Duet from the Pinafore


(notes by Philip Holberton, drawing on
the work of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)

the poem

[November 30th 2019]


Published in the Civil and Military Gazette, 17 April 1883, with the subheading '(As lately sung at Calcutta)' and signature 'The Other Player'. Kipling used the same pseudonym to sign "A New Departure", also published in the CMG, presumably with the agreement of his Editor, Stephen Wheeler.

The poem was never collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford p. 187, and Pinney p. 168.


A report on a debate in the Indian Legislative Council on the Ilbert Bill had appeared in the London Press under the heading “Reuter’s Telegrams”, but it was in fact based on an official telegram from the Government of India sent through Reuters. This led to accusations in the Anglo-Indian press of sharp practice by the Government, firstly by giving a biased account of the debate, emphasising the views of the Viceroy and his supporters but not those of the opponents of the Bill, and secondly, by seeking to pass the communication off as an independent Reuters report.

For an account of the controversy over the Bill, see our notes on "A New Departure".

The poem

The poem parodies the duet between Captain Corcoran and Dick Deadeye in Act II of HMS Pinafore, the hugely popular light opera by Gilbert and Sullivan, which opened at the Opera Comique in London, on 25 May 1878 and ran for 571 performances. In Gilbert’s original, 'tar' is a sailor. Here it means 'telegram', evidently common usage in the CMG office. Kipling was familiar with HMS Pinafore from his schooldays:
The College was as severely infected with Uncle Remus as it had been with Pinafore and Patience.
("The United Idolaters" in The Complete Stalky & Co., page 209 line 24).


©Philip Holberton 2019 All rights reserved