at least 15 feet above the level of the sidelights, is visible over the same arc as the side lights, that is from 22½° abaft the port beam, through ahead to 22½° abaft the starboard beam.) An alteration in the relative position of the two lights is an indication of a change of course, which you cannot get from watching a single stern light.

However, whether or not Kipling is correct in his leewards and windwards, the fact remains that, in atmosphere, this description is just right. This Editor has been reading the tale for some fifty-five years, and it has only been while compiling these notes that he has tried to analyse the exact movements of the ships, to erect his commentary. He remains unsure whether it is worth it!


[Page 300, line 23] we fair walked into a liner the two vessels were presumably meeting on opposite courses and both should have altered course to starboard (as required by the International Rules for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea) and passed port to port. It seems that Bell, being preoccupied with watching the Grotkau failed to take action until it was almost too late, and was very properly damned in no uncertain terms by the liner’s officers. By the usage of the sea, a seaman should be posted as look-out forward, whose duty it is to report to the bridge all ships sighted and other matters concerning safe navigation. [ORG].

That there should have been a look-out is correct (and precious little fun it would have been on such a night): and Bell should have been made aware/should have been himself aware of the liner. And both the liner and the Kite should have taken avoiding action, if they were indeed on opposite courses.

However, in this Editor’s view, the liner was at fault: the incident must have occurred while they were on their WSW leg from Carmel Point across to Wicklow (it would not have occurred later, while they were steaming down under the lee of the Irish coast, because the liner with the wind behind would have had no need to be over there, but would have been heading directly NE to NNE up the middle of the Irish Sea). In that case, to the liner’s officers, Kite and Grotkau would have appeared on the liner’s starboard bow, showing their port lights as they crossed from right to left, and the onus of altering course would have been very firmly on the liner. And in any case, even had they been, as the ORG postulates, on opposite courses, it only requires one ship to alter course to avoid a close quarters situation (though both should do so to make doubly safe). Clearly the liner’s officer of the watch had not been paying attention, either, and his damning of Bell must have been an expression of relief rather than of reprimand.

But the reality of life at sea in pre-radar days was that there was surprisingly little time to take collision avoidance measures. On a clear night, the liner and the Kite might have expected to sight each other at about eight miles range (larger ships today have a horizon distance of about ten miles). Had they been on opposite courses, then their closing speed might have been of the order of 25 knots (say 17 for the liner, eight for the Kite). So from first sighting to collision situation is just under 20 minutes. The respective officers of the watch first action would have been to take a bearing of the other, and again, say, three minutes later: if the bearing has not changed, you have a potential collision situation, and you take avoiding action in good time. (In the Royal Navy, it was the Ark of the Covenant for the officer of the watch to take action in a timely manner: it has to be said that the same was not always the case with the merchant ships one met.)
But on a night such as Kipling is describing, the range at which the feeble oil lamps might be sighted was very probably much less, reducing the time available to, say, ten minutes, less the three minutes to establish the bearing movement or lack of it. And a ship such as a 10,000 ton liner does not alter course at once when the wheel is put over: she carries on in a straight line for perhaps half-a-mile before she begins to swing. So it is easy to see that a close-quarter situation can develop very quickly.

It is clearly a dangerous pastime to examine Kipling’s scaffolding too closely. So we won’t. Let it just be repeated that the atmosphere is absolutely right, if the detail is suspect.

[Page 301, line 1] But you don’t go by the Fastnet to get to any South American port the Fastnet Rock, well-known to racing yachtsmen, is an island off the SW coast of Ireland, just off Clear Island and Cape Clear. It is the point of departure for North America, but the Kipling-narrator is correct. The course for the NE corner of Brazil would have been SW from Carnsore point at the SE corner of Ireland.


[Page 301, line 5] She’d no walk into that gale for one reason, to avoid the pitching motion that would be inevitable: see remarks below regarding page 301, line 22.

[Page 301, line 13] the Skelligs the Skellig Islands: we are now well round the SW corner of Ireland.

[Page 301, line 14] Dunmore Head also known as Slea Head. This lies at the SE corner of the Dingle peninsula, on the NW side of Dingle Bay.

[Page 301, line 16] Smerwick now known as Ballydavid; a small port on the N side of the Dingle peninsula.


[Page 301, line 17] Ventry in Dingle Bay. All the above are in or off Counties Cork or Kerry in SW Ireland. The Grotkau had turned north until the gale abated.

[Page 301, line 22] ony (any) rollin’s better than pitchin’ the danger when the ship is pitching is that the propeller constantly comes clear of the water, and the engine will race violently despite the efforts of the engineer controlling the throttle valve. The likelihood in such circumstances of a cracked shaft breaking clean off must be obvious.

[Page 301, line 26/7] His beard and his whiskers were frozen to his oilskin … bridges remained open on warships and very many merchantmen until the 1950s. There might be a small chart house, or a pilot-house where the wheel was situated, but the officer of the watch would spend nearly all his watch out in the open. It was held, with justification, that you could not see well enough through spray-covered glass.

[Page 301, line 28] Pairfect (perfect) North Atlantic winter weather! North Atlantic winter weather was notorious (see page 287, line 23 above). There was a special mark on a ship’s Plimsoll Line, marked WNA (Winter, North Atlantic) which indicated that she could not be so deeply loaded if voyaging across the North Atlantic in winter – it indicated, in fact, the least load of all. In very broad terms, the southern limit of the “North Atlantic” is 36°N (the latitude with the Straits of Gibraltar, and up to the N. Pole); while “Winter” goes from 1 November to 31 March – or if you are going slightly more northerly, to a Canadian port, then “Winter” starts on 15 October and ends on 15 April.

[Page 301, line 30] raxed (Scots); the Scots dictionary gives very many meanings for the verb “to rax”. As a transitive verb it can mean to reach, to stretch out to take, or to grasp. It is the last meaning which is intended here.

[Page 302, line 2] was a vara judeecious man – for an Aberdonian very ironic: Aberdonians are (quite unfairly, my grandfather was an Aberdonian) known for being extremely judicious – with their money.


[Page 302, line 3] fashes to fash is to bother, to concern oneself.

[Page 302, line 12] tried the feed checked the salinity of the feed water. The steam, once condensed, was fed back into the boiler. If it got contaminated by the salt water used as the cooling medium in the condenser, then it could damage the boiler.

[Page 302, line 13] speered into the stoke-hole (Scots); alternative, and more usual spelling, speired. The dictionary definitions given all concern inquiry into something. In this case the meaning is more general – ‘I took a look into the stoke-hole’.


[Page 302, line 16] Bell handed me the wheel it has been observed that happenings on board Kipling’s ships often seem somewhat casual. The Chief Engineer seems to have taken a large share in the command of the ship. Nothing is heard of the crew until later, but the story is being told by McPhee, and his part in the affair naturally receives the greatest notice (see also above, page 300, lines 10-12 and the comment at the end).

The state of affairs which appears to have obtained in the Kite has interested ships’ officrs, and a number have written about it. One wrote that he was not so much surprised at McPhee’s taking over the wheel, as that Bell should be on board at all, but this can be dismissed as heavy sarcasm. Moreover, even a two-thoudand ton tramp in the 1890s should have carried sufficient seamen to man the wheel throughout the 24 hours.

The sole explanation that will serve and the answer to these objections is this. McPhee and Bell were the only two people on board in the conspiracy and decided that nobody else should be able to guess the reason for their manoeuvres. Consequently they agreed that themselves only should take the wheel and so they steered watch-and-watch, each relieving the other. But, the quartermasters having been banished, one would expect to find a mate on the bridge, even in a two-mate ship. However, the mate could have been given duties in the chart-room to perform, if not relieved altogether of watch-keeping duty. [It has to be said that this is so thin a tale as to be virtually invisible – but, after all, it is only fiction.]
It is beyond belief that Kipling thought that a wheelhouse without quartermasters and a bridge without watch-keeping officers was a commonplace in the Merchant Service. Here it should be observed that by law a foreign-going ship of over 100 tons must carry at least one certificated mate in addition to the Master.

To those who have assumed that the Chief Engineer is of equal standing with the Master the following must be said:

The Master is, by law, in supreme control and command, and the Chief Engineer is his subordinate, although in technical matters the latter is ultimately responsible to those ashore. The Master could put the Chief in irons for a serious offence, e.g., mutiny. To explain fully the legal aspect, since by the Merchant Shipping Acts a seaman is defined as any person except the Master, a pilot or an apprentice, employed on board any (merchant) ship, the Chief Engineer is by law a seaman. The Acts also state that a seaman must obey the Master in all ;awful matters relating to the navigation of the ship. Any suggestion that the Chief Engineer is not under the jurisdiction of the Master is therefore quite wrong, although the Master is careful to avoid interference in the technical side of the engineering department.

[Page 302, line 24] Slowed to thirty-four revolutions per minute.
I mind (a Scotticism)I recall to mind’.


[Page 302, line 26] west awa(y) in a westerly direction, the gale having eased, prior to steering for the South Atlantic in fairer weather.

[Page 302, line 27] Rio it has not been stated, but it is now implied that Rio de Janeiro is the normal South American destination of Holdock’s line.

[Page 302, line 31] Slyne Head the most westerly point of the Connemara district of County Galway in the Irish Republic.

[Page 302, line 33 & p.303, line 1] ye’ll note we were not racing boats they have made an average of 5.4 knots the first day, and 6.7 knots the second.


[Page 303, line 3] a bittock (Scots) a little bit.

[Page 303, line 5] the long slant a ‘favourable slant’ with reference to a wind is a fair one after adverse ones. Kipling’s use of the word here means the crossing, at an angle, of all the ordinary shipping tracks from Europe to the U.S.A. and Canada, and is a sufficiently seamanlike term in these circumstances.

[Page 303, line 10] Bell whustled (whistled) down the tube communication between the bridge and engine room would have been by speaking tube or voice-pipe. At each end, over the bell-mouth, was a lid with a whistle in it. To call the other end, one took off the lid and blew. On hearing the whistle, the receiver took his lid off, and spoke down the tube, placing his ear to the tube to receive the reply.


[Page 303, line 13] three red lights in a vertical line this is a reference to the International Regulation indicating a vessel not under command. Today, the Regulations require two red lights (two black balls by day).

[Page 303, line 33] a tow’s a tow, but a derelict’s big salvage these lines indicate Bell and McPhee’s confidence in the scheme concocted at Radley’s. See also the notes on Salvage (below).

[Page 304, line 1] an inshot an insight.


[Page 304, lines 5,6,7,13 & 16] Distress Signals for use at night rockets, blue lights, tar barrels, and the use of the siren are all recognised distress signals for use at sea, at night.

[Page 304 line 9] a pair o’ night-glasses the Board of Trade reward for saving life at sea. Night-glasses are binoculars with extra large front lenses to gather as much as possible of what little light there is, in the dark. Their degree of magnification is less than the binoculars used by day.

[Page 304 line 11] Fair an(d) soft again Take it easy.

[Page 304 line 19] a cuddy full o’ passengers another use of the word ‘cuddy’; here it means a saloon full of passengers.


[Page 304 line 28] perishin(g) in deep watters (waters) an echo of, but not an exact quotation from, Psalms 69,2 and 69,14, and Matthew, 8,32.

[Page 305, line 3] Gowk (Scots); a stupid fellow, a fool.

[Page 305 line 11] her boats swung awa(y) with one or more lifeboats swung out on their davits ready for lowering. Again, McPhee is making a good story of it. He and Bell could probably not see the boats swung out at that distance (although there would probably have been arc-lamp illumination on the liner’s boat-deck), but he knew from the end result that that is how it would have been.


[Page 305 line 13] like Mrs. Holdock’s machine her brougham with celluloid fittings, see above. In the days of horse transport, it was not uncommon to refer to a smart turnout as a ‘machine’, and the term could be applied to any wheeled vehicle (a mail-coach might be known as ‘the Flying Machine’). It survived into the days of motor cars, but gradually fell into disuse.

