Rudyard Kipling was born on 30 December 1865 in Bombay, in the Bombay Presidency of British India, to Alice Kipling (née MacDonald) and John Lockwood Kipling. Alice (one of four remarkable Victorian sisters) was a vivacious woman about whom Lord Dufferin would say, "Dullness and Mrs. Kipling cannot exist in the same room." Lockwood Kipling, a sculptor and pottery designer, was the Principal and Professor of Architectural Sculpture at the newly founded Sir Jamsetjee Jeejebhoy School of Art in Bombay.
John Lockwood and Alice had met in 1863 and courted at Rudyard Lake in Rudyard, Staffordshire, England. They married, and moved to India in 1865. They had been so moved by the beauty of the Rudyard Lake area that when their first child was born they referenced it when naming him. Alice's sister Georgiana was married to painter Edward Burne-Jones, and her sister Agnes was married to painter Edward Poynter. Kipling's most famous relative was his first cousin, Stanley Baldwin, who was Conservative Prime Minister of the UK three times in the 1920s and 1930s.
Kipling's birth home still stands on the campus of the J J School of Art in Bombay and for many years was used as the Dean's residence. Although the cottage bears a plaque stating that this is the site where Kipling was born, the original cottage was torn down decades ago and a new one was built in its place. The wooden bungalow has been empty and locked up for years.
Kipling was to write of Bombay:
Mother of Cities to me, For I was born in her gate, Between the palms and the sea, Where the world-end steamers wait.
According to Bernice M. Murphy, "Kipling’s parents considered themselves Anglo-Indians (a term used in the 19th century for people of British origin living in India) and so too would their son, though he spent the bulk of his life elsewhere. Complex issues of identity and national allegiance would become prominent features in his fiction."
Kipling referred to such conflicts; for example: "In the afternoon heats before we took our sleep, she (the Portuguese ayah, or nanny) or Meeta (the Hindu bearer, or male attendant) would tell us stories and Indian nursery songs all unforgotten, and we were sent into the dining-room after we had been dressed, with the caution 'Speak English now to Papa and Mamma.' So one spoke 'English', haltingly translated out of the vernacular idiom that one thought and dreamed in".
Education in Britain
Kipling's days of "strong light and darkness" in Bombay ended when he was five years old. As was the custom in British India, he and his three-year-old sister Alice ("Trix") were taken to England—in their case to Southsea, Portsmouth—to live with a couple who boarded children of British nationals who were serving in India. For the next six years, from October 1871 to April 1877, the two children lived with the couple, Captain Pryse Agar Holloway, once an officer in the merchant navy, and Mrs Sarah Holloway, at their house, Lorne Lodge at 4 Campbell Road, Southsea.
In his autobiography, published some 65 years later, Kipling recalled the stay with horror, and wondered ironically if the combination of cruelty and neglect which he experienced there at the hands of Mrs. Holloway might not have hastened the onset of his literary life: "If you cross-examine a child of seven or eight on his day’s doings (specially when he wants to go to sleep) he will contradict himself very satisfactorily. If each contradiction be set down as a lie and retailed at breakfast, life is not easy. I have known a certain amount of bullying, but this was calculated torture—religious as well as scientific. Yet it made me give attention to the lies I soon found it necessary to tell: and this, I presume, is the foundation of literary effort".
Trix fared better at Lorne Lodge; Mrs. Holloway apparently hoped that Trix would eventually marry the Holloway son. The two Kipling children, however, did have relatives in England whom they could visit. They spent a month each Christmas with their maternal aunt Georgiana ("Georgy") and her husband at their house, "The Grange," in Fulham, London, which Kipling was to call "a paradise which I verily believe saved me."
In the spring of 1877, Alice returned from India and removed the children from Lorne Lodge. Kipling remembers, "Often and often afterwards, the beloved Aunt would ask me why I had never told any one how I was being treated. Children tell little more than animals, for what comes to them they accept as eternally established. Also, badly-treated children have a clear notion of what they are likely to get if they betray the secrets of a prison-house before they are clear of it".
In January 1878, Kipling was admitted to the United Services College at Westward Ho!, Devon, a school founded a few years earlier to prepare boys for the British Army. The school proved rough going for him at first, but later led to firm friendships, and provided the setting for his schoolboy stories Stalky & Co. (1899). During his time there, Kipling also met and fell in love with Florence Garrard, who was boarding with Trix at Southsea (to which Trix had returned). Florence was to become the model for Maisie in Kipling's first novel, The Light that Failed (1891).
Return to India
Near the end of his time at the school, it was decided that he lacked the academic ability to get into Oxford University on a scholarship and his parents lacked the wherewithal to finance him, so Lockwood obtained a job for his son in Lahore, Punjab (now in Pakistan), where he was Principal of the Mayo College of Art and Curator of the Lahore Museum. Kipling was to be assistant editor of a small local newspaper, the Civil & Military Gazette.
He sailed for India on 20 September 1882 and arrived in Bombay on 18 October. He described this moment years later: "So, at sixteen years and nine months, but looking four or five years older, and adorned with real whiskers which the scandalised Mother abolished within one hour of beholding, I found myself at Bombay where I was born, moving among sights and smells that made me deliver in the vernacular sentences whose meaning I knew not. Other Indian-born boys have told me how the same thing happened to them." This arrival changed Kipling, as he explains: "There were yet three or four days’ rail to Lahore, where my people lived. After these, my English years fell away, nor ever, I think, came back in full strength".