Rudyard Kipling in New Zealand

(by Margaret Newsom, September 1972)


In 1891, the overworked Kipling, not yet married, and depending on Thomas Cook to take him to some South Pacific islands, left England for the largest of them all—New Zealand. He sailed via Cape Town,
spending some days there, and arrived in the North Island, at Wellington, on 18th October. Kipling was then 25, rising 26, years old. The New Zealand Herald the next day, under the title—MR. RUDYARD KIPLING. Arrival in New Zealand. Wellington—Sunday announced:

Mr. Rudyard Kipling, the well known author, arrived from London today
per the Doric … He left India in 1889, and travelled in China, Japan
and America, and thence to England, where his short racy stories and
graphic sketches of Indian character became all the rage. Mr. Kipling
is now on his way to Samoa to visit Mr. Stevenson.

The next day there was further news of him:—

Mr. Rudyard Kipling will remain in Wellington for the next three or four days. He proposes to go through the native country on the West Coast, through the Taupo district in the centre of the North Island, through the King Country, and the Waikato
before embarking for Samoa. He talks pleasantly, does not wish to be
talked to about his books, in fact, he has a mortal horror of ‘shop’.

The welcome Kipling was given in Wellington obviously delighted him. His
canoe trip on the moonlight waters of the harbour may be referred to in
the WELLINGTON NEWS NOTES for Thursday, October 22nd, which

RUDYARD KIPLING This gentleman went to Napier this morning by train. He goes to the Hot Lakes. It appears that he caught
a chill by going on a moonlight boating excursion in the Wellington
harbour since his arrival here. He returns to Wellington in about ten
days. It is now said that he will go to Australia by the Bluff on his way
to Samoa.

Kipling was enthusiastic about the overseas clubhouses from Aden
to Yokohama, and wrote :

There is always the same assembly of men
talking horse or business … At Wellington, overlooking the harbour
(all right-minded clubs should command the sea), another, and yet a
like, sort of men speak of sheep, the rabbits, the land-courts, and the
ancient heresies of Sir Julius Vogel; and their more expressive sentences
borrow from the Maori.
[Letters of Travel (1892-1913), pp. 48/9]

It may be assumed that the talk was of the severe depression that then afflicted the country. He remembered ‘the long drawled taihoo (by and by) of the Maori, which meant the same as “when they get around to it” in Vermont.’

Kipling’s train to Napier must have gone via Palmerston North,
passing through Otaki and ‘the native country on the West Coast.’ (The other route to Napier, through the Hutt Valley, involving a journey by train and coach, would have taken a day longer.) Kipling commented on the subject of trains in an interview at Wellington, and said: ‘Your
express speed seems about twenty miles an hour, but we don’t generally
do much more than that on our Indian lines.’ A guide book, published
two years after Kipling was in New Zealand, explained that: ‘Private
vehicles (generally ‘buggies’) may be hired.’ The Concise Oxford Dictionary says that a “buggy” is a ‘light vehicle for one or two persons.’

Kipling omits the train journey and says: ‘From Wellington I went north towards Auckland in a buggy with a small grey mare, and a most taciturn driver.’ The museum at Napier contained ‘a good collection
of Maori carvings and weapons’ and ‘a fine skeleton of a Moa,’ the long-extinct wingless bird which was hunted for food by pre-Maori settlers.

The first part of Kipling’s journey in a buggy was along the lonely
and at times precarious road from Napier to Taupo, known as the
Taupo Road. In 1886, the mail coach had overturned on a steep grade
near the Titiokura Saddle, and Griffiths, the man who ran the service,
was killed. The mail coach with five horses took two days to cover the
eighty-nine miles to Taupo which is beside Lake Taupo. There were hotels on the way which catered for passengers and the changes of
horses. As there were no other hotels, I have no doubt that Kipling
and his driver were served by them too. It was the rising Esk that the
buggy forded ‘twenty three times,’ but guide book and map show that it should have been about as many times again. (See Something of Myself p. 100]

‘It was bush country after rain.’ His way wound past pretty gorges in the magnificent Runanga bush. How can I describe the primeval New Zealand forest, or “bush”—so completely unlike anything in
England? Kipling saw it simply as ‘the leafy deep’ [“The Flowers”].

He was in the country at the time of year when the most distinctive of the flowers native
to New Zealand were in bloom, not only in the bush but in varied situations in the North Island. He noticed the kowhai and the broom, and
could not have failed to see the others which he mentions in a verse
in his poem, “The Flowers”, so conspicuous are they.

But, to recognise them in that verse, from the botanically correct names he gives them, or (for non-New Zealanders) from the common names of English plants
he uses, is quite an achievement! Thus:— ‘blood-red myrtle bloom’ is the pohutukawa, ‘clinging myrtle’ is the northern rata, ‘broom’ is the
Carmichaelia (a genus peculiar to New Zealand), ‘pine’ is the kauri,
‘fern’ is the tree-fern, and ‘flax’ is the New Zealand flax (phormium
. The ‘windy town’, New Zealanders agree, means Wellington. Kipling again used the idea of national flowers in “England’s Answer”, representing New Zealand by ‘the Southern Broom’ (explained above). I presume that he was thinking of New Zealand in his poem “The Song
of the Dead”
when he wrote : ‘then the food failed … in the fern-scrub
we lay, That our sons might follow after by the bones on the way.’
‘By the bones on the way’ ?—Is there any connection with the
horse’s skull Kipling passed ‘beside the track’ which was the Taupo
Road? To his driver it meant the lock on the chain of his bondage to
circumstance, ‘and why the hell did I come along talking about all those
foreign, far places I had seen?’—Kipling recalled and recorded more
than forty years later. And there was ‘Fern above the saddle-bow.’ If
his driver’s father was Griffiths it would make good sense of the passage.
The road crossed the Maungaharuru mountain range, and the views
were glorious.

I visualise Kipling thinking about those views when he
said that British Columbia was ‘perhaps the loveliest land in the world next to New Zealand.’ [Letters of Travel, p. 83] He made the land seem like Paradise, not only with that remark. There were the superlatives he used about Auckland, and the toast in “The Native-Born”—’To the sun that never blisters, To the
rain that never chills—To the land of the waiting springtime . . .’ The
Taupo Road ‘came out’, just as Kipling said it did, ‘on great plains
where wild horses stared at us, and caught their feet in long blown
manes as they stamped and snorted.’ [Something of Myself, pp. 93-102]

These were the great Kaingaroa Plains, a barren track of country, covered with coarse grass and scrub. A pictorial map, compiled by Lt.-Col. R. M. Bell in 1963, claims that ‘wild horses were numerous here even up to recent times,’ and that five
miles to the south of the road, ‘kiwis and wekas were still numerous in early 1900’s.’ There was a “Kiwi Block” beside the road near Tarawara where the coaches stopped at the end of the first day out from
Napier. Kipling mentions the farmer and his wife sitting up half the
night over their farm talk—’in the middle of New Zealand, on the edge of the Wild horse plains.’ [Letters of Travel, p. 8]. I think it was the New Zealand wild horse
he used with good effect in “The Cat that Walked by Himself”. Do you
remember—’Wild Horse, tripping and stumbling on his long mane?’ The road crossed Rangitaiki Stream. ‘Travellers stop for luncheon at
the little hotel there,’ explained the guide book, but did not say whether
the local kiwi was on the menu. Kipling wished that he had kept the
skeleton of the bird with no trace of wings he was given to eat!

