The Plaint of the
Junior Civilian

 (notes edited by John McGivering)

Publication history

ORG (Volume 8, page 51161) lists this poem as Verse No. 239, and records first publication in the Civil and Military Gazette on 7 January 1887. See David Alan Richards p. 142 for further details.

The poem is collected in

  • The Edition de Luxe (Early Verse), 1900
  • The Sussex Edition Volume 32, page 87
  • The Burwash Edition, Volume 25
  • Early Verse Edited by Andrew Rutherford. OUP 1986

For the text we have used Rutherford’s edition of Early Verse (1986), and have been glad to be able to draw on his notes.


Andrew Rutherford notes:

The Public Services Commission, chaired by Sir Charles Aitchison … was enquiring into the possible ‘admission of natives of India to offices formerly reserved exclusively for members of the Covenanted Civil Service.’ A report that the Junior (i.e. unpromoted) Civilians of the Punjab intended to ask the Commission to listen to the claims of the covenanted service itself provoked a tart comment from the Pioneer of 4 January 1887: :

That a handful of juniors, fresh out from home, should be summoning Sir Charles Aitchison and his colleagues to Lahore to give evidence sounds queerly …’

On which the CMG commented on 6 January:

The middle-aged men who, in these days, are called junior Punjab Civilians, are scarcely fresh from home. They wish they were: and wish still more they had never left home at all. And surely their grey hairs and long service, if not their official rank, entitle them to respect in the eyes of a Commission which has listened with interest to men is whose standing is scarcely higher than a chaprassie’s. (office-messenger)

In the CMG version the last line of stanzas 1 and 3 begin ‘The Pi says I’m‘; stanza 5 ends ‘Writes / the Pi I am “fresh out from Home”, and line 7 of the last stanza begins ‘The Pi’ not ‘The press.’

This is an interesting clash of views between the CMG in Lahore in the Punjab, and the senior nrwspaper of the group, the Pioneer of Allahabad. Kipling’s poem, which echoes the CMG’s editorial comment, does not seem to have brrn publishedn in the Pioneer. He was to join the senior paper eight months later, in November 1887.

Notes on the Text

[Verse 1]

Settlement The review of tax assessments for Land Revenue over a particular area.

District administrative area headed by a Collector or Deputy Commissioner.

Province an administrative area containing Districts.

Ismail Ismail (Dera Ismail Khan), Jhang, Peshawur, Kohat and Hissar were all Districts in the Punjab at the time Kipling was writing. It is likely that Kipling deliberately used these places with this common factor when addressing a readership in the Punjab since most readers would know the Districts and also something about the lot of the Junior Civilians working in them.

the Bar in this context a sandbank; see “An Unqualified Pilot” (Land and Sea Tales p. 60, line 21 and p. 68, line 28). See also Jhang below

Jhang the principal city of Jhang District, known historically as Sandal Bar in the Punjab province of Pakistan.

Peshawur (the spelling varies) capital of the North-West Frontier Province of present-day Pakistan, near the Khyber Pass, an important military communications centre and terminus of the Grand Trunk Road. See Kim Chapter 4.

Kohat Now capital of the district of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.

Hissar (The spelling varies) administrative headquarters of Hisar district, in Haryana state,
in north-western India, some 100 miles (160 km) north-west of Delhi.

[Verse 2]

weeds are Long Dawsons ‘Weed’ in this context means tobacco. ‘Dawsons’ were a brand of cheroot, a small cigar. The cheaper varieties often had straw mouthpieces.

fourteen-one a horse fourteen hands and one inch in height. A ‘hand’ in this context is four inches, thus the horse is four feet nine inches (1·45 metres) tall at the shoulder.

badger a pleader–at–law To badger is to harry and torment an adversary, as a badger does its quarry. The administrator, who would have heard many cases in court as a magistrate, knew well how to deal firmly and shrewdly with the arguments of Indian lawyers.

Currie’s delectable tome Fendall Currie (1841-1920) was the author of a number of commentaries on Indian law. His Indian Code of Criminal Procedure and Indian Law Examination Manual went through several editions. A ‘tome’ is a book – particulary a large and heavy one.

[Verse 3]

girls at the well The women would gossip at the well when collecting water.

Khattri A trader.

pân a nut rolled in betel-leaf for chewing.

Naqqal or Dôm People of low caste.

Térá músha Pathan ! ‘How are you, Pathan’. The people of Afghanistan and North-Western Pakistan are ‘Pathans’.

[Verse 4]

“Our Boys” a comedy by Henry James Byron (1835-1884) the English dramatist, editor, journalist, theatre manager, novelist and actor, H. J. Byron, produced at the Vaudeville Theatre in London in 1875; evidence of the maturity of the ‘junior civilian’.

‘Tommy make room’ ‘Tommy make room for your uncle’, sung by W. B. Fair, was one of the music-hall hits of the 1880s.

thirteen-eleven thirteen stone, eleven pounds. A stone in this context is fourteen pounds, so he weighs 193 pounds (some 88 kg/).

[Verse 5]

the wood of the tree The frame of a saddle is made of wood, and known as a ‘saddle-tree’. A saddle worn down to the tree has been heavily used over a long period of time.

D.C.’s Deputy Commissioners.

cess tax.

rabi crops sown after the rains and reaped the following spring.

[Verse 6]

Davies Sir Robert Henry Davies. Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab, 1871-7.

Egerton Sir Robert Eyles Egerton, Lieutenant-Governor. of the Punjab, 1878-82.

Aitchison Sir Charles Umpherston Aitcherson (1832-1896).

Punjab Commission The body of civil, military and judicial officers responsible for the administration of the Punjab.

“73” 1873, ihe year of the Commission’s appointment, fourteen years before,

Nous intelligence.

ukal intelligence, spirit. See Kipling’s letter began on 28 November 1885 to Margaret Burne-Jones ‘Ukhal is difficult to translate exactly – it means all that goes to make up a Man’.

aplomb a French word of many meanings – in this context probably ‘self-possession, with assurance’.


[J McG.]

©John McGivering 2011 All rights reserved