[Page 305 line 20] a pair o(f) binoculars ditto as p. 304, line 9 above.

[Page 305 line 24] nose a bit cocked otherwise, down a bit by the stern.

Readers have drawn attention at various times to what is stated to be a grave improbability in this story, in that the liner took off the officers and crew of the Grotkau, leaving her presumably sinking. Surely, say these critics, the Captain of the liner was responsible for ensuring that she was sinking, and unless she was obviously going down or other ships were standing by, he sould have made certain that the Grotkau’s sea-cocks were open. As it was, he could not be sure that he had not left a derelict, dangerous to shipping. It is true that the Captain and crew went aboard the liner thinking and saying that she was sinking, but care should surely have been taken to establish this. Perhaps, however, the liner’s captain only needed the assurance of Captain Bannister and his Chief Engineer on this point. Readers interested in these technicalities should first read Admiral Chandler’s letter in Kipling Journal, No. 20, p. 111, and Mr. Elwell’s in Kipling Journals Nos. 65 and 66 (pp. 15 and 13 respectively).

Mr. Elwell’s conclusion, with which this Editor must generally and regretfully agree, is that “It will thus be seen that, far from Kipling having mastered sea-terms, he wrote no story or poem of any length about ships without making a mess of it from a seaman’s point of view. In this he was no better or worse than other writers who have assumed familiarity with ships.”
The following answer to these criticisms has been submitted:

  1. The responsibility for ensuring that he had not abandoned a danger to navigation was entirely that of the Master of the Grotkau, whose assurance would be accepted by his brother professional.
  2. We do not know exactly what took place at the Engineer’s party at Radley’s but we are invited to infer that opening of sea-cocks came into it. This means that all the engineers (and the two masters) were privy to it.

(Throughout the tale, following that dinner, there is no overt hint of collusion between the officers of the Grotkau and those of the Kite. But, some of McPhee’s remarks – ‘Bannister knows as well as I that one rocket would bring up the Kite (p. 304, line 12) – are, to say the least, suspicious.)

  • When Bannister left the ship, there could only have been one of two thoughts in his mind: (i) that he was abandoning a derelict likely to become a danger to navigation, or (ii) that he was abandoning a sinking ship. If he thought (i), it would be on his professional conscience for the rest of his life, so we can dismiss the supposition. If he thought (ii), and it seems that he must have done, what were his reasons? He may have thought that the ship had been holed when the propeller fell off, and somebody (perhaps a greaser with a grievance) opened a sea-cock to help him make up his mind. He did not, it appears, send the carpenter down below to inspect the stern frames and plates or sound the well for water as was his duty and would at the least have been the act of a prudent mariner. He assumed from the state of his ship that she was holed and sinking. As it happened he was wrong. But he is only a character in a story and is not cast for a criminal part, so must be acquitted.


The above is perfectly fair, but there must also be a suspicion, given the implied collusion between the four conspirators, that he wanted to believe that the Grotkau was sinking, and so convinced himself that she was. However, later on, when the salvage awards are considered, there is no suggestion that he received a back-hander from anyone concerned with McRimmon.

Furthermore, the captain of the liner, although mindful of his duty, would have had a predisposition to continue his voyage as soon as possible. Delay to the mails could result in a fine – bad for the company and the captain who incurred it – and even if the delay were excusable in terms of the contract, it would have resulted in hassle, and endless letter writing.


[Page 305 line 28] we’ve no boats see page 301, line 30. All their boats had been “raxed” away and there were no such things as Carley floats or inflatable dinghies.

[Page 305 line 29] droonin(g) drowning, sinking.


[Page 305 line 31] his bearin(g)s got hot he became excited and angry.

[Page 306, line 1] a jacket a life-jacket.

[Page 306, line 8] garmin(g) the meaning is clear; to smear all over, to coat. However, it has not been possible to find the word in a Scots dictionary, although there is a close affinity to ‘garb’ and ‘garment’. One meaning of ‘garb’ is a coating of frost; while a ‘garment of clothes’ is a suit of clothes.

[Page 306, line 11] Man, it was perishing cold an understatement. We now know how quickly a person can die from hypothermia in the sea, especially in winter-time. But they are in the Gulf-stream, and Bell and McPhee have made their moves ‘judgmatically’, so it has been perfectly practicable.


[Page 306, line 29] four or five feet of water in the engine-room taken with the comment half-a-dozen lines later that the water was dead water, this implies that a sea-cock had been opened, but for a short time only after the propeller had dropped off, then closed again when the engine-room was evacuated; the impression having been given that the ship was making water fast.

[Page 307, line 4/5] dead watter (water) the water is not connected to the sea outside the engine room. Were there a hole in the side, as the ship moved, so water would enter and leave the hole, and this would be apparent, even though the hole was not visible. McPhee is therefore aware that someone has opened a sea-cock, or something like that.


[Page 307, line 19] Calder the Grotkau’s Chief Engineer, previously in the Breslau with McPhee.

[Page 308, line 4] an error of judgement in another man this reference, and others throughout the story, to the admission of water to the engine-room and the opening and closing of sea-cocks, are clearly intended by the author to leave this aspect of the narrative a complete mystery. A hint at the possible solution is finally given in lines 21-33 of page 315.

And, in any case, McPhee would not condemn a brother Engineer without being certain of the facts.


[Page 308, line 15] Kinloch he was now the senior Engineer, in McPhee’s absence, and although there would have been a third engineer in the ship, it would be natural for the Captain not to wish to spare him. See also remarks on engine-room complements in vessels of this size in the notes in this Guide on “The Devil and the Deep Sea” [in preparation].

[Page 308, line 25] Jezebel the wife of Ahab – see 1 Kings 16,29 and 18,4 et seq. also 2 Kings, 9,33:

“And he said Throw her down; and they threw her down; and some of her blood was sprinkled.”

McPhee’s speech is clearly an echo of this text.

[Page 308, line 28] bight of the life-line this is an error which the author could easily have avoided by reference to his professional friends. A life-line is a fairly stout rope rigged (usually fore-and-aft) on board a ship in heavy weather for the safety of men moving and working about the ship (e.g., under normal circumstances, Bell would have had a life-line rigged from forward to aft in the fore deck on the first night to enable hands to get from the fo’c’s’le to the bridge to relieve the watch.) What the author is referring to is a heaving-line, which is a length of light cordage with a turk’s head or other heavy knot at one end to provide momentum, and this is thrown from ship to ship or between ship and shore for the purpose of being made fast to a hawser or mooring rope which it is desired to pass. The bight of a rope is all that between the two ends. A common phrase is that “he is two ends and the bight of a fool”, meaning a complete fool.

All the above is correct as far as it goes, but there is an alternative meaning to ‘life line’ which has already been given at page 306, line 1, when McPhee says ‘Gi(v)e me a jacket and a life-line”. The cordage used would be stouter than a heaving line (a man’s life depends on it), the latter being about 1″ in circumference, the former about 1¼”. The present situation is that the Kite and the Grotkau are lying stopped, beam on to the wind (the natural way for a ship to lie when stopped), about 50-70 feet apart, with the Kite up-wind. Bell will be carefully watching his drift (the sideways movement of the ship due to the wind). Both will drift down-wind together, but the Kite will probably drift slightly faster, since the Grotkau is deeper in the water. The life-line which McPhee trailed behind him as he swam across to the Grotkau is still there as an umbilical cord between the ships, and it is in the bight of this line that the unwilling volunteer will be tied. Bell will want him to be got across as soon as possible, before he blows down on to the Grotkau.


[Page 308, line 33] a twa (two)-inch rope ropes are always described by their circumference. This rope would be about two-thirds of an inch in diameter, comparatively light. Its use here conforms with normal practice, i.e., heaving-line (but in this case we are using the life-line on which Mc Phee and his assistant went across), followed by a light rope, then the hawser. The weight of the hawser on the first might break it in severe circumstances, and so the two-inch rope is a useful intermediary. (Indeed, this Editor would have preferred to use something slightly heavier as the intermediary, depending on the size and nature of the towing hawser.)


[Page 309, line 1] hawser a large rope or cable of hemp or manila (which is also a hempen rope, but sourced from Asia, the Philippines originally), or of steel wire rope, used for towing and mooring. Sizes vary within fairly wide limits. The Navy lays down no precise limits of size. At this date, and in these ships, the hawser would most likely have been of cordage, rather than wire.


[Page 309, line 2] the drum of a hand-winch forward, an’ we sweated the hawser inboard an almost superhuman feat performed by hand, and by only two men.

The last is particularly true, since one of those men is going to be keeping a strain on the rope round the drum, leaving only one to apply his strength to turning the winch. But with £300,000 at stake, it’s amazing what one can do!


[Page 309, line 4] bitts the twin posts seen on the deck of a ship, rather larger than, though similar in purpose to, bollards. From them comes the phrase “the bitter end”, meaning the first part of a hawser or rope to go round the bitts, and the last to leave.

[Page 309, line 7] hove anither (another) life-line to me, an(d) went astern this time it would have been a heaving-line. Bell has indeed been most judgmatic in his ship handling. From lying with the ships more or less abreast one another when McPhee swam over, he has eased the ship ahead, so that there is the minimum amount of rope for McPhee and his mate to haul in. In so doing he has allowed the Kite to drift sideways further, so that the two ships are lying more or less stern to bow, and it is from that position that he has passed the second line. He has gone astern to check the headway on the Kite as she moved up, so that the two ships are once again lying stopped, the Kite in front of the Grotkau.


[Page 309, line 16] hand reef an(d) steer be able to hand (furl a sail), reef (to take a reef in a sail) and steer were the basic qualifications of an Able Seaman in sail (cf. Captain Corcoran in Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore; “Though related to a peer, I can hand and reef and steer, and ship a selvagee”). Here the phrase may be taken to mean that the man was going to have to be head cook and bottle washer, since he and the Chief Engineer were the only two on board. It was necessary to man the wheel in the towed ship, rather in the same way as one steers a car on the end of a tow line, or even more so, because a towed ship is very likely to yaw (to swerve from side to side) (line 26).


[Page 309, line 29] lazareetes lazarette, a part of the ship where stores, especially duty-free stores, are kept. The word’s use derives from its original meaning of a leper hospital, which was out-of-bounds to everyone; as were the stores, except to the Purser and the Steward.

[Page 310, line 8] doun (down) the shaft-tunnel see note at page 293, line 3, supra. The Grotkau is different in this respect from the Breslau. And note an inconsistency – four lines above, McPhee says “down”; here, in almost the same breath, he says “doun”.

[Page 310, lines 12-13] wi(th) his hand on the gear on the reversing gear and throttle valve; to shut off steam to the engine, and to put it in mid-link (neutral, in motoring terms). But, and this is another petty inconsistency, two pages earlier (p. 307, line 23/4), McPhee is suggesting that when the propeller fell off, the engine raced; here he is suggesting that Calder was ready to shut the engine down the moment the revolutions began to increase.


[Page 310, line 24] eight weary days aboard, starvin(g) clearly an exaggeration, for though the food was of poor quality, there must have been ample supplies for two people out of provisions sufficient to have catered for a whole crew on a voyage to Rio. McPhee, from his recent good living in the Kite, may have become somewhat dainty, but on the other heand the provisions may have been largely uneatable. The long string of Merchant Shipping Acts fathered by Samuel Plimsoll, “the sailor’s friend” had only just begun to have their effect.

[Page 310, line 32] I warked (worked) him to keep him crack among its other meanings in Scottish parlance “crack” means “an expert”. In English the it is used of a good games-player, horse, etc. From this it is clear the phrase means “to keep him up to scratch”, which is the term an Englishman would use.

