Judson and the Empire

(notes edited by Alastair Wilson)

In preparing this updated set of notes for the NRG, much use has been made of the original edition. Indeed, these notes contain no changes of sense in what was written by the previous naval contributor, Rear-Admiral P.W. Brock, CB, DSO. The present Editor had not the privilege of knowing the late Admiral, though we were both contributors to the Naval Review, 1974-88, on subjects of naval history. These notes therefore merely amplify those in the earlier edition, with a very few additions.


“Judson and the Empire”, Kipling’s first naval story, was first published in 1893 in the collection Many Inventions, in England by Macmillan and in the United States by Appleton. It was later included in Volume III of Scribner’s Outward Bound Edition, Soldiers Three and Military Tales Part II (New York, 1897).

The extracts from Carrie Kipling’s diary, made by Charles Carrington, for 14 June 1892 (while they were on their honeymoon tour – they were in Yokohama on this date) record: ‘A successful dance at the Hunts. R. dances. Busy at ‘Three Sealers’ and an Ortheris story and invents Judson’.

There are various editions of Many Inventions, including this story, available in paperback and on Kindle from Amazon.

The tale

Judson is a junior Lieutenant, Royal Navy, commanding an elderly gunboat, based at Simons Town, on the Cape of Good Hope Station in the early 1890s. There is tension between Great Britain and a neighbouring colonial power (unnamed, but clearly Portugal). Judson is sent to ‘protect British interests’, but is not to get involved. In the river (unnamed, but call it the Zambezi), he removes the buoy marking a shoal, and after the ‘enemy’ gunboat fires on him, unprovoked, draws her on over the shoal where she is left high and dry. Proceeding up-river, Judson meets a column of overland pioneers who are ‘opening up the country’, and the local Governor. After a skirmish, which the Governor is allowed to call a victory, the affair ends with a party, at which the British C-in-C makes a convivial appearance. The little crisis has been ended without bloodshed, and the honour of both sides is intact.

The origins of the story.

In Something of Myself, describing his 1891 visit to South Africa, RK writes:

The Navy Club there (Simon’s Town, or Simonstown, the naval base just south and a bit east of Capetown) and the tales of the junior officers delighted me beyond words. There I witnessed one of the most comprehensive `rags` I have ever seen. It arose out of a polite suggestion to a newly-appointed Lieutenant Commander that the fore-topmast of his tiny gunboat `wanted staying forward`.

The present Editor feels sure (Naval officers’ conversation today may differ in technical detail, but it is unlikely that its nature does) that the rag in Simons Town included derogatory comments about the general appearance of the “tiny gunboat” and all aspects of her rig; also that Kipling would have extracted every ounce of information he could. In fact, when he wrote this paragraph in Something of Myself, Kipling’s memory betrayed him in one minute detail. The word “fore-topmast” implies that Judson’s command had two masts, a foremast and a mainmast: whereas, in no less than three places in the tale (written little more than a year after his visit to Simonstown), Kipling makes it clear that the gunboat (never named in the tale, but undoubtedly based on HMS Griper) had but one mast – as was the case. [We are obliged to Mr. Philip Holberton for his apposite comments on this point.]

It would seem that the story then took about a year or so to come to fruition: Lisa Lewis has remarked that according to Carrington’s notes from Mrs Kipling’s diaries, Judson was “invented” in Japan on 14 June 1892, just five days after Kipling’s bank went broke during their honeymoon.

Who was Judson, and was there a factual basis for the story?

