Ornamental Beasts

(notes by Philip Holberton, drawing on the researches of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)


The poem was published in the Civil and Military Gazette on 26 April 1884, over the signature Dan Dindigul, and headed:

A grant of Rs. 700 was sanctioned towards the purchase of two tiger cubs from Delhi
for the
[Zoological] Gardens——Proceedings of Lahore Municipality, April 23rd, 1884.


The same issue of the CMG had a leader commenting adversely on the Municipal Committee’s action:

Considering that the incidence of Municipal taxation is rather higher in Lahore than in Umritsar and Delhi, and a good deal higher than the incidence of taxation in Lucknow, Allahabad, Cawnpore, or Agra, and considering, too, that the state of the roads and drains in Lahore shows evident traces of parsimony in these respects, it may well be urged that the Municipal Commissioners might have found something better to spend their money on than tiger cubs.

Kipling acknowledges authorship of this poem in a letter (now in the Library of Congress) to his aunt Edith Macdonald dated 28 April 1884:

This “Poet’s mind” has been vexed by the “shallow wit” of the Lahore Municipality and the result, as you will see, is duly enclosed. Maybe it will amuse you. The Municipality are fairly wrath, the more so as most of the other Indian journals are copying the doggerel.

The “Poet’s mind” reference is from Tennyson’s poem of that name:

Vex not thou the poet’s mind
With thy shallow wit.

Kipling had also previously quoted it in relation to the the dangers of inaccurate shooting practice by the Punjab Volunteer Rifles. See “A Beleaguered City”.

The poem was not collected by Kipling but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 216) and Pinney (p. 1721).

Notes on the Text

[Verse 2]

A bas down with the. (French)

[Verse 3]

bhisti water-carrier.

[Verse 4]

entre nous between ourselves. (French)

[Verse 5]

Donald Town, Mozung areas of Lahore.


©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved