From Tideway to Tideway II

Across a Continent


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




This, the second of the “Tideway” articles, was published in two halves:

  • The Times (London), on 7 and 19 May 1892
  • The Civil and Military Gazette (Lahore), 13 and 14 May 1892
  • The New York Sun, 8 and 15 May 1892

In the CMG it appeared under the title “Across a Continent: New York and St. Paul as seen by Kipling”.
The letter

It describes a journey across the breadth of the North American continent from New York to Vancouver, whence the Kiplings took a steamer to Japan. The journey took them from 26 March to 3 April 1892 (Carrie Kipling’s diary).

The distance as the aeroplane flies is some 2,600 miles (4160 km). Before the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885, a number of cities and places in the southern prairie provinces of Canada were accessed by rail from the United States.

The Kiplings could have travelled from New York up to Canada and thence by the C.P.R. on an all-British (Canadian) route to Vancouver. But it must be said that the route for the first thousand miles or so, from Montreal through the lakes of northern Ontario and around the north shores of Lake Superior and on to Winnipeg, was not very interesting – with virtually no settlements of any size between those two points: and Kipling was a journalist, looking for copy.

The letter is in three parts: the first, not datelined, but written from, and largely about, New York City; the second is datelined St. Paul, Minnesota (they were there on 28 March 1892); and the third is datelined “a day later”, and was written on the train from St. Paul to Winnipeg.

Notes on the Text

[Page 16, line 3] we lingered in New York they were in New York 20 February – 14 March, living in a hotel, during which time Kipling finished his novel The Naulahka.

They went back to Brattleborough from 14 to17 March, then back to New York for another nine days, during which they settled on the building of their houise ‘Naulakha’ for $7200 (£1800 in late Victorian money!). They set off for Chicago on 26 March 1892.

[Page 16, lines 5-13] Kipling was clearly disenchanted with New York!

[Page 16, line 15] a long narrow pig-trough Manhattan Island is indeed long and narrow, but ‘pig-trough’? Kipling was clearly very disenchanted with New York.

[Page 16, lines 21 and 22] Zanzibar foreshore . . . approaches to a Zulu kraal It is not quite clear what particular attribute a Zanzibar foreshore had that inspired Kipling’s disgusted comparison, perhaps an excessive amount of evil-smelling rubbish ? He had never been there. All your Editor can say is that in his experience in the mid-1950s the smell of cloves was overpowering. As regards the ‘Zulu kraal’, and drawing on Rider Haggard’s description, it was bones, human or animal, which formed the principal street furniture!

[Page 17, lines 20/21] The unvirtuous rulers of the city At this time, New York City was under the control of the Democratic Party, whose headquarters were in Tammany Hall, and Tammany Hall became synonymous with inefficient and corrupt government. It took another 30-odd years before the “unvirtuous rulers” were swept away.

[Page 17, line 22] cyclone a rotating storm with a calm centre.

tornado a similar storm with a Spanish name instead of a Greek one.

[Page 18, line 1] impotent laws at this time Kipling was particularly disenchanted with the laws of the USA relating to copyright – or rather, the lack of any such effective law.

[Page 18, line 7] the most bloody war of the century the ‘American Civil War’ or ‘War of Secession’ (1861-65). His comment needs to be qualified. The total number of those who were killed or died as a direct cause of that war was around 620,000, more than the numbers who died in any other of the USA’s wars. But there were many more casualties in Europe during the Napoleonic Wars of 1803-1815.

[Page 18, lines 15-19] three … pillars of moderately decent government . . . regard for human life, justice … good roads the ORG dryly observes, of ‘good roads’: ‘not usually associated with the other two less tangible things – regard for human life and justice’.

But Kipling was, after all, making the point that the practical is as necessary as the intangible – and in the paragraphs above he had been inveighing against the condition of New York’s roads and sidewalks.

[Page 19, line 4] the gentlemen, chiefly of foreign extraction the Irish had played a large part in New York politics, and there had recently been a surge in Italian immigration.

[Page 19, line 26] government of the alien by the alien for the alien this refers to President Lincoln’s speech at the dedication of the National Memorial at Gettysburg (the site of one of the decisive battles of the Civil War, some 62 miles north of Washington, DC) on 19 November 1863, when he declared that: “government of the people by the people for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

[Page 19, line 28] Only the Chinaman washes the dirty linen of other lands this echoes the saying ‘to wash dirty linen in public’, meaning ‘to publish family scandal’. Chinese laundries were then numerous in the USA and Canada. Kipling is implying that he isn’t going to publish scandalous writings about internal American politics, though that is what he has been writing for the last four pages, though no names have been mentioned. The only “dirty linen” the reader will see will be the dirty washing at his local Chinese laundry.

[Page 19, line 30] Dateline St. Paul, Minnesota. St. Paul is the capital city of the State of Minnesota, and lies some 320 miles NW of Chicago, on the eastern edge of the State, on the banks of the great Mississippi river. The date was 29/30 March 1892 – they had arrived on 28 March. On 30 March. they moved on.

[Page 20, lines 5/6] barn door of the Dakota and Minnesota granaries the American prairie wheatfields were and are more in Dakota than in Minnesota (which calls itself the “land of 10,000 lakes”). But the Minneapolis-St. Paul conurbation (see next note) was the rail collection point for the prairies, and so might fairly be called “the barn door”. Dakota was the next territory west of Minnesota, a single entity until admitted into the Union in 1889 as two separate States, North and South Dakota.

[Page 20, lines 7-9] Minneapolis … patronized Minneapolis and St. Paul together now form a conurbation known as “the Twin Cities”. In the 1890s, they were still separate communities and rivals.

[Page 20, lines 9/10] the North West until about 1850, if an American spoke of ‘the North West’, he meant the area lying between the Alleghenies and Lake Michigan: but the opening up of the far west by the railroads in the second half of the century changed that perspective, and from 1850 onwards the North West meant the other side of Lake Michigan, stretching across the prairies to the Rockies and the Pacific.

[Page 20, line 15] rate wars railroad rates for the transport of goods, especially grain. (See Captains Courageous p. 211 line 20.)

[Page 20, line 17] established many years one of the area’s early names was ‘Pig’s Eye’ from the name of a riverside tavern and landing: but as St. Paul, it was named as the capital of the then Minnesota Territory in 1849 (becoming a State in 1858).

[Page 20, line 27] not boorishly fenced off Kipling is commenting (adversely) on the Englishman’s habit of bordering his property by fence, wall or hedge. Considering that he later came to value his privacy (though not to the extent of erecting a wall all round Bateman’s), his earlier attitude was markedly different. But he did. after all, have ‘two sides to my head’.

[Page 20, line 31 and page 21, line 6] the cable-car(s) in the USA particularly, early urban and suburban tramways were moved by a lengthy continuous cable, sunk in a trough with a slot in the top, the motive power being a single, central, steam engine. When Kipling visited St. Paul these were about to be replaced by electric tramways, which were less affected in winter (snow filled the cable conduits, and froze the whole system solid!) The only cable cars now remaining in the USA are those in San Francisco. In Great Britain, one still operates in Llandudno in Wales.

[Page 21, lines 2/3] gentleman to take his spring medicine dogs eat grass as a purgative.

[Page 21, line 27] Newport there are at least eight important places of this name in the USA. Most probably, since the meaning is across the whole of the USA, the reference is to Newport, Rhode Island.

[Page 21, line 28] San Diego there are three San Diegos, but the reference must be to the city in California, a Naval base, and at the opposite end of a diagonal across the country from Newport, RI. The epic rail journey described in Chapter IX of Captains Courageous was from San Diego on the Pacific to Gloucester Massachussetts on the Atlantic.

[Page 21, line 33] ‘Scarlet Fever’ a highly infectious throat infection, resulting in a rash, particularly affecting young children. Before vaccination (developed for this disease in 1924), mortality rates were high. Today it is curable with antibiotics, and, in the UK anyway, is rare. It was the custom in the USA to put a warning sign on the front door.

[Page 22, lines 1-4] Here, in this Editor’s view, Kipling is being polemical and patronizing about the United States. He doesn’t like what he sees as America’s brashness, and is prepared to say so – knowing full well that he was going to be published in America.

[Page 22, line 6] Duluth a city and port in NE Minnesota, at the western end of Lake Superior. It was one of the ports from which grain was exported to eastern America and the rest of the world, and was in competition with the railroads.

[Page 22, lines 6/7] twenty feet of water able to take ships having a draught when laden of twenty feet. Today, the maximum draught permissible is 26.5 feet from Duluth to the Atlantic, through the St. Lawrence Seaway.

[Page 22, line 10] Dateline: “A day later”. They had left St Paul: and this would be 30/31 March 1892.

[Page 22, line 14] Great Northern train at this date the Great Northern Railway of the USA had not become a transcontinental railroad (see our notes on page 12, lines 16/17): it operated in the northern mid-west from its base in St. Paul, with two or three routes crossing the Canadian border. They were on one such, on their way to Winnipeg in the Canadian province of Manitoba. The railway still exists, as part of an amalgamation with the Burlington and Santa Fe Railroads.

[Page 23, line 1] McKinley Bill William McKinley, later President of the United States (assassinated 1901) had been a Republican Congressman, and as leader of his party in the House of Representatives, had introduced the McKinley Tariff Bill, designed to protect US industries from unfair competition.

[Page 23, line 13] West Point on the west bank of the Hudson River, in New York State, some 80 miles north of New York City.

[Page 23, line 20] steam-ploughs steam ploughing involved the use of one or two powerful steam-traction engines, with a winding drum mounted horizontally under the boiler, pulling a reversible multi-furrow plough backwards and forwards across the area to be ploughed; in the vast prairie wheatfields it would be inappropriate to describe it as a field.

In America the two-engine system was mostly used, but in England, where the areas to be ploughed were smaller, a single engine with a double drum could be used, with the second wire running right round the field, with pulleys anchored at the corners, to provide the return pull.

[Page 24, line 3] rods a rod (otherwise known as a ‘pole’ or a ‘perch’) is an old measurement of five-and-a-half yards (a fraction over five metres). It may sound an illogical length, but it is one quarter of a ‘chain’, or one fortieth of a ‘furlong’ (220 yards or some 200 metres), which were eminently usable measures for ploughing land in mediaeval England.

[Page 24, line 27] Canadian Mounted Police founded 1873 as the North West Mounted police, became Royal North West Mounted Police. in 1907. Amalgamated with some other Forces (and assigned to duties outside as well as in the “Territories”) they became the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In addition to law enforcement they became responsible for some odd jobs from time to time, guarding Esquimalt Dockyard, Security, anti-narcotics, etc.

They were legendary for ‘always getting their man’, and figured in many adventure stories of the time about the outposts of Empire.

[Page 24, line 30] overalls used in the military sense; close-fitting trousers worn as part of military uniform.

[Page 24, line 32] does not slouch nor spit, trims his hair, and walks as a man should Kipling did not have a high opinion of the turnout of the average American male, as found in the West (and possibly in the rural East as well).

[Page 25, line 1] custom-house officer they had crossed the border into Manitoba, one of the three great Canadian Prairie Provinces. (The other ttwo are Saskatchewan and Alberta.)

[Page 25, line 2] Florida water a scented toilet water.

[Page 25, lines 9/10] the first ice-shove at Montreal An ice-shove is something which particularly occurs at the onset of winter when the ice is starting to form.

What happens is that, as the rivers start to freeze up, small patches of ice start to form in the tributary rivers and get carried down into the St. Lawrence. There they are swept down, and catch in bays, on wharves, etc.: these accretions can form a dam against which more ice piles up to form a mini-mountain of small floes, all heaped one on another.

Something similar, in reverse. happens when the ice breaks up.

[Page 25, line 27] Assiniboia a district in South Saskatchewan through which the C.P.R. train ran from Winnipeg to Medicine Hat.

[Page 26, second paragraph] As becomes apparent, this is a description of Medicine Hat, now a city in the south-east corner of Alberta, some 580 miles west of Winnipeg. (580 miles in 28 hours, 20.7 mph, stops included: scarcely express speed, but frequent stops for water were needed).

[Page 26, line 22] Medicine Hat this is the place which proposed to change its name in 1910. A resident wrote to Kipling asking for his help in combating the proposal. Kipling’s famous letter “Advice to the Hat”, published in the Medicine Hat News of 28 December, in which he argued stoutly for the retention of the name, saying that he did not see any reason why:

‘white men should be bluffed out of their city’s birthright by an imported joke.’ He advised the citizens to: ‘accept the charge joyously and proudly, and go forward as
Medicine Hat—the only city officially recognized as capable of
freezing out the United States and giving the continent the cold
Kipling then examined the name “Medicine Hat,” and compared it advantageously with the names of places across the border, such as Podnak, Potomac, etc.

