A Legend of the Foreign Office

(notes edited by Roberta Baldi. We have been grateful for critical comments and suggestions from Alastair Wilson)


First printed in the Civil and Military Gazette, February 23rd, 1886, under the title “A Legend of the F.O.”, then changed to “A Legend of the Foreign Office” in the 1890 England published edition “to make things clearer for the English reader” (F.A. Underwood, “The Expansion of Departmental Ditties”, KJ188 (Dec. 1973, p. 10) .

Collected in:

  • Departmental Ditties and Other Verses, 1st Edition 1886, and many later editions
  • Early Verse, 1900
  • Inclusive Verse, 1919
  • Definitive Verse, 1940
  • Sussex Edition, Vol. 32, p. 12
  • Burwash Edition, Vol. 25

The poem is listed in ORG (p. 5109) as no. 168.


The “Native States” in India were governed by their respective princes, each of whom had the help and advice of a political officer appointed by the supreme Indian Government. Negotiations between an Indian State and the Supreme Government were conducted through the Indian Foreign Office. The native princes were allowed to manage the internal affairs of their states so long as they did so without injustice or oppression.

The progress that some states made under enlightened rajahs is evident from the very vivid accounts which Rudyard Kipling has given in Letters of Marque (From Sea to Sea) of the cities of Jeypore, Udaipur, Chitor, Jodhpur, and Boondi in Rajputana. The Naulahka, by Rudyard Kipling and Wolcott Balestier, also depicts life in a Native State. (Durand pages 3-4).

Notes on the text

(The line numbers refer to the whole poem, heading lines included)

[Line 1] Rajah A prince or ruler in India. This was commonly the rank of the ruler of a ‘Ntive State’ uinder the British.

[Lines 1, 32] simpkin The glossary for the English edition of Departmental Ditties translates this as a Hindustani corruption of the word ‘champagne’.

[Lines 1, 32] peg In Kipling’s India this was a drink; particularly of brandy or whisky and soda-water.

[Line 6] Lusted for a C.S.I. “Many Indian princes do not wholly understand or approve the Supreme Government’s love for sanitation, but to humour it on this point is recognised as advisable by those who wish to stand well with the Viceroy. There is an old story to the effect that a native prince, knowing that the Viceroy intended to inspect some interesting old carvings in his dominions, prepared for his visit by having the carvings whitewashed. The award of the Honour C.S.I. (Companion of the Order of the Star of India) was conferred, on such occasions as the King’s birthday, on “native princes and other notables who deserve recognition.” ( Durand, p. 4).

[Line 6] – so began to sanitate To clean the place up, with the aid of sanitary appliances for clean water and better drains, as advocated by the British. The OED quotes this poem in defining the word.

[Line 13] octroi “A local tax collected on various articles brought into a district for consumption. Octroi taxes have a respectable antiquity, being known in Roman times as vectigalia.” (Octroi, https://www.1911encyclopedia.org/O/OC/OCTROI.htm May 21 2004).

[Line 15] cess A tax levied In India for a specific object.

[Lines 16, 29] Bukhshi The Commander-in-chief.

[Line 17] Mahratta fury A reference to the Mahratta Wars (1775-1782; 1803-1805; 1817-1819) fought by the English against the Mahratta Confederation:

The three Mahratta Wars illustrate how British power led to interference with the succession of native rulers, since the continual threat of war between usurper and usurped made peaceful government and trade impossible. British ascendancy in India made the East India Company the ‘policeman’ for the native rulers. By a policy of supporting contender or ruler (according to how one or the other was viewed by the British) the Company was able to prevent the Mahrattas from extending their alliances to challenge the position of the British. (A Web of English Histor, The Age of George III, Wellesley as Governor General: 1797-1805)

[Line 18] hookum the OED defines this as “a command, order or instruction from a person in authority”, and gives its immediate root as being Hindi. [A.W.]

[Line 18] dasturi Bribes.

[Line 20] When the end of May was nigh Queen Victoria’s birthday was 24 May, and the list of Honours to be awarded on the occasion of the Queen’s Birthday appeared on the date of her birthday (or the day before, if 24 May fell on a Sunday). Nowadays, in Great Britain, the list of Birthday Honours is published on the date of the Queen’s Official Birthday, which is a ‘movable feast’ occurring on the first or second Saturday in June (HM’s actual birthday being 26 April). [A.W.]

[Line 22] nothing more than C.I.E. Durand notes that the status of ‘Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire’ was lower and consequently less valued than ‘Companion of the Order of the Star of India’.

[Line 27] thana The glossary annexed to the English edition of Departmental Ditties translates this as “a police station”.

[Line 28] Zenana The glossary annexed to the English edition of Departmental Ditties translates this as “the apartments of a house in which the women of the family are secluded”.

[R. B.]

©Roberta Baldi 2003 All rights reserved