In “Judson and the Empire” the conversation in the naval Club is very similar in tone to what the real `rag` Kipling witnessed must have been like. Charles Carrington, RK’s first ‘official’ biographer (Rudyard Kipling – His Life and Work, Macmillan 1955) identifies the original of Judson as Lieutenant de Horsey of HMS Gryper. (There is a footnote which cites a letter from de Horsey to B.M. Bazley 23 July 1933.) The 1891 Navy Lists are an obvious starting point, and there he is in the September 1891 list, one of HMS Raleigh’s lieutenants, having been out on the station since March 1888 (Raleigh was the flagship on the station). The Griper (not Gryper) was indeed a `flat-iron` gunboat, stationed at the Cape, but at the time was not, apparently, commissioned. At all events, she has no officers appointed in the Navy List. That, of itself, does not invalidate de Horsey’s claim. It would have been the practice for the Griper only to have been fully-manned and put into commission in the event of some particular threat to Simon’s Town, or other mission. (In 1956, the Editor of these notes, as a junior lieutenant in the station flagship, in much the same way, was given temporary command of a ‘borrowed’ Landing Craft (Tank) in the Persian Gulf at the time of the Suez crisis).

However, there is strong evidence that another naval officer is entitled to claim to be Judson’s original, because the events which form the basis of RK’s story did indeed occur in 1890: in Volume 7 of Clowes’ The Royal Navy (London, 1897-1903 – modern reprint, London 1996-7), there is an account, published in The Times for 17 December 1890 (datelined October 1890) and it is worthwhile quoting extensively, just to show how RK took a true report and worked his magic. It will also be seen that the chief protagonist for the Royal Navy was not de Horsey.

Background to the story

The conclusion of the expedition was a bit like the return half of Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, the passage down the river being made “through a howling gale and a blinding storm of rain.”

One has a sneaking sympathy for the Portuguese. After all, they had some right to consider that “the Zambesi was a private Portuguese waterway”: they’d been there for the best part of three hundred and fifty years before the British took a serious interest in that area: and even if the province was as Kipling describes it in “Judson and the Empire”, it may be noted (and this is a very subjective judgement) that today Mozambique seems to be a bit more stable than many other African states. And the Times report makes the whole affair sound like imperialism at its most imperial: indeed, 90 years later, the reporter might have been writing “Up yours, Galtieri”, for the Sun. And, far from ‘the flat-iron’ being inferior to the prettily-built, white-painted Guadala, in reality, the boot was on the other foot.

Some naval notes about the above report, before turning to “Judson and the Empire” itself. Redbreast and Pigeon do not exactly sound like the wooden walls of old England – all classical or imposing names: Majestic, Powerful, Devastation, Achilles, Minotaur, etc.. But nearly all the gunboats and slightly smaller gunvessels had bird names: there were the Dotterel class, the Linnet class, etc.. (HMS Gannet, currently undergoing restoration at Chatham Historic Dockyard is of a similar type, and when completed will enable the visitor to empathise with Judson/de Horsey/Kearey). And the expedition did well for Lieutenants Kearey and Brown. Both were promoted to Commander; then as now, the most important step in a naval officer’s career. All in all, it would seem that Lieutenant Kearey was the model for RK’s Judson. There is no mention of de Horsey in the Times piece.

The ORG introduction

(The following four paragraphs are taken directly from the ORG notes)

It may be conjectured that the tales of the junior naval officers in the club in Simon’s Town extended to recent events in Mozambique. For years administration seems to have been quite as lax and ineffective as that described in RK’s foreign colony, but in 1889 international competition in Africa had stimulated Portuguese interest to an extent that impelled a Major Serpa Pinto (mentioned in the Times report above: AW) to make a foray into what is now Malawi (formerly Nyasaland), thus jumping a British claim. Since the Portuguese government felt too insecure in the saddle at home to be able to yield gracefully to a mere protest from the outside, an ultimatum and a naval demonstration off the Tagus were needed to enable it to transfer the odium to perfidious Albion. Even so, there was a republican rising and a number of officers were punished. For a time, the situation in East Africa looked so threatening that a naval force, including some ships from the Cape Station, was assembled at Zanzibar under Rear-Admiral (so wrote Admiral Brock – he was, in fact, a Vice-Admiral, as stated in the Times report: AW) the Hon. Sir E.R. Fremantle, Commander-in-Chief of the East Indies Station, whose responsibilities then extended to Lat. 23º South (some 300 nautical miles south of the mouths of the Zambesi), though a later adjustment of boundaries northward to the Equator transferred the whole area to the C-in-C at the Cape.

Tension was eased when the Portuguese government agreed to open the Zambesi to navigation, as described in The Times, but it heightened again locally some months later when two small stern-wheel gunboats of very shallow draught, the Mosquito and Herald built by Yarrow, were shipped out in sections to be assembled on the lower Zambesi. Lieutenant Keary and HMS Redbreast were opposed by a Portuguese gunboat and a fiery Governor of Quelimane (modern spelling) who seems to have been nearly as colourful a character in his own way as RK’s was in his. (The Times report skates over what must have been a somewhat nerve-wracking passage for the Redbreast and Pigeon, the uncharted channel being both narrow and with barely enough water for the gunboats’ draught: AW) In making the passage without violence, Lieutenant Kearey showed creditable skills in pilotage, diplomacy and nerve, and Admiral Fremantle in his autobiography states a firm belief that he supplied the basis for Judson.

The source of the shore engagement with “the Pioneers of the General Development Company” is stated by Mr. H.G. Willmott, in the KJ (No. 48, December 1938) to have been a skirmish between a detachment of the British South Africa Company’s police and a larger Portuguese force which took place at Massi Kessi, just inside Portuguese East Africa, east of Umtali (now in Zimbabwe).
Queen Victoria sanctioned the issue of the British South Africa Company’s medals of 1890-97 for their operations in Matabeleland 1893, Rhodesia 1896 and Mashonaland 1890 and 1897. The first two were then separate Territories adjoining Portuguese East Africa.

RK’s starting point

So, there we are: there was a good story there, and RK read The Times and/or was told the story in the Naval Club in Simon’s Town, and decided to turn it into fiction. No doubt de Horsey was his “naval adviser”, and would have featured in the credits at the end of the programme had it been turned into a piece for television. To “protect his sources”, rather than use one of the actual ships of the squadron, he probably looked out of the window and saw the Griper lying in the dockyard, and used her: he probably asked his naval acquaintances how Griper had got out to the Cape, and was told, much as Judson describes it to the Admiral. Griper was exactly as Kipling described her (there is an illustration of her in the very first (1898) edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships).

The main exception is in the armament. As coast defenders, intended to discourage raiding enemy warships, Griper carried a massive 18 ton, ten-inch, muzzle-loading rifle resembling a huge soda-water bottle. In converting the Griper to a river gunboat, RK has replaced this old-fashioned piece with a four-inch gun which closer examination will show to have been so unusual as to suggest that it was one of his many inventions. The Griper’s gun, as has been said, was a ten-inch muzzle-loading rifle, of a very antiquated pattern, and the method of traversing it, by pointing the whole ship, was, indeed, very much as RK describes. But the four-inch (which happened to be the weapon carried by Redbreast) was more modern, being mounted on a Vavasseur mounting which enabled it to be trained through an arc limited only by the superstructure of the ship. Additionally, according to the tale, it was the gunboat’s fore-topmast which needed “staying forward” (Kipling thus implies more than one mast – if you have a foremast, you have a mainmast as well), whereas the picture shows Griper with one mast only, so obviously, as has been remarked many times, Kipling’s memory was playing slight tricks when he came to write Something of Myself.

“Judson” comes to a close with a visit by “the Martin Frobisher, the flagship, a great war-boat when she was new, in the days when men built for sail as well as steam.” This is a thinly disguised Raleigh, which had been built in 1873, specifically for the job of being a flagship on the distant stations where coal supplies were few and far between. The concluding paragraph says “And if there be no truth …. in my tale, …….., you will not find in harbour at Simon’s Town today a flat-bottomed gunboat …… wearing in open defiance of the rules of the Service a gold line on her grey paint.” Certainly Griper was there when Many Inventions was published, though one cannot be sure at this distance of time of the gold line!

