From Tideway to Tideway VII

Captains Courageous


(notes by Alastair Wilson, drawing on the work of the ORG Editors)



This, the seventh of the “Tideway” articles, was published in:

  • The Times (London), on 23rd November 1892
  • The Civil and Military Gazette (Lahore), 10th and 12th December 1892
  • The New York Sunday Sun, 27th November 1892

It may be noted that some three months elapsed between the publication of letters of VI and VII.

The Letter, as it appeared in the Sunday Sun, differed in a number of respects from the London and Lahore versions. For one thing, its title (according to the ORG) was:


We cannot believe that Kipling authorised this headline himself – it smacks too much of the sub-editor’s inventive blue pencil (and he was travelling from Japan, not to that country).

The Sun version also contained 13 lines of verse beginning ‘Away by the land of the Japanee’ that were later collected as the first verse, or italicised heading, to “The Rhyme of the Three Sealers”. They were later incorporated, with some slight changes in words, in the completed poem as a heading. (That is how they appear in the Definitive Edition of Kipling’s verse.)

Also in the Sun only, the letter was accompanied by the poem beginning “The Gull shall whistle in his wake” without title: this was later published separately as ‘The Foreloper’ and collected in Songs from Books and the subsequent main collections as “The Vootrekker”. ORG noted that it was sometimes known as ‘Kipling’s Lost Poem’.

The two paragraphs above from the ORG give rise to interesting speculation. It may be suggested that the “13 lines of verse” appeared in the first paragraph (standard pagination, p. 79, line 14) after the clause: ‘… and the best of its stories—those relating to seal-poaching among the Kuriles and the Russian Rookeries—are not exactly fit for publication.’

Alternatively, they might have followed the first paragraph on page 80, where Kipling suggests that Robert Louis Stevenson (the ‘great spirit under the palm trees of the Navigator Group’, whom Kipling so admired, and whom he had intended to visit) might have written an adventure story to rival Kidnapped set in the North Pacific Islands. (Incidentally, the Oxford English Dictionary does not recognise Kipling’s ‘Japanee’ – not even as a quotation, it would seem.)

The ‘Voortrekkers’ were Boer farmers, mainly of Dutch extraction, who between 1835 and 1845 made the Great Trek from Cape Colony in South Africa to the north and east, to find better lands away from British rule. They founded the Orange Free State and what became the Transvaal. See our notes on “The Science of Rebellion” and “A Burgher of the Free State”. Kipling had mixed feelings about the Boers, admiring their independent spirit but opposing their hostility towards the British Empire.

Kipling’s “The Vootrekker” clearly relates to the creation of settlements in the wake of the pioneers, and as such was relevant to the second part of this Letter. However, having published it in the Sunday Sun, it would seem that Kipling had second thoughts. We would (very hesitantly) suggest that the title ‘The Voortrekker’, with its South African implications, is slightly misleading for a poem which was written about such places as Medicine Hat, which, it would seem, were what he had in mind when the poem was written.


Having mustered their resources (Thomas Cook refunded the unexpended portion of the tickets they had already bought for their honeymoon trip), the Kiplings left Yokohama on 27 June, reaching Vancouver on 8 July, then travelled by rail across Canada, spending three days, 10-13 July, at the barely-established resort of Banff and two days, 19-20 July in Montreal; thence to Quebec a day later. By 26 July they were back in Brattleboro, Vermont, and on 10 August they moved into their first home, Bliss Cottage, on the Balestier farm, some four miles north of Brattleboro. All the dates above are taken from the extracts copied by Charles Carrington from Carrie Kipling’s diary when he was writing his biohraphy of Kipling.

The Letter

The first third of the letter relates to their journey from Yokohama to Vancouver, and the first days of their transcontinental train-ride to eastern Canada and New England. The remainder is an account of “how the West was won” in British Columbia and the prairie provinces—not in terms of cowboys and riding the range, but in opening up settlements along the line of railway.

Although this is not specifically mentioned, they seem to have returned the whole way by the Canadian Pacific Railway (see our notes at the start of Letter II of this series). Once they reached Montreal the CPR’s manager, Van Horne gave them passage to Quebec, whence, it may be assumed, they made their way to Brattleboro—again by rail, though probably not directly.

Notes on the Text

[Page 79, lines 1/2] a long day’s journey metaphorically speaking: as shown above, they actually took 22 days. Today they might have flown in as little as 16 hours.

[Page 79, line 2] the forepart meaning the crossing of the North Pacific Ocean.

[Page 79, lines 2/3] too big to lie altogether idle it might be calm in one part of the Ocean, but it is so big that you might easily find a totally different weather pattern elsewhere.

[Page 79, lines 4/5] too idle to get hands about the business of a storm metaphorical, again: the ocean cannot rouse itself to produce a storm, so it sulks and smokes. Sailors know a ‘sulky sea’, mill-pond calm, with a steel-grey and oily sheen on it, so hazy that visibility is reduced to three or four miles. In the North Pacific, where there is a mingling of arctic and temperate air and water masses, mists and fogs are often generated.

To be utterly prosaic, the first nine lines may be summarised as ‘the North Pacific Ocean is uninteresting and the weather changeable’!

[Page 79, line 15 onwards] There is a man in Yokohama … it would seem that Kipling met, in Yokohama, the Principal of a seal-fur-trading company, who, in today’s language might be described as an entrepreneur (at best) or a chancer (at worst): but the furriers to whom he sells his seal pelts have no idea of how they were acquired.

[Page 80, line 2] a great spirit the reference is to Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94), who wrote many celebrated novels, including Kidnapped, The Master of Ballantrae, and The Wrong Box, and was much admired by Kipling.

[Page 80, line 3] the Navigator Group the islands now known collectively as Samoa. Stevenson spent the last four years of his life there.

[Page 80, line 4] a thousand leagues a league is an indeterminate and obsolete unit of distance, which varies from country to country, but is usually taken to be about three miles – nautical miles at sea, statute miles on land.

The French writer Jules Verne had published his classic tale Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in 1869. Readers may also recall the opening line of Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade”: ‘Half a league, half a league, half a league onward …’

[Page 80, lines 15/16] A week on wheels … a part of the machine life on a transcontinental train ran to a routine as exact as that of the ship in which they had just crossed the ocean, except that there were more events on the train, as Kipling suggests.

[Page 80, line 18] wait for news of the trestle ahead the C.P.R. was built in haste—not carelessly, but speed of construction was of the essence. So the first bridges were temporary timber trestles, to be replaced with permanent structures in steel as time and finance permitted.

The line had been opened only for seven years, and careful watch was kept on the trestles after the passage of each train to ensure that the bridge was still sound.

[Page 80, line 28] the dry roar of the engine at the distance signal.

This is a good example of Kipling getting a bit of esoteric detail not quite right. In the first place, it is a ‘distant’ signal, rather than ‘distance’ – the word is the same in British and North American practice, and has been since such signals were introduced in the mid-19th century. The “dry roar” is being produced because the engine and its train have been stopped out of course at the signal, But a distant signal was only a cautionary signal: if it was ‘against’ the engine, it was not a mandatory ‘stop’ signal: it was to be passed cautiously, with the driver prepared to stop at the next signal which was at ‘danger’.

But if the engine was stopped out of course at any signal, then it was liable to produce a ‘dry roar’, from two sources: the first is from the safety valves, which, particularly if they are of the ‘pop’ type, will go off with a sudden explosive roar – when an engine is stopped out of course, at one moment the fireman will have a white-hot fire, producing steam at the maximum rate for the locomotive to use, and the next, it will have stopped abruptly, with a boiler full of steam, which is suddenly not needed and the fire producing more steam every second – so it will inevitably blow off. The second source is from the ‘blower’, an annular ring of jets of steam directed up the chimney to prevent a ‘blow-back’ and to maintain a certain amount of draught on the fire when the engine is at rest.

However, for the great bulk of this west-to-east continental journey, train control would not have involved the use of fixed signals: it was by train control orders passed by telegraph from a central ‘dispatcher’ to an ‘Open Office of Communication’, where the orders were received by a telegraph clerk, who transmitted the order, in written form, to the engineer (driver), as it might be in the form “Authorised to proceed to (name of next depot (station)). Cross train no. 25 westbound at (name of next depot).” However, we must allow Kipling his distant/distance signals at the eastern end of the journey, in the more heavily trafficked lines in Lower Canada, in the approaches to Montreal, though as explained above the train would not have to stop at one.
We are obliged to two correspondents, William James and David Gunther (the latter a long-service railroad operator in the western USA) for material assistance in compiling this rather extended annotation..

