A job lot

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


This poem was published in the Pioneer on September 1st 1888, over the signature ‘R.K.’ and a subtitle:

(NOT to be sung at Snowdon Theatre)

and two headings:

‘The present Commander-in-Chief in India is a fine soldier, who has earned the national gratitude by his public services, and endeared himself to the Army by his untiring devotion to its interests. But among the penalties of Sir Frederick Roberts’ exalted position is the control of a vast patronage, and this it is impossible to deny is not always so disposed as to disarm unfriendly criticism, and to secure for his bestowals that unfailing respect which is so desirable.’—Vide Pioneer yesterday.

‘She was bland, passionate and deeply religious, painted in water–colours, was first cousin to Lady Jones, and of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.’

The poem was reprinted in the Pioneer Mail on September 2nd and the Civil and Military Gazette on September 4th. It is uncollected, but included in Kipling’s Scrapbook 4 of his own press cuttings in the Kipling Papers at the University of Sussex Special Collections. It is to be found in Rutherford (p. 421) and Pinney (p. 1901).

The Poem

As stated in the first heading, the poem suggests that for all his heroic reputation as a soldier, and his high popularity, Lord Roberts has used his patronage improperly to favour his friends.


Rutherford (p. 421) explains:

The immediate issue was the choice of Lieut.-Colonel Neville Chamberlain as a military representative on a mission being sent to Afghanistan on the invitation of the Amir, when more distinguished officers were said to be available. Chamberlain, who had served on Roberts’s Staff in the Second Afghan War, and had then acted as his ADC, was the nephew of his friend and former chief, Field Marshall Sir Neville Chamberlain.

Nearly fifty years later Kipling recalled the origin and reception of this poem:

The Pioneer editorially, but cautiously as a terrier drawing up to a porcupine, had hinted that some of Lord Roberts’ military appointments at that time verged on nepotism. It was a regretful and well-balanced allocution. My rhymed comment (and why my Chief passed it I know not!) said just the same thing, but not quite so augustly. All I remember of it are the last two flagrant lines:

And if the Pioneer is wrath
Oh, Lord, what must you be!

I don’t think Lord Roberts was pleased with it, but I know he was not half so annoyed as my chief proprietor.
[Something of Myself, p. 73]

Notes on the Text

[Title] a job lot is a derogatory term for a cheap worthlesss collection, here referring to the unqualified people Roberts has appointed, and also punning that they were appointed by ‘jobs’ – interest or favouritism.

[Subtitle] Snowdon was the Commander-in-Chief’s residence in Simla, where the ballroom was specially designed to serve as a theatre.

bays victory wreaths made from the leaves of the bay tree Laurus nobilis, as in ancient Rome.

new canteen in an attempt to encourage temperance, Roberts had urged the creation of Regimental Institutes with a range of facilities in place of the old ‘wet canteens’ where soldiers went simply to get drunk. See “The Way of Ut”.

deodars Himalayan cedars.

the quadrilateral man ‘a square peg in a round hole’, unsuitable for the job.

man of Kandahar Roberts was famous for his march from Kabul to the relief of Kandahar (1880) in the Second Afghan War. When he was raised to the peerage he took the title of Lord Roberts of Kandahar.

pocket–Wellington ‘pocket’ in allusion to his diminutive size; ‘Wellington’ as a tribute to his generalship, after the Duke of Wellington, victor of the Battle of Waterloo (1815). Kipling used the same phrase in his later admiring poem “Bobs” (1898).

Bobs The widely used nickname for Lord Roberts in the army.

Jobs appointments of unsuitable or unqualified persons for reasons of private interest.


©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved