Colonel Creighton

by Brigadier Alexander Mason, M.C. This note was written for Volume I of the Readers’ Guide to the Works of Rudyard Kipling, pp. 264-270, published by the Kipling Society  in 1961.


The only name that has been put forward as a possible original for Colonel Creighton is that of Lieut.-Col. Alexander Herbert Mason, C.B., D.S.O., R.E.

Kim has its problems and one of these is the question “Why was it so long on `the stocks’?” Its opening scene must have met Kipling’s eyes as soon as he reached Lahore in 1882 and the draft was not finished until 1900; moreover Kipling had left India in 1889 and had returned there only once for a week or two in 1891. He had meant it to be plotless and it may be that he changed his mind; after his second visit to India he could not leave it alone which was the fate of “Mother Maturin”, the novel of low life in India which he wrote and then abandoned.

One hesitates to go into psychological “obstacles” and “triggers” too deeply after reading “Seek not to question . . .” but perseverance has brought some results so far and urges one on. The existence of an obstacle implies that the aim was initially too high for the young writer’s powers, yet the finished book shows no lack of inspiration, suggesting that a new road to the target proved feasible as his powers increased. It has been compared to me with the Gospels, as a story worth reading of a “good” man-the Lama.

But I would suggest that the unidentified background figure, Colonel Creighton, is also a man whom Kipling, like Kim, liked and respected, towards whom he was no longer a cheeky boy, but a responsible man. Was this character introduced into the story during the second half of its construction, reinforcing the argument that the secret service plot formed the way round the obstacle?

This is all conjecture and I am not competent to carry it any further, but there are a few facts which may help experts to carry on. Of course the passage of a lifetime since that first scene on the Mall in Lahore means that the human memory cannot be relied on even when it can offer help. We have to focus almost solely on written and printed evidence, as well as on a different continent, in searching for facts.

Again one must imagine the young Rudyard there outside the Museum watching the children playing in the dust in the sun beside the gun. He was facing his first job in a month’s time when he had to enter the Printing Office and there was his writing, always wanting expression. His interest lay, in both senses of the word, in making friends and finding his way about. He must learn to talk to all sorts of men, if he was to write all sorts of news and stories. Where should he begin?

Lockwood Kipling was the best guide he could have and Rudyard was a quick learner. If he could concentrate first on the news, the stories would write themselves; the news alone was complicated enough. The walled city held a congested multitude as various as anywhere in the world; the civil lines of bungalows and shops of all kinds, but Europeanised; the cantonment, isolated and rather shabby, but full of interest with soldiers in various uniforms, with various weapons, horses, just what youngsters of his age enjoy and where big news might erupt at any time.

Over all brooded – if that was the right word – the Lt.-Governor, the Indian Civil Service, the Secretariat. That was where men were thinking about what might happen or was going to happen; the biggest source of advance information. Who was there in that big office whom he could approach and question? He needed a friendly, approachable European with accurate, up-to-date knowledge of all subjects, social, commercial, political, military – everything.
A new Lt.-Governor had just arrived, Sir Charles Aitchison; he brought with him a new Private Secretary and A.D.C., who would probably be helpful, being young, only 26; but he would not know much about the place at first and he must not be asked questions which might offend secrecy. Get to know him, perhaps riding in the early morning, perhaps relaxing in the Punjab Club in the evening.

Of course he must try and get into the messes, but how could he contact the people who did not belong to the Club or the messes: the Indians and Eurasians, the shop managers and railway staff. Freemasons had no colour bar or class prejudice and he had heard that there were many of them on the railways, so he must join. He entered the “Hope and Perseverance” Lodge as early as he could and before the normal age, on condition that he took over the Secretary’s work.

Kipling made a good reporter which implies that he got a foot well into each of the two worlds, the official and the unofficial. He found the P.S. and A.D.C. to the Lt.-Governor to be quiet, serious and reserved; an admirer of General Gordon, at that time in Khartoum. In fact he was rather like a young Gordon, both officers in the Royal Engineers, religious and kindly sympathetic but active soldiers.

Mason – that was the A.D.C.’s name – had nine year’s service, four of them in India, had been up on the Afghan frontier and in Simla on the Defence Committee and had won a Gold Medal from the United Services Institution there for writing an essay on Strategy beyond the North-West Frontier. He had applied to go with the Indian contingent to the war on the Nile, but without luck. He was clearly studious, though anxious for active service and he soon became news himself in a small way in both directions.