[Page 81, line 4] sick persons and young children this phrase is taken from the Litany (the “General Supplication”) in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer:

… that it may please thee to preserve all those who travel by land, by water, all women labouring of child, all sick persons, and young children, and to show thy pity on all prisoners and captives …

The phrase would have been familiar to most of Kipling’s readers in those days, since attendance at Divine service on Sunday was, if not de rigeur, usual amongst the English middle classes, and the Litany was to be ‘said or sung after Morning Prayer, upon Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays …’

[This editor, now no more than an occasional churchgoer, cannot remember hearing the Litany said in a parish church for about sixty years, though he does remember it in his adolescence – possibly because Morning Prayer is a rarity today, most parishes preferring the Eucharist.]

[Page 81, line 20] Brooklyn one of New York City’s five boroughs.

[Page 81, line 25] as new as the day before yesterday the greater part of the remainder of this letter concerns the setting up of townships and settlements along the line of rail from the mouth of the Fraser river at Vancouver eastwards.

[Page 81, line 28] round house lock-up, or prison, in this context.

[Page 81, line 29] Selkirks a range of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, just east of the Fraser river, which formed the main obstacle to overland communication from the east.

[Page 81, line 32] Manitoba the prairie province of which Winnipeg is the capital, immediately to the west of the Great Lakes.

[Page 82, line 3] contagion of foul-mouthedness … Kipling did not think much of American public life and politics.

[Page 82, line 6] can handle type Kipling always remembered his efforts as Editor and compositor from his schooldays at Westward Ho! and during his early days on the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore.

In those days, a local newspaper was the main disseminator of news and views, and advertising: so a town with a local newspaper had arrived; had ‘put itself on the map’.

[Page 82, line 32 et seq] Denver, Leadville, Ballarat, Broken Hill, Portland or Winnipeg all had been boom towns, Leadville (Colorado), Ballarat (Victoria) and Broken Hill (New South Wales) being particularly associated with mining. Only Broken Hill remains as a mining town, with Broken Hill Proprietary Ltd being one of the world’s major companies dealing in minerals of all sorts.

[Page 83, line 4] Creede was the last silver-mining boom town in Colorado in the 19th century. It had a population of 600 in 1889, which rose to 10,000 in 1891. The boom collapsed in 1893, and Creede’s population today (2010) is 377.

[Page 83, line 19] Banff Hot Springs nowadays known simply as Banff, is in the province of Alberta, on the eastern side of the Rockies. Today it is a major tourist destination, as Kipling forecast.

He recorded a further visit again in 1907-8 in Letters to the Family no. 7: but he made no mention of the town by name, merely recording that they visited “a lake carved out of pure jade” (p. 187, line 3 1). This was Lake Louise.

[Page 83, line 31/2] hellicat South American republics scatter-brained British capital was invested substantially in railways in South America, and in land and mining. Kipling believed that it would be better invested in projects within the British Empire.

[Page 84, line 9] Eastbourne riots Kipling is being ironic – very ironic. Eastbourne on the Sussex coast was, and is, one of the staider and more respectable English sea-side resorts. It was only marginally less staid than Frinton-on-Sea in Essex, which was noted for having no public-houses within the town-limits. Riots in Eastbourne would have been unheard-of.

[Page 84, lines 13, 15, 16] Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane three locations in Washington state: today all flourishing cities – Seattle particularly so, as the home of the Boeing Aircraft Corporation, with the Microsoft Corporation nearby.

[Page 85, line 13] from Portland to Portland a common expression in the USA, meaning ‘across the width of the continent’, from Portland Oregon on the west coast, to Portland Maine in the east.

[Page 86, line 22] zincograph a picture from an engraving on a zinc plate: a form of lithograph.

[Page 86, line 30] Milwaukee brick one particular kind of brick from Milwaukee in Wisconsin was a cream colour.

[Page 87, line 3] the flats the low-lying level land, close to the river; no doubt easy to build on, but liable to flood when the snows melt, high in the mountains in spring.

[Page 87, line 6] Horse-cars jingle the new Main Street has a single tram-line down the middle with one, perhaps two, horse-drawn tramcars plying up and down its length.

[Page 87, line 7] the prairie schooner the covered wagon, so beloved of Hollywood, which was the main, almost the sole, means of overland transportation west of the Mississippi for the pioneers and homesteaders.

