Taking a Hint

(notes by Philip Holberton, drawing on the researches of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)



Published in the Civil and Military Gazette (CMG), on 18 July 1887, with the subtitle ‘And its Fatal Consequences’, and the heading:

(Vide Recent Judgment 0f C—-H—-C—)

The poem was unsigned, but is authenticated by inclusion in Kipling’s Scrapbook 3 of his own press cuttings in the Kipling Papers at the University of Sussex Special Collections.
It was not otherwise published by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 373) and Pinney (p. 1856), as well as on this site.


Andrew Rutherford notes: (p. 373)

The CMG for 15 July had criticised a decision of the Calcutta High Court in what was called the Meherpur Fishery Case. A young Assistant Magistrate had tried 68 people for fishing in a private lake, after they had been warned by the police that fishing was prohibited. He had sentenced all between the ages of 16 and 45 to be flogged and the others to undergo two months’ imprisonment.

The High Court overturned his decision, held that no crime been committed since the fish were wild fish in a natural lake, and severely rebuked the young Magistrate for the punishment he had imposed. The language used by the Chief Justice was humiliating.

The CMG took the view that such a public rebuke was calculated to bring the administration of the country into contempt. It illustrated this by referring to an article on the case in the Calcutta Press which implied:

‘those who may deem themselves aggrieved by punishment inflicted in the name of the law might well revenge themselves with their own hands upon its individual ministers’.


The poem

The poem gives a racy account of the High Court’s criticism of the young magistrate’s judgement, which had no doubt pleased the local people who had fished illegally, while displeasing the landlords. Catching, selling, and eating fish were very important to the people of Bengal, and public fishing rights were a sensitive issue.

But in this case the authority of the magistrate had been damaged—for the worse in the poet’s view. The final couplet warns that if those sentenced by a court do take the law into their own hands to take vengeance on their judges, taking the hint from the Calcutta Press, they will be hanged.

Notes on the Text

Young persons The Chief Justice in his comments on the Assistant Magistrate’s action used the patronising phrase ‘a young person in his position’ . In the Indian Civil Service it was not uncommon for young men to hold such responsibilities well before the age of thirty.

ryots peasants, tenant farmers.

D.S.P. District Superintendent of Police.

D.C. Deputy Commissioner.

Shabash! Bravo! Well done!

Vakils pleaders, attorneys.

Zemindar landlord.

shikar hunt.

‘Stunt’ Assistant (Collector).

bhils marshes or ponds.


©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved