The Settler

(Notes by Mary Hamer)

Publication history

Apparently written during the surge of work which began in the latter part of 1902 and culminated in the 1903 publication of The Five Nations. It appeared in The Times, February 27, 1903; New York Tribune, March 6, 1903; Collier’s Weekly, March 7, 1903; also published separately in 1903.
Collected in The Five Nations, I.V. 1919, and D.V 1940, and in the Sussex Edition vol. 33 and the Burwash Edition, vol.26.
For readers of the Sussex Edition Kipling added a bracketed explanation to the title (South African War ended, May 1902)


When it was first published in The Times on February 27, “The Settler” was headed by an extract from the speech given at Cape Town three days earlier by Joseph Chamberlain, at the banquet held there in his honour. As Colonial Secretary Chamberlain had been primarily responsible for British policy during the Anglo-Boer War. On his return to London, a second banquet was held on March 20, after which the poem was reprinted separately.

The poem enshrines hopes that Kipling shared with others, hopes for the peaceful development of the fertile lands of South Africa, to be carried out in partnership between men from both sides. In the last years of his life, Cecil Rhodes had already begun to establish fruit farming as an industry in the Cape. Intensive methods of farming had been foreign to the Boers: for religious reasons, the Boer legislature had forborne to extract maximum value from the land.

Notes on the Text

(by Mary Hamer drawing on various sources, in particular
Ralph Durand, “A Handbook to the Poetry of Rudyard Kipling” 1914.)

[Stanza 2] Over the cattle-kraal: the enclosure for cattle, as in ‘corral’. To a modern reader, this image may suggest the figure of Lord Emsworth, the creation of P.G. Wodehouse, leaning on the wall of his pig-sty, introducing his splendid prize pig to his friends. Though this lyrical vision was not to be fulfilled in respect of South Africa, Kipling himself came to take great pleasure in his own small herd of dairy cattle at Bateman’s, the Sussex home he bought in 1902. [See “Alnaschar and the Oxen”.]

[Stanza 3] Here will we join against our foes: at last economic co-operation could promote the measures required by the scale of South African farming, if it were to be developed as an industry. Such measures included large-scale irrigation and the protection of cattle from disease.

[Stanza 5]‘The dead must bury their dead’: cf Luke 9, 59-62,’Let the dead bury their dead’, an adjuration to make choices and act in the present.

[Stanza 6] And the bread we eat in the sweat of our brow: cf Genesis 3, 19 ‘In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread.

Feed the folk of all our lands: As a settled part of the Empire, South Africa is envisaged as a major supplier of foodstuffs to it.

[Stanza 7] The wrong that was done to the living and the dead: In its reference to the living, this could be taken to acknowledge that wrong was done to civilians during the war. In order to break the stalemate in a war that was costing Britain £2.5 million a month in March 1901 Kitchener ordered the implementation of a scorched earth policy. This would cut off support and food supplies to Boer fighting men. Thirty thousand Boer farmhouses were burned and the Boer families evacuated with a handful of possessions. Women and children with their African servants were dispatched as they stood to concentration camps, though some families avoided this by taking refuge in caves, where they lived till the war was at an end.

Conditions in the camps were harsh, especially in the camps kept for Africans, in part because at first, it was no-one’s responsibility to pay attention. Quite apart from the misery of living in tents in all weathers, there was not enough nourishing food; there were few vegetables or none at all, and no fresh milk for the babies and children. Mortality and morbidity were extremely high, Some 50,000 civilian deaths were recorded, the majority of children under the age of sixteen.

The attempts made by Emily Hobhouse to publicise how badly these camps were run met only with anger on the part of officialdom, and on the part of Rudyard Kipling too. The bitterness this episode caused in South Africa persists to this day. Ceremonies of remembrance are held every year at the Women’s Memorial in Bloemfontein. In his correspondence, however, Kipling is unrepentant, refusing all sympathy for Boer women and children. [See letter to H.A. Gwynne of 23-24 August 1901, Letters Vol 3, Ed. Pinney.]


©Mary Hamer 2008 All rights reserved