|Extracted from early unpublished drafts for her book “John Usborne” by Ann Usborne|
In 1882 at the age of 8 he was sent to a preparatory school in Oxford called “Summerfields” which had been founded 20 years earlier. At the age of 12 he was a “good little Classic”: he described sports day in Latin verse for a magazine put together by boys, even mentioning strawberries and cream. Charterhouse was his father’s school, and he went there as a scholar. Privileged young people at that time were reading Rudyard Kipling’s stories and verses from India. He was Charles’ senior by 9 years. Charles knew he was being trained for a civilian career in India and Kipling communicated everything he wanted to know about India, of the officer’s mess, the barrack-room, the dangerous tribesmen of the Himalayas, the Indian peasantry, the exotic animals, the heat and the home-sickness.
Charles received “the best, the most liberal, the most finished education that his country affords”. Benjamin Jowett , then master of Balliol was a member or Lord Macaulay’s committee on the Indian Civil Service. (My name is Benjamin Jowett. There is no knowledge but I know it.) To him a classical education was the exclusive intellectual equipment for the Indian Civil Service, and Balliol, by tradition, produced the best liberal arts graduates. Jowett died at 76 when Charles was in his second year at Balliol. Charles was holding out against Jowett’s propaganda. His heart was set on the Army. He was crest-fallen when he discovered that at 5ft 7 inches he was too short to gain a commission. He was sick of being called “The Babe” by his friends.
Jowett had laid the foundation stone of “The Indian Institute” in Oxford, a centre for Indian and Oriental studies. Charles did his probation year there, learning Indian history and law, keeping up his studies of classics and modern languages. Having opted for a post in the Punjab he also learned Hindustani.
To be good at games was part of Plato’s creed. Charles played racquets, cricket and hockey. Riding, new to him, was obligatory for all Englishmen set on a career in India. He was not a good horseman.
That year, 1897, Kipling visited Balliol and dined with the tutors. He was so loudly cheered by the undergraduates that the Master was unable to say grace.
Charles arrived in Bombay in
1898. He was 24, a solemn young man with a sense of humour that
sometimes made his seem irresponsible. At the Secretariat, his covenant,
drawn up by the secretary of State
for India, was signed and he was appointed Assistant Commissioner (3rd
grade) in the Punjab.
administrators. They hated the
Hindus’s who had conquered them. 50 years after the mutiny feeling
still ran high. The Muslims and Sikhs were the peasants, working the
land and producing the valuable wheat. The Hindus, new to the area, were
prospering from trade and money-lending in the towns. On the
North-West frontier there was always trouble from the Pathan tribesmen,
who played a continuous deadly game of wits between the Afghans and the
British and acting as a buffer against the threat of invasion by the
Russians to the north. Here was a challenge crying out for progressive guidance. A
young man, going to work there, needed courage, a bold front, a tough
constitution and the ability to think on his feet.
While encamped in some district on his rounds, between May and October, he was off at dawn at a brisk canter to check the building of a bridge or canal or village sanitation; he would plan a new school; he would meet with an accountant to check the produce of a field. The south-west Punjab in May had the highest temperature in India reaching 125 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. The monsoon should come in July but that year it failed and the resulting famine from August onward brought extra work for all levels of the civil service.
Loneliness, on Charles’ solitary evenings while in camp, would be fought off with shooting. For an anna or two a shikari (local hunter) showed him the haunts of black buck and wild pig. He needed no guide to find hares, quail and crows. He read poetry voraciously devouring Swinburne and musing nostalgically upon England and its gentle climate. Within a few months of his arrival he was writing comic verse for children, some of it to be published in the Times of India under the pseudonym of Multani.