Letters to the Family V



(notes edited by Alastair Wilson, drawing on the work for the ORG of Admiral Brock)




Published in London in the Morning Post, 9th April, 1908, in Canada in Vancouver World on 11th April, 1908, and in the USA in Collier’s Weekly, 11th April, 1908. Collected in Letters of Travel (1892-1913), in 1920.

This article describes industrial conditions in western Canada, the need for skilled labour, the issue of immigration from Asia, and what Kipling sees as the unreasonable attitudes of the labour unions. The word ‘Labour’ is used to refer to the Trades Unions, especially in Canada (see page 167 onwards), but there is a strong suggestion (page 168, line 11) that labour unrest in British Columbia was being orchestrated from the USA.

The article was originally accompanied, without title, by three verses beginning “Three things make earth unquiet”, later expanded into the poem “A Servant when he Reigneth” (ORG Verse No. 915).


Like many of the readers of the Morning Post and many politicians of the right in Britain, Kipling was generally hostile to trades unions, seeing them as a subversive force holding back progress and prosperity. See “A Walking Delegate” in The Day’s Work, “The Mother Hive” in Actions and Reactions., and “The Wrong Thing” in Rewards and Fairies (p. 59 line 28). This was a time of considerable industrial unrest in the United Kingdom, as Kipling was well aware.

Notes on the Text

[Page 161, line 18] engineers afraid … hoist . . . own petards this is a slight misquotation from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act III, scene iv, line 206, where the word ‘petard’ is rendered as ‘petar’ – no ‘d’ at the end. A petard was a small bomb used, for example, to blow in a gate: the phrase means ‘to be caught in the very trap you have set for others.’

[Page 162, line 7] the popular Will pressure of public opinion

[Page 162, line 8] head-tax a special levy on immigrants from Asia.

[Page 162, line 17] the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5, in which the Japanese were victorious. Thereafter the Japanese Empire was clearly a force to be reckoned with in Asia and the Pacific.

[Page 162, line 24] just a little too good unlike the Chinese, the Japanese were ready to encroach on “white man’s jobs”. They also represented the “Yellow Peril” of those days. The phrase, referring to the dangers posed by the Asiatic races of China and Japan is said to have been first used by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany in 1895.

[Page 162, line 26] Punjabis People from the Punjab, the province of British India where Kipling worked as a journalist in Lahore on the Civil and Military Gazette. Now divided between India and Pakistan.

[Page 162, line 27] Sikhs A warrior people from the Punjab who practise the Sikh religion.

[Page 162, line 27] Muzbis Or Muzbees A class of Sikhs who were originally converts from Islam. [Hobson-Jobson p. 506].

[Page 162, line 27] Jats A farming people from the Punjab, originally Hindu, many of whom converted to Sikhism or Islam.

[Page 162, line 28] at home India (or Pakistan now).

[Page 162, lines 30-31] Shahpur … Phillour …Jullundur Towns in the Punjab near branches of the great river Indus, where there is good deep soil and ample water. The implication is that conditions in India were not such as to drive them away to seek a better life.

[Page 163, lines 18-23] An attempt was made to remove them In September 1907 there was a serious riot against Asian businesses in downtown Vancouver that was started by members of the racist Asiatic Exclusion League.

[Page 163, line 24] Hindus A majority of the people of India practise the Hindu relgion.

[Page 163, line 24] Tamils a Dravidian people inhabiting the south-east of India and Sri Lanka.

[Page 163, line 25] as is being done across the Border there had been anti-Indian riots in Bellingham, in Washington State on 24 September 1907, two days before the Kiplings landed in Canada, so the subject was very topical.

[Page 164, line 27] The Cape South Africa.

[Page 165, line 23] Salvation Army an organisation, on a quasi-military model, founded by “General” William Booth in 1878 for the relief of poverty and the revival of religion among working people. He assisted suitable families to emigrate from England to other parts of the Empire. Kipling had met him while travelling from New Zealand to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1891, and was much impressd by him

[Page 166, line 15] fifty or sixty dollars a month so a Chinese worker cost about £2 10s. 0d. a week, that is £130 a year. Quarters and food were also provided.

[Page 166, from line 27] The ORG Editors commented that this was interesting: ‘If the wage earner was only getting six dollars a day or £8 10s. 0d. a week – £450 a year – and these others who could not afford a Chinese servant thought the six dollars a day earner was well off, they were; but they did have to pay out two-sevenths of their income to keep the servant.’

This Editor takes the view that Kipling’s figures seem extremely high: the sterling equivalents have been based on the then rate of exchange of $4-$5 to the Pound sterling. In Great Britain a skilled artisan was doing well if he earned £3 per week in 1907.

[Page 168, line 4] Across the Border later we shall find the phrase “Down Under”; both refer to the U.S.A.

[Page 168, line 28] fuss with the Japanese in Vancouver See the note on p. 163 line 25 above. The Bellingham riots in October 1907 were part of a fairly widespread anti-immigration movement along the Pacific coast at this time.

[Page 169, line 30] any party that proposed white immigration the position changed after World War I.

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