McAndrew’s Hymn

Notes on the text

by Alastair Wilson. The text and line references below are from the Definitive Edition of Rudyard Kipling’s Verse, Hodder and Stoughton, 1940.

[Lines 1-6] These lines are a statement of McAndrew’s philosophy, based on his Calvinist up-bringing. To him, the world is less than real. What counts is Steam: Steam, which has set the whole world on the move, and provided the means for new, faster and more widespread means of communication.

[Line 3] “From coupler-flange to spindle-guide …”: I’m not sure about “coupler flange” – I suspect that what is meant is the flange which is part of the coupling between the engine crankshaft and the forward end of the tail-shaft, which in turn is connected to the screw-propeller. The “spindle-guide” is the mechanism that guides the valve spindle as it moves backwards and forwards to admit steam to alternate ends of the cylinder. The overall meaning of the phrase is from bottom to top of the engine.

[Line 4] “Predestination in the stride o’ yon connectin’ rod”: Predestination was a particular tenet of the Calvinist faith. The connecting rod connected the piston rod to the crank, and was the means of converting the reciprocating movement of the piston to the rotary motion of the shaft and propeller. As it rotated, it would look like the legs of a long-striding person. The analogy was appropriate because it was this movement which transmitted the power which moved the ship.

[Line 6] “my “Institutio”: Institutio Religionis Christianae, John Calvin’s seminal work, published in 1536.

[Lines 7-12] These set the scene, as described above in the introduction, and reveal his age, in general terms.

[Line 8] “I’ll stand the middle watch up here …”: One “stands” a watch, in the nautical sense. Although “keeping a watch” is also used, it really means keeping a look-out, and so is not correct. The middle watch is the watch from midnight to 4 a.m..

[Line 11] “… the crosshead gibs are loose”: The crosshead was, in effect, an X-shaped piece of metal, with the outer end of the piston rod, and the upper end of the connecting rod meeting in the centre on a pin. The four arms of the X slid on the surfaces of the slide-bars, which prevented any sideways flexing movement in the piston rod. The fixing of the connecting rod to the crosshead involved the use of a gib-and-cotter. A cotter-pin was a tapered pin (you may remember one on your first bicycle, it was what kept the cranks of the pedals on the shaft.) After 30,000 miles (which is, in round terms the distance of a round trip to New Zealand via the two Capes, as in the Introduction), they might well start to develop wear, and so would start to be slightly loose (we’re talking in terms of one-hundredth of an inch or less), and so would tend to ‘rattle’ (to an engineer’s ear). (Kipling’s comment in his letter to the illustrator about an inch-and-a-half’s play has to be an exaggeration: had it been so, the engine would have ground to a halt.)

[Lines 13-16] These lines are more of the scene-setting, giving the time, place and the weather.

[Line 13] “- a full-draught breeze”: This indicates that the velocity of the relative wind (the combination of the true wind and the ‘wind’ generated by the ship’s passage through the water) is the maximum that can be usefully used to burn coal, thus generating the maximum amount of steam. The amount of steam a boiler could generate depended on a number of factors, one of them being the amount of air available in the stokehold to be admitted to the furnace, both under and over the firebed, to ensure complete combustion of the coal and the release of all the energy in the form of heat.

[Line 13] “wi’ Ushant out of sight”:  The Île d’Ouessant (anglice Ushant), some 10 miles to the west of the western extremity of Brittany, is the land fall, and turning point, for vessels crossing the Bay of Biscay, and making their way up Channel. In this case, they have now passed Ushant, and the light being out of sight, must be some 20 miles or so on their way to Plymouth.

[Line 14] “An’ Ferguson relievin’ Hay”:  This indicates that it is just a few minutes before midnight – you always relieve your watch by the start time of the new watch. (And good Scots names for the engineers – the next generation of McAndrews in the making!)

[Line 15] “His wife’s at Plymouth …”:  The inference must be that they are going to call at Plymouth, to land some or all of their passengers, though not their cargo. Plymouth became a recognised port of call for the great liners, as a means of getting the mail (most important) and their passengers to London more quickly than if they remained in the ship while it made its way up-channel. In 1890, it might take six hours to reach London by train, as opposed to 36 hours in the ship. Quite possibly Mrs. Ferguson would be permitted to take passage in the ship from Plymouth to London (otherwise there would not be much point in her being at Plymouth – the call would only last a matter of an hour or two). In the 1890s, London and Liverpool were still the two great ports which sent British ships carrying British goods and Imperial administrators to all parts of the globe. Glasgow concentrated largely on Canada and North America, while Bristol had a good proportion of the West Indies trade (these are all very broad generalizations). Southampton was only just starting to be developed as a great ocean port.

[Line 15] “Seventy – One – Two – Three”:  The suggestion must be that the service speed of the ship is set at 70 revolutions per minute, but Ferguson has just opened the throttle that little bit wider to go that little bit faster, in his haste to see his wife again. It also suggests that McAndrew is within the Engine-Room to be able to see the engine rotating, and to count the revolutions. (The author of these notes would bow to the opinion of an experienced marine engineer, who might say that he could count the revolutions by ear. He would admit that in a general way he could tell when the engine was speeding up or slowing down, but is somewhat dubious about being able to count individual revolutions of what was probably a triple-expansion engine.)

[Lines 17-20] These give a precise date to the fictional voyage.

[Line 18] “Since Elsie Campbell went to Thee, Lord, thirty years ago.”:  It is of interest that, in writing about “McAndrew’s Hymn”, Peter Keating speaks of him as a widower (see Some Critical Comments). This is a perfectly fair inference, though it must be said that the author of these notes has never seen the remark in that light. It always seemed that McAndrew was referring to a courtship, rather than a marriage: going for long walks together, the only time they could be alone. And a young ship’s engineer, barely out of his indentures, would hardly be able to support a wife.

[Line 19] “The year the Sarah Sands was burned”: This was 1857 (see Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides “The Burning of the “Sarah Sands”). So McAndrew is speaking in 1887.

[Line 20] “Fra’ Maryhill to Pollokshaws – fra’ Govan to Parkhead!”: These are all areas of Glasgow, respectively north to south, west to east, crossing the Clyde in each case.

[Lines 21-32] These are musings on the progress he has seen, both personal and in marine engineering.

[Line 21] “Sir Kenneth”:  presumably the Chairman of the Board of Directors; probably the largest shareholder in the Company, which suggests that the “three Earls” are more for the letterhead than their knowledge of, and financial interest in, the shipping business.

[Line 25] “… That started as a boiler-whelp”: A whelp is a puppy, a word not greatly used today. In this context, it means that McAndrew was a boilermaker’s assistant, before becoming a boilermaker’s apprentice. Most marine engineers at this time – we are now back to the early 1850s – learned their trade in an engineering works, building engines and other plant. They did a seven years apprenticeship, but in the years before becoming an indentured apprentice, which was unlikely to be much before the age of 14, they would have been at work, in an even lowlier position.

[Line 25] “when steam and he were low”:  The personal reference, it is suggested, means lowly, as indicated in the preceding phrase. The steam reference is to the low steam pressures employed in marine engineering at the time – see the next line.

[Line 26] “I mind the time we used to serve a broken pipe wi’ tow”: “I mind” is a Scots phrase meaning “I remember” or I “call to mind”. “to serve”, in a nautical sense, means “to wrap a flexible material round a pipe or rope”. “Tow” is a mass of rope fibres, and would not have been a very effective way of stopping steam from leaking out of a pipe, even low-pressure steam.

