Quo Fata Vocant

(notes edited by John McGivering, and John Radcliffe with advice on matters Indian from Sharad Keskar)


ORG Volume 5, page 2571 records the first appearance of this item as ‘Uncollected No. 239’ in The St. George’s Gazette, the regimental magazine of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers (the 5th Foot) in 1902, collected in the Sussex Edition volume 30, page 253, and in the Burwash Edition volume 23.(Confusingly enough, ORG then gives it the Uncollected Number 268 on page 2617 ‘just for the sake of the record of date’).

The verse beginning ‘Underneath that kunkar dry …’ is noted in ORG’s Verse volume at page 5488 as Verse No. 1230A collected as above.

The story

Kipling reminisces about the regiments and soldiers he knew in Lahore when he was on the staff of the Civil and Military Gazette from 1882 to 1887, The Pioneer at Allahabad from 1887 to 1889, and later in South Africa in the Second Boer War of 1899-1902.

It is an extraordinary pot-pourri of memories with many references to places and dead men which would probably have been understood by contemporary readers but after a hundred years, the general reader will have some difficulty; however, we have traced some and will welcome suggestions for the rest.

William Duhigg of Cleveland, Ohio, notes in January 2023:

This is a striking reminiscence on the passage of time and military sacrifice.  No doubt many of the memories had been literary fodder and it is a fitting capstone to the soldier stories which preceded. [w.D.]


Charles Carrington (page 110) notes that the 5th Northumberland Fusiliers (Kipling calls them “The Tyneside Tail Twisters”) were stationed at Mian Mir from 1886 t0 1888. They can be identified in a number of the soldier stories. They did not serve in Burma. He encountered the 31st East Surreys at Allahabad: ‘a lively corps of cockneys’ (Carrington page 115). See also KJ 130/13 for an article by R. E. Harbord on ‘Mulvaney’.

Kipling and his family spent winters in South Africa from 1900 to 1908, staying in “The Woolsack”, a house made available to them by Cecil Rhodes, adjoining ” Groote Schuur”, Rhodes’ Cape Town estate, on the lower slopes of the Table Mountain Range.
See KJ 024/105 and 120, 032/104. 036/104. 056/24, 085/03, 093/17, 107/07, 242/23, 242/16 and 321/33.

For Kipling’s activities during the South African War see:

  • Julian Ralph, War’s Brighter Side
  • Something of Myself Chapter VI
  • Charles Carrington. Chapter 13
  • “Kipling and the British Army in India” by Charles Carrington
  • “My Personal Experience with a Lion” (Uncollected No. 238A), telling of a holiday in South Africa and an attempt to rear a lion cub; a possible echo of the explorer David Livingstone being mauled by a lion in 1843, mentioned in “Their Lawful Occasions” in Traffics and Discoveries page 125
  • ‘War or Battle’ and ‘South Africa’ in Themes in Kipling’s Works in this Guide
  • An important article “Attacking the Boers in the Style of Kipling Sahib” by Dr. K. St. John Damstra in KJ 329/10
  • Kipling’s letters to Sir Maitland Hall Park (a former colleague on the Pioneer) KJ 331/4
  • KJ 321/33 for a memorial plaque donated by the Society at the Woolsack in 2006 with a photograph of those present at the ceremony. The house is now a residence for graduates at the University of Capetown.


The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers

The Northumberland Fusilers is now incorporated in The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers formed on St. Georges Day, 23 April, 1968 from:

  • The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers – 5th of Foot
  • The Royal Warwickshire Fusiliers – 6th of Foot
  • The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) – 7th of Foot
  • The Lancashire Fusiliers – XXth of Foot

Some further reading

  • Charles Allen Kipling Sahib, Little Brown 2007, Chapter 5
  • Pakistan and the Karakoram Highway, Lonely Planet, 7th Edition, 2008

Notes on the Text

[Title] ‘Quo Fata Vocant’ ‘Whither Destiny Takes Me’ (Latin), the Motto of the Royal Regiment of Fusilers.

