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Public Waste

Monday, February 1 2010

Tipong Colliery Railway. Photo International Steam Pages.

(Click on the picture to see more photographs of the Tipong Colliery Railway. There are also four atmospheric film clips and details on how to obtain a full length film of the line on DVD.)

I am posting this second Kipling poem, suggested in a comment by Robert Hall, as it seems to me to have some relevance to my last but one post. It describes how only certain people were allowed to build and run India’s railways in the colonial era. Rather like today’s criteria for becoming a member of Network Rail, knowing anything about railways was a disqualifying attribute.

Public waste

by Rudyard Kipling

Walpole talks of “a man and his price.”
List to a ditty queer–
The sale of a Deputy-Acting-Vice-
Resident-Engineer,
Bought like a bullock, hoof and hide,
By the Little Tin Gods on the Mountain Side.

By the Laws of the Family Circle ’tis written in letters of brass
That only a Colonel from Chatham can manage the Railways of State,
Because of the gold on his breeks, and the subjects wherein he must pass;
Because in all matters that deal not with Railways his knowledge is great.

Now Exeter Battleby Tring had laboured from boyhood to eld
On the Lines of the East and the West, and eke of the North and South;
Many Lines had he built and surveyed–important the posts which he held;
And the Lords of the Iron Horse were dumb when he opened his mouth.

Black as the raven his garb, and his heresies jettier still–
Hinting that Railways required lifetimes of study and knowledge–
Never clanked sword by his side–Vauban he knew not nor drill–
Nor was his name on the list of the men who had passed through the “College.”

Wherefore the Little Tin Gods harried their little tin souls,
Seeing he came not from Chatham, jingled no spurs at his heels,
Knowing that, nevertheless, was he first on the Government rolls
For the billet of “Railway Instructor to Little Tin Gods on Wheels.”

Letters not seldom they wrote him, “having the honour to state,”
It would be better for all men if he were laid on the shelf.
Much would accrue to his bank-book, an he consented to wait
Until the Little Tin Gods built him a berth for himself,

“Special, well paid, and exempt from the Law of the Fifty and Five,
Even to Ninety and Nine”–these were the terms of the pact:
Thus did the Little Tin Gods (long may Their Highnesses thrive!)
Silence his mouth with rupees, keeping their Circle intact;

Appointing a Colonel from Chatham who managed the Bhamo State Line
(The which was one mile and one furlong – a guaranteed twenty inch gauge),
So Exeter Battleby Tring consented his claims to resign,
And died, on four thousand a month, in the ninetieth year of his age!

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4 comments

  1. That bites. I didn’t know Kipling wrote like that…


  2. Dyspozytor, Many thanks for bringing the poem to light: losing the details of it, had caused me great annoyance.

    Andy in Germany, Kipling was IMO a great guy – he was into, and interested in, most things, and usually had something pertinent and memorable to say about them.


  3. The Indians are restoring Kipling’s birthplace as a museum BUT with NO reference to him as he is persona non grata due to the blinkered authorities thinking he was only a jingoistic colonial. If they bothered to read his poems they would see that even if they think that (and he had an empathy with the Indian people that was far from jingoistic), he really was one of the world’s great writers. His writings have a rhythm and timbre that capture the essence of the period (right or wrong as we now perceive it) and you cannot just write that out of history. I need to visit Batemans this year!


  4. Restoring his birthplace as a museum, but without referring to him… Not implying any doubt whatever; just — at the risk of myself sounding offensive toward a people who inspire affection and exasperation in equal proportions — that sounds mad, even for India.



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