From Tideway to Tideway VI

Half-a-Dozen Pictures


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



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

  • The Times (London), on 20th August 1892
  • The Civil and Military Gazette (Lahore), 3rd and 5th September 1892
  • The New York Sun, 28th August 1892


Having had their plans totally altered by the failure of his bank, and, presumably, being unable to do any more sightseeing in Japan due to lack of funds, Kipling was somewhat short of subjects on which to write his series of travel letters. So, being a good craftsman, he set about making what he could from the materials he had to hand, namely the impressions which he had stored away in his mind from previous travels.

The Letter

In the New York Sun the letter is preceded by six lines of Jacobean verse by William Habington (1605-54):

Goe, cool your feavers and you’ll say
The dog days scorch not all the years;
In copper mines no longer stay
But travel to the west and there
The right ones see
And grant all gold’s not alchemie.

The letter ended: ‘and afterwards (nothing this side of the grave can change most of us)’. We are uncertain of what Kipling meant by this phrase, and are in the process of establishing if it is so printed in the original in the Sun. That phrase was followed by the poem which starts “When Earth’s last Picture is Painted”, later titled “L’Envoi” to The Seven Seas.
The Pictures

[Title] The title “Half-a-Dozen Pictures” describes the letter exactly: it consists of six verbal vignettes, describing six scenes which Kipling has seen on his travels. In the three years since he left India in 1889, his writing had earned him enough to, in effect, travel one-and-a-half times round the world by the time he was 27: this may be commonplace to today’s back-packing generation, but was uncommon in the 1890s.

[Page 70: first picture] a sealing schooner in the North Pacific, somewhere off the Aleutian Islands, or the Kuriles: dated April 1892.

[Page 71, line 12: second picture] an artist: dated 1889 – “three years ago”.

[Page 72, line 4: third picture] a sea picture in the Roaring Forties, under the eye of an albatross: Kipling’s mental camera clicked sometime in 1891 when he was en route from the Cape to Wellington.

[Page 73, line 1: fourth picture] another seascape, in the Indian Ocean, probably between Penang and Colombo, quite possibly in the vicinity of the Andaman Islands, with a small steamer with cholera among her deck passengers.
Almost certainly this image and the next were “collected” on his voyage from Australia to Colombo, in Sri Lanka, in the Autumn of 1891.

[Page 73, line 26: fifth picture] another picture in a maritime setting, but it is the people who are the subject, all gathered round a fight among the deck passengers.

[Page 76, line 5, the final picture] this was picked up in Japan, and is probably recent: the metaphorical varnish is probably still wet. It is a street scene in Tokio, at night, with a Japanese night-watchman-cum-fireman in the foreground.

Notes on the Text

[Page 70, line 4] the dispersing hammer the auctioneer’s gavel or mallet, used to mark the sale of an auction lot, when a collector’s collection is dispersed after his death.

[Page 70, line 17] in the North Pacific the seemingly direct route from Vancouver to Yokohama (seen on a map on Mercator’s projection) would pass about 600 miles south of the Aleutians, 400 miles from the Kuriles: the former the island chain stretching south-west from Alaska; the latter stretching between the north-east corner of Hokkaido and the Kamchatka peninsula; both were sealing grounds at the end of the 19th century.

In fact, ships voyaging between Vancouver and Yokohama would take the Great Circle route, some 400 miles, or a full day’s steaming, less than the seemingly direct route. The Great Circle route is an arc of the plane circle which has those two points on its circumference and its centre at the centre of the Earth, so it loops up to the north to pass within some sixty miles of the Aleutians, and a similar distance from the Kuriles.

[Page 70, line 21] the bat wings of a sealing schooner the trapezoidal sails of most schooners of that period might fancifully be said to resemble bats’ wings (the triangular sails of the present day Bermudan rig were not then common). This photo shows an old American sealing schooner, modernised, with a cabin where the hold would have been.

Alternatively, if such a vessel is sailing with the wind from dead astern, with the foresail out to starboard, and the main-sail out to port, she is said to be sailing ‘goose-winged’: possibly Kipling confused them.

As we have seen above, the route would have taken their steamer close to the Aleutians, so it is not surprising that they saw a sealing schooner to imprint its visual image on Kipling’s mind’s-eye. There is an account of sealing in the Canadian Arctic in “The White Seal” in The Second Jungle Book.