After a night at Taupo, he would have driven beside the lake and
seen, presumably, the kowhai trees shedding their flowers on to the
waters. Thence to Wairakei, only five miles away, to the only possible
hotel he could have stayed at, called Graham’s, and described as
‘homely and comfortable.’ The guide book4 informed travellers going by coach, and wishing to make the diversion to Wairakei, to send a telegram beforehand to Mrs. Graham, of the Wairakei hotel. She would
then have a buggy to meet them on the road. In a hand book8 published
seven years before Kipling was there, the hotel at Wairakei was called
Mr. Robert Graham’s Establishment, and added that, ‘Many visitors to Taupo appear to visit Mrs. Graham’s establishment at Wairakei, and
to return without seeing anything more; and so they miss the group of
geysers.’ The later guide book4 describes in great detail the Geyser
Valley at Wairakei. This is the setting for Kipling’s delightful uncollected
story “One Lady at Wairakei”, which he wrote for the New Zealand
It was printed on January 30th, 1892. The story is about his
encounter with Truth whom he finds in a pool which is the bottom of
the well looked into from the other side of the world!. The next day, Kipling went by the Ateamuri road to Rotorua, also famed for its geysers and hot springs.

On Tuesday, October 27th, The
New Zealand Herald announced :

ROTORUA, Monday. MR. RUDYARD KIPLING arrived today from Wairakei, of which place he speaks highly . . . He spent the afternoon here rambling through the
Maori pah and bathing in the bath pavilion. Mr. Kipling is a most
interesting conversationalist. He leaves tomorrow for Cambridge.

In the Auckland LOCAL GOSSIP column a few days later appeared the

During his stay in Rotorua he had an amusing and
characteristic adventure. He went into a place to get shaved. The sartorial
artist had occasion to go out for a few minutes on pressing business.
While absent a Maori wahine came in, and Rudyard asked her what
she wanted. She laconically replied, “matches”. He is as ready to help
a shopkeeper in his duty as ‘the reporter of an obscure London paper’,
and after explaining to her (for she understood the Anglo-Indian’s
speech) that his partner was out, and that he (Rudyard) ‘was not there
for a blue moon, but generally went about in spots’, he proceeded behind
the counter and handed her out a box. The famous Maori tourist guide
dropped down to her man, and quietly said, ‘She was always accustomed
to have her purchases done up in paper.’ Rudyard collapsed and
‘tumbled’ .

Kipling must have spent the night of 27th at Cambridge which was
in the centre of the farming district of the Waikato. He travelled there
in the buggy through some ‘rich and beautiful bush4’ (and there were
pheasants in a patch of it near Oxford). From Cambridge he took the
train to Auckland, arriving on the morning of 28th—according to a
letter in the New Zealand Herald. (Dr. Primrose’s idea—see below—
that he travelled from Rotorua on 28th would have made it impossible
for him to arrive in Auckland before midday. He would therefore have
had time to do some shooting.)
“AUCKLAND” (from “The Song of the Cities”): : —

Last, loneliest, loveliest, exquisite, apart—
On us, on us the unswerving season smiles,
Who wonder ‘mid our fern why men depart
To seek the Happy Isles!

The remark in the present Shell Guide to New Zealand, that ‘there is
still no poet as quotable about Auckland as Kipling,’ seems correct.
Without any prompting, I heard the first line of that verse—which is still
true—three times in Auckland last year. (1971) Kipling also said: ‘All I carried away from the magic town of Auckland was the face and voice of a woman who sold me beer at a little hotel there.’ [Someting of Myself] Who was that woman who impressed him so much that ten years later, the memory of her, in association with lame ducks and scorpions, moved the log-jam of ideas in his head and set free a story—the enigma, or simple tale, of “Mrs. Bathurst’? Let me tell you that there is no place near Auckland called “Hauraki” [Traffics and Discoveries p. 348 line18] I suggest that the ‘face and voice’ were Mrs.
Graham’s ‘who kep’ a little hotel’ at Wairakei, and that she is further distinguished, by playing “Truth” in “One Lady at Wairakei !”

