A Conference of the Powers

These notes, by Peter Havholm, are partly new, and partly based on the ORG. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of Many Inventions, as published and frequently reprinted between 1899 and 1950.

[Page 23, line 4] “Tick” Boileau Boileau was a well-known name in India, especially on the North-West Frontier. See the uncollected story “The Unlimited Draw of ‘Tick’ Boileau,” one of the Quartette stories of Christmas, 1885. Also mentioned in “Only a Subaltern” in Wee Willie Winkie.

[Page 23, line 8] The Infant appears in “The Honours of War” in A Diversity of Creatures and “Slaves of the Lamp” — II in Stalky & Co. A piece by editor Roger Lancelyn Green in KJ 152 convincingly argues that the character in this story is based on George Roos-Keppel (later Sir George), who visited Kipling at Embankment Chambers on his return to London from service in Burma. Green suggests that the Baronetcy the Infant acquires in later stories was “a bit of necessary machinery” to aid the fictions.

[Page 23, line 9] [The Operations in] Upper Burma lasted about eight years — guerrilla warfare from 1885 to 1892, the whole known as the Second Burma War, during which there were eleven ‘punitive expeditions’.

[Page 23, line 11] Gurkha Regiments Gurkha Infantry battalions officered, as was usual in the Indian Army, by British officers. The men had been recruited from a particular district in Nepal since as early as 1815. According to C.A. Bayly in Indian Society and the Making of the British Empire (

The New Cambridge History of India

, Vol. II .1., 1988), a consequence of 1857 was that:

at a stroke Benares and Awadh ceased to be recruiting grounds for the British army … By 1875, half of the British Indian Army was recruited from the Punjab, while Gurkhas from Nepal replaced the Brahmin ‘lions’ from Benares as shock troops.

[Page 23, line 12] The Black Mountain Expedition of 1888 was undertaken against the tribes of Hassanzais, Akazais and Chagarzais in reprisal for the murder of two army officers and five sepoys who were carrying out survey work. The Hazara Bar to the Indian General Service Medal (1854-1895) was awarded for this expedition. Kipling knew a lot about it, for his favorite regiment— the 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers (5th Foot) — and Stalky’s battalion of Punjab Infantry were engaged (Stalky may not have been present).

See also Stephen Herold’s website for a list of expeditions on the northwest frontier, with numbers of British troops involved and casualties.

[Page 23, line 15] Pandemonium The capital letter suggests Milton’s ‘Pandemonium’ in Paradise Lost, Book II, a place of uproar and confusion.

[Page 24, line 7] military attaché-ship at St. Petersburg St Petersburg was then the capital of the Russian Empire.

[Page 24, line 8] Staff College courses were held at the Staff College for officers of the rank of Major (or near) which gave the right to use the letters p.s.c. if they qualified; this assured them of work on the staff of the army commands.

[Page 24, line 10] Horse Guards here refers to the War Office, which was formerly housed here.

[Page 24, line 15] Fellaheen an Arabic word for a husbandman or peasant cultivator, which was used, particularly in Egypt, for down-country Egyptians as distinct from up-river Sudanese Arabs.

[Page 24, line 16] Soudanese ORG says this judgment was justified in the 80 years after the story’s publication. Readers in the twenty-first century will think of the Darfur crisis.

[Page 24, line 22] Helmund (or Helmand) a river which flows westward from near Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. For part of its length it was the boundary between Afghan and Persian Seistan. In the twenty-first century it is the name of an area where British forces have once again been engaged in Afghanistan.

If Kipling’s characterisation of subalterns is correct, modern soldiers may still think of Helmand Province in 2007 as an opportunity for adventure and promotion. The University of Chicago website includes a map from The Imperial Gazetteer of India (ca. 1903) which shows the Helmand River west and south of Kandahar (now Qandahar).

[Page 24, line 26] Armageddon According to Christian tradition, the site of the last decisive battle on the Day of Judgment. See Revelations 16,16.

[Page 25, line 3] Mr. Eustace Cleever Angus Wilson suggests (p. 140) that Cleever is: ‘a remarkably reserved tribute to [Kipling’s] senior literary colleagues, probably to Thomas Hardy’.

[Page 25, line 4] The Dragon of Wantley a monster in one of the ballads of that name in Thomas Percy’s (1729–1811) Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. Also in a burlesque opera of the same name by Henry Carey (d. 1743), the reputed author of ‘God Save the Queen’, the British National Anthem.

[Page 25, line 22] Hlinedatalone the country in Burma through which a river of that name flowed. However, we have not been able to identify it (2020).

[Page 27, line 9] Subaltern of the Line a Lieutenant or Second Lieutenant in an infantry battalion.

[Page 27, line 25] shop the technical issues and jargon specific to a profession, craft or occupation.

[Page 28, line 1] the next show The next war.

[Page 28, line 14] “Frontier” then meant the North-West Frontier of India, including such places a Quetta, Dara-Ismail-Knan, Kohat, Peshawar, Mardan, Abottabad, with such out-posts as The Malakand, Chakdara and Chitral.

[Page 28, line 22] Seen Service ORG notes in 1962 that it was unusual to meet men in London in 1880 who had been on active service: ‘but there have been two World Wars and now most men have seen service.’ Forty-five years later, this is obviously no longer the case, and civilian attitudes toward foreign military campaigns vary perhaps more widely than those represented by Cleever and the Infant. Indeed, the supercilious attitude Cleever abandons seems archaic, replaced by a range of both more deliberate opposition and more calculated support of such efforts.

[Page 29, line 11] little dakus—that’s dacoits murderous robbers who operated in gangs. The word is still (2007) used in Indian newspapers.

