The Tomb of his Ancestors

Notes on the text

These notes, edited by John Radcliffe, are partly new, and partly based on the notes on this tale in the ORG. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of The Day’s Work, as published and frequently reprinted between 1898 and 1950.

[Page 102, lines 3-4] the Plowdens, the Trevors, the Beadons, and the Rivett-Carnacs Harry Rivett-Carnac was a young administrator and friend of Kipling’s parents in their early years in Bombay in the 1860s. Both his uncle and grandfather had been Governors of Bombay. See Andrew Lycett (page 26).

[Page 102, line 11] Lieutenant-Fireworker Humphrey Chinn Roger Ayers writes: ‘Fireworker’, later ‘Lieutenant Fireworker’, was the most junior officer rank when the first Royal Artillery units were formed in 1716. The name was not then so odd, since the most senior artillery officer, Lt. Gen. Albert Borgard, was the Chief Firemaster of England. However, the rank of ‘Lieutenant Fireworker’ was discontinued in 1771 and thus was not in use in 1799, although a number of the artillery officers at Seringapatam had held that rank in their young days. In addition, the 1st Battalion, Bombay (European) Regiment, the H.E.I.C. regiment granted the Battle Honour ‘Seringapatam’, was an infantry unit, not artillery. But it is only a story. [R.A.]

[Page 102, line 13] the capture of Seringapatam in 1799 The Battle of Seringapatam (4 May 1799) was the final confrontation of the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War between the East India Company and the Kingdom of Mysore in Central India. The battle was a decisive victory for the British.

[Page 102, line 15] Bombay grenadiers Bombay is one of the four chief cities of India, and lies on the western seabord; it is now called Mumbai. grenadiers were soldiers equipped with small bombs (grenades), which they threw at the enemy.

[Page 102, line 20] Mundesur (Mandsaur). In Gwalior, 30 miles south-south-east of Neemuch (Nimach).

[Page 102, line 22] The Honourable the East India Company Originally a British joint-stock trading company, it had been granted the monopoly of British trade with the East Indies as early as 1600. In pursuance of its commercial interests in India the company raised regiments and fought many battles between the 18th and early 19th centuries, asserted British military control, and governed the country on behalf of the British Crown until 1858. See “The Dream of Duncan Parrenness” in Life’s Handicap (1891).


[Page 103, line 2] Satpura Hills (right) Some 300 miles north-east of Mumbai, they run on north-easterly for some 250 miles into Central India. See the Map of ‘Kipling’s India, down the page in  Kipling’s Life.

[Page 103, line 4] Devonshire Devonshire is an ancient County in the south-west of England. Westward Ho!, where Kipling was at school at USC, lies in north Devon.

[Page 103, line 13] the Canal The Suez Canal in Egypt between Port Said and Suez, opened in 1869.

[Page 103, line 18] the Bombay Civil Service Under the East India Company the governance of India was divided between three ‘Presidencies’, Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras, each with its own Civil Service. In 1878 it was decided that officials would be free to be moved to posts in any of the three, in effect creating what became known as the I.C.S. (Indian Civil Service). However there remained a strong sense of difference between the three, and officials working on the ‘Bombay side’ still tended to see themselves as superior to their counterparts in Calcutta, and vice-versa.

[Page 103, line 30] his father’s regiment The date on the tomb as given by Kipling is in the 1840s, so one can envisage that the first John Chinn’s son, Lionel, had been born in, say, 1835 and his grandson in the 1860s, so that the period of the story could be in the 1880s.

[Page 104, line 13 and Page 107, line 21] pukka substantial, ripe, real, sound, of high quality.

[Page 104, line 16] Irregular Bhil Levies the Bhils are a tribal people of Central India, as well as in Tripura in far-eastern India, on the border with Bangladesh. In feudal and colonial times, many Bhils were employed by the ruling Rajputs in various capacities, e.g. as hunters because of their knowledge of the jungle. Many became soldiers. They were experts in guerilla warfare.

