A Germ Destroyer

Notes on the text

These notes, by John McGivering, are partly new, and partly based on the ORG. The medical notes have been contributed by Dr. Gillian Sheehan, M.B., B.Ch.,B.A.O. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of Plain Tales from the Hills, as published and frequently reprinted between 1899 and 1950.


[Heading] Little Tin Gods locally important people, an expression which may well have been coined here by Kipling, and passed into general usage.

Great Jove nods It was Homer that nodded as Horace observed in Ars Poetica, 359: ‘Indignor quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus.’ (‘But if Homer, usually good, nods for a moment, I think it shame.’) Jove did fall asleep under Hera’s influence (liad, XIV) but wrought havoc on the Trojans when he woke.

See Something of Myself, Chapter 2, “Regulus”, the poem “A Translation” , various Horace-associated items in the Kipling Library and the poem “When ‘Omer Smote ‘Is Bloomin’ Lyre.”

[Page 122, line 6] indent a written demand for stores or services – usually on an official form.

[Page 122, line 13] a turbulent Private Secretary recalling King Henry II’s remark about his Archbishop, St. Thomas à Becket “Who will free me from this turbulent priest ?”.

[Page 122 line 16] the Viceroy he would of course be a peer with a part of the United Kingdom for his name: contemporary readers would no doubt have identified him and his Secretary. Some of Kipling’s stories owe their origin to Twenty-one Days in India, or the Tour of Sir Ali Baba, K.C.B., by Charles Alberigh MacKay.

[Page 122 line 17] a string of counties generally speaking, Peers of the United Kingdom take their titles from the counties in which their estates are situated; only some junior members of the family use the family names.

alphabet abbreviations of orders of chivalry etc.; one example is K.G. – Knight of The Most Honourable Order of the Garter, founded by King Edward III in the 14th century.

[Page 122 line 19] electro-plated a process where silver is deposited on a base metal – here used somewhat scornfully to denote rather shoddy cheapness and used satirically in “The Masque of Plenty”:

Recitative— Government of India, with white satin wings
and electro-plated harp:—

figurehead an ornamental carved figure on the bow of a sailing-vessel, serving no useful purpose except, perhaps, to represent her name..

[Page 123, line 5] cherubims the singular is cherub, the plural cherubim and sometimes cherubs. A winged angelic creature with a human face, usually represented as a naked child associated with heaven. The Viceroy means “When we are all in heaven.”

[Page 123, line 7] Gabriel an Archangel Daniel 6, 16. and Luke 1, 19. and 5,26. He also appears in “Uncovenanted Mercies” in Limits and Renewals “The Enemies to Each Other” (as Jibrail) in Debits and Credits and the poem “The Legend of Mirth”.

[Page 123, line 8] Peter’s keys St. Peter was one of the Twelve Apostles and, by tradition, keeper of the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Matthew 16, 18/19. See ”On the Gate” in Debits and Credits, “The Church that was at Antioch” in Limits and Renewals and the poem “Dinah in Heaven.”

[Page 123, line 12] Members of Council The Government of India was then the Governor-General in Council , responsible to the Secretary of State for India in Parliament in London, who carried out the Queen’s functions on her behalf. See “Tods’ Amendment” (Wee Willie Winkie)

[Page 124, line 2] Lower Bengal the delta of the Ganges, Jamuna and Brahmaputra Rivers.

[Page 124, line 2] cholera Asiatic cholera is an extremely acute inflammatory disease of the intestine caused by the vibrio cholerae bacillus. Infection is due to drinking polluted water. The lower basin of the Ganges is the one area where the disease is endemic and from which fearful epidemics would spread across the world. The diarrhoea caused by the vibrio cholerae endotoxin causes such severe dehydration that it kills the patient in 75% of untreated cases. (William Boyd, A Textbook of Pathology, 8th ed. 1973) [G.S.]

Cholera was prevalent in tropical countries in Kipling’s day, and mentioned many times in his work, including “The Daughter of the Regiment” later in this volume, “Only a Subaltern” in Wee Willie Winkie and the poem “Cholera Camp.”

[Page 124, line 5] wool-flake tufts of wool from sheep are caught on trees, hedges etc.

[Page 124, line 7] Fumigatory a substance used in fumigation where chemicals are heated to produce fumes to disinfect rooms, etc.; also used to kill pests in the garden and greenhouse.

[Page 124, line 10] caste here the social and religious divisions of the people of India, applied jokingly to an European – see Hobson-Jobson, p.170, passim.

[Page 124, line 15] ‘Ring’ in this context an illegal association of would-be purchasers at an auction who agree that one of the members will bid for any lots they require so that the hammer price is kept low and the members can purchase what they want from the Ring afterwards. Mellish appears to think that a similar association of doctors and nurses is preventing his invention from being used.

[Page 124, line 24] trunk a word of many meanings – in this context a chest – usually made of leather – for clothes etc. when travelling.

[Page 124, line 29] a six-thousand-rupee man that is his monthly pay. A very high salary, some £100,000 a year, and ten times as much as Kipling earned when he joined the Pioneer at Allahabad.

[Page 125, line 2] Madras Industrial port on the Bay of Bengal and capital of Tamil Nadu, India Now called Chennai.

[Page 125, line 3] tench (Tinca tinca) A European fresh-water fish of the carp family.

[Page 125, line 7] jasmine garlands worn round the neck, like the leis of Hawaii.

[Page 125, line 23] Chaprassi office messenger.

[Page 125, line 30] cantered rode at an easy pace between a trot and a gallop.

[Page 125, line 30] Peterhoff the Viceroy’s house until 1888.

[Page 125, line 23] Chaprassi a messenger for Government or employed by a private firm; so called from the badge (chapras) he wears.126/3 tiffin luncheon – see Hobson-Jobson, p. 919.

[Page 125, line 3] tiffin luncheon, taken in the middle of the day. See Hobson -Jobson, p.919.

[Page 126, line 14] ‘shop’ in this context discussing official business outside office hiours.

[Page 126, line 21] the wrong tiger the wrong person. One might say that this is the Indian equivalent of ‘having the wrong sow by the ear’.

[Page 127, line 7] Nitrate of strontia Strontium salts burn with a red flame – used in flares and fireworks.

baryta sulphate of barium.

bone-meal an odorous fertiliser which contains phosphorous and burns with a choking gas.

[Page 127, line 12] hummed like a hive it is believed that “The Vortex” in A Diversity of Creatures was inspired by this incident which is reminiscent of a hive of bees being subdued by puffs of smoke. See also “The Mother Hive”, in Actions and Reactions, and the poems “The Bees and the Flies” and “The Bee-Boy’s Song.”

[Page 127, line 13] Red Lancers members of the Viceroy’s Bodyguard in splendid uniforms.

[Page 127, line 14] mace-bearers men who carry ceremonial ornate metal clubs, usually the symbols of royal or civic authority, in processions.

[Page 127, line 23.] Aide-de-Camp usually an army officer on the staff of a Viceroy, Governor, etc. (See the note to “Consequences” page 100, line 14.)

V.C. the Victoria Cross, the award for bravery instituted by the Queen in 1856. See “Winning the Victoria Cross” and “The Burning of the ‘Sarah Sands” in Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides.

[Page 128, line 14] Sepee a picnic spot 9 miles away from Simla.

[Page 128, line 24] a flaming ‘character’. an excellent reference to show to his potential employers.


[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2012 All rights reserved