[Page 29, line 13] Leviathan a huge but imaginary sea monster (see Psalms 104,26). Hence ‘Infant’ as an ironic nickname.

[Page 29, Line 19] Bukh about a daur talk about a campaign. To bukh was to talk—particularly to talk too much, or boastfully. daur meant ‘expedition’. From hindustani, or ‘camp’ hindi.

[Page 30, Line 2] Shan States on the west side of Burma.

[Page 30, line 27] heliograph signalling using the sun reflected by mirrors was possible up to a distance of 50 miles.

[Page 30, line 30] pukka a word constantly used, especially by Europeans in India, meaning raw, temporary or slight, and of pkha or pucka, meaning ‘ripe’, ‘permanent’ ‘solid’, ‘genuine’ or ‘thorough’.

Kipling uses pukka in various ways such as ‘genuine’, ‘hard’, ‘tough’, ‘strong’. Also for a permanent job, a good hot curry, a house made of stone or brick and mortar, a poem as opposed to mere verse or doggerel, thorough-going of its kind, in contrast to kutcha, katcha or cutcha things—’imperfect’, ‘inferior’, a mud-built house, and so on. In this case, perhaps, the Major had served some years but not without friction.

[Page 30, line 30] went out died.

[Page 31, line 3] Mississippi Pilot’s talk a reference to Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, to explain that the Infant is talking shop.

[Page 31, line 14] lay doggo English slang: lay low, dormant.

[Page 31, line 22] Aurungabadis an imaginary native regiment. The name would imply that it recruited in the Aurungabad district in Hyderabad State in South India, or from the Mahrattas north-east of Bombay.

[Page 31, line 23] zubberdusty overbearing, oppressive, insolent.

[Page 31, line 23]Went bokhar Went down with malaria, or another fever.

[Page 32, line 17] Theebaw King of Burma, 1878-1885, lived 1855-1916. Immediately after his accesion in 1878 he distinguished himself as a murderer and despot. The British defeated him in a short campaign, annexed the country and exiled him to India, where he died thirty years later.

The New Cambridge Modern History (vol. 11, 1970) contextualizes rather sharply:

The … third Burman war (1885-86) … [was a case] of aggression by the over-fearful…Upper Burma was annexed in 1886 from the crazy King Theebaw. The motive for this final act was fear of French influence and a desire to counterbalance their threatened intervention in Siam. [now Thailand] The Burmans differed both by race and culture from the Indian peoples and were never assimilated. The Indian administrative system, applied with such care by Dalhousie’s Chief Commissioner Phayere, proved a major misfit’ [p. 418].

[Page 34, line 18] Hicksey a British officer in the Burma Police. Hicksey’s men would have been Burmese.

[Page 34, line 26] punchy fat and sturdy.

[Page 34, line 27] bell-rope head-stalls laid up and decorated, looking something like the wooly grip near the lower end of a bell-rope.

[Page 35, line 12] Boh Na-ghee A Boh is a captain of a band of dacoits. There were three Burma campaigns in the 1880s, all characterized as punitive expeditions:

  • November 1885-1887, the Theebaw Campaign (note to Page 32, line 17 above).
  • May 1887-March 1889.
  • April, 1889-April 1892.

This was really all one long campaign, lasting about eight years.

[Page 35, lines 13 and 30] Civil Officer Member of the Indian Civil Service in charge of the district, who would not have had military training.

[Page 35, line 19] conformation the deployment of troops.

[Page 35, line 20] sub chiz Just right.

[Page 36, line 12] Clive Robert Lord Clive of Plassey, 1725-1774, who won the battles that began the expansion of British dominion in India.

[Page 37, line 5] palisades a protective fence of very tall, pointed, wooden stakes, some of bamboo.

[Page 37, line 16] Zazel In Mohammedan legend, Azazel is a djinn of the desert. When God commanded the angels to worship Adam, Azazel replied: ‘Why should the son of fire fall down before a son of clay?’ . God cast him out of heaven and his name was changed to Eblis, or ‘despair’.

[Page 39, line 27] wipe over blow to.

[Page 39, line 28] funny bone the part of the elbow over which the ulnar nerve passes, so called both because of the odd feeling when struck and because of a confusion between ‘humorous’ and ‘humerus’—the long bone from shoulder to elbow, down which the ulnar nerve runs.

[Page 40, line 25] Andamans islands in the Bay of Bengal between India and Burma. One of them held a British penal establishment for long-term prisoners.

[Page 40, line 32] gassing talking too much.

[Page 41, line 17] Empire in 1880, the Music Hall of that name stood on the site on which the present Empire Cinema stands in Leicester Square in central London, ten minutes walk from Kipling’s rooms in Villiers Street.

[Page 42, line 14] highly respectable gondoliers from Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta The Gondoliers.

[Page 42, line 19] he said he had been moving in worlds not realized In Wordsworth’s Intimations Ode, there are the lines:

Blank misgivings of a Creature
Moving about in worlds not realized.

This poem of Wordsworth’s is also echoed in “The Finest Story in the World” and “The Children of the Zodiac” later in this collection. See, for example, notes to Page 123, line 10, and Page 374, line 31.

[Page 42, line 22] “Thank heavens we have within the land ten thousand as good as they” In The Ballad of Chevy Chase there are the lines:

“Now God be with him” said our King
“Sith ’twill no better bee;
I trust I have within my realme,
Five hundred as good as hee.”

[Page 42, line 27] few lips would be moved to song if they could find a sufficiency of kissing In Thomson’s poem “Art”:

Singing is sweet: but be sure of this
Lips only sing when they cannot kiss.

[P. H.]

©Peter Havholm 2006 All rights reserved