[Line 27] “Ten pound”:  ten pounds per square inch – in metric terms, 0.7kg/

[Line 30] “There’ll be the loco-boiler next an’ thirty miles an hour”:  In the 1880s, most marine boilers were what were called “Scotch Boilers”, which were cylindrical, with the firegrate within a flue inside the actual pressure vessel. In the “loco-boiler” (as in the railway locomotive) the grate and firebox were at one end of the boiler. In fact, the “loco-boiler” was rarely used at sea, then or later. The next development (which was just starting for use in warships as Kipling was writing “McAndrew’s Hymn”) was the water-tube boiler. In this, instead of the hot gases from the coal’s combustion (or later oil) passing through a nest of small diameter tubes immersed in water (more-or-less as in the domestic kettle, where the coiled electric element replaces the fire-tubes), a nest of small tubes, filled with water, linking two drums, passed through the furnace. This arrangement was more efficient in transferring heat from the gases to the water, and enabled the rate of steam generation to be more quickly altered. This was of value in a warship, where speeds might alter at short notice, and by small amounts, to keep station, one ship on another. But in a merchant ship, it was of less concern. On leaving port, one opened the throttle, and left it wide open until the ship slowed to enter the next port, one day, one week, or one month later. So the Scotch boiler could still be found at sea into the 1950s, and the last days of steam in the Merchant Navy.

[Line 31] “Thirty and more”:  Again, McAndrew (Kipling) is being optimistic, as far as most shipping is concerned. In 1887, McAndrew’s ship probably had a service speed of about 15 or 16 knots. The record for crossing the Atlantic at that time was about 21 knots. The average “dirty British coaster” went around at eight to nine knots. 50 years after McAndrew mused, the Blue Riband of the Atlantic had indeed risen to over 30 knots, but cargo-liners (ships running to a fixed schedule, carrying both passengers and cargo) rarely exceeded 22 knots as their service speed, and today’s container ship goes at much the same speed. Ship designers are always designing ships to operate at higher speeds, but the economics do not make it worthwhile.

[Line 36] “It scoughed the skipper on the way to jock wi’ the saloon”: I have been unable to find an exact definition of “scoughed” and “jock” in a dictionary of Scottish dialect, nor in the Oxford Dictionary, but the meaning is quite clear. During a typhoon, the captain was injured (or worse) (“scoughed”) while making his way from the bridge to reassure (“jock”) the saloon (or first-class) passengers.

[Line 37] “Three feet were on the stoke-hold floor …”: three feet (of water), which would have come down through the stoke-hold air intakes.

[Line 42] “Clack and repeat …”: an onomatopoeic word describing the opening and shutting action of the valve through which the boiler is fed with water – known, not surprisingly, as a ‘clack-valve’.

[Line 44] “The couples kittlin’ in the dark …”: The meaning is pretty obvious, though Kipling’s use of the word is perhaps not entirely correct. He is using it to mean, perhaps euphemistically, ‘cuddling’, or, in middle-class slang of the period, ‘spooning’. But Scots usage of the verb ‘to kittle’ has as its first meaning “to tickle”, or “to stimulate”, “make excited, or “tease”.

[Line 44] “Between the funnel-stays”: Again, the meaning is clear enough, but it is a point to be made that, while, when one looks at a picture of any steamship (even the greatest, like the Queen Mary of 1935), the stays which support her masts and derricks are visible and of obvious purpose, it is not often realised that the funnels were often comparatively flimsy structures, requiring stays for support.

[Lines 46 & 48] “… at Gay Street in Hong Kong” and “… Jane Harrigan’s and Number Nine, the Reddick, and Grant Road.”: All these are (or were) haunts of sailormen ashore. Let us leave it at that. The author of these notes has no acquaintance with them (honestly), nor is he sure in which ports the last three were (Grant Road, it is believed, was in Bombay).

[Line 52] “- blind fou wi’ sun -”: blind drunk. “Fou”, is Scots for “full”.

[Line 55] “In port (we used no cargo-steam) …”: They used no steam to power the winches for the derricks which handled the cargo. All the cargo handling would be done by gangs of coolies, so there was no need for the most junior engineer to stay on board to attend to a boiler generating steam for cargo-handling purposes.