The Fates Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos who, in Greek and Roman mythology, controlled birth, life and death.

The Old Regiment In his ORG article (vol 1 p. 13) Carrington identifies them as the East Lancashires (the 59th Foot).

Lahore Now the second largest city in Pakistan after Karachi, and capital of the province of Punjab.

Kipling lived there with his parents from 1882 to 1887, when he was on the staff of the Civil and Military Gazette. The city and surroundings are the scene of part of Kim and a number of the other Indian stories.

Mian Mir the cantonment at Lahore.

the 8th The King’s Regiment of Foot, also referred to diminutively as the 8th Foot and 8th King’s, was an infantry regiment of the British Army, formed in 1685 and later retitled the King’s (Liverpool) Regiment. With the 30th (Cambridgeshire) Regiment of Foot, formed in 1702, it was amalgamated into The East Lancashire Regiment (Kipling’s “Ould Regiment”) in 1881.

Cholera and fever see Dr. Gillian Sheehan’s article on Cholera.

kunkar a coarse kind of limestone which Hobson-Jobson (page 496) calls unkur or conker.

Runjit’s soldiery probably Maharaja Ranjit Singh (The Lion of the Punjab) (1780-1839)). the first Maharaja of the Sikh Empire.

St. Golgotha there is no saint of this name. Golgotha is ‘The Place of a Skull’ outside Jerusalem ,where as recounted in the Bible Jesus was crucified.

a certain saint probably St. George, the patron saint of England; his day is 23 April which is also the birthday of Shakespeare.

Thanda Sark Sharad Keskar writes: thanda means ‘cold’ and Sark is probably ‘a stream’, but one would need a Ordnance Survey map to find it. ‘[S.K.]

Amritzar (the spelling varies) a major city in the north-west of India; administrative headquarters of Amritsar district in the state of Punjab, 20 miles (32 kilometres) East of Lahore, Pakistan.

Here is to be found Harmandir Sahib, also known as The Golden Temple. See “In the Presence”
(page 217 line 21) and “Hunting a Miracle”, vol II, page 382, line 21.

Lawrence Hall Gate Sharad Keskar writes: ‘named after John Lawrence (Lawrence of Punjab) (1811-1879) first Baron Lawrence and brother of Sir Henry Lawrence of Lucknow. Henry died 1857. John was lieutenant-governor of Punjab and later Governor General of India. ‘[S.K.]

ekka A rather uncomfortable horse-drawn carriage (left).

guest-night the officers of the regiment entertain friends to dinner in the mess. See “The Man Who Was” (Life’s Handicap) and , page 55, where Kipling turns out the guard on his way out of the Fort.

Stormberg or Sanna’s Post British defeats in the Second Boer War.

Mess plate silver ornaments – candelabra, statues and dishes, etc. used at the dinner-table. See “The Man Who Was” (Life’s Handicap).

Martini-Henry Rifle
A rifle with the breech mechanism invented by Frederic Martini (1832-1897) and the barrel developed by Benjamin Tyler Henry. (hence ‘Martini-Henry’) The weapon is an important item in “Black Jack” in Soldiers Three.

Lawrence Hall Lawrence Gardens’ Hall, built about 1862, was expanded to form two buildings – the Lawrence Hall and the Montgomery Hall. named after two governors of the Punjab, Sir John Lawrence and Sir Robert Montgomery. The two buildings were later amalgamated.

bougainvilleas spectacular flowering plants from South America – genus Nyctaginaceae.

Fort Lahore see “On the City Wall” and “With the Main Guard “ in Soldiers Three.

