The Smith Administration XII

A Letter from Golam Singh

(notes by David Page)

First Publication

10th September 1888 in the Civil and Military Gazette under the title “Golam Singh in England”.

The story

This purports to be a letter written to his home by a Sikh carpenter whilst he is on a visit to England. It describes his journey from India and details some of the things that he observed in London.


John Lockwood Kipling (Rudyard’s father) was commissioned with a Sikh craftsman originally from Amritsar, Bai Ram Singh (?-1915), to design and carve wooden panels for a new wing of the Duke of Connaught’s home at Bagshot Park near Windsor, particularly the Billiard Room. The two men, with assistance from students at the Mayo School of Art in Lahore, carried out this work between 1885 and 1887. [See “Stylistic hybridity and colonial art and design education” by Naazish Ata-Ullah in Colonialism and the Object, ed. Tim Barringer, Tom Flynn, 1998, pp.78-79]

A letter from Dr Jeffery Lewins to the Editor of the Kipling Journal (KJ 296, Dec 2000, p.52) records that:

Preparation in Lahore took several years; and then Ram Singh, with a team of joiners, worked in Bagshot Park to complete the task; and Lockwood visited Bagshot to supervise it.

Thus, this “Letter from Golam Singh” would almost certainly have been inspired by the events at Bagshot. It also anticipates the four “letters” that Kipling collected in The Eyes of Asia published thirty years later in 1918.

Notes on the Text

[Page 392, line 1] Mistri craftsman (carpenter).

Landin London.

Belait Europe.

[Page 392, line 3] tehsil sub-division of a district for tax collection purposes.

Kasur a village about 35 miles south of Lahore in the direction of Firozpur.

[Page 392, line 5] Wah Gooroojee ki futteh or Wahe Guruji Ki Fateh victory to the leader of the Sikhs. [ORG] Part of the Sikh battlecry “Wahe Guruji ka Khalsa, Wahe Guruji ki Fateh”.

[Page 392, line 7] Lambardar head-man. [ORG]

[Page 392, line 9] Black Water any of the oceans that abut the Indian subcontinent. Religious purification ceremonies were required of Hindus who travelled overseas. See “The Miracle of Purun Baghat” in The Second Jungle Book (page 37 line 11):

At last he went to England on a visit, and had to pay enormous sums to the priests when he came back; for even so high-caste a Brahmin as Purun Dass lost caste by crossing the black sea.

[Page 392, line 11] bunnia money-lender or corn merchant

[Page 392, line 20] crores of crores as a crore is 100 lakhs, and a lakh 100,000, a crore is ten millions; so crores of crores is an impossibly high figure, but it sounds well.

[Page 392, line 21] railway dâk here the London underground railway.

[Page 392, line 22] Sirkar’s the {Indian} Government’s.

[Page 393, line 9] the city becomes black this was because of the London fogs of those days, when people’s houses were heated by open coal fires. In still weather one could sometimes only see a few feet in front of one’s face.

[Page 393, line 15] Bunnias small retail shopkeepers who sit outside their open-fronted shops, which were more like stalls.

[Page 393, line 21] Rajah Jung the home town of Golam Singh.

[Page 393, line 25] ekkas small one-horse carriages (right).

[Page 393, line 25] Yellow and green ticca-gharries omnibuses. [ORG]

[Page 393, line 30] belaitee another spelling of belait – Europe, hence “Blighty”. [ORG]

[Page 394, line 32] shekand shake hands.[ORG]

[Page 395, line 4] nautch dance or entertainment. [ORG]

[Page 395, line 24] Lod presumably a town hear his home. [ORG]

[Page 396, line 13] Ap-Ki-Das a polite phrase meaning something like “from your servant”.

©David Page 2008 All rights reserved