Philip Woodruffe (the pen-name of Philip Mason, the author of the distinguished study of Kipling’s works The Glass the Shadow, and the Fire)
writes (see the headnote) that an Englishman, James Outram, did indeed raise a regiment of Irregular Bhil Levies in the 1840s. The account below is from The Mewar Encyclopedia website:

Mewar was the leading Kingdom of Rajputana, in what is now called Rajasthan.
The Mewar Bhil Corps was a special force set up in the early 1800s to control the criminal activities of the native Bhils
. In the latter half of the 18th century, the hilly region of Rajputana, comprised of Mewar, Dungarpur, Banswara, and Pratapgarh, was in a state of perpetual disorder. The rulers’ weak administration and their undisciplined army could not control the criminal activities of the local Bhil tribesmen. During the first half of the 19th century, the number of murders and robberies increased to an alarming extent.

The British Political Agents proposed setting up a special force to tackle this problem. Initially, the force that was deployed consisted of army officers drawn from the native infantry but that, too, proved ineffective. Then, in 1837, in the reign of Maharana Jawan Singh, Col. James Outram, the Political Agent of Mahikanta proposed the establishment of a Bhil corps under the command of a British officer. This policy of recruiting local people to help in the maintenance of order among their own people was a successful experiment. Initially the rulers of Mewar, Pratapgarh, Dungarpur, and Banswara funded the Mewar Bhil Corps, but before long the British Army totally took over the finance and administration. Efforts were made to enlist other tribals other than Bhils, such as the Grasias and Gametis, into the Corps.

By 1841, the entire hilly tracts of Mewar were put under the supervision of the Commandant of the Corps. This had a beneficial effect on the law and order situation in the southern region, and there was a fair state of discipline. The Mewar Bhil Corps remained a regular unit of the Indian Army until 1938 but was transferred to the Rajasthan Police in 1950. They were allowed to discharge the same duties and functions, which they did prior to the merger. Subsequently, uniform pay scales introduced by the government were also made applicable to them, bringing them on a par with the members of the Rajasthan Police Force

Roger Ayers writes:

The key to the success of the irregular units and the attachment that the officers, both British and Indian, had to them lay in the fact that they had few British officers. Since the majority of officers considered that these units were not ‘proper’ units, there was plenty of scope for those willing to join to be given acting rank, with pay and allowances to match. In an extreme case an infantry battalion could be commanded by a major, with a captain as second-in-command and a lieutenant as adjutant, with all other officer posts, including company commanders, held by Indian officers. Anyone happy to serve in such a unit could stay there almost as long he wished and traditions, such as Kipling describes, could flourish.

Some irregular units continued to exist in the post-Mutiny Indian Army and Kipling’s story of the transformation of ‘Chinn’s Irregular Bhil Levies of the old days’, i.e. pre-Mutiny, into an Indian Army irregular infantry unit had a basis in fact in both the 1880s, when Kipling was working in India, and in the 1890s when he wrote the story. In addition to the Mewar Bhil Corps mentioned above there was a Malwa Bhil Corps, which had rifle-green uniforms and black leather belts as described by Kipling, up to at least 1902.

The Malwa plateau covers an area in western India (today western Madhya Pradesh and south-eastern Rajasthan) and the Bhils form one of the predominant tribes in the area. The local language is Malvi.

The Malwa Bhil Corps and the Mewar Bhil Corps were both set up in 1837 to deal with similar problems, one on the Malwa plateau which encroached on southeastern Rajasthan, the other centred on Mewar covering most of the rest of Rajasthan. Malwa was Muslim in the 15th and 16th centuries and became a traditional enemy of Rajput (and Hindu) Mewar. Hence the requirement for two separate forces. That the role of the Wuddars was control of the local area is the basis for the central theme of the story – the maintenance of Government authority and the suppression of banditry. It is also reflected in the Colonel’s comment (page 146) ‘I think we’ll call ourselves a police force’. Kipling knew his Bhils if not his Fireworkers. [R.A.]

[Page 104, lines 29-30] pre-Aryan, aboriginal, Dravidian Kipling touches here on the highly complex story, much debated among scholars, of how peoples and their languages have spread across the Indian sub-continent over the past four or five thousand years. Over a hundred different languages are spoken in India.

For readers of this Guide, suffice it to say that the term ‘Aryan’ refers to a family of Indo-European languages which includes Sanskrit, Persian, Greek, Latin, German, and the Slavonic languages. Some 70% of the peoples of India are descended from speakers of ‘Indo-European’ languages, who began to spread southwards across the subcontinent as early as 2,500 B.C. They largely displaced the existing holders of the land, including the ‘aboriginal’ peoples like the Bhils.

The term Dravidian refers to a different and perhaps older, language family, which today includes Tamil, Malayalam, and Telugu, largely spoken in the south, by some 20% of the population of India.

[Page 107, line 8] sent to England as a child, 15 years ago It was the normal practice among Anglo-Indians to send their children home to be educated, avoiding the unhealthy Indian climate as they grew up, at about the age of six, just as Kipling had been in 1871.

[Page 107, line 30] slats of the jalousies jalousies are louvred window shutters. Looking through them is like looking between the slats of a venetian blind, sloping upwards from without.

[Page 108, line 4] on a slew slightly turned out of its normal position.

[Page 108, line 24] parvenu here it means a newcomer, someone without a pedigree.

[Page 109, line 5] doocid lucid Very clear. ‘Deuced’ was late Victorian slang for “very”. ‘Deuce’ is little used nowadays; it meant ‘plague’ or ‘mischief’ or ‘the devil’.

[Page 110, line 23] magic lantern an optical instrument dating back to 1696, by which a magnified picture from a transparency is projected on to a screen: the precursor of the cinematograph.

[Page 111, line 1] Jan baba Baby John.

[Page 111, line 19] unmixed Bhil a pure-blooded Bhil.

C.B.I. Companion of the Order of British India. This Order was instituted in 1837 by the East India Company for award to meritorious Native Officers.

[Page 113, line 6] Mrs. Malaprop a character in the play “The Rivals”, by Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816). She is noted for her aptitude for misapplying long words. The name is from the French Mal apropos (untimely).

[Page 113, line 33] an ex-Collector’s ghost ‘Collector’ was a senior rank in the administrative service in India, responsible for law and order and revenue collection in his District.

[Page 114, line 12] a mighty hunter before the Lord Nimrod (see Genesis 10,9).

[Page 115, line 3] the high the low and middle justice Different levels of responsibility for justice in mediaeval England, depending on the nature of the offence. Bukta was the ultimate authority among his people.

[Page 115, line 29] lose his maidenhead here means ‘lose his his innocence of big game hunting’. This would be his first tiger.

[Page 116, line 5] glary oppressive, unrelieved sunshine.

[Page 116, line 20] conventionalized Tartar cloud clouds which are to be seen in clear weather over high uplands, as conventionalized in Chinese art and handicrafts, such as embroidery, pottery and other work. ‘Tartary’ is where the Tartars (Tatars) came from, and the name is applied chiefly to Xinjiang, on the central Asian frontiers of China.

[Page 117, line 12] waked up like a partidge As a partidge, a small game bird, is disturbed by the beaters when lying in cover, to be flushed out and shot at.

[Page 117, line 23] ringing jaws Reginald Harbord, the ORG Editor suggests that Kipling meant ringent, a rarely used English word meaning ‘gaping’ or ‘grinning’.

[Page 124, line 13] murrain cattle fever.

[Page 124, line 20] Mutiny rumours this refers to the danger signals which were apparent some time before the rebellion of native soldiers in the Indian Army in 1857, which the British referred to as ‘The Mutiny’.

[Page 125, line 4] Khandesh a District in Bombay Province. Part of the Satpura Range is in this District.

