The Kipling Motoring Diaries

[May 22nd 2020]

image Kipling was never a great diarist, and so far as we know, the only diaries which he kept after his marriage to Carrie in 1892 were the Motoring Diaries which are the subject of this essay and which we now present in an annotated form. He left it to Carrie to record in her diaries the events which made up their life. After these had been used by Lord Birkenhead and Professor Charles Carrington as a basis on which to write their ‘authorised’ biographies (except that Kipling’s daughter Elsie refused to authorise the Birkenhead ‘life’), the diaries were destroyed, and all that now remains are the extracts from Carrie’s diaries which were all that Elsie Bambridge would allow to be recorded. We have transcribed, interleaved and annotated both sets of ‘Extracts’, that made by Douglas Rees for Lord Birkenhead, and that made by Professor Carrington himself (they differ in emphasis), and put on-line so that they can be accessed more generally. (Carrie Kipling’s Diaries)

However, before his marriage, while he was learning his trade as a journalist in Lahore, he seems to have kept a diary from time to time, and that for 1885 has survived, and is now in the care of Harvard University. It is quoted verbatim in Professor Pinney’s collection and annotation of Kipling’s various autobiographical writings, Something of Myself and Other Autobiographical Writings (edited by Thomas Pinney); and Harry Ricketts makes use of a substantial portion of it in his biography The Unforgiving Minute

Thereafter, Kipling did keep diaries when he and Carrie (and sometimes other family members and friends) went on motor tours, mostly as a holiday, or a part of a holiday, and also when he went ‘on duty’ (as when he went to Belgium and Northern France for the unveiling by King George V of the great memorial to the fallen of World War I at Étaples in 1922). These diaries cover the periods 1911-1914 and 1920-1926. They continued to make tours, 1927-33, but if Kipling continued to keep diaries, they have not survived.

All the tours were made in their own car, always a Rolls-Royce, except the very first tour in 1911, when their new Rolls, which should have been ready for them to return from the Pyrenees, was delayed at the coachbuilders, and they were loaned another car by Rolls-Royce.

It is a great pity that Kipling did not record his earlier trips in his previous cars (or if he did, the records – other than comment in some of his letters – have not survived). He was a pioneer among early motorists, hiring his first car in December 1899, and suffering all the vicissitudes of pioneers.

image He bought his first car in May 1900; both this and the hireling were petrol-engined but in June 1901 he purchased an American-made ‘Locomobile’ steam car, a fragile-looking carriage, some of whose tantrums are well-recorded in his tale “Steam Tactics” which was collected in Traffics and Discoveries in 1904.

The ‘Locomobile’ lasted until June 1903. Although at this time the Kiplings spent the worst of the English winter in South Africa, the ‘Locomobile’ had absolutely no form of weather protection, and can only have been of practical use in fine weather. Kipling himself never learned to drive (nor did Carrie), and he always employed a chauffeur to both drive and maintain all his cars.

image At some time in 1901/02 he made the acquaintance of that much under-rated motor engineer Frederick Lanchester, who with his two brothers built motorcars (all petrol-engined), and the ‘Locomobile’ was replaced with a Lanchester car, and then another.

image In May 1906, the Lanchester was replaced by a Daimler, which was sufficiently reliable to last him until he bought his first Rolls-Royce in 1911.

There are some mentions of his early motoring travails in his partial autobiography, Something of Myself, and in his correspondence, now edited, published and annotated by Professor Pinney (the relevant volume for the early motoring experiences is Volume 3).

The pre-1914 motoring diaries are more notes than narrative, but the post-war ones comprise daily entries which amount to a short essay on the day’s events with comments on the scenery and the hotels in which they stayed, and the shortcomings of the roads on which they travelled, and sometimes comments on individuals they met.

We have employed similar conventions to those used for Carrie’s diary extracts. The actual text is in black Roman script, while our interpolations and annotations are in italic. Kipling was in the habit of using initials for many names – we have expanded them to make the text easier to read, without having to hesitate mentally to decide whom it is that Kipling is referring to. He’s not always consistent – Carrie is sometimes ‘C’ and at other times is ‘M’ for ‘Mother’. Elsie is always ‘E’ and ‘Landon’ who accompanied them on two long-ish tours is ‘L’ or P(erceval) L(andon).

