Folly Bridge

(notes edited by John McGivering)



ORG Volume 5, page 2555 records the first publication of this item (Uncollected No. 231) in the Daily Express (London) and the People’s Friend (Dundee) on 2 July, 1900. It is one of four stories of the Second Boer War of 1899-1902 in those papers during June and July of that year, the others being “The Way that he Took” (Land and Sea Tales), “The Outsider” (Uncollected, No. 232) and “A Burgher of the Free State” (Uncollected No. 233). All are collected in the Sussex and Burwash Editions.

The story

The Boers have blown up a railway bridge across the Orange River, cutting communications to the important strategic city of Bloemfontein. While the bridge is being repaired by British engineers, travellers have to detrain, make a difficult crossing of the river, and continue their journeys on the other side. A very important financier, responding to an urgent call from Lord Roberts, the C. in C, is making this journey. He is held up for a time by the officiousness of local British officers — but not for long.


Kipling, who had seen much of the army in India, had great respect for fighting soldiers, and for independent initiative, but was contemptuous of anything that smacked of needless officiousness or old-fashioned rigid thinking. See KJ 079/15 for a letter from Cecil J. Sibbett, a war correspondent who met Kipling and wrote an account of a very similar incident. Kipling’s ‘McManus’ was clearly based on the experience of Mr.
(afterwards Sir Lewis) Michel, General Manager of the Standard Bank of
South Africa.

Other stories of that war include “The Comprehension of Private Copper”, and “The Captive”, collected in Traffics and Discoveries, 1904, and “The Way that he Took”, collected in Land and Sea Tales, 1923.


Notes on the Text

[Title] Folly Bridge This is the name of a bridge over the Thames at Oxford, with a tower believed to have been the home of Friar Roger Bacon, the 13th century philosopher, who appears in “The Benefactors” (Uncollected No. 249) and “The Eye of Allah” (Debits and Credits)

The original bridge was demolished in 1827, so when Kipling visited the city as a child in 1872 (Angus Wilson, page 34) he may well have seen the present bridge, (right) which has a curious house on the island in the middle.

Kipling never attended university, since he started full-time work as a journalist before his seventeenth birthday. After he became an established literary figure he rejected many honours, but accepted the offer of a Honorary Doctorate from Oxford in 1907 (see Something of Myself, page 104).

pontoon bridge the roadway is supported on boat-like floats anchored in the river.

railway-trestle a timber construction in the manner of many American railway-bridges.

Orange Free State once a Boer republic, now a Province of the Republic of South Africa.

Bloemfontein capital of the Orange Free State and scene of Kipling’s return to work on a newspaper – The Friend of Bloemfontein. See Julian Ralph, War’s Brighter Side (Pearson, 1901, D. Appleton & Co. in New York) with contributions by Kipling and photographs.

Field-Marshal Lord Roberts (right) This was ‘Bobs’, Lord Roberts of Kandahar, who was Commander in Chief in India while Kipling was there. A diminutive, redoubtable, and legenday figure, he was much respected by Kipling, and by the soldiery. See “The Three Musketeers” (Plain Tales from the Hills, page 75, line 32).

President Steyn Martinus (or Marthinus).Theunis Steyn Martinus (1857-1916), South African lawyer, politician, and statesman, sixth and last president of the independent Orange Free State from 1896 to 1902.

uprisings and downsittings an echo of Psalm 139, verse 2: ‘Thou knowest my down-sitting and mine up-rising’.

Kalahari Desert (left) an area of southern Africa extending 362,500 sq. miles, (900,000 km²), covering much of modern Botswana and parts of Namibia and South Africa.

Portuguese territory now Maputo Bay (Baia de Maputo), formerly Delagoa Bay, an inlet of the Indian Ocean on the coast of Mozambique,

Salisbury now Harare, capital of Zimbabwe, then the colony of Rhodesia which became independent in 1980.

Cape Flats a low-lying area to the south-east of the central business district of Cape Town.

Cape Town the second most populous city in South Africa, provincial capital of the Western Cape, as well as the legislative capital of South Africa, with the National Parliament and many government offices.

Natal a British colony in South-eastern Africa since 1843 when the British government annexed the Boer Republic of Natalia. It is now the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa.

Kimberley a city in South Africa, capital of the Northern Cape, near the confluences of the Vaal and Orange Rivers. The town has considerable historical significance through its diamond mining past, and the siege during the Second Boer War.

Pretoria a city in the Northern part of Gauteng Province, South Africa – one of the country’s three capital cities, serving as the executive (administrative) and national capital; the others are Cape Town, the legislative capital, and Bloemfontein, the judicial capital.

Chamberlain at Modder Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914); British businessman, politician, and statesman. He was a radically minded Liberal Party member, campaigner for educational reform, and President of the Board of Trade, later becoming a Liberal Unionist in alliance with the Conservative Party, and was appointed Colonial Secretary in 1895.

Karoo a semi-desert region of South Africa – the Great Karoo in the North and the Little Karoo in the South.

skoff (or scoff) in this context,’food’. (Cape Dutch dialect – The Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English)

Colesberg town in the Karoo half way between Cape Town and Johannesburg

kopjes the characteristic hills of the area which were used as defensive positions, and were the scenes of much fighting during the wars.

the Little Man Field-Marshal Lord Roberts. See the note above.

Sapper a member of the Royal Engineers.

Kaffirs once an impolite general term for black Southern Africans, not used today.

Johannesburg (left) (pronounced /jo-han’is-bûrg’/) or Joburg for short – the largest city in South Africa and the centre of a large-scale gold and diamond trade.

Bovril the trademarked name of a beef extract, developed in the 1870s by John Lawson Johnston and sold in a distinctive jar. It can be made into a drink by diluting with hot water and is used as a flavouring for soups, stews or porridge, or spread on bread, or toast.

Rand short for Witwatersrand,
a sedimentary range of hills, at an elevation of 1700-1800 metres above sea-level, which runs in an east-west direction through Gauteng in South Africa. The word in Afrikaans means “the ridge of white waters”. The “Rand” or “reef”, as it is sometimes known, is famous for being the source of 40% of the gold ever mined from the earth.

Adderley Street (right) the famous main street of the central business district in Cape Town, with markets, the main railway station, shops, restaurants and offices.

ukase an order or decree (Russian).

buck-wagons horse-drawn four-wheeled vehicles with an elastic board or frame resting on the axle trees and transverse seats
– also known as ‘buck-boards’.

lions and unicorns These creatures figure prominently in the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom.

Stellenbosched sent to Stellenbosch; this was an important camp and remount depôt at the Cape, where, during the Boer War, incompetent officers were sent to await passage back to the United Kingdom.

in irons in this contest handcuffed and in leg-irons. The speaker is joking.

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2009 All rights reserved