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Nobel Prize winning British writer, Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), was in kinship and foster care as a child. 

Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India to Alice Macdonald and John Lockwood Kipling, an art teacher and illustrator. When he was six years old, Rudyard was taken to England by his parents and left in a foster home for almost six years—a not unusual practice when English parents lived and worked overseas, see for example the experiences of William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) and Alan Turing (1912-1954).  

Foster care was an unhappy experience for Kipling: 

It was an establishment run with the full vigour of the Evangelical as revealed to the Woman [the foster carer]. I had never heard of Hell, so I was introduced to it in all its terrors — I and whatever luckless little slavey might be in the house, whom severe rationing had led to steal food. Once I saw the Woman beat such a girl who picked up the kitchen poker and threatened retaliation. Myself I was regularly beaten. The Woman had an only son of twelve or thirteen as religious as she. I was a real joy to him, for when his mother had finished with me for the day he (we slept in the same room) took me on and roasted the other side (Kipling).  

Kipling recalled in his seventies that at least he was “adequately fed” in the foster home and reading was a welcome escape in the “House of Desolation”. 

A reprieve came each year when in December he went to stay for a month with his Aunt Georgie, his mother’s sister. This was “paradise” compared to the foster home. At his aunt’s house, the young Rudyard experienced “love and affection”, enjoyed playing with his two cousins, and had the fun of his uncle’s company. 

As a child Kipling told no one about the way he was treated in the foster home. He later wrote that “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”. 

From 1878 to 1882 Kipling went to boarding school “at the far end of England” in the United Services College, a school for the sons of military officers at Bideford in Devon. For the first eighteen months he was bullied, but thereafter used his prowess at sport to gain status. During holidays Kipling – and his sister – spent time in “the care of three dear ladies who lived…in a house filled with books, peace, kindliness, patience…” and who listened “to anything I had to say” (Kipling). 

At the end of his secondary school, sixteen-year-old Rudyard Kipling returned to India and for seven years worked as a journalist for ten hours a day for an Anglo-Indian Lahore newspaper. He began publishing his short stories in the 188Os. By the time he returned to England in 1889 he was on the verge of being “acclaimed as one of the most brilliant prose writers of his time.”  

An “extraordinarily popular” writer from the late 19th century, after World War I Kipling was seen as too pro-imperialism. Yet much later “postcolonial critics…rekindled an intense interest in his work, viewing it as both symptomatic and critical of imperialist attitudes” (Britannica). 

In recent times, there have been protests against the veneration of Kipling. For example, at the University of Manchester in 2018, students covered over a mural of a poem by Kipling and replaced it with one by Maya Angelou. 

Rudyard Kipling was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907 and his 1894 children’s book, Jungle Book, is an international classic adapted many times, including for film, stage and comics. 


Kipling, Rudyard. Something of myself, for my friends known and unknown. eBook 2009 The University of Adelaide Library, 1937. 

“Rudyard Kipling, Biographical”. The Nobel Prize. 

Jordison, Sam. “Why we still don’t know what to make of Kipling”. The Guardian, 5 January 2016. 

Petkar, Sofia. “Who was Rudyard Kipling and is his poem If racist?” The Sun, 19th July 2018. 

 Stewart, John I.M. “Rudyard Kipling. British Writer”. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019. 

Image available here.