[Line 59] “Till, off Sambawa Head, Ye mind …”:  It has not been possible to identify Sambawa Head, in precisely the form which Kipling uses, on a modern chart or atlas. The best that can be suggested is that it is Tanjong (Malay for ‘Head’, or ‘Cape’) Sambar, at the southwest corner of Borneo. This would fit with the fact that McAndrew’s first voyage was clearly to the Far East, and also with the places named at line 80. There is a place, Sambava, on the east coast of Madagascar, but no Head, and it seems unlikely that it was what Kipling had in mind.

[Lines 61-70] The counter-arguments put up by a young man to the Hell and Damnation (original sin meant that “We’re all doomed!”) teachings of the Calvinists. He has discovered that there are places and attitudes and natural events which are not in accordance with matters as seen in the dirt and gloom of Glasgow.

[Line 65] “… the Broomielaw”: then an unsavoury district of Glasgow, close to the River Clyde.

[Lines 73-75] These are interesting poetically, as Kipling shifts from aa, bb, cc, dd rhymes to a three line rhyme, to mark, one might say, McAndrew’s coming-of-age. He does the same again, twice, ten lines on.

[Line 75] an’ under all our screw:  the ship’s propellor.

[Lines 76-77] The storm here is metaphorical. Although the surface of the sea is unbroken by waves, deep down there are ocean movements that will shift the anchor on the sea-bed – the certainties one has learnt or absorbed during one’s youth – leaving one to drift without any firm set of principles on which to base one’s life.

[Line 78] “Third on the Mary Gloster then …”: Third Engineer – and a cross-reference to Kipling’s other, nearly contemporaneous, poem, “The Mary Gloster”.

[Line 80] “Fra’ Deli clear to Torres Strait”: the length of the Timor Sea. Deli is a small island off the southwest corner of Java, and the Torres Strait is the relatively narrow strait between the northern tip of the Australian continent and New Guinea (or Papua New Guinea as it is known today).

[Lines 82-3] “We dared na run that sea by night …”: The seas around the Great Barrier Reef, which stretches down the east coast of Queensland, are shallow, and in those days (McAndrew is looking back to the early 1860s) were largely uncharted, and certainly unlit. So no captain would run the risk of making a passage through them by night when he could not see the tell-tale signs of shallow water.

[Lines 82-3] “but lay and held our fire”: Kipling’s use of this phrase is unusual. This writer would have said that he got it wrong. He means that they banked the fires under their boiler(s); they’re waiting for daylight, riding at anchor, or at least hove-to with a sea anchor out, and the boilers and engines are ready for use, but not generating steam. To “hold fire” had originally an exclusively military connotation of not shooting, from which has come today’s metaphorical use of the phrase in the sense of “don’t do anything precipitate”. But, it is suggested, Kipling is making McAndrew use the phrase in the ship’s engineering sense, which would have required him to say “we lay and banked our fire”.

[Lines 82-3] “… sick with doubt an’ tire”: This too is interesting. The meaning of “tire” is clear; it means tiredness, fatigue. But it is suggested that “tire” is, generally, used as a verb only, in its fatigue sense. However, the Oxford dictionary does give the sense used here (i.e., a noun) as the first of the series of meanings for “tire”. In citing examples for this use, it quotes one dating from 1859 as the earliest example. But the second quote is this very phrase (which, incidentally, the edition of the dictionary consulted dates as 1896). So, while we cannot in strict terms suggest that Kipling made up the use of the word to suit the rhyme and metre, he came pretty close to so doing.

[Line 84] “Better the sight of eyes that see than wanderin’ o’ desire”:  This is a slight paraphrase (or misquotation, if you must) from the Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 6, verse 9. The full quotation is “Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire”.

[Lines 82-4 & 85-7] Two successive triplets(?), but they do not mark the exact end of this phase of the poem; the two final lines are a couplet. This may, perhaps, be likened to a gentle coda after two crashing chords that accompany the blaze of light which came with the “conversion on the road to Damascus”.

[Line 88] “- bright as our carbons burn”:  The first electric lighting at sea was by carbon arc lamps – they were most usually used on deck so that cargoes could be handled in darkness. They were also used in engine rooms and stoke-holds, though they could be dangerous. Leading Stoker Suddaby, of HMS Sultan was one of the first people to die from being electrocuted, in 1877. When the ship moved, in putting out a hand to steady himself, he touched a carbon arc lamp.

[Line 100] “… ere you’re spoke;”: When two ships pass, and exchange signals, an entry will be made in the log; “Spoke SS Arabic, Fremantle to Capetown”.

[Line 101] “Kerguelen”: a small sea-mount, forming an isolated island in the southern Indian Ocean, officially French, and not regularly inhabited, then or now. It lies about 2,000 nautical miles from the nearest point of the African continent, and about the same from Australia, and is not far off the great-circle route from the Cape to eastern Australia. It was not exactly inviting, but it was virtually the only place in the whole of the southern ocean where a ship might anchor to make repairs.

[Line 101] “three jiggers burned wi’ smoke!”: A jigger was a triangular staysail (a sail mounted on a fore-and-aft stay) rigged in an emergency. At this time, many, if not most, steamers still had masts and yards for occasional use, and carried sails for emergencies. Later, sails might be extemporized from awnings, etc. (cf, “The Bonds of Discipline”, in Traffics and Discoveries).

[Line 104] “kelpies”: mythical water creatures of Celtic legends.

[Line 104] “overside”:  fairly clear in meaning, but just to cross the ‘t’s and dot the ‘i’s, it means “in the water alongside the ship”.

[Line 104] “Girn”: Scots, grumble or growl. Small icebergs are known as ‘growlers’, from the noise they make when moving in pack-ice.

[Line 105] “… grindin’ like the Mills o’ God,”: no doubt our more lettered readers could have supplied the answer, but this author had always thought of the phrase as being biblical, probably from the Psalms, or Proverbs. It was only on checking references that it was discovered that it is an English translation, by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-82), of the German of Friedrich von Logau (1605-55), who wrote a work  – Sinngedichte. This particular portion is titled ‘Retribution’.

[Line 105] “the big South drift”: an ocean current in the Southern Ocean, which carries ice.

(A look at a normal atlas, in which most of the maps are made on Mercator’s projection, suggests that the shortest way from Capetown to Wellington is to go more-or-less due east, well north of the normal limits of the ice (Capetown’s latitude is 36°56’S; Albany, the southernmost port in Western Australia is 35°S). In fact, the shortest route is via a Great Circle, which is an arc on the earth’s surface between the two points named, having the centre of the earth as its origin, Over long distances, this is significantly shorter than the seemingly-direct line, which follows an arc struck from the centre of the segment of the earth on which the two points lie. If this is not clear (and it probably isn’t) try it on an orange! The point is, that McAndrew’s ship (and Kipling’s, in 1891) would have headed substantially south of east, on leaving Capetown, and every two days or so, would have altered course more to the east, until at the half way point it was steering due east, and then would have similarly altered course to the north of east until its destination was reached. Thus, its track would have taken it down towards the edge of the pack-ice. A similar course would have been followed on the homeward passage (“the Rio run” – line 102) from Wellington to Cape Horn.)

[Line 106] “(Hail, Snow and Ice that praise the Lord. … )”: an echo of the Benedicite Omnia Opera, one of the canticles from the service of Matins (Morning Prayer) in the Church of England (v. 14, “Oh ye Ice and Snow, bless ye the Lord. Praise him, and magnify him for ever”).

[Line 107] “… kirk”: Scots for ‘church’.