[Page 71, line 12] Three years since, I met an artist Kipling had visited Yokohama in the company of Mr. and Mrs. Hill, three years ago, while on his way home to London. He makes no mention of any particular artist in Letters XVII and XVIII of From Sea to Sea, but does mention artists in general.

[Page 71, line 14] line of 300 graven, lichened godlings It seems likel;y that these were the stone images of Jizo-hosatsu (or Bodhisattva) at Kanman-ga-fuchi near Nikko. which Kipling had seen on his earlier visit to Japan. See From Sea to Sea Letter XIX (p. 420 line 8).

[Page 71, line 20] absolutely no perspective early Japanese art did not recognise perspective (like virtually all primitive art). Other than as a curio, the painting would not have been of much interest to foreigners seeking to take home a picture of what they had seen.


[Page 71, line 22] for home consumption for sale to Japanese clients, for whom perspective was unimportant.

[Page 71, line 23] no man can put the contents of a gallon jar into a pint mug the more usual English version of this saying is “You can’t get a quart into a pint pot” (a quart is two pints, roughly a litre).

[Page 71, line 31] lumbering bars of gold the constraints of a gilded frame.

[Page 71, line 32] disposed . . . between latitudes, etc.. Kipling’s pictures are in his mind’s eye only, disposed all over the world, and he can take them with him wherever he goes.

[Page 72, line 6] big beam sea we have suggested above that Kipling’s mental camera clicked during his voyage from Cape Town to Wellington in the S.S. Doric, in the previous November. After “running her easting down” with wind and sea behind her, until she had reached about longitude 170°E and was turning north-eastwards to head up towards Wellington. This would bring the seas abeam (from the side), and she would roll horribly.

[Page 72, line 10] blind sea horses the waves: sailors speak of the white crests of breaking waves as ‘white horses’.

[Page 72, line 15] a big sea has got home the impact of hundreds of tons of seawater is like a heavy blow from a boxer, and the ship will shudder.

[Page 72, line 16] the stern flies up in the lather of a freed screw as the ship pitches, or corkscrews, once she has put the seas abeam, or on her quarter, the screw will at intervals come out of the water, churning the surface into a froth of foam.

[Page 72, line 17] from poop to the break of the foc’s’le the length of her upper deck, so that the ship looked like three rocks at half-tide.

[Page 72, lines 19/20] the donkey engine a small auxiliary engine mounted on the upper deck to provide power for the derrick purchases (ropes or wires used to lift the cargo in or out of the holds).

[Page 72, line 20] stored derrick booms when at sea, especially on a long voyage, the derrick booms (the bits which act like the jib of a crane) would be lowered and lashed down firmly across the hatches of the hold which they served.

[Page 72, line 21/22] the interrupted wake normally, the ship’s wake will stretch straight astern, its straightness or otherwise testifying to the skill, or lack of it, of the helmsman.

Here the wake is interrupted where the screw is lifted out of the water as the ship pitches. With the wind on the beam, or nearly so, the ship will move crabwise across the sea’s surface, so that the wake appears to “drive far to leeward”. In this case, the suggestion must be that the helmsman is skilful, for the wake is as straight as a kite string.

[Page 72, line 25] eye of an albatross the big sea-bird found in the southern oceans, which will follow a ship for hundreds of miles, in the hope of picking up some garbage as food. They are skilled at riding the air currents, and may cover many miles without ever moving their still wings (line 33).

It has been said that the eyes of all deep-sea birds are black, but most ornithologists do not agree: so Kipling’s ‘red eye’ (line 32) was probably an accurate observation.

[Page 72, line 33] staves to stave a boat in is to break a hole in it, so she sinks.

[Page 73, line 11] coir-coloured coir is the fibre from the husk of a coconut, and is a light brown in colour. One of its uses is to make “grass rope”, which is light enough to float, though less strong than hemp or sisal rope.

[Page 73, line 21] lime-wash lime was commonly used as a disinfectant wash, and would leave white streaks on the ship’s side.