[Page 87, line 8] scooped to that end the implication is that the saloon owner has deliberately created a mud-hole in the street outside his saloon, so that travellers will stick fast and say, words to the effect, “Oh bother it! Leave the wagon there and let’s have a drink.”

[Page 87, line 11] Methuselah proverbial for the long life attributed to him in the Bible (Genesis 5,27 gives him 969 years – few people take this literally, but possible interpretations vary). Kipling’s use is proverbial.

[Page 88, passim] The whole of this page is in praise of the pioneering entrepreneurs, soldiers, sailors, and governors, who have led the way in the service of empire, and whose type does not change down the centuries.

Kipling’s Empire Builders

[Page 88, line 7] Cortes (1485-1547) the Spanish conqueror of Mexico and Central America.

[Page 88, line 8] Drake (1540-1596) English Elizabethan seaman, explorer, privateer: the second man to lead an expedition round the globe. Probably the first European to set foot on what later became the coast of British Columbia. See Kipling’s affectionate and admiring account of him in “Simple Simon” in Rewards and Fairies.

[Page 88, line 8] Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586) the beau ideal of English Elizabethan manhood: soldier, poet, and courtier—which meant ‘politician’ in those days.

[Page 88, line 13] Clive Robert Clive (1725-1774), the British officer who established British military and political supremacy in India.

[Page 88, line 13] Lobengula (1845-1894) king of the Ndebele (Matabele) people in what is now Zimbabwe. In this context, Kipling is comparing Dr. Leander Starr Jameson, or Cecil John Rhodes, with Clive.

[Page 88, line 16] Hastings Warren Hastings (1732-1818), the first British Governor-General of India (or to be more precise, those parts of India which the British controlled directly: then probably about 20% of the sub-continent.) In this context, Kipling is almost certainly referring to Cecil Rhodes, who had established the British protectorates of what became Northern and Southern Rhodesia, now Zambia and Zimbabwe.

[Page 88, line 20] the heart of the Empire is set on ballot boxes and small lies In August 1892 an election was about to be held in Britain. It brought back the Liberals for the last ministry of Mr Gladstone. The Liberals were unlikely to be enthusiastic about empire-building, to Kipling’s strong disapproval.

[Page 88, line 21] Don Quixote a fictional character in the novel of the same name by the great Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616). He sets forth in search of knightly encounters, and has many adventures.

[Page 88, lines 24/25] black fellows Australian aborigines.

[Page 88, line 26] Young Hawkins Sir John Hawkins (1532-1595) uncle of Sir Franxis Drake, and similarly explorer, and privateer. He was the treasurer of Queen Elizabeth’s Navy at the time of the fight against the Spanish Armada in 1588.

[Page 88, line 26] a still younger Boscawen (1711-1761) one of the lesser known Admirals of the Seven Years’ War period (1756-1763) who won a very significant sea-battle off Lagos (Spain) in 1759.

[Page 88, line 28] Tajurrah a port in what became French Somaliland, now the independent state of Djibouti. This is the third reference that Kipling makes to Tajurrah, and slaving; Petty Officer Pyecroft mentions it in “The Bonds of Discipline” [Traffics and Discoveries p. 54, line 9] and “Steam Tactics” [Traffics and Discoveries p. 199, line 5]. He also mentions it in The Light that Failed (the spelling varies).

Kipling never went there, but sailed past it whenever he went to or from India with his parents, and had passed it again at the turn of the year on his way home. He almost gives the impression that it was the sole slaving port in East Africa, whereas commanders like ‘Young Hawkins, with a still younger Boscawen’ were to be found up and down the whole of the East Coast, including Zanzibar.

[Page 88, line 30] Sandoval (1497-1528) another of the Spanish conquistadores (‘comquerors’) who paved the way for the Spanish Empire in central and south America.

[Page 89, line 2] sangaree (better known today as Sangria): a Spanish drink composed of red wine, lemon water, and spices.

[Page 89, lines 2/3] running railways beyond the timberline the timberline is found on a mountainside, and marks the highest altitude at which trees will grow. Depending on local conditions it is usually about 10,000-13,000 feet. To run railways at that altitude was a substantial undertaking, but was and is done in Peru and Bolivia.

©Alastair Wilson 2011 All rights reserved