I give you part of the long report on Kipling in The New Zealand
of Thursday, October 29, 1891—

the young Anglo-Indian who of recent years has so rapidly achieved
literary fame, arrived in Auckland yesterday overland from Wellington.
He was met at the railway station by Mr. Hugh Campbell, whose
acquaintance he had previously made, and spent the afternoon with
that gentleman in seeing as much of the city as the few remaining hours
of daylight would permit. He was driven through the principal thoroughfares, visited several places of interest, (including the Herald office)
inspected the more important public buildings, and eventually took up
his quarters in the Northern Club. In the evening a Herald
representative waited upon Mr. Kipling, and enjoyed the privilege of half an
hour’s pleasant conversation. It was only a friendly and a merry chat,
a period all too brief spent in the society of a brilliant conversationalist,
a genial and utterly unaffected companion—because Mr. Kipling has
a horror of the customary formal interview . . . Speaking of his journalistic experiences, he said he was now entirely clear of such work, but
still it had so great a fascination for him that he occasionally took it up
for the pleasure of being again engaged in his old pursuits.

T have taken up the work of a reporter on an obscure London paper, just to get my
hands once more upon the keys. I met the reporter and said I would
do his work, not mentioning my name, but merely saying that I knew
something of the newspaper business. I had seven years of it in India,
and it is not always fun to get out a daily paper with the thermometer
at midnight standing at a hundred and a lot over in the shade. But still
it has a great fascination for me, and I cannot even look at a newspaper
without analysing it and considering how the work has been done»
or picturing to myself the mental condition of an unhappy sub-editor
or reporter who has made a slip and awaits the managerial wrath

. . .
‘Yes’, he said, ‘I think Auckland a very beautiful city; perhaps the
most beautiful I have ever seen,’ . . .he stated that he intended to leave
Onehunga for Wellington next day, and from the empire city would
proceed to Australia. He hopes to be able to visit Robert Louis
Stevenson in that gentleman’s South Sea Island home, but he is not quite sure
whether he can do so on his present trip, or will have to postpone
it for a time. None of his arrangements are strictly definite; because
being simply on a holiday, he is, as he states, liable to change his mind.
His health has greatly benefited by his trip, and before he resumes his
literary labours he will probably be restored to all his former physical
and intellectual vigour.

Kipling’s name was on the passenger list of the S.S. Mahinapua
which left Auckland late the next morning, the 29th, to sail south, via
the Manakau Harbour, to New Plymouth and Wellington. At Wellington, on 2nd November, he embarked for Melbourne on the S.S. Talune
and “tackled”, as he said, ‘The South Island, mainly populated by Scots, their sheep, and the Devil’s own high winds … in another
steamer, among colder and increasing seas.’ [Something of Myself] Kipling saw Christchurch,
Dunedin, and presumably Invercargill. The weather news on 2nd was:-—

FIERCE GALE AT WELLINGTON. A fierce north-west gale has been blowing all day . . . There are no signs of it abating.

Kipling recollected that, when the Talune left Bluff:

For the better part of a week we were swept from end to end, our poop was split, and a foot or two of water smashed through the tiny saloon.’

In “Half-a-Dozen Pictures” [Letters of Travel, p. 72.] one of the pictures seems to be of this voyage. It begins like this:—

‘Down in the South where the ships never go’— between the
heel of New Zealand and the South Pole, there is a sea-piece showing
a steamer trying to come round in the trough of a big beam sea.

Kipling paints an albatross in it with a red, unwinking, eye. And “The Long Trail” seems to fit in here:

Then home, get her home, where the drunken
rollers comb,
And the shouting seas drive by,
And the engines stamp and ring, and the wet bows reel and swing,
And the Southern Cross rides high!

But the best picture of this sea is, I think, in “The Gipsy Trail”

Follow the Romany patteran
Sheer to the Austral Light,
Where the besom of God is the wild South wind,
Sweeping the sea-floors white.

Other incidents in Kipling’s nineteen-day tour of New Zealand are
well described by Dr. J. B. Primrose in the Kipling Journal, Nos. 145
and 148.


Margaret Newsom

©Margaret Newsom 1972 All rights reserved