In 1884, Mason handed over his appointment as Private Secretary and A.D.C., and was given special work also in Lahore on bringing up to date the large official Record of’ Expeditions against the North-West Frontier Tribes. This work, afterwards known as Paget and Mason, ran to nearly 700 pages and presented, with its maps, tables, appendices and glossary, typographical problems of some complexity.

He finished it in a year and, to return to conjecturing, those who. have done this kind of work may agree that a visit from an amusing young reporter might not only be a welcome distraction, but also a possible source of help and information on the preparation of the’
new draft. It is perhaps also not unreasonable to suggest that such help might have loosened the reserve and brought the men together. The fact that Paget and Mason was no longer a confidential publication, as were some copies of the old Record, should be noted here.

Kipling met in the Freemasons’ Hall men who were easier to get on with than Mason. For instance, he was always ready to listen to the stories of Mulvaney the Irishman and Learoyd; in fact, he had written of them in his spare time and was considering borrowing
their names for two of his “Soldiers Three”. But what should he call the third soldier? Mason told him a yarn occasionally about Army happenings; but, somehow, he was not a man whose name you could borrow; besides, it might connect the stories with the Lodge, which would cause trouble. No! The third man in the group in Lodge was himself and no author puts his own name in his work. If asked “Who is the third soldier?,” could he say “The author is” and make him a character by juggling with the spelling?

The Hope and Perseverance Lodge still exists (in 1961) and Lahore has two other Lodges, but the secretary of the oldest has been asked whether the records of the ’80’s mention the name of A. H. Mason. His answer has not yet come, but it is not really important; at one time, it is said, Kipling “practically lived” at the Club, and Mason, who is the other target of this investigation, cannot have been the senior member mentioned in the biography who disapproved of Kipling and “persistently snubbed him”, since by that time the former had gone home on leave and achieved his ambition of seeing active service in Egypt and Palestine.

Kipling was soon moved, too, to Allahabad as Assistant Editor of the Pioneer, and in that chair all the despatches describing the almost continuous small frontier wars of the next decade passed through his hands. Mason was given command of a Company of Royal Engineers for the Queen’s Jubilee Parade in 1887 and as a Captain took part in nearly all these expeditions; he also received promotion to Major and Lieutenant-Colonel, the D.S.O., and was made a C.B. In the next seven years or so he reconnoitred practically the entire North-West Frontier from the Hazara Territory to Quetta, nearly 500 miles. He also wrote the official account of the Black Mountain campaign in the former area, and of the Expedition against the Miranzai tribes in 1891. It has been said in joke that no war or Expedition could take place at that time if he was not present as D.A.Q.M.G. for Intelligence!

This appointment takes us back at last to Col. Creighton, whose duty in Kim seems to have been the recruitment and training of surveyors and agents who brought in information from beyond the frontier. Mason, as a Royal Engineer Officer, was trained in Survey work and, being responsible for the new Record of North-West Frontier operations, he was clearly the most suitable man to collate trans-frontier information. In fact, on his return to India after the Jubilee he was temporarily posted to the Intelligence Branch which then came under the Q.M.G.’s Department of the Staff in Simla. In the despatches he seems to have been ubiquitous and it is hardly to be wondered at that one commander described him as “an expert as regards frontier tribes and topography.” There is no evidence that Kipling saw these words, but there is no doubt that he must have been well aware of official opinion about this officer’s services. He possibly had the Pioneer Mail sent to him abroad and it could be ascertained if this thin-paper periodical reprinted despatches at that time.

Soon after Kipling’s departure from India in 1889, Mason returned to the U.K. and became engaged to the eldest daughter of General Sir Robert Biddulph, the Governor of Gibraltar, more than one of whose sons were also serving on the frontier. Mason then hastened back to India before the cold weather of 1892, as he had been offered a permanent posting to the Intelligence. He served on the Isazai campaign and was married at Baroda in April, 1893, whence he returned to Simla. In the autumn of 1894 he was away again, this time to Waziristan; but early in 1895 he contracted typhoid fever while on an inspection of the frontier with the Q.M.G. He died in Simla on May 8th and is commemorated by a tablet in the Scottish church in Simla and by another now being moved to the Garrison church at Chatham.

At least two London papers mentioned Mason’s name with some prominence about the time of Kipling’s return to the U.K.: the Wano despatch before he arrived and the obituary notice later, the former in the Morning Post and the latter with a photograph in the Illustrated London News. Once more one can only presume that Kipling saw at least one of them. Quite apart from ancient habit, Kipling’s mind after his trouble in Vermont had swung back to British interests, and his mail, no doubt, was welcomed with keen attention. Could some measure of hero-worship have been awoken as his mind went back to the editor’s chair in Allahabad and his days as a cub reporter in Lahore? If he required to bring into Kim a senior officer with authority over Intelligence matters, no more suitable name than that of Alexander Herbert Mason has yet been brought forward.