D.S.O. the Distinguished Service Order. A military decoration for meritorious or distinguished service by officers of the armed forces during wartime, typically in actual combat.

poshteens sheepskin coats, worn with the fleece inside

grains A grain, in this context was formerly used in Apothecaries’ Weight for dispensing medicine. 7,000 grains equal one pound avoirdupois, (0.454 kg).

quinine A drug used in the treatment of malaria – See Dr.Gillian Sheehan’s ‘Kipling and Medicine.’.

sherry and bitters It would be a barbarous practice for a man of any judgement to add ‘bitters’ (angostura, for flavouring drinks) to a fine sherry, but the ‘sherry’ usually found in India at that time, was not always the real thing. In a Lahore Officers’ Mess full of rowdy subalterns, the addition – within reason – of almost anything, might have heightened the flavour or the effect.

Quarter-guard The main security for a camp or garrison; see “With the Main Guard” (Soldiers Three).

Visiting Rounds the Guard Commander inspects all the sentries. See Kipling’s verse “The Shut-Eye Sentry”, and Something of Myself page 55.

The Banjo A stringed musical instrument played with the fingers. Very popular at the time, it has the neck of a guitar and the body of a tambourine. Kipling celebrated it in “The Song of the Banjo”. See “Haunted Subalterns” for the ‘banjo that played by itself..

Shish Mahal or The Sheesh Mahal (The Palace of Mirrors) in Lahore Fort.

Ditch in this context the defensive moat round the fort.

shrapnel Artillery shells containing a number of individual bullets which burst in the air over opposing troops; developed by Major-General Henry Shrapnel (1761-1842), when he was a lieutenant in 1784.

Mosque of Wazir Khan a Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan, built around 1634 A.D., during the reign of the Mughal Emperor by Shaikh Ilm-ud-din Ansari, physician to Shah Jahan and later, the Governor of Lahore. He was known as Wazir Khan. (The word wazir means ‘minister’)

Mohurrum The Muslim festival commemorating the martyrdom of Imams Hassan and Hussein the sons of the first Caliph and of his wife Fatima;
see Hobson-Jobson (page 574) and “On the City Wall”, page 339, line 13. [S.K.]

books in this context losing money at bets on horses

catch-weights over ten stone a term used when boxers agreed to fight on a certain date regardless of their weights and here applied to horse-racing.

Prieska … Calvinia towns in Cape Province, South Africa.

Blitz a celebrated polo-pony.

Afzul a horse-dealer

Kashmir Serai serai comes from the the Persian sard meaning a palace. The word came to mean a building for the accommodation of travellers – a large yard with rooms around it, like that described in Chapter 1 of Kim. See also “The Man who would be King” in Wee Willie Winkie, and the first lines of the poem “Certain Maxims of Hafiz”:

If It be pleasant to look on, stalled in the packed serai,
Does not the Young Man try Its temper and pace ere he buy?

Bunsee Lal and Ram Rutton bankers.

poora … Macdougal … MacDonald … Bamboo …gin-tonic-and-bitters Cocktails [S.K.].

P3 or K2 mountains in the Himalayas.

Ladysmith a famous siege of the Second Boer War.

Alonzo the Brave “Alonzo the Brave and the Fair Imogine”, a ballad by Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775-1818).

Klooque for choice Sergeant Klooque, delighted to have returned from the wars, and dedicated to eating and drinking, was a character in a now little-known light opera by W S Gilbert, called “Creatures of Impulse”.

Vasey not traced

the Royal Sussex The Royal Sussex Regiment, formed in 1881 from the 35th (Royal Sussex) Regiment of Foot and the 107th Regiment of Foot (Bengal Light Infantry). The regiment was amalgamated with The Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment , The Queen’s Own Buffs, The Royal Kent Regiment and The Middlesex Regiment, to form The Queen’s Regiment in 1966.

lilies of the field

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they toil not, neither do they spin:
And yet I say unto you. That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
[Matthew 6,28.]

St. George and the Dragon St. George is patron saint of England and some other countries; – the legend that he killed a dragon (right) is believed to signify the triumph of Good over Evil, [Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable].

