A Lost Leader

(notes edited by Philip Holberton and John Radcliffe, drawing on the research of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)


Published in the Civil and Military Gazette (CMG), 31 August 1885, with the heading:

“London, 25th. The Marquis of Ripon, in a speech made at Bolton yesterday, appealed to the people of India to vindicate his administration, &c. – Reuter’s Telegram.”

It is unsigned, but authenticated by its inclusion in Scrapbook 2 of Kipling’s own press cuttings in the Kipling Papers at the University of Sussex Special Collections.

It was never collected by Kipling but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 278) and Pinney
(p. 1759).

The Poem

The poem is a savage and contemptuous attack on Lord Ripon for a policy of what Kipling called ‘turmoil and babble and causeless strife’. He might have been admired by educated Indians, but was ‘fittest of rulers … for a loud-mouthed, cackling land.’ This was the general view of Ripon among Anglo-Indians, who had detested him.

The title of the poem is borrowed from Robert Browning’s poem “The Lost Leader”.


Appointed by Gladstone, the Liberal Prime-Minister, Ripon had served as Viceroy of India from 1880 to 1884. His mission was to give Indians a greater share in the governance of India, but he had made little headway. He had resigned before before his five year-term was up.

He had been a leading Liberal politician, and a Cabinet Minister, and – back in England – he was now seeking to retrieve his reputation. The occasion of the appeal in his Bolton speech was a severe attack on his record as Viceroy by Lord Randolph Churchill, when presenting the Indian Budget to the House of Commons. Churchill (the father of Winston) had become the Secretary of State for India in the new Conservative administration, following the defeat of Gladstone in the election of June 1885.

In India Lord Ripon was unlikely to get much endorsement from Anglo-Indians. His credibility had been undermined by the prolonged controversy over the Ilbert Bill, and his failure to carry it through. This would have granted native Indians more legal rights, including the right of Indian judges to judge Europeans in court. Kipling had been hissed in the club in Lahore when his editor at the CMG wrote a leader that was uncritical of the Bill. Recalling the event fifty years later, Kipling described Ripon as ‘A circular and bewildered recluse of religious tendencies.’ [Something of Myself pp. 50-51]

However, it should be said that according to his entry in Wikipedia he is still revered in Chennai (formerly Madras) as Lord Ripon engal appan meaning: ‘Lord Ripon, our father’:

The Corporation of Chennai’s Ripon Building was named for him, as well as the town of Riponpet in the Shivamogga district in the state of Karnataka. In Calcutta, the Ripon Street was named for him. The Ghanta Ghar Multan or Clock Tower of Multan in Pakistan was named Ripon Building and hall of same building was named Ripon Hall. The Ripon Club in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) founded in 1884 by the Parsis for their community members, was named after him.

[Wikipedia, 2020]

For other poems by Kipling relating to Ripon’s time as Viceroy, see “A New Departure”, “Lord Ripon’s Reverie”, “Trial by Judge” and “The Indian Delegates”. For the campaign for Indians to have a greater share in government see also two articles in KJ 381 for March 2020: “The Man who would Horsewhip Kipling”, by Richard Maidment, and Kipling’s article in the Pioneer of January 1st 1889, “A Study of the Congress”, in which he was as dismissive as he had been in 1885.

Notes on the Text

chit a letter of recommendation given to a servant, a ‘reference’.

Chatterjees, Bannerjees, Mookerjees common Bengali names, used here collectively for educated Bengalis in general.

the thing which is not This simply means ‘a lie’, from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. In that tale the Houyhnhnms had no concept of untruth; when Gulliver told a lie, they could only express it as the thing that was not.

Did he sharpen the sword Lord Randolph Churchill had accused Ripon of military unpreparedness in the face of Russian advances in Afghanistan.


©Philip Holberton and John Radcliffe 2020 All rights reserved