I have tried to show first that these two men probably met in Lahore. Then that the soldier fits the character of Col. Creighton; the absence of letters is explained in part by the short life of Mason being so active. But some diaries of his are in existence and they seem to relate mostly to campaigns; so they may help somewhat when they have been thoroughly examined. Possibly they might contain some anecdote which Kipling published; if so, the problem of the latter’s source of Army tales will be reduced. The evidence to date is limited to memoirs and newspaper cuttings on the side of Col. Mason.

Mason was born in Surrey in 1856, educated at Henley and commissioned in the Royal Engineers when he was 18. He was then employed for some time at the War Office, probably earned by the receipt of a prize at the School of Military Engineering at Chatham, which brother officers said was due because “he did accurately, thoroughly, and ably everything that he had to do.” He was at Berlin at the time of the Conference in 1878, nominally to improve his German, and arrived in India early the next year in time to serve in the Second Afghan War with an Engineer Field Company of the Bengal Sappers and Miners which was at first employed on road construction in the valley of the Kabul River between the Khyber Pass and Jellalabad. He was at Gandamok, over 50 miles from Kabul when the Treaty of 1879 was signed. This was in the hot weather and there were heavy casualties and he was for a time the only officer with his unit and was at last sent back from the Khaiber Pass to recover from dysentery, but had to return at once on the news of the Cavagnari massacre. At the end of the campaign he was sent to England on sick leave for about a year and on return was posted to the Punjab and sent to Simla to the Defence Committee to complete convalescence.

In 1882 he applied to go to Egypt with the Indian contingent, but no engineers were sent, so he accepted an appointment offered him as Private Secretary to Sir Charles Aitchison, who had just arrived as Lieut. Governor of the Punjab. During the two years of this appointment he was at Lahore, when not on tour, and was thus contemporary there with Rudyard Kipling. He had already won the Gold Medal of the Royal United Services Institution of India for a paper on the Strategy of Modern transfrontier expeditions; and, as such campaigns were managed from Lahore, he became somewhat of an expert and was given as his next work the revision up-to-date of the Record of North West Frontier Expeditions, which he took to England and saw through the press.

He was then sent to Egypt where he served in 1885 with a British Engineer unit, returning the next year to Chatham which was being reorganised. But he wanted to get back to India and sailed again in 1887, returning to Simla on a temporary attachment to the Intelligence Branch of the Quartermaster General’s Department.

In 1888 he was sent up the Gomal River, west of the Indus, to survey the route under tribal escort, but he returned on receipt of ws that the escort was not reliable. That same year two officers were killed in the Hazara District, north of Rawalpindi and a punitive force was sent to the Black Mountains. Captain Mason was attached to the force for Intelligence duties, having first published a confidential report on the territory, and while there
ascended Machai, the highest peak, not quite 10,000 feet above sea level.

In 1890 he was sent in the same capacity to the Zhon valley and commanded a column in operations against the Sherani tribe whose country surrounds the “Throne of Solomon”, a peak that was at one time a place of pilgrimage for Hindus as well as Moslems. In
1891 he joined the force sent to the Miranzai valley from Kohat which disciplined the Orakzais; for these operations he was The Times correspondent as well as D.A.Q.M.G. for Intelligence. He was able during a lull to return to the Black Mountain for more
work and then returned to the Miranzai to do extra duty for the A.A.G. who had been wounded. For this Service he was awarded the D.S.O. and given brevet promotion to Lieut.-Colonel.

After leave to England in 1892 he returned on news of his permanent posting to the Intelligence branch and Served on the Isazai Campaign. After his marriage in 1893 he was again sent as D.A.Q.M.G. Intelligence to demarcate the frontier between British territory and the Mahsud Wazirs who rushed the escort camp at Wana and had to be punished. He received for this duty the C.B. He was then under orders to proceed to Chitral which, with a
reconnaissance he had made through little-known country from the Indus River to the neighbourhood of Quetta, would have completed his first-hand knowledge of some 500 miles of the Indian frontier. But he had contracted typhoid fever on a tour of the frontier the winter of 1895-6 and died in Simla in May, 1896.

[Brigadier Alexander Mason, 1961]

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