[Line 108-9] “… for though Thy Power brings/ All skill to naught, …”:  I have been unable to find a precise reference for this phrase. Later, Kipling wrote a verse, “Non Nobis, Domine”, in which he says “For in Thy judgement lies/To crown or bring to naught/All knowledge and device/Which man hath reached or wrought”. The phrase “Non Nobis, Domine” is a reflection of Psalm 115 (The Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer, or the Authorised Version of the Bible, Old Testament, Book of Psalms) (the texts are not absolutely identical, though the meaning is), but the remainder of the sentiment as expressed by McAndrew is not within the psalm.

[Line 112] “The tender’s coming now”: In many ports, at this time, there would be no berths alongside a jetty, or no berths with sufficient depth of water for ocean-going steamers, which would lie in the roadstead, and discharge their passengers into a “tender”, a small steamer which could get alongside. This was particularly the case in Plymouth.

[Line 113] “Follower-bolts”: Thanks to an American correspondent, Bart Smaalders, we can now explain the meaning of this expression. Piston follower-bolts were found on the top of the piston, where they held the “junk ring” in place. The junk ring itself held in place the main piston ring, which was what made the piston steam tight. These were under heavy load in worn engines due to any slop in the rings being passed on as a shock-reversing load.

The only way of checking these would likely be to lift the top cylinder cover and rotate the crank to bring the piston being checked to top-dead-centre. The bolts would then be immediately to hand, in front of the Engineer’s nose, and their tightness could easily be checked. Since the top of the engine was often virtually at upper deck level, immediately under the engine-room skylight, one can imagine McAndrew standing on top of his engine and looking out through either portholes or skylight to “watch the skipper bow”.

[Line 119] “snifter-rod”.  Also something of a mystery. A snifting valve, or snifter valve, was a relief valve, though in later practice it was automatic in operation, and required no rod to actuate it.

[Line 121] “patty-pans”: small dishes for baking small pies (cf. Beatrix Potter’s The Pie and the Patty-Pan).

[Line 123] “those”: This, it is suggested, was ‘said’ with a jerk of the head or thumb to the engines down below. This is another indication that the setting is within the engine room.

[Line 124] “There’s bricks that I might recommend – an’ clink the fire-bars cruel./ No! Welsh – Wangarti at the worst – and damn all patent fuel.”:  This may be translated as “Patent fuel salesmen will try to persuade me to recommend their make of coal briquettes to my owners, but all that they (the briquettes) do is cause clinker on the fire-bars, which hinders steam-producing. So I will have nothing to do with any fuel except Welsh steam coal; at a pinch I am prepared to make do with coal from the Wangarti colliery on the west coast of New Zealand.” Penny-pinching owners might try to run their ships on inferior fuel, such as coal briquettes (compressed coal-dust and some binding agent), but most engineers would insist that this was a false economy. Welsh coal, from the South Wales valleys, was highly regarded as the best, and huge quantities were exported to coaling ports all round the world. Coal from the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand also had a good reputation. For a ship calling at New Zealand, it obviously made sense to buy local coal for its bunkers; all other things being equal, it would be cheaper, since it had not had to be carried halfway round the world.

[Line 130] “So, wrestled with Apollyon”: a reference to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Apollyon was the Greek name for the king of Hell.

[Line 132-3] “Ye know how hard an Idol dies …/E’en tak’ it as a sacrifice acceptable to Thee”: McAndrew would seem to have a distinctly Old Testament view of his God.

[Line 134-5] “Below there! Oiler! …… Ye find it runnin’ hard?”: The oiler has replied that the bearing he is oiling is rather warmer than it should be, indicating that more lubrication is needed. In those days, with little by way of instrumentation, the back of the hand (rather like a mother’s elbow in the baby’s bathwater) was used as a thermometer.