The tours covered were as follows

1911 March-April

The tour started at Vernet-les-Bains, but the diaries only start on the second day at Nîmes. Nîmes-Montpellier-Carcassonne-Toulouse-Bergerac-Poitiers-Tours-Beauvais-Paris. The diary of this tour ends in Paris. After two days, they went on home, spending one night at Abbeville, arriving at Bateman’s, 8 April.

August 1911

They spent two weeks touring northern France, initially in company with Max and Gladys Aitken. Boulogne-Rouen-Le Havre-Bayeux-Granville-Mont Saint Michel-Falaise-Beauvais-Longeuil (the Depews – near Compiègne). The diary ends here – they returned thankfully to Bateman’s after a further five days, having spent one night at Abbeville on the way (Carrie’s diary).

1912 They spent eight days motoring in the West Country in September 1912, but if Kipling kept a diary during this period, it has not survived.

1913 March-April.

Having spent the month of February and the first three weeks of March on a trip to Egypt and up and down the Nile, the Kiplings returned to Marseilles where they met their friend Perceval Landon who had travelled down in their car, and with whom they returned north. Their itinerary was Marseilles-Avignon-Albi-Limoges-Bourges-Troyes-Reims- and there the diary ends for this trip. Carrie’s diary shows that they went from Reims to Paris, where they picked up Elsie, and travelled home after four nights in Paris, spending a night at Abbeville en route, crossing Boulogne-Folkestone.

1914 March-April

Their winter holiday had consisted of a month at Engelberg with John and Elsie in January, travelling out and back by train. They returned to the Continent in the last week of February, again travelling out by train, to take the cure at Vernet-les-Bains. After four weeks there, they went by train to Bordeaux to pick up their car which, we assume, had been shipped there direct.

They returned in it to Vernet, and three days later set off for Paris, via Avignon-Grenoble-Lyon-Autun-Orleans-Paris. After two weeks in Paris, they left for home, John and Elsie having joined them. Their route was Chartres-Amiens-Boulogne and so to Folkestone, thence to Brown’s Hotel in London, before going home to Bateman’s.

During World War I there were, of course, no motor tours, and their car was laid up and their chauffeur discharged in December 1915. They re-commissioned their car in January 1919 and resumed their pre-war pattern of car usage. They undertook a three-week tour in England and Scotland, in September, but no diary has survived.


Carrie’s diaries recorded that they went to Dover on 16 March, but are then blank until they return home from Dieppe, 22 April. However, the motoring diary picks up at St. Omer (they had been doing Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC) business). They travelled down to Biarritz where they spent eleven days and then travelled back again to Paris before returning home. The route they followed was: St. Omer-Alençon-Nantes-La Rochelle-Bordeaux-Biarritz. They returned, Biarritz-Bordeaux-Nantes-Angers-Beauvais-Paris. There is no record of their return to Bateman’s from Paris, other than Carrie’s record that, by combining the date of arrival in Paris from the motoring diary with the date for leaving her diary gives, they spent nine days in Paris, before returning, Dieppe-Newhaven.


In March 1921, the Kiplings arrived at Marseilles, having spent four weeks in Algiers, accompanied by Elsie, and her cousin Lorna Baldwin. They had travelled south by train and ship, returning in the same ship to Marseilles, where their chauffeur met them with the Rolls. They spent two weeks at Hyères, making day excursions, duly recorded, including an overnight stay in Cannes, before setting off for the north. Their route was Cannes-Brignoles-Arles-Avignon-Grenoble-Beaune-Belfort-Strasbourg-Nancy-Verdun-Compiègne-Beauvais-Dieppe, and home.

They made a second motor tour in September/October 1921, in company with Elsie. They travelled Bateman’s-Stamford-Harrogate-Ayr-Inveraray-Ormidale (where they stayed for six days)-Aberfeldy-Dornoch (where they spent two nights before driving south again)-Inverness-Peebles-Beaufront Castle, near Hexham (where they stayed five nights with Lady Rayleigh)-Edinburgh-Carlisle-Stamford, and so home to Bateman’s.


The only tour recorded was a hectic six days in May, in Belgium and northern France, at the time of the King’s pilgrimage to see the battlefields and to visit many of the Imperial War Graves Commission cemeteries. As a member of the IWGC, Kipling was very much ‘on parade’ (the idea seems to have been his in the first place) and his car and chauffeur provided a taxi service for other members of the Commission and official representatives. They travelled (these are their overnight stops): Bateman’s-Calais-Lille-Boulogne (three nights)-London (the last leg by train, their car’s suspension having broken).

