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  • Bringing Back Flogging? July 3, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Modern , trackback

    Beachcombing thought that he would give a little publicity to a ‘rogue researcher’ today: a tag that refers to those who, with often commendable eccentricity, step outside the bounds laid down by their profession – Beachcombing is always on the look out for these rare souls, drbeachcombing DOT yahoo AT com. The RR in question here is  a ‘bleeding heart liberal’, Peter Moskos, a sociologist who has just published a book entitled – get ready for this: In Defense of Flogging!

    It is unclear to Beachcombing – who has not yet got his hands on a copy of the volume in question –  whether PM is really in favour of whipping criminals or whether he is doing for flogging what Swift did for eating Irish babies and has created an ingenious send up. In any case, his central point is apparently not that flogging in itself solves things, but rather that flogging could hardly be worse than the Gulag Archipelago of American prisons. Discuss.

    Beachcombing is a vengeful sort, but even he would blanch before using a cat of nine tails on a personal enemy. However, as he read the first reviews of PS’s latest work several quotations came back to him from the history of flogging, quotations that are perhaps worth sharing.

    Flogging generally breaks down into three categories: flogging of criminals, flogging in the military and, often most disturbingly, the floggings of slaves. For criminal flogging consider this account of knouting – strips of hide with iron balls attached – from early nineteenth-century Russia.

    (54) ‘When the philanthropic Howard was in Petersbourg, he saw two criminals, a man and a woman, suffer the punishment of the knout. They were conducted from prison by about fifteen hussars and ten soldiers. When they had arrived at the place of punishment, the hussars formed themselves into a ring round the whipping-post; the drum beat a minute or two, and then some prayers were repeated, the populace taking off their hats. The woman was first taken, and after being roughly stripped to the waist, her hands and feet were bound with cords to a post made for the purpose. A servant attended the executioner and both were stout men. The servant first marked his ground and struck the woman five times on the back; every stroke seemed to penetrate deep into her flesh; but his master thinking him too gentle, pushed him aside, took his place, and gave all the remaining strokes himself which were evidently more severe. The woman received twenty-five blows, and the man sixty. ‘I’ continues Mr Howard ‘pressed through the hussars, and counted the numbers as they were chalked on a board for the purpose. Both the criminals seemed but just alive, especially the man, who had yet strength enough remaining to receive a small present with some signs of gratitude. I saw the woman in a very weak condition some days after, but could not find the man any more.’

    Severe floggings very often led to complications that could ruin health or even end lives. The two miscreants here were lucky that they had been knouted instead of suffering the  terrible split bamboo of the Chinese that ‘cut into the flesh, inflicting terrible lacerations’.

    Here is a second account, also early nineteenth-century, though this time from the military. It is unusual because it relates not to the victim but to the horrified drummer boy who was expected to carry out the sentence (181):

    From the very first day I entered the service as drum-boy, and for eight years after, I can venture to assert that, at the lowest calculation, it was my disgusting duty to flog men at least three times a week. From this painful task there was no possibility of shrinking, without the certainty of a rattan over my own shoulders by the drum-major, or of being sent to the black-hole. When the infliction is ordered to commence, each drum-boy, in rotation, is obliged to strip, for the purpose of administering five-and-twenty lashes (slowly counted by the drum-major), with freedom and vigour. In this practice of stripping there always appeared to me something so unnatural, inhuman and butcher-like, that I have often felt most acutely my own degradation in being compelled to conform to it. After a poor fellow had received about a hundred lashes the blood would fly down his back in streams and fly about in all directions with every additional blow of the instrument of torture; so that by the time he had received 300, I have found my clothes all over blood from the knees to the crown of my head, and have looked as though I had just emerged from the slaughter-house.Horrified at my disgusting appearance, immediately after parade I have run into the barrack-room to escape from the observation of the soldiers, and to rid my clothes of my comrade’s blood. Here I have picked and washed off my clothes pieces of skin and flesh that had been cut from the poor sufferer’s back.

    Most disturbing, however, are the accounts of servants and slaves being beaten. Greek and Roman legislation is already horrifying enough in this respect: arguing over the extent of punishments and mutilations that an owner can bring down on their human property. There is also a particularly ghastly canon from the early fourth-century Council of Elvira describing spiritual punishments for a Christian mistress who accidentally or purposefully kills her slave through flogging.

    For later times consider this remarkable eighteenth-century diary entry from Hereforshire (UK) that gives some sense of the peculiar intimacy of such punishment (70) on a servant though rather than on a slave.

    Dearlove, my maid, came to my room as I bade her. I bade her fetch the rod from what way my mother-in-law’s rod-closet, and kneel, asking pardon, which she did with tears. I made her prepare, and I whipped her well. The girl’s flesh is plump and firm, and she is a cleanly person – such a one, not excepting my own daughters, who are thin, and one of them, Charlotte, rather sallow, as I have not whipped for a long time. She hath never been whipped before, she says, since she was a child (what can her mother and her late lady have been about I wonder?) and she cried out a great deal.

    There is a sense that Dearlove’s mistress rather enjoyed the experience. She certainly uses a different register from the drummer boy quoted above.

    Then there are the killing floggings of slaves in the Americas: floggings that would continue while slavery lasted. The following account is mid nineteenth-century: the unnamed slave here had committed the atrocious crime of burning the family waffles (77).

    Solomon Bradley describes the following as the most cruel punishment he ever saw inflicted by one Mr Ferraby, owner of one of the largest South Carolina coast plantations, near Port Royal. Attracted by the noise of fearful screams in Mr Ferraby’s own yard he went up, and saw a slave-girl stretched on the ground on her face, her hands and feet tied fast to stakes, her master standing over her, beating her with a leather trace from a harness, every blow of which raised the flesh, if it did not gash it, and now and then kicking her in the face with his heavy boots when she screamed too loud. When he had become exhausted by this benevolent exertion, our ‘patriarch’ sent for sealing-wax and lighted lamp, and dropped the blazing wax into the gashes; after which, finally, his arm being rested apparently, he switched the wax out again with his riding whip. Two grown-up Miss Ferrabys were all this while watching the human series of operations from the upper windows.

    Beachcombing usually keeps his sources to himself. But he must come clean here. He is not a flogging expert and all these quotations were excerpted from George Ryley Scott and his fascinating mid-twentieth-century work, The History of Corporal Punishment. GRS – a bit of a rogue scholar himself – was one of the first authors to properly integrate the religious and the sexual elements of flogging into the ‘simple’ fact of punishment. He also wrote on torture, poultry and prostitution.


    5 July 2011: Dweeble writes, ‘Doc, I can’t believe that you wrote a piece on flogging and forgot to mention late birching on the Isle of Man that carried on right into the late 1970s. I have not been able to find the last date.’ Thanks Dweeble!