[Page 311, line 1] soundings the seaman’s term for the waters he arrives in at the end of a long sea voyage, where it may be necessary to sound with the lead in some circumstances (e.g. fog, shoal patches). The English Channel is, of course, the leading example. (Cf. “Until we reach soundings in the Channel of Old England: from Ushant to Scilly, ‘tis thirty-five leagues. “Farewell and Adieu to you Spanish Ladies”)

[Page 311, line 5] howkit (past participle of the Scots verb to howk); it means to dig out, to bring out, to extricate. Here it may be extrapolated to mean ‘hauled in an unceremonious fashion.’ The ORG adds “Howker (Scots) = hooker”; as indeed it does, but emphatically not in the social sense, borrowed from American usage, in which it is more often used today.


[Page 311, line 9] cried us we were o’er-close to Falmouth the implication is that the ships were too near the Manacles, the dangerous rocks off the coast of Cornwall, near Falmouth, just east of the Lizard Head.

[Page 311, lines 12/13] I could feel by the tow if Bell was uncertain of his position, he would have slowed from time to time, and/or altered course, while he tried to obtain a series of soundings which would have helped him to determine his position, if he could see no lights. In the Grotkau, McPhee would have detected this as the tow slackened, or as the lead of the tow-rope from the bitts changed direction.

[Page 311, line 17] the Eddystone meaning the Eddystone lighthouse on the Eddystone Rocks, a major navigational hazard some 15 miles SW of the entrance to Plymouth Sound.


[Page 313, line 3] bilge-cock the following is a professional opinion. This could be a sea-cock, for ash dumping (forcing a slurry of ash and water out over the side), or alternatively the bilge injection valve, although this, generally is a non-return valve. The flooding of engine-rooms through sea-cocks is a fallacy which authors are prone to use. Actually it is very difficult to get water into an engine room, and rightly so, of course: to do so it would be necessary to remove a sea valve cover or slack off a pipe joint. Either way the flood might very quickly become uncontrollable.

[Page 313, line 32] Baltic charter the hiring of a ship for a voyage to the Baltic sea with freight, or in ballast to load cargo for another destination.

[Page 313, line 33] yammerin(g) (Scots) lamenting, wailing, or whining.

[Page 314, line 13] Ye’ve not got your award yet the award of salvage is meant. There may be an underlying suggestion in this remark that Steiner thought he might be able to prefer a charge against McRimmon, Bell and McPhee and his own officers of conspiracy to abandon the Grotkau so that she could be salved by the Kite.

(The coincidence of the Kite being on hand to effect the salvage will not have been lost on Steiner. And for what port did the Kite clear when she left the UK? One assumes that, since the Grotkau was going to Rio (a fact well-known in shipping circles), the Kite would have cleared for the same port. Then, had Grotkau followed the direct route, Kite’s happening on the derelict would not have been particularly remarkable. But Grotkau was well out of her way, so what was the Kite doing there as well? As was remarked above, it does not do to examine the scaffolding of the tale too closely.)
But, on the other hand, McRimmon and McPhee would be only too ready to make a counter-charge that Holdock, Steiner and Chase sent the Grotkau to sea well knowing that the defective propeller shaft should at least have been examined and passed as serviceable by a Lloyd’s surveyor, which it seems was not the case. Page 314, line 24, “the old man working his works” has a possible bearing on these two points and see the mention at line 33 of page 314 of Calder’s note to the Board about the tail-shaft. (Calder was clearly “clearing his own yard-arm”, or “covering his back”.) It is of interest that by the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894, part (v), every person who sends, or attempts to send, or is party to sending or attempting to send, a British ship to sea in such unseaworthy state that the life of any person is likely to be endangered is guilty of a misdemeanour.

Shortly after this note was written (in April 1964) the owner of the yacht Christine was committed by a Coroner’s jury for trial at the Kent Assizes on a charge of manslaughter, he being responsible for sending the vessel to sea in an unseaworthy condition, within the meaning of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, whereby she was sunk and a person on board drowned. There was, it is believed, a more recent case of a similar nature, when a sail training ship was lost off the north Cornish coast, with loss of life.


[Page 314, line 15] the Hoe a green eminence overlooking Plymouth Sound, the sea and the Hamoaze into which the river Tamar flows. Here, Drake is reputed to have played his historic game of bowls as the Spanish Armada was sighted moving up the Channel in July 1588.