1923 May

The diaries record two tours in 1923. The first, in the first three weeks of May, brought them home in leisurely fashion (19 days) from the south of France after Kipling’s convalescence following his operation in the previous November.

Their tour through France took them to the following places: Monte Carlo-Digne-Grenoble-Aix-en Provence (where they spent four days, making a couple of side trips)-Evian (five day stay)-Bourg-Dijon-Troyes-Compiègne-Dieppe, and so over the Channel and home.


The second took them north to St. Andrews where he was installed as Rector of the University, and then home again.

They drove from Bateman’s to London (Brown’s Hotel), then Stamford-Ripon-Hawick-Edinburgh-Balkaskie (near St, Monans)-Edinburgh-Harrogate-London (Brown’s): “The most marvellous of any tour yet.”

1924 August-September

The 1924 ‘motoring’ season lasted for two weeks in late August and early September, spent mostly in inspections of IWGC cemeteries in northern France and Belgium. They are somewhat scrappy, and comprise some quite long daily entries, interspersed with notes on individual cemeteries, their appearance and completeness as to headstones, flowers, etc. One of the daily ‘essays’ describes in considerable detail the palaver involved in extracting ‘Esmeralda’ from the mud in a rather off-the-beaten-track village.


They went down to Biarritz again this year, having six weeks in France altogether. They crossed by night to Le Havre, then went south stopping at Rouen-Chartres-Angers-Poitiers-Perigueux-Auch-Pau-Biarritz. They spent two weeks at Biarritz, then returned via Mont de Marsan-Angoulême-Tours-Chartres-Paris (where they stayed a week)-Compiègne-Boulogne-Folkestone-Bateman’s.

They made a further short trip in October (six days) to Westward Ho! in Devon, where Kipling had been at school, driving Burwash-Salisbury-Minehead-Westward Ho!-Clovelly: the diaries end there, but we know from Carrie’s diaries that they spent nights at Exeter and Winchester before returning home.


They were met, off the P & O steamer Ormonde, by their chauffeur with the car at Toulon, and drove straight to the villa above Monte Carlo which they rented for just over two months for Kipling to convalesce after the pneumonia which had struck him down in the previous November.

They left the villa on 17 April and made their way westwards, Beauvallon-Montpellier-Vernet-les-Bains (where they spent four days before heading north)-Carcassonne-Toulouse (“infamous Toulouse”)-Limoges-Chateauroux-Tours (they stayed here for eleven days, Carrie being ill)-Chartres-Paris. They stayed (with the Stanleys) for a week before returning to Bateman’s, but the diary ends on arrival in Paris.

The diary also records, briefly, a trip to Leamington, in August, but not their return. And there the motoring diaries end. They made tours in many of the succeeding years, but if Kipling kept similar diaries, either they have not survived or they remain un-transcribed from the originals, or if they have been transcribed, the result lies hidden in some archive, waiting for a researcher to find them.

We can piece together most of their other tours, scantily from the extracts of Carrie’s diaries which remain, or from snippets contained in Kipling’s correspondence, as published in (Letters vol 5, Ed. Pinney) There may be other snippets of correspondence which have not been published, which contain items which might have appeared in subsequent motoring diaries. Below we set out what we know of other tours which they made, but for which Kipling apparently kept no diary.


Their winter holiday this year was something of a ‘busman’s holiday’. On the recommendation of their doctor, Sir John Bland-Sutton, the went by boat to Brazil for two months, which resulted in Brazilian Sketches, originally published in the Morning Post, and later collected and published in 1940, after his death. They returned by sea, but disembarked at Lisbon and took the train to Biarritz, where they stayed for three weeks. Evidently, their car had been brought out by their chauffeur for them, and they were able to make a number of day trips, including one into Spain. They returned home at the end of April, in the car: Angoulême-Tours-Dieppe-home.

They went to France again in October by car, Newhaven-Dieppe-Rouen-Vichy, where they spent two weeks, presumably ‘taking the waters’. They returned via Paris (a five day stay there) then home via Boulogne-Folkestone. For neither tour are their diaries extant. A trip to Paris for Christmas and the New Year was made car-boat-train going out, and train-boat-car coming home.


At the end of February, having travelled out by sea, they spent eleven days at Taormina in Sicily followed by a week in Naples, before returning by sea to Gibraltar and then, having travelled by train from Algeciras, spent 18 days in Madrid, before travelling by train again to the Franco-Spanish border, where their car and chauffeur met them, taking them to Biarritz.

After 13 days in Biarritz, they drove home, Villeneuve-sur-Lot-Tours-Rouen-Dieppe and home. In September they travelled north to Scotland in their new Rolls, Kipling having been invited to stay at Balmoral (Carrie was not included in the invitation). They travelled Bateman’s Stamford-Ripon-Hexham-Edinburgh-Aboyne where Carries stayed while Kipling went to Balmoral. They returned Aboyne-Edinburgh-York-Stamford-London, then home.

They made a number of other minor trips in the south of England during the remainder of the year for week-end visits to friends. No diaries are known to exist.


They went to Egypt for their winter trip, including, at the end, a side trip to Palestine. They travelled out by P & O liner from Tilbury, and returned home by sea to Genoa where, it would seem their car picked them up. Carrie, for some reason, kept no diary from March to October, nor does Kipling’s correspondence reveal anything, other than that between 8 April and 23 April they were “motoring in France”. There is no other suggestion that they had any motor tour in England or on the continent this year.


Their winter holiday in the West Indies was totally spoiled by Carrie’s illness, which saw her in hospital in Bermuda with what may have been a ‘grumbling’ appendix, followed by a bladder infection. After their return to England they remained at Bateman’s for the rest of the year, except for a brief foray to France in July/August to visit Elsie and to attend the unveiling of a memorial at Loos. However, Carrie discontinued her diary for the remainder of the year – she was suffering badly from rheumatism.


They repeated the pattern of 1929 – out by sea to Egypt for sun (six weeks, March-April) then back by sea to Toulon, where they picked up their car. They had originally intended to visit Biarritz before returning home but, because Kipling thought Carrie would not stand too much motoring, they went directly northwards, after a week at Hyères, travelling Aix-en-Provence-Tain-Nevers-Paris-Amiens-Calais and so home. They made a short excursion to stay for a week at Chirk in the summer, but later in the year decided to ‘put down’ their cars and gave their chauffeur notice. The idea didn’t last long, but they did give their chauffeur notice.


They went again to the south of France (March-May), dividing their time between Monte Carlo and Cannes, but they took no car. It is not clear when they sold their previous car – they went to Bath, where they spent most of January, by motor, but they travelled to Monte Carlo and back by train. However, by July they had a new car and a new chauffeur, and made a tour, for which there are no diaries, in a new Rolls, with an itinerary: Oxford-Cirencester (the Bathursts for three days)-Chirk (Lord Howard de Walden (three days)-Neston (Cheshire – Sir Percy Bates, two nights)-Stratford (three nights)-Cambridge (two nights)-London-home.


They went once again to Cannes and Monte Carlo, travelling by train both ways, with a stay in Paris on the way back, where Kipling consulted his French doctors, which resulted in a longer-than-planned stay. They were back at Bateman’s in the second week of May. They made a number of short car trips later in the year, but no longer tours.


This year repeated the pattern of 1933 – south of France in February, March and April (train out and back), and minor week-ends away during the rest of the year. And 1935 again followed 1934, with their journey to the Riviera being made by train, and three weeks at Marienbad in August also being by train. They were on their way, once more by train, to the Riviera in January 1936 when Kipling’s ulcer burst and he died in hospital in London.

Thus, we have no motoring diaries after 1927, though, as shown above, from what we can piece together from Carrie’s diaries and Kipling’s published correspondence, they made tours in France and England which one might have hoped would result in diaries in 1929, 1931 and 1932. Thereafter all their travels on the continent were by train, and their journeys in the UK were all short.

The earlier diaries are particularly interesting, in that they reflect and report on the state of the roads, both in the UK and in France. French road surfaces were particularly poor in the first half of the 1920s, and Kipling’s reports are very similar to the conditions reported by the author Dornford Yates, whose characters made many journeys over the roads which Kipling and Carrie traversed in the same years.

Kipling also commented (mostly acidly) on the state of the hotels at which they stayed, the meals they took, and the prices charged. To be fair, he did give credit where credit was due, but most of his comments reflect badly on the state of provincial hotels in England and France in this period.

See also: The Muse among the Motors | Steam Tactics | A Song of French Roads | The Vortex | The Village that Voted the Earth was Flat | Souvenirs of France |


©Alastair Wilson 2019 All rights reserved