After a search in their records, this 1884 letter is the only example of Alec’s handwriting known to the Meteorological Office archivists. Probably during this home visit Alec agreed plans for the weather readings taken in Ballyboley and later published (see below).
The Abbeville press called him Samuel in its note of 23 April 1884 (five days after Florida, sailing for Glasgow, collided with another vessel and sank with many killed):
PROF. SAMUEL A. HILL, of Allahabad India, who was on a visit to this place last Fall, having got an extension of his leave of absence for six months, will return to America about the first of next June, for the purpose of consummating that which the bachelor editor of the Press and Banner has never been able to do for himself, viz: to marry.
This editor was William C Benet, of whom more below. The Press and Banner of 25 January 1882 carried an unattributed note on “India in Hot Weather”: I will briefly indicate the thermometric features, say at a central position like Allahabad… so Alec may have been contributing already.
Alec married Edmonia in Beaver on 26 July 1884 and they settled in Allahabad where he resumed work on 21 October. When Blanford in turn took leave (10 December 1884 to 10 March 1885) “Mr. S. A. Hill officiated as Meteorological Reporter to the Government of India in addition to his own special duties”.
In 1887, when the Act to establish a University of Allahabad was passed, he was appointed among the first Fellows and was chosen a member of the syndicate, the Executive Committee of the Senate…Mr. Hill’s life in India [N.B. this is Mrs Hill, his widow, writing] was spent in the routine of college work, with inspection tours in the cause of meteorology at Christmas time, and in the hot-weather vacations, all the while contributing papers on the subject so near to his heart to the various scientific and meteorological societies. In 1888, in addition to his other work, at the request of Government he undertook to write a series of geographies for Indian schools…These books were written in English, in Urdu, and in Hindi…In March, 1889, Mr. Hill took nine months’ furlough out of India. His travelling companion was the well-known author, Mr. Rudyard Kipling, who had been a warm personal friend for many months before their leaving India [ETH].
Kipling, a young and promising journalist, had worked in Lahore and was promoted to the Allahabad Pioneer in November 1887. Edmonia writes in December to her sister Caroline “I've met an unusually interesting man with the uncommon name of Rudyard Kipling. It happened this way. We were invited to dine with the Allens, who are neighbors. Mr. Allen, the proprietor of the Pioneer of Allahabad and of the Civil and Military Gazette of Lahore, is always on the lookout for the best material for his papers…After dinner, when the men joined the ladies in the drawing-room, evidently the rising young author had marked me for an American, and, seeking copy perhaps, he came to the fireplace where I was standing and began questioning me about my homeland. I am surprised at his knowledge of people and places. He is certainly worth knowing, and we shall ask him to dinner soon”.
Thomas Pinney says “Kipling and Mrs Hill were at once attracted to each other, and were quickly close friends: Kipling consulted her on his work, submitted it to her for her judgement, and confided to her his hopes and plans: she was muse, collaborator, and confidante all at once”. Edmonia’s side of the extensive correspondence is unpublished, and Pinney believes that Kipling’s widow destroyed it. There has been much speculation around this friendship and Kipling’s brief engagement in 1889-90 to Caroline. Imperfect but interesting copies of Kipling’s letters to Edmonia survive, mostly at the University of Sussex. The 1880s ones have much banter and gossip, with occasional Indian and French phrases. The later ones, when Kipling was married, are less lively. Pinney’s selection is too large to summarise here, and I note only a few direct mentions of Alec and a few points that Pinney passed over; his focus was on Kipling and he correctly judged that a full and annotated edition would expand beyond all reason. He loosely refers to Alec as an Englishman, though correctly placing his family at or near Belfast .
This letter from Edmonia appears to confirm, but is not absolutely explicit, that Alec was with her in the Allen house when she first met Kipling; and she does not say whether Alec had met him earlier. Charles Carrington’s biography says that Sir Edward Buck, Kipling’s “patron” in Simla,
could introduce him to Professor S. A. Hill, a meteorologist in Government service, who had recently been appointed to Allahabad as professor of science at the Muir College. Aleck Hill was a quiet, burly man with a bushy dark beard. Except that he was a devoted amateur photographer (in that heroic age of dark-rooms, tripod-mountings, and patent developers) we can find little to record of him. His wife, Edmonia Hill (known as ‘Ted’) was to play a principal part in Rudyard Kipling’s life. She was a lively young American lady from Beaver, Pennsylvania, aged about thirty, with a broad plump face, a pretty snub nose, and a shock of dark curls coming down in a widow’s peak on her brow.
Towards the end of the year Mrs. Hill met Rudyard, at the Allens’ house, and wrote to her young sister who was still in Pennsylvania .
Edmonia necessarily coped with some independence; Alec accumulated responsibilities and was often on the road or up in the hills. In 1888 he was appointed Supervisor of the physical sciences class at the Queen’s College, Benares, “where he went periodically”. They were in Mussoorie, near Simla, in the 1888 hot season. Plain Tales from the Hills, published that year, upset some of the British community with its stories of Simla flirting, drinking and worse. Naturally Kipling observed and even provoked various characters whose sayings and doings could be used for essays and fiction. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, about a brave mongoose clearing cobras from the “big bungalow” of young Ted(dy) and family, owes something to his hosts and their Belvedere home and garden . As far as I know, puns on these Hills and their tales from the Plain were resisted.
Alec was established and rising , but he died in India on 23 Sep 1890 aged 38 years 11 months, rounded to 39 on the Ballynure headstone. Apparently suffering from one of the common fevers or influenzas, but not in obvious danger, he lost consciousness and died within a day of “congestion of the brain”. Some 150 students formed a funeral procession, and his University colleagues spoke highly of his scientific and educational work, and their sense of loss.
He is known for the Kipling connection; a few of his 1880s photographs are widely printed; he is “The Professor” (not named, and not necessarily spouting his own words or opinions) in the From Sea to Sea articles; and he fades from view after death, while Edmonia lives to write his obituary, return to America, eventually resume her correspondence with Kipling (who shot to fame on reaching England in 1890), and leave useful diaries and letters. This story is fine but not worth retelling in detail here. I hope readers see something of interest in a few less familiar points about Alec’s technical work and his relations in America and Ballynure:
- His scientific career, with sunspots and Ballyboley thermometers
- His links with the Hills of Abbeville, South Carolina
- His opinions on Irish and other peoples and their political self-determination.