[Line 134-5] You needn’t swill the cup with oil – this isn’t the Cunard!: With a bearing on a rotating shaft, the top will remain on top, and so a small brass cup, with its base screwed into the bearing, will remain upright as the machinery rotates, and so can be filled with oil, without spilling, and the oil then feeds down into the bearing to lubricate the rubbing surfaces. The Cunard Steamship Company was then among the most prestigious shipping lines, with a reputation for not counting the cost.

[Line 142] “… our Viscount loon – ”: ‘loon’; Scots for ‘chap’. It can frequently have less complimentary meanings; “a rough”; “a lawless scoundrel”; “a mischievous rogue” – but not here!

[Line 143] “… spar-decked yachtin’-cap”: It is suggested that this should rather be “spar-deck yachtin’ cap”. Spar-decked suggests that the yachting-cap had some particular distinguishing-feature, as one might have said a white-topped yachting cap. I believe that it refers to any old yachting-cap (and in broad terms a yachting-cap was a yachting-cap), such as might have been worn by pretentious first-class passengers taking their exercise on the spar-deck. The spar deck was an incomplete deck, the uppermost, which consisted of walk-ways on each side of the ship between the poop and the fo’c’s’le. The space between the two walk-ways was filled with spare spars. The upper decks were the preserve of the first-class passengers.

[Line 146-7] “… to see what ailed the throws,/Manholin’, on my back …”: The original note for this line said “It is suggested that, as happens from time to time, Kipling is trying to be a bit too clever. The throw of a crank, the radius of the circle described by the centre-line of the crank-pin, is a dimension, not something physical, or solid, to go wrong.”

However, our American correspondent Bart Smaalders has explained that, in American usage, “throw” referred to the crankpin itself, as well as its distance from the centre-line of the crankshaft. And Kipling wrote this verse when he was living in Vermont, so he most likely picked up the usage from an American friend. And since the brotherhood of engineers is international, McAndrew, however much of a Scot he might be, could easily have picked up the phrase in any of the ports around the world.

Nonetheless, the sense is again clear. Something is not quite right at the bottom end of the engine in the crank-pit – a bearing running hot, perhaps – and he has been down there, uncomfortably wedged into a small manhole, with the cranks whizzing past his nose, three inches off, trying to determine what is amiss.

[Line 151] “Robbie Burns”: Robert Burns (1759-96), Scotland’s national poet.

[Line 153] “the tail-rods mark the time”: A tail-rod was an upward extension of a piston, or valve, rod, passing through another bearing at the top of a cylinder. As a piston or valve went up and down the tail-rod would bob up and down also.

[Line 154] “the crank-throws give the double-bass”: As commented above, Kipling is being a bit too clever. He could have said, with equal ‘musical truth’ “the crank-shaft”, or “crank-pins”.

[Line 154] “the feed-pump sobs and heaves”: Here he has it exactly right. The feed pump was the pump that fed water into the boilers, and its noise and movement, as it heaved itself upward to force the water in against the pressure in the boiler, is nicely described.

[Line 155] “The main eccentrics start their quarrel on the sheaves”: The eccentrics provided the drive to the valve(s) which controlled the admission of steam into, and exhaust from, the cylinders. Their reciprocating motion was derived from the rotary motion of the crank-shaft by means of the eccentric-sheaves. These were circular metallic discs, mounted on the crank-shaft, so that the centre of the disc was not on the centre of (eccentric – occasionally spelt excentric) the centre-line of the crank-shaft. This meant that the lower end of the eccentric (or eccentric rod) itself, which enclosed the sheave, described a circle in a way similar to a crank. So, whereas the up-and-down motion of the piston rod was transferred into rotary motion at the bottom end of the connecting rod, here the rotary motion at the bottom end of the eccentric (rod) was transmitted as reciprocating motion at its upper end. They were continually rubbing one on another, and so might be said to be quarrelling.

