The Limitations of Pambé Serang

Notes on the text

These notes, by John McGivering, are partly new, and partly based on the ORG. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of Life’s Handicap, as published and frequently reprinted between 1891 and 1950.

[Page 343, line 3] Serang a Boatswain (Bo’s’n) or head of a Lascar crew – see Hobson-Jobson (p. 812).

[Page 343, line 5] Elass-Lothringen better known in the United Kingdom as Alsace-Lorraine, in North-East France, to the West of the River Rhine. This seems to be a geographical joke, as the vessels mentioned below are all named after places that saw action in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871, in which the area was annexed by Germany. In this context ‘Elass-Lothringen’ looks as it if ought to be a shipping-line.

So far as we know, Kipling did not visit the area until he went to Strasbourg in 1921 to receive an honorary Doctorate.
(Andrew Lycett p. 487) so what inspired his interest in this part of the world is an intriguing question which we would very much like to see answered. See also A Book of Words, p. 207) for his Address “A Return to Civilisation” and the two following items.

[Page 343, line 6] Saarbruck Saarbrücken – chief town of the Saar, Germany.
Aden then a port and coaling-station at the entrance to the Red Sea. In those days a British colony.

[Page 343, line 8] Zanzibar an island off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa – then a Sultanate.
the second right furnace … in the hold This is an incorrect description; the boiler would have a number, and would be in the boiler-room or stokehold. See the notes to “Bread Upon the Waters” (The Day’s Work, page 281, line 7).

[Page 343. Line 10] Seedee boy mentioned, with the Sultan below, in “The Lost Legion” (The Seven Seas). These were originally African Mohammedan men from Zanzibar. (see Hobson-Jobson, ‘Seedy’). Also mentioned in “The City of Dreadful Night” (From Sea to Sea, vol.2, chap IV, p.231).

[Page 343, line 12] Sayyid Burgash he appears to be Sayyid Hamad bin Thuwaini al-Bursaid

[Page 344, line 1] the captain’s gig a light narrow wooden boat pulling four or six oars, used in the days before motor-boats were generally available.

[Page 344, line 2] heaves the lead a lead weight of about seven pounds ( 3·2 kg.)
on a line of twenty-five fathoms (a fathom is six feet, or 1·8 metres) used for ascertaining the depth in coastal waters . See “Their Lawful Occasions” (Traffics and Discoveries page 136 lines 10-17) For the deep-sea lead, “The Dog Hervey” (A Diversity of Creatures p. 151 lines 9-17).

[Page 344, line 10] the Other Lingua Franca ORG defines the ordinary ‘Lingua Franca’ as a mixture of Italian, Greek, French and Spanish used in the Levant, and the Other as English, Hindustani, pidgin English and some Chinese, but does not mention Cantonese or Mandarin.

[Page 344, line 13] Kurile Islands a chain of about fifty small islands stretching North-East from Yezo in Japan. They are mentioned in the poem “The English Flag.”

[Page 344, line 14] Hakodate a seaport in Japan.
junks sailing-vessels common in Eastern waters.

[Page 344, line 15] Eblis the Father of Devils in Arabian mythology (Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable).

[Page 345, line 1] Shwe-Dagon Road now Shwedagon Pagoda Road, an important thoroughfare in Rangoon in Myanmar. (See From Sea to Sea Vol 1 p. 318.)

[Page 346, line 17] block in this context a metal or wooden shell containing several sheaves or wheels – a hazard for unpopular people at sea as they occasionally, as in this case, fall from aloft!

[Page 346, line 27] sign articles a contract laid down by legislation later consolidated in the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894 and signed by all members of the crew in the Shipping Office before the commencement of the voyage.

[Page 346, line 30] Spicheren a village in Lorraine.

[Page 346, lines 31-32] all play and no work … etc the proverb is ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy !’

[Page 347, line 3] Gravelotte a village seven miles west of Metz in Alsace-Lorraine, scene of yet another particularly dreadful battle in the Franco-Prussian War.

[Page 347, line 4] Worth the vessel is named after a village in Alsace.

[Page 347, line 5] the Nore light. A sandbank with a light-vessel in the Thames Estuary.

[Page 347, line 6] Calicut seaport of Malabar on the West coast of India.

[Page 347, line 9] Nyanza Docks there are no docks of this name in London, but there is a Nyanza Street in Woolwich, London S.E.18.

[Page 347, line 15] Charing Cross Station Often said to be the very centre of London. Kipling had rooms in Villiers Street alongside the station when he returned to London in 1889 ( Andrew Lycett, p. 186); the station is mentioned in several stories and his rooms are featured in The Light that Failed.

[Page 347, lines 22 – 24] Blue Diamond Funnels.. etc names reminiscent of shipping-lines of the time.

[Page 343, line 3] dottel this usage has not been found but it usually means the unsmoked portion of tobacco left in the pipe.

[Page 348, line 4] half-screw not found in Partridge – but obviously a very small measure – information will be welcomed.

[Page 348, line 5] half-ounce about 14 grammes.

[Page 348, line 9] two-and-sixpenny room the rent was half-a-crown a week. (there were eight half-crowns to the £ sterling, making the coin worth 12½ pence in modern currency).

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2006 All rights reserved