Sais a groom.

writter … Elephant Lines Sharad Keakar writes: ‘Every Raj cantonment had its Civil Lines. The Elephant Lines could well be the road or area in Lahore which passed or contained the elephant stables. The Mughals used elephants and the Raj too for moving its heavy artillery. Bear in mind that Kipling was in Lahore less than 40 years after it fell to the British following the defeat of the Sikhs in 1849.

Kipling was linguistically sensitive and recorded all the various mispronunciations of the people he met eg “Lan’nin” for London and “Yopra” for Opera. One of Calcutta’s famous palatial buildings was the Writers Building, where the East India Company’s clerks worked and were called “writers”, and I have heard it referred to as “Ritters Building”.

It is also likely that the Elephant-lines was taken over by freelance “writters” who wrote letters on behalf of illiterate applicants–remember some of the British soldiers were illiterate too. Also you will recall Kim using the services of such an one. In Bombay they sat on the pavements outside the Law Courts for appellants and I seem to recall “writter” derived from “written”–“my application was written by the writter”. Of course, while there is truth in all I say, ultimately, it is conjecture.’ [S. K.]

Piffers The Queen’s Own Corps of Guides raised in Peshawar by Lt. Harry Lumsden in December 1846, comprising one troop of cavalry and two companies of infantry. The Corps of Guides was part of the Frontier Force Bigade, which developed into an elite formation,

The Guides were famous for being the first unit in the Indian or British Armies to dress in khaki and, increased to all arms, are now an important part of the Pakistan Army. See George John Younghusband

The Story of the Guides

, (Macmillan 1911), and “The Ballad of East and West”:

Ha’ done! ha’ done! ” said the Colonel’s son. ” Put up the steel at your sides!
Last night ye had struck at a Border thief – to-night ‘t is a man of the Guides! ”

random in this context three horses harnessed in line ahead

The Mess of the Door that Won’t Shut perhaps Fort Lahore – see Something of Myself, page 55.

Baoli Lehna Singh Sharad Keskar writes: Malapropisms are very much in the ball court of anyone trying to pick up a foreign language. I’d assumed that RK misheard the first word and so gave us a plausible entry. If baoli is right, there is a Hindi word baolee which is a drag–a thing or animal with which dogs, hawks etc are taught to hunt. So baolee dehna is ‘to initiate or train’. But RK wrote lehna. Lehna = take, and dehna=to give. Either/or makes sense in the context. But the thought of Mr Singh providing an object or animal for pig-sticking practice could make this the better entry. The word baolee is flexible. It also means a large well into which people descend by steps to get water and which RK would refer to as a ‘tank’. [S.K.]

Pilsener (or Pils) a pale lager beer developed in the 19th century in the city of Pilsen, Bohemia (Plzen in the Czech Republic).

pig-stick ‘Pigsticking’ is hunting by spearmen on horseback, using a specialised boar spear. A dangerous sport mentioned in some of the Indian stories. See “Cupid’s Arrows” page 62, Heading:

Pit where the buffalo cooled his hide,
By the Hot sun emptied, and blistered and dried…

Outram Road we have found an Outram Road in Karachi and another in Singapore but not in Lahore – information will be appreciated.

nimbu-esquash lemon-squash.

a bit of paper done probably a loan.

trooped the Colours a spectacular military parade when the Colours are displayed to the regiment. See “The Mutiny of the Mavericks” page 223, line 19.

the First Jubilee the fiftieth anniversary of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1887

Collars and Cuffs the nickname of an officer in “What it Comes To” (From Sea to Sea, Volume 2)

smell ‘is sword (his sword) the sword is held in front of the face in this movement of the Salute.

heat-apoplexy see Dr. Gillian Sheehan’s “Kipling and Medicine”, and “In the Matter of a Private”, Soldiers Three, page 81, line 24.

dress-pumps light patent-leather shoes word with evening dress.

