The Smith Administration VI

The Great Census

(notes by David Page)

First Publication

9th January 1888 in the Civil and Military Gazette under the title “Recruiting Extraordinary”. Also on 14th January 1888 in the Week’s News and in Turnovers No.I, 1888.


After being transferred from Lahore to Allahabad in November 1887, Kipling had immediately made a journey in Rajputana (Rajasthan) on behalf of the Pioneer newspaper. This journey was described in a series of articles which were eventually collected as “Letters of Marque” in From Sea to Sea Vol.1. (See the Introduction to this collection in this Guide).

The State of Rajputana lies approximately between 23º and 30º N and between 69º 30′ and 75º 15′ E, whilst the travels of Mowgi described in this story seem to be set in the region of 25º to 28º N and 70º to 75º E. See the 1902 Century Map of India.

Kipling referred to his travels in Rajputana in a long letter to his cousin Margaret Burne-Jones begun on 25th January 1888. On 27th of January he recounted a tale as fact that is effectively the same as that presented in “The Great Census”.

Here is another tale. Right away in the Desert there is a city set in 150 miles of sand, ruled by a mad king and smitten with a grievous water famine so that the city is empty. No one ever goes there: it is a semi independent native state and Englishmen are unknown to the inhabitants.

A low caste servant of an Englishman about four hundred miles east of this place wearied of his inactive life and stole some money from his master and a Treacher’s price-list. Treacher is a the big general merchant at Bombay and his lists resemble the fat books of the Cooperative stores. Armed with this book, the native hired a fleet camel and went away into the desert. When he came to a village he said, waving the price-list: – “There is a big war at Cabul and the British Government says that every able bodied man must go up and fight. How many have you available. I am Mahommed Suruf Kahn, a servant of the British government.” Naturally, these poor devils who cling to their little oases as a Swiss to his mountains said: – “For God’s sake, get out of this with your terrible book and we’ll give you money to report that we have no fighting levies.” By the way all our soldiers are volunteers and we have the pick and flower of the land. He used to take the bribe and go on, on his camel to another village, pretending to write men down in his book, taking money and scaring the souls out of the men of Jeysulmir.

Presently, the Native State got wind of his proceedings and sent out a man on a fleet camel to catch him. Try to catch a wild bunny on the Grange lawn to realize what hunting one man across the desert means. However they caught him just when he had rooked enough to retire on and – mark the sequel as a purely Oriental bit of justice. He got three months for obtaining money under false pretences and frightening all the countryside but he got one year for pretending to be a Mahommedan of good family when he was only a low caste Hindu. He was caught by a Mussalman state you see. The case never came into Our jurisdiction at all for the man knew better than to go into British territory where he would have been laughed at by the first village headman.

[See Letters of Rudyard Kipling Thomas Pinney (Ed.)]

The story

In which “Smith’s” sweeper Mowgi changes his employment out of boredom, develops a scheme based on a confidence trick, is caught and punished, but is welcomed back by “Smith” for his initiative.

Notes on the Text

This is the sixth of the “Smith” stories to appear in the collection, and was also the last to be published.

[Page 365, line 3] Rawalpindi a city in the Punjab, not far from Islamabad. It is now in Pakistan. [ORG]

[Page 365, line 19] Ghorahpur This ‘Native State’ has not been located. There is a district and town called Gorakhpur in the United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh) but this is really too far east to be the actual place referred to in the story. There are several occasions in Kipling’s works where the phrase “as every one knows” in fact signals a piece of invention, and that is probably the case here.

[Page 365, line 25] dacoits robbers belonging to an armed gang. [Hobson-Jobson].

[Page 366, line 3] salaamed a salutation; properly oral salutations of Mahommedans to each other. [Hobson-Jobson].. As is clear from comments later in the story, Mowgi was not a Muslim.

[Page 366, line 12] dacoity robbery by a band of dacoits, or armed gang.

[Page 366, line 20] Sambhur (or Sambhar). A real place. Kipling mentions this salt lake, which is about 40 miles west of Jeypore or Jaipur, in Letters of Marque chap. XII, p.112. (26º 55′ N, 75º 12′ E.)

[Page 366, line 23] Marwarri Marwar is the old name of the Rajput State of Jodhpur, which lies between the Indian Thar desert and the Aravali Range of hills, frequently mentioned in Letters of Marque . The Marwarri are members of the tribe who lived there.

[Page 367, line 26-28] Kot; Waka; Tung; Malair; Palan; Myokal Other than Kot, none of these villages have been positively identified on a map. However, most of them have been found in the general area with slightly different transliterations on an internet website.

Kot 25º 26′ N, 73º 41′ E. Near Pali., SE of Jodhpur.

Waka not found unless it is Wasa at 24º 37′ N, 72º 58′ E.
See this web-site.

Tung found as Tunga at 26º 44′ N, 76º 09′ E. See this web-site.

Malair found as Malara at 25º 52′ N, 75º 18′ E. See this web-site.

Palan found as Palana at 27º 51′ N, 73º 16′ E. See this web-site.

Myokal found as Mokala at 26º 37′ N, 73º 56′ E. See this web-site.

[Page 367, line 31] Bikanir 28ºN, 73ºE

Jeysulmir (or Jaisalmir). 27ºN, 71ºE

[Page 368, line 6] takkus meaning ‘tax’.

©David Page 2008 All rights reserved