[Page 314, line 16] ye Judeeas Apella the reference is to Apella, a Jewish Freedman mentioned in the ‘Satires’ of Horace, lib. I, V, 100 – ‘Credat Judaeus Apella, non ego’: ‘Apella the Jew may believe it, but not me’.

This has long been a Latin tag for “Tell it to the Marines” or “if you believe that, you’ll believe anything”, but it happens to fit in very aptly with the fact that Steiner is a Jew: it is therefore possible to acquit McRimmon/Kipling of any anti-Semitism in this remark, on its own: but McRimmon’s next remark clearly indicates that he has no love for the Steiners. Again, there are questions to be asked. Was not the Grotkau insured? If she was, then the salvage money would be paid by the insurer, not Holdock, Steiner and Chase. They might find it more difficult to get insurance in the future, but that would not of itself break them. Possibly, among the works which McRimmon worked while the Kite was in the Baltic, was the discovery that Holdock’s carried their own insurance, and that it was inadequate.


[Page 314, line 24] assessors in the Admiralty Court it is usual for the Elder Brethren of Trinity House, who are professional seamen, to assist as nautical assessors in all maritime cases.

[Page 314, line 25] valued the Grotkau … at over three hunder and sixty thousand a claim for salvage lies when lives or property have been in danger at sea. Danger to the salvor is not essential, though it may enhance his claim to reward.

If a ship with a broken propeller shaft is towed by another to safety without being abandoned by its ship’s company, a reward will doubtless be payable, but such reward is not truly ‘salvage’, but payment for services rendere and is usually the subject of an ad hoc contract between the parties. (To this end, most ships – certainly all Royal Navy ships – carry a ‘Lloyd’s Open Letter’ for use in such circumstances.)

An abandoned ship is clearly a subject for salvage, properly so called, and the salvor has a claim which he can pursue by an action to arrest the salved ship: the court may order a sale and the payment of his claim out of the proceeds.

The amount of the salvage awarded (in England by the Admiralty Court of the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court of Justice) depends upon the amount of danger to the property salved, its value, the risks run by the salvors and the duration and severity of their efforts and the skill involved. In apportioning the award among the parties concerned in the salvage the special circumstances of each case must be considered. In nearly all cases a large sum goes to the owners.

In an ordinary case of salvage by a steamship (any powered vessel), such as the Kite, towing a distressed ship to safety the share of the owners might be as much as three-quarters of the value of the property salved. Of the remainder the Master usually gets one third, and the officers and crew divide the rest pro rata according to their ranks and ratings. From this it will be seen that McRimmon as owner could have received up to £270,000 (in fact, he got one-third – see line 27). Bell’s share as Master is not stated but on the same basis could have been £30,000. McPhee’s share was clearly the subject of a special award because of his exceptional services. (It is worth reminding readers that the value of the award to McPhee in 2006 depreciated pounds was something like £1.7 million.)


[Page 315, line 5] paid off … pro rata see remarks on salvage, above. It is of interest that the rata the awards were made pro was akin to the division of prize money in the Royal Navy of those days and earlier, where the Admiral got a share, whether he was there or not, like the owner – in fact his award was a standard one-twelth (post 1808) – much less than the owner’s: the Captain got one-sixth, the commissioned officers (however many there were) got one-eighth; the junior officers, however many there were got another eighth, while the rest of the crew took the remaining half. There is a cartoon (by Rowlandson, I think) of a British tar praying before a battle that the wounds may be distributed in the same proportion as the prize money!)


[Page 315, line 5] ca’ed called.

[Page 315, line 11] six months pay – one hunder an’ twenty pounds McPhee was referring to his old rate of pay, £20. McRimmon was paying him only£15 a month, unless he had given him a rise for good service.

Finally, it should be said that this dissection of the tale may have revealed inconsistencies and errors in some of the seafaring matters; but it remains an excellent example of the story-teller’s art.


©Alastair Wilson 2005 All rights reserved