Cockney regiment Probably the 31st East Surreys, ‘a London-recruited regiment of skilful dog-stealers’ (Something of Myself, page 55) Now incorporated in the Queen’s Regiment See their web-site. )

Pindi Rawal Pindi, important city with fort and garrison some 160 miles (260 km) north-west of Lahore, in the Potwar Plateau near present-day Pakistan’s capital city of Islamabad,

Omdurman a British victory in 1898 when Kitchener defeated the Mahdi’s army in the Sudan.

Cape Town the second most populous city in South Africa,. It is the provincial capital of the Western Cape. Kipling was there on many visits – see Something of Myself, Chapter 6.

Kimberley city in South Africa, capital of the Northern Cape near the confluence of the Vaal and Orange Rivers. Kimberley has historical significance from its diamond mining past and its siege during the Second Boer War.

Murree town between Rawal Pindi and Srinagar. Reginald Harbord, the General Editor of the ORG, was there in 1919 (See Vol 5. page 2573).

Bloemfontein capital of the Free State Province of South Africa as well as one of the nation’s three capitals, being the judicial capital. See Julian Ralph, War’s Brighter Side for Kipling’s activities on the local newspaper The Friend of Bloemfontein.

a long-legged lunatic a character we have not traced.

punkah a fan operated by a servant hauling on a rope, mentioned in many of the Indian stories.

dongas dry river-beds in South Africa.

Cherat a hill station in Peshawar District in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan.

Sialkot capital of Sialkot District in the north-east of the Punjab province in Pakistan, about 78 miles (125 km) north-west of Lahore.

Umballa now known as Ambala, city and District in the state of Haryana, India, on the border of the states of Haryana and Punjab in India. There is still a garrison in the cantonment. It is the scene of an important part of Kim (Chapter 2 )

Kai=some sort, makan=house/s, log=peopl; literally, ‘people who live in some sort of house’. [S.K]

twelve-anna gallop ORG defines this as a friendly race for small stakes, or a gallop at three-quarter speed, there being 16 annas to the rupee. (The rupee is now divided into 100 paises but the anna is occasionally used.)

Pretoria city in the Transvaal – administrative capital of the Union of South Africa.

pom-poms in this context light quick-firing guns.

Orange River Colony created after the occupation (1900) and annexation (1902) of the independent Orange Free State in the Second Boer War. The colony was absorbed into the Union of South Africa as Orange Free State Province in 1910.

Doctor Brydon at Jellalabad  Jellalabad (the spelling varies) is  near the Kabu River and Khyber Pass – one of the most important positions in Afghanistan, for it dominates the entrances to the Laghman and the Kunar valleys; commanding the routes to, Chiteral and the Kabul-Peshawar road.

William Brydon CB (1811-1873), assistant surgeon in the British East India Company Army during the First Afghan War was the only European of the Kabul garrison of 4,500 men to reach safety in the long retreat to Jalalabad, after the revolt of 1841 The garrison included the 4th Foot (The Essex Regiment).

Thabanchu way Thaba Nchu (sic) town in Orange Free State, South Africa, 37 miles (60km) east of Bloemfontein.

the flower of the British Army We have not traced the exact quotation echoed in this phrase.

Koornspruit Koornspruit Drift, also known as Sanna’s Post an ambush by the Boers on 31 March 1900 mentioned in several stories.

Ladybrand town in the Free State 50 miles east of Bloemfontein.

landrost a district magistrate or sheriff in South Africa.

P.M.O. Principal Medical Officer.

butchas babies, but in this context slang for young men.

Auld Lang Syne a much celebrated Scottish poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 which goes to a traditional folk-tune, often sung at New Year celebrations, at the end of a dinner, or when a troopship sails. He wrote in ‘Lallans’, the dialect of the Scottish Lowlands, and the title means ‘old times’ (literally ‘Old long since’).

flash in this context a coloured mark or emblem on a uniform, indicating the unit of the wearer.

[J. H. McG./J.R.]

©John McGivering and John Radcliffe 2009 All rights reserved