One Lady at Wairakei

(notes edited by John Radcliffe)



ORG Volume 5, page 2504, records the first publication of this story (Uncollected No. 209) in the New Zealand Herald for 30 January 1892, reprinted in the same newspaper on January 20th 1936, two days after Kipling’s death. It was reprinted again in the New Zealand Herald on January 27th 1962. It has not been collected.


Kipling was still a young man of twenty-five, though already a literary celebrity. He had left London, tired and overworked, in September 1891, with the aim of recovering his energies:

… all this jam of work done or devising, demands, distractions, excitements, and promiscuous confusions, my health cracked again. I had broken down twice in India from straight overwork, plus fever and dysentery, but this time the staleness and depression came after a bout of real influenza, when all my Indian microbes joined hands and sang for a month in the darkness of Villiers Street … My need was to get clean away and re-sort myself.

[Something of Myself p. 93]

After two weeks in South Africa, Rudyard arrived in New Zealand, where he was warmly welcomed:

Wellington opened another world of kindly people, more homogeneous, it struck me, than the Australian, large, long-eyelashed, and extraordinarily good-looking. Maybe I was prejudiced, because no less than ten beautiful maidens took me for a row in a big canoe by moonlight on the still waters of Wellington Harbour, and everyone generally put aside everything for my behoof, instruction, amusement, and comfort…. From Wellington I went north towards Auckland in a buggy with a small grey mare …

[Something of Myself pp. 99-100]

On the way to Auckland he visited the hot springs at Rotorua and Wairakei, which were the setting for this story.

See also the article on “Rudyard Kipling in New Zealand” by Margaret Newsom, written for the Kipling Journal in 1972.

The Story

This is a meditation – in the form of a dialogue with an imaginary maiden called “Truth” who emerges from a mud pool – about this new exciting country Kipling finds himself in. What fearful struggles have its people been through, how far can they be measured in crude economic terms, of money and production, how far will they look to the mother country, and how far find their own identity and voices. Above all, asks Kipling the story-teller, what tales will they tell, now and in the future. In the 1890s the British Empire was still at the height of its power and confidence. The British were very aware of their own exalted status in the world, and tended to look down not only on foreigners but on their own ‘colonials’. The young Kipling, with his background in India, much travelled, and fascinated by the overseas British peoples, took a much less London-centred view of the world. His powerful imagination was already at work on the peoples of this new land.

The story may have been written on shipboard on his way home, between Bluff in the extreme south of New Zealand and Melbourne, or between Sydney and Ceylon.

Some critical comments

Harry Ricketts, who is Professor of English Literature at the Victoria University in Wellington, notes (pp. 181/2):

‘One Lady at Wairakei’ shows Kipling confidently predicting, as he had in America, the emergence of a distinctive identity for another of the Anglo-Saxon countries. Significantly it was the possibilities of the literary, rather than the ‘imperial future’ of New Zealand (‘a new land teeming with new stories’), which most intrigued him. With some prescience he predicted that women writers would play a determing role, and hinted that a truly national literature could only develop once the country (‘one big encumbered estate’) became economically independent.

Andrew Lycett (pp. 236-7) notes that in an interview with the Weekly Press in Chrtistchurch,

… he recalled a particular type of smile to be found in London, that ‘expresses tempered grief, sorrow at your complete inability to march with the march of progress at the universities, and a chastened contempt’ Because those pampered types ‘have everything done for them, they know how everything ought to be done, and they are perfectly certain that new pavements, policemen, shops, and gas-light come in the regular course of nature. You can see, with these convictions, how thoroughly and cocksuredly they handle little trifles like colonial administration, the wants of the army, municial sewage, the housing of the poor, and so forth.’

All in all, as his New Zealand story “One Lady at Wairakei” shows, he was impressed with the country’s potential. He could feel a nation building up a useful bankof experience, which would make for interesting tales, though he was typically sceptical of talk ‘about a Distinctively Colonial Literature, a Freer Air, Larger Horizons, and so on’.

Notes on the Text

”How do you like New Zealand The question that many people, in particular journalists, ask him, and which he dreads.

‘One big encumbered estate Land burdened by many debts, as was New Zealand at that time.

‘Forty thousand horsepower…
These typical opinions of a visiting Englishman express the condescension of someone from a big, old established society, confident of its traditions, towards someone from a new small distant place.

remittance-man A man dependent on remittances – money – sent out from home in England.

rata vine A scarlet-flowered vine, common in the New Zealand forests, which twines around big trees.

fern hills Tree ferns, with fronds spreading from a massive trunk, are common in New Zealand.

wool-drays Carts for carrying the wool after shearing. Sheep-farming was and is one of the mainstays of the New Zealand.economy.

Shelley and Tennyson and Mrs Browning Much respected English poets.

manuka scrub manuka is a Maori word for one of the tea tree family of plants (Leptospermum scoparium) which grow uncultivated throughout New Zealand and southeastern Australia.

longshore loafers Men hanging round the docks and wharves, looking for work, or avoiding it.

wild horses On the great Kaingaroa Plains in the interior of the North Island, where Kipling drove through in a buggy, wild horses were numerous in the early 1900s.

the Future of Colonial Literature An echo of the attitudes of London literati, conscious of their superiority.

[J R.]

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