There are one or two other points of interest in the telling of “Judson and the Empire” and in the memories in Something of Myself. In the latter, Kipling talks of “a Navy Captain going to a new Command at Simons Town”. He too is identified by Carrington, as Captain Bayly. In fact, he was Commander E.H. Bayly, and he took command of HMS Mohawk on 4 August, 1891. The use of the title Captain as a form of address for an officer of inferior rank (i.e., Commander or Lieutenant), but in command of a ship, was still usual then. (Indeed, it was generally used for Commanders in sea-going appointments – there are many authenticated accounts of Captains addressing their second-in-command, the Commander, as Captain So-and-So.) Mohawk appears in “Judson and the Empire” as “Mongoose, a real white painted ram-bow gunboat with quick-firing guns” (there is a picture of Mohawk in Jane’s for 1904, looking for all the world like an Edwardian steam yacht, with guns). Mohawk’s station was “Cape of Good Hope and West Africa”, so perhaps Kipling was lucky that he was unable to accept Captain Bayly’s invitation of a cruise – West Africa was still `the White Man’s grave`.

And in Something of Myself, Kipling speaks of a “newly appointed Lieutenant Commander”. At that time, there was no such rank as Lieutenant Commander, which was only introduced in 1914, although Lieutenants in command were sometimes known as Lieutenant and Commander, and signed themselves as Lieutenant-in-Command. Lieutenant de Horsey was a Lieutenant of five years’ seniority (the Lieutenant Commander, when he appeared 23 years later was a Lieutenant with more than eight years’ seniority), while Judson was a Navigating Lieutenant of five years’ seniority. This was clearly another bit of thin camouflage – at that date, Navigating officers, the successors to the old Masters, were not military officers, and Kipling’s readers in the Navy would have understood the point. de Horsey eventually became a Rear Admiral, with a `Pension for Wounds`, according to the Navy List.

However, as suggested above, it seems certain that the real Judson was Lieutenant Kearey. It would seem that Carrington was not aware of the piece in The Times, nor of Admiral Fremantle’s autobiography.

As for Kearey, he was at the time of the events, a Lieutenant with 12 years seniority, aged about 34. Before being given command of the Redbreast, he had been surveying in HMS Myrmidon, as indicated in the Times report. He had been mentioned in dispatches shortly before the events in the Zambesi (for intelligence work up in the area of Zanzibar), and was promoted to Commander for the Zambesi affair. As a Commander, he went to be the second-in-command of the much bigger cruiser Edgar, and then was given another pretty independent command, of the sloop Swallow (a larger version of the Redbreast) on the South-east coast of South America. That seems to have been his last seagoing appointment, and in 1901 he was with the Coastguard (which the Navy ran in those days), and seems to have retired shortly afterwards.

Thus it is clear that the basis of the events in “Judson and the Empire” actually occurred, though the story got embellished a bit in the telling. And Kipling did a bit of rudimentary camouflage – the bit about Keate, “the Torpedo Lieutenant of the big Vortigern” is such. At that time there was no other `big` ship on the Cape station. The squadron consisted of Raleigh, and about ten small sloops, like the Mohawk/Mongoose, ships which, as Admiral `Jackie` Fisher said, some twelve years later, “could neither fight nor run”, though they kept the `Pax Britannica` for some 30 years at the end of the last century. And there was only one qualified Torpedo officer on the whole station, who was the Torpedo officer of the Raleigh. It is perhaps of some interest that he was Lieutenant C.E. Madden, later an Admiral – even Admirals have been known to make errors when young! Nonetheless, even if RK’s naval details are impressionistic, the general picture is clear and convincing and the spirit rings true throughout. This latter point is worth emphasizing: naval officers of succeeding generations have made the same comment. So, although one may nit-pick at details, it may be accepted that the tone of the stories is correct.