See David Alan Richards on this site, and the article by E W Martindell in the Kipling Journal of January 1928.

[Page 26, line 27] was reached by me in a freight-car, ticket unpaid During his trip home to England in 1889, while crossing the USA, he seems to have made a side trip to Canada and visited Medicine Hat. For a discussion of how and when this happened, see Dr. Jay Johnson’s article in KJ 273.

[Page 28, line 26] British Columbia the west coast Province of the Dominion of Canada. Until the Oregon Treaty of 1846, the west coast of North America, between Russian America (now Alaska, in rough terms) and the area under Mexican control, was loosely held by British traders and Americans jointly.

The Oregon Treaty established the 49th parallel of Latitude as the boundary on the mainland – Americans south, British north – while Vancouver Island went to the British. At first Vancouver Island was an independent colony, but when gold was found on the mainland in 1858, the whole area was taken under proper control as the Colony of British Columbia (B.C.), with its capital at New Westminster (now Vancouver).

When Confederation was proposed, B.C. was unenthusiastic, but fear of annexation by the USA and other factors, specifically the promise by the government of the recently confederated Eastern Provinces to build [line 27] ‘an iron band’, the Canadian Pacific Railway, allayed the fears, and B.C. became a part of Canada from 1871.

[Page 29, line 3] the last spike the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed on 7 November 1885 at Craigellachie, B.C., in the heart of the Rocky Mountains.

[Page 29, line 7-9] people in England said ‘How interesting’ … ‘bloated Army estimates’. Kipling is being ironic. Those living in the Colonies always maintained that England (Great Britain) – the Mother Country – took no great interest in them. In the years 1880-1885, the British government was a Liberal one, and it is true that the Liberals were a great deal less enthusiastic about the Colonies and the Empire than the Conservatives

[Page 29, line 14] Scottish crofters in Scotland, a croft was, and is, a small agricultural holding, the occupant being a tenant of the land-owner. During the Highland clearances of the late 18th and first half of the 19th centuries, many crofters were dispossessed of their crofts and effectively forced to emigrate, which they did, especially to Canada and New Zealand. Since 1976 it has been legally possible for a crofter to acquire the title to his croft.

[Page 29, line 15/16] The Scots the Presbyterians particularly, were strict observers of the Sabbath, and would not normally have dreamt of travelling on a Sunday.

[Page 29, line 26] the manager Sir William Cornelius van Horne. American by birth, though he became a naturalised Canadian shortly before his death in 1915, he was one of the great railway builders and managers of the late 19th century.

He loaned the Kiplings the use of a private railway carriage for their trip across Canada in 1907/8 See Letters to the Family III, page 138, and the notes thereon.

[Page 29, line 27] Montreal to Vancouver some 2400 miles (3840 km) as the aeroplane flies. The CPR’s transcontinental route was the longest under the control of a single management in North America – most of the US transcontinentals started half way across.

[Page 30, line 13] Mr. Goldwin Smith (1823-1910) British historian-cum-journalist who became an American Professor at Cornell University, then moved to Toronto where he published a newspaper. As befitted someone who had been educated at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford, and who later became a Fellow of University College, Oxford, his style of writing was highly polished. Clearly the “fellow-traveller” (line 10 above) was rather more down-to-earth.

[Page 30, line 17] Negroes the Civil War might have ended slavery, but it had not prevented segregation and exploitation of the very great majority of black Americans. That had to wait for the era of Martin Luther King in the 1960s

[Page 30, line 25] There’s a nigger on the fence A nigger in the woodpile (or fence) is an English figure of speech formerly commonly used in the United States and elsewhere. It means ‘some fact of considerable importance that is not disclosed’, ‘something suspicious or wrong’. The disrespectful expression ‘nigger’, for a black person, is no longer acceptable.

[Page 31, lines18/19] five deep This seems to be a minor typographical omission, and should read “five feet deep”.

[Page 32, line 1] marsh-flags wild irises. ‘flag’ is a common name for the iris, a commonly blue or yellow flower which grows well on marshy ground.

[Page 32, line 7] into New Zealand again the Kipling’s plans, in outline, were to travel to Japan, and then down to New Zealand to pick up where he had left off the previous November and sail into the Pacific to see Robert Louis Stevenson. As we shall see, they were never fulfilled.

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