The Native-born

(notes by Philip Holberton)


First published in The Times, October 14th, 1895. ORG No. 642.

Collected in:

  • The Seven Seas (1896)
  • Inclusive Verse (1919)
  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • Sussex Edition vol. 33 p. 4`
  • Burwash Edition vol. 26
  • Cambridge Edition (2013 Ed. Pinney) p. 348

The poem

The poem is a celebration of the English who were actually born in the Colonies, though their parents had emigrated from Britain and still thought of England as “home”. It is also a plea for them to realise their ties with each other as parts of the Empire, what W.D.Howells called “The Larger England”.

Charles Carrington (p. 258) writes:

For several years Rudyard had been in a special relation with the London Times. When he left England in 1892 Moberly Bell [the Manager] had told him that The Times would publish anything that he cared to submit, an offer that he interpreted in two ways. He had begun by sending Bell a series of travel-sketches in the ordinary way of journalism, and later he used The Times as a platform for the major poems which he designed to carry a message to his generation. On 14 October 1895 The Times had published Rudyard’s poem, ‘The Native-Born’.

Manager of The Times (Moberly Bell) to Rudyard, Kipling
October 14th, 1895

My Dear Kipling,
Let me thank you very heartily on my own behalf, and on behalf of the proprietors of The Times, for the really beautiful poem you have allowed us to publish in The Times this morning.
It is, I think, the first time we have ever published a poem not written in relation to any one definite event, and this caused us (as a good old conservative institution) to hesitate, but as we read and re-read your poem our scruples disappeared.

‘Here’s richness for me,’ wrote Kipling to Norton, ‘and I should never have thought of trying the austere old Times but for you.’

[Charles Norton had known Kipling’s father Lockwood in the Pre-Raphaelite circle in London. He was now a Professor at Harvard, and became one of Kipling’s best friends in New England.]
‘The Native-Born’, an appeal from the colonial born overseas for a little understanding on the part of his English brother, was the first of these public poems. During the next forty years about twenty more of them were given to The Times including ‘Our Lady of the Snows’, ‘Recessional’, ‘The White Man’s Burden’, ‘The Islanders’, ‘The Dead King’, and ‘For all we have and are’. ‘Given to The Times,’
said Kipling, ‘because for this kind of work I did not take payment’; and accordingly they involved him in difficulties over copyright.

Andrew Lycett (p. 380) describes the poem as :

… some rousing propagandist verses, ‘The Native-Born’, which hailed the common heritage and purpose of the English-speaking peoples.

Lycett notes that it was written during the border dispute between Britain and Venezuela, over the border with British Guiana, in which the American government supported Venezuela, a source of serious tension between the two great Atlantic posers:

Partly to diffuse this tension Rudyard had written “The Native-Born”, with its emphasis on the common destiny of English-speaking peoples.

Notes on the Text

[Verse 1]

our mothers’ land: the speakers’ mothers were born in Britain and still call old England “home”

[Verse 2]

They change  … but roam:  Daniel Hadas notes: ‘This paraphrases Horace, Epistles 1.11.22, caelum, non animum, mutant qui trans mare currunt (“they who rush across the sea change the sky [above them], not the mind [within them]“)’  [D.H.]

[Verse 3]

Our father …. right of birth:   roughly what Kipling says of himself in stanza 8 of ‘To the City of Bombay’ [D.H.]

They emigrated to the Colonies where their sons are “native-born.”

[lines 5 to 8] See Kipling’s contemporary poem “The Flowers”, comparing the flowers and birds of the Colonies with those of England.


[line 6] the Cross: the Southern Cross, the most distinctive constellation in the sky of the Southern Hemisphere.

Its stars feature on the flags of Australia and New Zealand.




[line 7] lories: lorikeets, a species of Australian parrot with a harsh cry.


[Verse 3]

[line 2] wrong: Thousands of Scots were forced to emigrate in the Highland Clearances, when the land they farmed was taken over to run sheep.


dearth: over a million Irish emigrated to escape the great potato famine of 1845-49.

[Verse 4]

[line 1] I charge you charge your glasses: I call on you to fill them, ready to drink a health – (see line 2).

[line 3] the Four New Nations: Canada, a Dominion since 1867; Cape Colony, granted self-government in 1872; Australia, still a loose grouping of six individual States (they joined together as the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901); and New Zealand, still a Colony – it became a Dominion in 1907.

[line 4] the Islands of the Sea: the British West Indies. The poem does not mention them again, though each of the Four Nations gets a verse to itself.

[Verse 5]

[line 2] thin, tin, crackling roofs: Most Australian houses were roofed with corrugated iron which crackles as it expands in the heat. Kipling only ever visited Australia for about a fortnight in 1891, but four years later his memory produced the perfect descriptive word.

[line 3] burned back-ranges: burned by bush-fires or by the fierce sun. The best-known line of one of Australia’s best-known poems runs:
‘I love a sunburnt country’
(“My Country” by Dorothea Mackellar.)

[lines 5 & 6] To the risk of a death by drowning,/ To the risk of a death by drouth: Australia has a climate of contrasts, with devastating floods as well as droughts.

drouth: old spelling of drought.

[line 7] men of a million acres: Wikipedia lists over 40 Australian cattle properties which were in existence by 1895 and which had an area of 1,000,000 acres or more – 1562.5 square miles or about 4000 square kilometres.

[line 8] sons of the Golden South: Gold was discovered in Australia in 1851, but Kipling is probably referring to the extensive fields of golden wheat. Verse 10 alludes to gold-mining in the context of South Africa.

[Verse 7]

[line1] a thousand coasters: Kipling visited New Zealand briefly in 1891. He noted that ‘one was always taking small and rickety coast-wise craft across those big seas.’ (Something of Myself p. 98). See also “Rudyard Kipling in New Zealand” by Margaret Newsom.

[line 2] the sheep on a thousand hills: New Zealand is famous for its mutton.

[line 7] the tall deep-bosomed women: Kipling described New Zealanders as ‘large, long-eyelashed, and extraordinarily good-looking’ (Something of Myself p. 99)

[Verse 9]

[line 3] offing: the more distant part of the sea visible from the shore (Oxford English Dictionary) The Canadian prairie is so big that Kipling likens it to the sea. cf. “Lukannon” verse 3:

And through the foam-flecked offing, as far as voice could reach,
We hailed the landing-parties and we sang them up the beach.

[line 6] Lake gulls: gulls from the Great Lakes between Canada and the United States.

[Verse 10]

[line 3] great Cape combers: great waves off the Cape of Good Hope, at the southern tip of Africa. The Portuguese first called it, more accurately, the Cape of Storms.

[line 4] Karroo:  an arid plateau in the west of Cape Colony.

[line 5] the sluicing stamp-head: gold-bearing rock is crushed under steel rods that stamp up and down, and then washed – sluiced – to extract the gold.

[line 6] the reef: the vein of rock containing gold

water-gold: presumably alluvial gold which has been eroded out of the reef and now lies in the bed of a stream. (Not known with this meaning by the Oxford English Dictionary)

It is interesting that, in a poem devoted to British possessions, Kipling mentions gold-mining as typical of South Africa, where it was confined to the independent Boer Republic of the Transvaal.

[line 8] the map that is half unrolled:  England was expanding its territory in South Africa. It took over the Cape from the Dutch in 1795. Natal was annexed in 1844, Bechuanaland to the west (now Botswana) became a protectorate in 1885. In 1889 the British South Africa Company, under the chairmanship of Cecil Rhodes, received a Royal Charter to explore and occupy lands north of the Limpopo River, which became the vast territories of North and South Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe). Rhodes’ avowed dream was a route the length of Africa from Cape Town to Cairo on British territory all the way. Kipling records that when they met in Cape Town in 1897 Rhodes ‘said to me apropos of nothing in particular: ‘What’s your dream?’ I answered that he was part of it.’ (Something of Myself p. 149)

[Verse 11]

[line 1] our dear dark foster-mothers: Kipling was born in Bombay (now Mumbai). As he records on page 1 of Something of Myself, his ayah (nurse) was a Portuguese Roman Catholic. In 1891 he visited his parents in Lahore. Called back urgently to England by a cable from Caroline Balestier (whom he married 8 days after he reached London) he still found time to visit his ayah on his way: ‘Then down to Bombay where my ayah, so old but so unaltered, met me with blessings and tears.’ (Something of Myself p.105).

[lines 3-4] the heathen speech we babbled, Ere we came to the white man’s tongue: ‘we were sent into the dining-room after we had been dressed, with the caution “Speak English now to Papa and Mamma.” So one spoke ‘English’, haltingly translated out of the vernacular idiom that one thought and dreamed in.’ (Something of Myself p. 3)

Daniel Hadas writes: I think stanza 11 is dedicated to the West Indies.  The “dark foster-mothers” could hardly be in Canada, nor, to my knowledge, in New Zealand or Australia. They could be in South Africa (so the Wordsworth edition), but then the Cape Colony would have one more stanza than the other dominions, which is unlikely. So they’re best assigned to the West Indies. The “jewelled main” also fits the Caribbean better than the other options, as of course does “[sugar] cane”. [D.H.]

[Verse 12]

[line 1] the hearth of Our People’s People: England, still “home” to the parents of the Native-born.

[line 4] the Abbey: Westminster Abbey in London, the spiritual heart of Britain and Empire, where sovereigns are crowned and buried.

[Verse 14]

[line 2 ] six white men: the number is a puzzle . Verse 4 lists the Four New Nations/And the Islands of the Sea. Where does the sixth man come from? He cannot be English; verse 1 says: We’ve drunk to our English brother/  (But he does not understand)’. Perhaps he is Kipling himself, who was technically “native-born” in Bombay, though the English in India never considered themselves as colonists or permanent residents. England was ‘home’ for them. Fred Lerner suggests that the sixth nation might be Newfoundland. It didn’t become part of Canada until 1949, and was recognised as a Dominion in the Statute of Westminster in 1931. [F.L.]

Daniel Hadas comments: I think we have 5 white men for Canada, NZ, Australia, the Cape Colony, and the West Indies, while the 6th white man is English. Your site’s argument that the sixth white man “cannot be English; verse 1 says: We’ve drunk to our English brother” does not hold. The speakers have also drunk to the Native-born, and they are clearly present in this tableau, so the fact they are drinking to the Englishman doesn’t mean he can’t be present. One could even argue that, in the final stanza, the Englishman is joining the other 5 whites in speaking.  [D.H.]

[line 6] cable-tow: a thick rope, here standing for the strength of the tie between the countries of the Native-born.

[line 7] the Orkneys: distant islands off the north coast of Scotland.

the Horn: Cape Horn, the southernmost point of South America; together with the Orkneys in the far North of Britain, symbolising the whole world.


© Philip Holberton 2016 All rights reserved