A Tour of Inspection

(notes edited by John McGivering and Alastair Wilson)


ORG (Volume 4, page 1823) records the first publication of this tale in The Metropolitan Magazine in October 1904 in the United States and, in the United Kingdom in The Windsor Magazine for December the same year, where it was accompanied by five black-and-white illustrations by Victor Prout. The story is followed in Volume 4 of ORG by the text of “The Harbour Watch” (page 1836) with Notes (page 1855) then following page 1858, there are three Appendices on the Pyecroft stories.

“A Note on the Royal Navy in 1905,” (page 1858)
“British Warships Boats, 1905 (page 1866)
“Knots an Hour”. (page 1869) See also Notes to ‘The Devil and the Deep Sea’ (The Day’s Work page 153, line 24_.

“A Tour of Inspection” was published in a private edition of 93 copies in New York in 1928, and is also to be found in Volume 9 of both the Sussex and Burwash editions.

The Kipling Society was able to reprint the text of the tale in KJ 131/05 (September 1959) with introductory remarks of which this is the opening:

“A Tour of Inspection” was probably written too late in 1904 to be included in Traffics and Discoveries (passed for press in June) with the four other Pyecroft stories. It is uncertain why Kipling did not collect it in Actions and Reactions (1909) or A Diversity of Creatures (1917): the first contains no Pyecroft stories, but “The Horse Marines” (written May 1910) appeared in the second. By this time Kipling may have been writing, or at least planning, his one-act play about Pyecroft, “The Harbour Watch”.

See also KJ 34/20 and 329/27: also the articles on “Kipling’s Sussex”. and “Kipling and the Royal Navy” on this site.

The ORG Introduction

Our predecessors who compiled the ORG introduced the story thus:

We do not know why Kipling did not include “A Tour of Inspection” in one of his volumes of short stories that appeared after Traffics and Discoveries, for which it appeared too late. Commander Merriman would have ranked it above “The Bonds of Discipline”, though he thought it most unlikely that the crew of a coasting schooner would have been expected to man a dumb [unpowered] barge into which they had unloaded cargo, and impossible for this to be moved any distance without towage.

On the other hand, another member, recalling his own youth in Cardiff, has memories of barges being towed by a single man, with the aid of a tow rope secured to the pivoting point, not the bow, of the craft.

‘The fact that a drunken, psalm-singing Cardiff-Welsh deckhand is supposed to have towed an ammunition barge a mile or so along a peaceful country canal is quite in order and the sort of irresponsible escapade they would have rejoiced in.’

The story, however, involves the Welsh mate towing a barge laden with china clay something like five miles, and this after a very heavy evening in the course of which he has appropriated a couple of red flags from an explosives barge, lending his own craft a dangerous appearance which enables him to terrorise a nearby concrete works into suspending operations.

Though the nub of the plot is as thin as that, it seems to have befogged some readers. Others may find that the humour is uncomfortably close to slapstick, or that Pyecroft deviating towards Elder Statesmanship is less entertaining than usual. Kipling may have felt that some revision was needed to make the story worth collecting.


This is Kipling in jovial mood, drawing on his hobby of motoring which he discovered in 1899 (Meryl Macdonald, The Long Trail, Chapter 8, and Something of Myself, p. 176): and his cruises with the Navy (Macdonald, p. 114.)

It is an opportunity for him to bring his views on the modernisation of the Navy which was then in progress under Admiral Fisher (John Arbuthnot Fisher, 1841-1920, first Baron Fisher of Kilverstone) to the attention of a far wider public than was possible by publication in more solemn journals. It is also a case where we might, for once, ignore the advice of Dr Tompkins (page 256) and regard the Narrator as Kipling himself. See KJ 205/13. Fisher nominated John Kipling for the Navy but his short sight made it impossible for him to be accepted, although he might have been able to join as a Paymaster.

See Themes in Kipling’s Works under ‘Motoring’ and ‘Royal Navy’ on this site; also “They” and “The Dog Hervey”: also “Kipling as an early motorist” in the Notes on “Steam Tactics” (Traffics and Discoveries).

[A.W. / J. H. McG.]