[Page 73, lines 24/25] the sickness that destroyeth in the noonday Psalms 91,6. This wording is from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, which Kipling would have remembered from his childhood, when he was boarded out in Southsea (see “Baa Baa, Black Sheep”). The version of this same psalm in the Bible is worded slightly differently.

[Page 73, line 26] the pick of the East rooms Kipling means that this is the best of his pictures “taken in the Orient”.

[Page 74, line 1] saffron a yellow colour made from the yellow crocus flower.

[Page 74, line 7] isabella-coloured greyish-yellow, or light buff.

[Page 74, line 18] Malay kris a dagger or short sword with a blade of a wavy form.

[Page 74, line 21] red-gold pines pineapples.

[Page 75, line 14] R.A. Royal Academician. A full member of the Royal Academy of Arts. RAs are not just distinguished painters: they may be sculptors, engravers, print-makers, draughtsmen or architects.

[Page 75, line 22] the South Kensington what is known today as the Victoria and Albert Museum, or V & A (right), was established in 1857.

The V & A was funded by the profits made on the Great Exhibition of 1851 and was
then known as the South Kensington Museum. It did not take its present name until 1899, when Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone of the present museum on the same site. She re-named it in honour of Prince Albert, her late and much-loved Consort, a strong advocate of public education in the Arts and Sciences.

[Page 75, line 29] Circe’s swine in Greek mythology, Circe was a minor goddess,. In Homer’s “Odyssey”, the tale is told of her drugging Odysseus’s crew on their way back from the Trojan War and turning them into swine. They were later freed by Odysseus.

[Page 75, line 32] The Japanese rooms see p.73, line 26 above. These are the “rooms” in Kiplings mental “gallery”, which he is visiting for the second time: the first part of his “collection” being made in 1889.

[Page 76, line 11] little dwarf pines, stunted peach and plum trees these are bonsai trees, which have been cultivated to be both miniature and pleasing to the eye. Producing such plants is a particularly Japanese speciality, though it is also practised elsewhere.

[Page 76, line 15] these forced cripples Kipling evidently found the display of these modified plants somewhat distasteful.

[Page 76, line 21] dwergs dwerg is the Dutch for a dwarf. In strict horticultural terms a plant which has been dwarfed is not the same as bonsai: to develop a bonsai plant, ordinary seed is used.

[Page 77, line 3] sliver a long thin piece, also known as a ‘slip’. A sliver of bamboo can, in fact, be a lethal weapon. It can be split to be no thicker than a needle.

[Page 77, line 15] a Bulgarian atrocity or a Burmese . . . in 1876, Turkey put down a revolt of her Bulgarian subjects with fearful barbarity. The Liberal leader William Gladstone wrote a pamphlet about the cruelty involved, using the word atrocity. Here, the dozing watchman looks like a slaughtered Bulgarian, propped against the wall: or like a slaughtered peasant in Burma. [See “The Ballad of Boh Da Thone”:

He crucified nobles, he scarified mean
He filled old ladies with kerosene…

[Page 77, line 26] ‘props’ stage properties, objects used by actors in a play.

[Page 77, line 32] North Cape Nord Kapp, the north of Norway, and so the most northerly point of Europe.

[Page 77, line 32] Algiers Modern Algeria. In the 1890s, to go ‘south of Algiers’ was to enter the unknown—so it may be taken to be the southern limit of Europe—even if it is in Africa. So this phrase means there are many more things to be seen and stored in ones mental ‘memory stick’ than can be found in Europe

[Page 78, line 7] betting on a certainty the ORG said: ‘a bad thing—no sportsman should think of it.’ Well . . , it depends on your viewpoint and how good the information is—so long as you are prepared for the certainty to be uncertain, then the bet is your own fault! (These days, in attempting to make a fortune on the stock-exchange, you’re likely to be had up for insider trading!)

[Page 78, line 8] nicked cards professional gamblers were said to mark cards with infinitesimal nicks in the side, so that it would be possible, by feeling the card when dealing to know its value and suit.

[Page 78, lines 8/9] expulsion from clubs the ORG suggested, in 1965, that no ‘crook’ would be allowed to join a club, so the question of expulsion for cheating should never arise. No doubt in London that would have been and still is so, but in the Overseas Club in Yokohama, the standards of entry may perhaps have been less rigorous.

©Alastair Wilson 2011 All rights reserved