Extracted from early unpublished drafts for her book “John Usborne” by Ann Usborne 

Charles Frederick Usborne was born in 1874 and brought up in a large veranda’d house called “The Cottage” in Bradfield, Berkshire. He was the eldest son of Thomas Usborne, a broker on the Baltic Exchange, and his wife Agnes, a vicar’s daughter from Coates in Gloucestershire.

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.

The Punjab, annexed in 1849,  was one of the newest of the14 Indian provinces. He knew that he would be welcomed there. The punjabis  were appreciative of all the benefits the English Government were sending. The muslims and sikhs respected the English as soldiers and

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.

A cook and a bearer accompanied Charles on the long slow journey to Lahore taking 3 or 4 days. The compartments were bitterly cold at night. The distance was about 1400 miles, via Allahabad and Delhi, across what was then Rajputana and north across the eastern edge of the Indian desert, before entering the Punjab. In the Land of Five Rivers the train crossed the Sutlej swollen from the Himalayan snow. There had been minimal economic advance since Alexander the Great’s campaign 2000 years earlier. Now he saw evidence of the irrigation work being undertaken by the British.
Staying at the High Commission in Lahore (in the Civil Lines outside the native city) he spent a pleasant few weeks under the supervision of the Deputy Commissioner. A munshi, an Indian tutor, coached him in Punjabi and he learned of local laws and customs. He was to become an administrator and lawyer rolled into one. After two or three years he would be expected to be a magistrate to ¾ million Indians. The Lahore experience had been digested for years by reading Kipling’s stories: “Its tide of unclean humanity, its disease, its filth”.

Arriving at his new station Charles was shown round and introduced to the staff, which would have included a bearer, a clerk, a table-servant, a water-bearer a cook and his assistant who fanned the fire, a groom, a washer-woman and a sweeper. On his first morning, January 9th 1899 he was faced with a crowd of people jostling and imploring him to settle their grievances such as assault, abduction of women, trespass, cattle theft or bewitching. From the start he was expected to try cases, compose letters, confer with local dignitaries, all in Punjabi. His work was always varied, some times humorous and often trying.

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.