[Page 127, line 22] a Mahratta State-educated vaccinator, with lancets, lymphs, and an officially registered calf The ‘vaccinator’ was a native person from the state of Maharashtra, trained by the state as a medical assistant to go out to immunise local people against the potentiaaly fatal infection of smallpox. As Gillian Sheehan explains in “Kipling and Medicine” :

Small-pox is an acute infectious fever. The live virus of cow-pox, a related virus which infects cattle, is used for vaccination against smallpox. Smallpox vaccine is made by inoculating the skin of healthy animals, usually calves, with cow-pox virus. Lesions form at the sites of innoculation. The fluid obtained from these lesions is called ‘vaccine lymph’. [Information from Martindale’s Extra Pharmacopoeia, The Pharmaceutical Press, 25th edition, 1967, p.1481.]

The method of vaccination is as follows: a small area of skin on the upper arm is scratched with a lancet and a small amount of vaccine lymph applied to the scratched area. Vaccine made from calf lymph was introduced on an experimental basis in Bombay in the late 1850s. But there were many problems with smallpox vaccination in India. Initially there was considerable opposition from the Hindu population who saw this as a violation of their sacred animal.
[For more details see “Kipling and Medicine” ]

[Page 128, line 27] ‘if they should accidentally … make asses of ’emselves’ If Chinn were to come to harm, or death, which must have been a possibility.

[Page 129, line 14] whom he, as an ‘unmixed Bhil’ despised Perhaps the Satpura Bhils had intermarried with other peoples.

[Page 129, line 28] All India is full of neglected graves

[Page 130, line 16] To the memory of JOHN CHINN ESQ. This inscription must have been based on that on the grave of Augustus Cleveland, who died in 1784, and who – as the local Magistrate – had tamed the aboriginal hill tribes of Chota Nagpur (to the west of Calcutta in Bengal). See the Headnote.

[Page 133, line 28] a lawful legitimate fever-proof Chinn
See Gillian Sheehan’s article on “Kipling and Medicine”.

[Page 135, line 11] Her referring to Mata, the Goddess of smallpox. (See also page 138, line 6.)

[Page 137, lines 5-6] ‘If you show you are afraid, you’ll never see Poona again, my friend…’ Roger Ayers writes: This suggests that Poona (then named Puna) was where the Bombay Residency trained its vaccinators. Looking up Poona (then spelled Puna) in my 1890 guide to India , there is no mention of a medical school among half a dozen listed institutes. However, Poona was at one time the ‘monsoon’ station for the Government of the Bombay Presidency, rather like Simla later on, and invalid soldiers waiting to be sent home by troopship in the 1870s were sent there, so I suspect that there may have been at least a military hospital. [R.A.]

[Page 137, line 7] vaccine lymph from a calf for use on humans to induce a mild attack of cow-pox and thus immunize them against smallpox. See the note above on page 127 line 22.

[Page 138, line 19] Mahadeo (Mahadeva) is Siva, or Shiva, the supreme God in the Shaiva tradition of Hinduism. See the poem “Shiv and the Grasshopper” (The Jungle Book):

All things made he—Shiva the Preserver. Mahadeo ! Mahadeo ! He made all
Thorn for the camel, fodder for the kine…

The allusion here may be to the attribute of Siva as protector of cattle.

[Page 142, lines 10 and 33] pugs a tiger’s characteristic footprints.

[Page 143, line 30] white helmet a good deal has been written suggesting that Kipling made a gross mistake in allowing Chinn to go shooting tiger in a white helmet. But it might be said that he did it deliberately to attract the tiger’s attention to himself. Alternatively, I could plead that when Chinn left his quarters he did not expect to be going tiger-shooting or, indeed, shooting at all. (R.E.Harbord in ORG).

[Page 145, line 4] tower to rise vertically, as a wounded bird.

[Page 145, line 18] Ten-six-eight …. call it eleven the tiger measured nearly eleven feet from its nose to the tip of its tail (3.3 meters), and a short tail (37 inches, 94 cm) at that. This was an immense beast, larger than most.

Fore-arm strictly ‘fore-leg’, but what is referred to is the equivalent of the human fore-arm, i.e., from the elbow down.

[Page 146, line 13] disappeared, as quail in high corn a figurative phrase derived from the way a covey of quail, the smallest game bird, will disappear into growing crops like a single bird, as if performing a drill.


©John Radcliffe 2008 All rights reserved