[Line 156] “… the rocking link-head …”: There were two eccentric rods, usually mounted at 90° to one another, so that when the top end of one was at the outermost limit of its reach, the other was half-way through its travel. Each was connected to the ends of the link, a metal arc of a circle. Because the two eccentrics were not in step with each other, the effect was to rock the link backwards and forwards. The link itself was connected on a sliding block to the valve rod; the effect was that, if the sliding block was moved to one end of the link, then the motion of the valve rod was derived from the eccentric at that end of the link. If it was moved to the other, then the other eccentric controlled the valve; because these eccentrics were 90° apart, the effect of moving the block from one end of the link to the other was to reverse the engine.

[Line 157] “The rod’s return”: This is the valve rod, or the piston rod, returning in its course.

[Line 157] “glimmering”: Scots; dazzling, blinking, winking. It’s not quite the same as “gleaming” – that implies a steady light. ‘Glimmering’ is bright but intermittent

[Line 158] “the clangin’ chorus goes …”: I’ve always thought that Kipling wasn’t very kind to McAndrew’s engines here. A well-maintained set of engines most certainly did not “clang” – if they did, there was something a great deal more wrong than just the “crosshead gibs” being loose. But let us just call it poetic licence; and it certainly is a splendid phrase in this context.

[Line 159] “Clear to the tunnel where they sit, my purrin’ dynamoes”: In early days, the dynamos were sometimes mounted on the propeller-shaft itself, in the shaft-tunnel (the tunnel mentioned here). This was fine, until you had to stop the engine (but a bank of batteries was provided, rather as in the electricity supplies for individual country houses, in the days before supply from the mains became universal.) However, since there was not a great deal of use for electricity (as suggested above, the only electric lighting was by carbon arcs, and was not used within the passenger accommodation), the failure of the electricity supply was not of much moment.

[Lines 160-9] These lines set out McAndrew’s interpretation of Calvinist principles, as exemplified by his machinery. Predestination, in that he knows exactly how each part will act and react, is there, each part acting in accordance with a pre-ordained law of nature, or God. “Law, Order, Duty an’ Restraint, Obedience, Discipline!” It might have been his own creed; another Law of the Jungle.

[Line 163] “An’ singin’ like the Mornin’ Stars …”: This is a reflection of the Book of Job, Chapter 38, verse 7: “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.”

[Line 180] “I’ll never last to judge her lines or take her curve”:  shipbuilding terms, relating to the laying out of a ship’s lines on a mould loft floor. In these days of computer-generated plans, and computer-controlled machines which cut metal according to the plans, it is salutary to think that until very recently, the essential structure of ships was still laid out full size on the mould loft floor, before being cut or fabricated. Visitors may see how it was done in the Historic Dockyard at Chatham.

[Line 183] “Losh! Yon’s the stand-by bell”: The bridge telegraph has been moved from Full-Ahead to Stand By, preparatory to slowing or stopping the engine, to pick up the pilot.

[Line 184] “Pilot so soon? His flare it is.”: They are approaching Plymouth at about 4.a.m., so it is still dark. There are probably a mass of small boats (fishing for “pilchards off Looe”), among which the Pilot boat will not be readily distinguished. On the other hand, the pilot can see the lights of a large ship approaching, presumably requiring a pilot, because she’s heading for Plymouth Sound, so he sends up a flare to say “Here I am”.

[Line 184] “The mornin’-watch is set”: These musings have lasted the whole four hours of the Middle watch.

[Line 185] “I’m no Pelagian yet”: The Pelagians denied the doctrine of Original Sin.

[Line 186] “Now I’ll tak’ on …”: I’ll take charge in the engine room. This would be his duty when the ship was manoeuvring to go into or out of harbour.

[Line 186-7] “Man, have ye ever thought/What your good leddy costs in coal? … I’ll burn ‘em down to port.”:  Ferguson’s “three turns for Mistress Ferguson” will actually have cost another hundredweight or two of coal. McAndrew will let the fires die down gradually, skillfully judging it so that the engines are rung off with the minimum of unburned coal remaining on the fire-bars.

[A. J. W. W.]