Rudyard Kipling’s Flying Visit to Christchurch

Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling. [1]
By Our Special Reporter

Yesterday morning I was at the Christchurch railway station with the intention of going to Port by the five minutes to eight train, in order to meet Mr Rudyard Kipling, who was a passenger on the Talune. I found that the steamer had arrived early in the morning, and that some of her passengers had already come up to town. I made enquiries in what I considered likely quarters, but could not ascertain whether or not Mr Kipling had been among these passengers. My enquiries were necessarily somewhat vague, for I had no notion what manner of man the author is except that he wears somewhat peculiar spectacles. I determined to take the train to Port, and trust to the chapter of accidents. On arriving at Lyttelton I made my way towards the office of our shipping reporter, in hopes that he would be able to assist me in my search. Turning the Post Office corner I was signalled to by a well-known barrister, who, on my hastening to him, asked me the leading question “Do you want to see Mr Rudyard Kipling?” An affirmative answer from me was followed by the satisfactory information “He is at the railway station, and is going to Christchurch by the next train. I will introduce you to him.” A few minutes later the introduction had taken place and I was seated next to Mr Kipling.

That gentleman very firmly declined to be interviewed. He was once a newspaper man and does not care to undergo the operation. I told him I had been deputed to do what I could to show him the lions of Christchurch, and that my task would be a pleasure to me and I trusted not a bore to him. He accepted my offer cordially.

During the journey to Christchurch. he conversed with those near to him and showed a lively interest in the country we were passing through, especially praising the Heathcote river and the rich land. He was not complimentary, however, to the speed attained by the train, and in fact said he knew of only one country where the pace was slower.

Arrived in Christchurch he confided to me that he required just then but two things, a cigar and a shave. Both these I undertook to secure for him; and we started up Manchester street. A fellow passenger was bound for Coker’s Hotel, and him we accompanied into that establishment, with the appearance of which Mr Kipling was evidently pleased. After a vain attempt to write a letter, he obtained a cigar, and after lighting it we resumed our journey.

He seemed to take note of everything he passed, and was liberal in his commendation of the horses, the cabs, the street verandahs, and the shops. The large sheets of plate glass in some of the windows were specially admired. At Messrs Davis and Lamb’s he had his shave. Here he commented on the American appearance and comfort of the fittings.

“… an extravagant thing for so small a community to spend so much money upon…”

Stephenson, M S (Miss), fl 1983. Stephenson, M S (Miss), fl 1983 :Photograph of Rudyard Kipling and Grandad. Ref: PAColl-0070. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23127210
“a chat with Rudyard Kipling in New Zealand”.Taken during his visit in 1891, possibly in Dunedin or Auckland. [2]
Once more on the street, he took stock of the Cathedral square, for which he foretold a grand future, and declared that his information as to the English appearance of the city had somewhat misled him. Instead of being like an English, Christchurch is, he said, like an American town. I explained that the English appearance was rather outside the city than inside, but the short stay he was making prevented my proving this.

We looked into the City Council Chamber, which he admired, but with the disparaging remark that it was an extravagant thing for so small a community to spend so much money upon. The Avon he enthusiastically admired, and was much pleased with the black swans and the fluffy, callow cygnets.

Having left his card at the Canterbury Club, for a member who was not in, he went on to Canterbury College, where he hoped to see Professor Haslam, who had been his master at the English Military College where he had his training. Fortunately the Professor was disengaged, and the recognition was mutually agreeable. Reminiscences of school life and anecdotes of school-fellows, followed by anecdotes of fishing, of which pastime Mr Kipling seems as ardent an admirer as is the Professor, beguiled the time, till I began to fear that our visitor would be unable to see anything more of our city. However, after taking a peep at the College Hall, where an examination was taking place, and a visit to a class-room, the numerous inscriptions on the desks of which he scrutinised with a schoolboy’s interest, Mr Kipling, accompanied now by the Professor, went on to the Museum.

From the Museum we retraced our steps, and looked into the Provincial Council Chamber, the sight of which provoked the same criticism that the City Council had previously done. Thence we went to the Art Gallery, where the pictures for the forthcoming exhibition were being hung. Mr Kipling’s rapid glance at many of these was accompanied by a running commentary that showed him to be familiar with this branch of art, as his discriminating remarks on our principal buildings had proved his acquaintance with architecture.

Whilst we were in the Art Gallery the fire-bell rang, and Mr Kipling had an opportunity of seeing what the Christchurch Fire Brigade can do. His anxiety to get to the fire as speedily as possible showed his journalistic, as his call to us to “double” betrayed his military training. Having seen the fire well under control, he paid a visit to the Christchurch Club, and by this time found that he was due immediately at the railway station. Here he took train for Lyttelton, and a few minutes after his arrival at the Port was waving us adieu from the deck of the Talune. Mr Kipling’s intention is to go to Melbourne and Sydney, and from the latter city to sail for Samoa. He hopes to visit New Zealand again, when he will devote more time to making himself acquainted with the people and resources. [3]

  1. Auckland Star, Volume XXII, Issue 248, 19 October 1891, Page 5.
  2. Stephenson, M S (Miss), fl 1983. Ref: PAColl-0070. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
  3. Star, Issue 7311, 4 November 1891, Page 4
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