Mike Guilfoyle, vice-chair of the Friends of Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries, uncovers a Ladywell link to one of Rudyard Kipling’s good friends and delves deeper into his connection with one of the elite families that wielded power in British ruled India.
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was one of the best known writers of the 20th century, chiefly remembered for his celebration of British imperialism, tales and poems of British soldiers in India, and his stories for children. Born in Bombay, he was taken by his family to England when he was five years old.
Kipling is best known for his works of fiction, including The Jungle Book (1902), Just So Stories (1894) and many short stories, including “The Man Who Would Be King” (1888). His poems, including Mandalay (1890), Gunga Din (1890), The White Man’s Burden (1899) and If (1910).
This article does not purport to be an apologia for some of Rudyard Kipling more controversial views but aims to offer the reader a brief insight into a historical cemetery link to the writer and one of the ‘best know familites of the British Raj’ . (The Raj was a period of direct British rule over the Indian subcontinent from 1858 until the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947.)
Kipling was a good friend of Colonel John Henry Rivett-Carnac , who for a time was the Opium agent at Ghazipur , India. Rudyard Kipling visited the factory in 1888.
Part hidden from view off one of the main pathways in Ladywell cemetery lies the cruciform headstone of Henrietta Rivett-Carnac d.1890.
Nicknamed ‘Missy’ she lived for a time with her sister Anna Maria known as “Nana”. Both remained unmarried and they lived together in London with a Pug who ‘ruled the household with a rod of iron’ .
Henrietta died aged 59 at Colfe Cottage, Lewisham, and is the only member of the extensive and well connected Rivett-Carnac family, a veritable Who Was Who in British India, buried in the cemetery.
Her father was Admiral John Edward Rivett-Carnac, who was born in Bombay in 1796. He saw action in the War of 1812, taking part in naval operations under Sir George Cockburn (the man who burnt the White House) and took part in an expedition to the West Coast of Australia in March 1827 to explore the suitability of the area around the Swan River for the purpose of establishing a British colony there. (The Swan River is the river on which Perth now stands) He died in 1869.
One of her brothers was Colonel John Henry Rivett-Carnac. ‘ Lord Harry’ was a senior colonial office in India and sometime patron of Rudyard Kipling’s household, where he was humourously known as ‘ Trivet-Claptrap’.
He was an Aide-De -Camp to Queen Victoria and his vividly written autobiography, published in 1910 https://archive.org/details/manymemoriesofli00rive/mode/2up is available for free download. He retired to Switzerland, where he died in Vevey in 1923.
Missy’s brother Edward Stirling Rivett-Carnac is recorded as having lived an extraordinary exciting and fruitful life in India where he travelled widely and distinguished himself both in the army and as Military Secretary.
Edward and his wife Sophie knew Rudyard Kipling well as they often entertained him at Government House.
In Kipling’s book “The Day’s Work”, in the Chapter entitled ‘The Tomb of his Ancestor’, Kipling says: “Some people will tell you that if there were but a single loaf of bread in all India it would be divided equally between the Plowdens, the Trevors, the Beadons and the Rivett-Carnac’s” He died in 1888.
Another scion of this truly remarkable family was Charles Rivett-Carnac , who with his second wife ,Frances became the first husband-and-wife team to share Summer Olympic gold for yachting in 1908.
And finally, British fashion designer Lulu Guinness nee Rivett-Carnac, is descended from the colonial administrator, James William Rivett-Carnac MP, chairman of the East India Company and governor of Bombay. He was the older brother of Admiral John Rivett-Carnac – Missy’s father! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lulu_Guinness