Captains Courageous

Chapter I

Notes on the text

These notes, and those on the later chapters, are based on those written by Leonee Ormond for the OXFORD WORLD’S CLASSICS edition of Captains Courageous (1995) with the kind permission of Oxford University Press. Except where stated otherwise, the page numbers below refer to the Macmillan Uniform Edition of Captains Courageous (1899, and frequently reprinted since).


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[Title] The words `Captains Courageous’ come from the ballad of `Mary Ambree’, the legendary heroine who fought against the Spanish in the 1584 siege of Ghent. The opening lines are

When captains courageous, whom death could not daunt,
Did march to the siege of the city of Gaunt,
They mustered their soldiers by two and by three,
And the foremost in battle was Mary Ambree.

Later in the poem, Mary Ambree herself addresses the Spanish leaders as `captains courageous of valour so bold’, with the implication that the term can also be applied to enemies. Kipling may have known “Mary Ambree” from Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, first published in 1765. He had already used the title “Captains Courageous” for an article on businessmen as the new adventurers, published in The Times of 23 Nov. 1892, and reprinted in Letters of Travel

[Page 1, line 2] The big liner rolled and lifted By the time he wrote Captains Courageous Kipling was well familiar with sea journeys by ocean liner, westwards through the fogs and ice of the North Atlantic, or southwards to India and points east, with leisurely conversations in smoking-rooms, and the talk of engineers and navigators.

[Page 1, line 5] ‘That Cheyne boy’s…’ Kipling’s portrayal of the ill-disciplined Harvey was influenced by his experience of Albert, an American boy whom he met on his way from India to China in 1889. See “Kipling’s Origins”, Kipling Journal, VII (Oct. 1940), 10, and From Sea to Sea, Macmillan Edition de Luxe, XV (1900), 294-5.

[Page 1, line 6] frieze overcoat coarse woollen cloth coat. `Frieze’ was often made in Ireland, and in the manuscript, as below, this coat is referred to as an ‘ulster’, a long loose overcoat, often with a belt.

[Page 1, line 12] ropes’ ends a piece cut from the end of a rope used as an instrument of punishment.

[Page 2, line 8] San Diego the port on the coast of Southern California.

[Page 2, line 15] Adirondacks, Lakewood, Hot Springs These are resorts; the first two are in New York State and in New Jersey respectively. The third is probably in Arkansas, but there are a number of towns in the United States (including one in Montana and one in Dakota) with the name Hot Springs. The Kiplings were at Lakewood from 18 March to 8 April 1896.

[Page 2, line 23] piling up the rocks making money.

[Page 5, line 3] footway Kipling presumably means the coaming across the doorway-a steel plate 6 to 8 inches high intended to keep out water which might have broken over the deck.

[Page 6, line 3] state-room a sleeping-cabin on a liner, a term usually used only of First Class accommodation.

[Page 6, line 16] a high grade machine, with the writing in plain sight

[Page 6, line 23] truck trash, rubbish.

[Page 9, line 13] Wheeling `stogie’ a type of cigar. The name comes from Conestoga in Pennsylvania. The cigar given to Harvey was made in Wheeling, West Virginia.

[Page 9, line 15] Mactonal the chief engineer is a Scot named MacDonald.

Kipling relished the skill and cross-grained obstinacy of Scottish ship’s engineers, hard men, artists in their profession. Several of them figure in his works, notably McAndrew of “McAndrew’s Hymn”, Mr McPhee of “Bread upon the Waters” in The Day’s Work, or Mr Wardrop of “The Devil and the Deep Sea”, also in The Day’s Work.

[Page 9, line 17] Grand Bank(or Banks), a large shallow area in the North Atlantic, 300 miles south and east of Newfoundland, probably once part of North America. It consists of a number of smaller named banks. The invertebrates living near the rocky bottom provide food for cod, for which the banks are a noted breeding ground.

[Page 9, line 20] dories small, flat-bottomed fishing boats, which could be stored on board a schooner.

[Page 9, line 20] skelped struck.

[Page 9, line 20] boom a long spar used to extend the length of a sail.

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[Page 9, line 26] log the means by which the ship’s speed was measured (in 1897 by a machine). It recorded the speed on the bridge, but liners had (and still have) `repeaters’ for passengers to

[Page 10, line 9] screw propeller.

[Page 10, line 14] turtle-back an arched structure like a hood at the stern of the boat, intended as a protection against heavy following seas.

[Page 10, line 17] leeward downwind, away from the wind.

[Page 13, line 9] ‘we trim better’ we shall be better balanced.

[Page 13, line 10] sculled rowed with one or two oars.

[Page 13, line 21] yaw go off course momentarily, as from a heavy wave or careless steering.

[Page 13, line 28] Manuel Kipling’s ayah was, like Manuel, a Portuguese Catholic.

[Page 14, line 1] Gloucester Massachusetts, a fishing port north-east of Boston.

[Page 14, line 5] conch-shell a large shell blown as a horn as a means of attracting attention.

[Page 14, line 24] foremast the forward lower mast in any vessel.

[Page 14, line 25] Plymouth a port in Massachusetts.

[Page 15, line 11] nubbles small knobs or lumps.

[Page 15, line 20] molasses thick sugar, syrup, or treacle.

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[Page 17, line 26] quarter-deck area of the deck between the aftermast and the stern.

[Page 18, line 1] schooner a vessel with fore and aft sails on two or more masts, much used by the New England fishing fleets. The name probably comes from the Scots or New England word for skimming over water like a flat stone. The We’re Here is a 70-ton two-masted schooner, a `fore and after’.

[Page 18, line 2] with a triangular riding-sail on the mainmast the riding sail is a small sail hoisted when the schooner is at anchor, to keep the ship’s head to wind, and therefore steady; the mainmast is the principal mast on any vessel.

[Page 18, line 17] mistrust suspect.

[Page 21, line 7] blame blamed (of which `blame’ is a corruption) is a common North American adjective used to express vehemence without swearing.

[Page 22, line 4] Take a reef in your stummick to reef is to reduce the area of a sail. Here Disko is telling Harvey to pull in his stomach, which he has thrown out `a little, which was his way of being grand.

[Page 22, line 13] Eastern Point at the end of the Nahant peninsula, in Boston Bay.

[Page 23, line 6] One hundred and thirty-four dollars The son of a multi-millionaire, Harvey was treated with rare generosity. $134, part of his pocket-money for a month, was roughly what Kipling had earned as his full monthly salary at the Civil and Military Gazette after a year’s hard probation. ‘Ten and a half’ a month, which was what Disko offered him [Page 24, line 5], was the equivalent in those days of just over £0.65 a week, perhaps £65 a week in 21st century values.

[Page 23, line 9] stanchion upright support for the guardrail along the deck.

[Page 23, line 15] commerce-destroyin’ man-o’-war a fighting ship attacking merchant vessels, a memory of the American Civil War.

[Page 23, line 16] Sable Island roughly 100 miles south-east of Nova Scotia, Canada. ‘

[Page 23, line 17] Bridish British.

[Page 23, line 20] Essex a port in Connecticut.

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[Page 24, line 11] Le Have La Have, a town on the southern side of Nova Scotia, or, here, a bank of the Grand Banks, near Sable Island. Otto went overboard off another bank, Georges, in the manuscript.

[Page 25, line 21] fish-kettle a long oval pan for cooking fish.

[Page 26, line 25] scuppers drainage holes at the deck level in the side of the schooner.

[Page 26, line 28] sot agin set against.

[L. O.]