Thursday, February 25, 2010

Men Behaving Punitively: Still flogging after all these years

Thursday, February 25, 2010
Loretta reports:

Perusing the 1833 Annual Register (yes, I do it for fun), I came upon the following:

21 May
The annual motion to abolish flogging in the army was renewed by Mr. Hume … In 1827, Mr. (now Sir John) Hobhouse,* said, “he had attentively listened to what had fallen from the gallant officers in the army on the subject; but the only reason they gave for defending flogging that he could discover was, that it ought to be continued because it had existed.  He had heard an officer say, that in his regiment some of the men were brought out so frequently to be flogged, that they were known by the name of the flogging-blocks; and this circumstance demonstrated that, so far from flogging making them better soldiers, or men, no good could be derived from it; and as no benefit resulted from the revolting custom, it ought to be abolished, as being a national disgrace…The punishment of slaves in the colonies was restricted to fifteen lashes, whilst the British soldier was usually subjected to 300, 400, or 500 lashes.  He could not believe, that the soldier was so much worse than the slave, as to justify that disproportion of punishment.”

Lord Althorp…thought…that the weight of military authority was so great, that it would not be prudent to take away this punishment entirely from the officer.  He admitted, that it was a punishment against which every one’s best feelings must revolt; but he should feel, that it was taking upon himself a responsibility which he should not be justified in taking, if he acted in opposition to the whole body of officers of the army, and gave a vote for taking a away a punishment which they said was necessary…Sir R. Ferguson confessed, that the motion placed him in a very unpleasant situation; he could not vote for it, and he would not vote against it. 

What struck me about this was “the annual motion.”  According to my copy of the Annual Register, Hume had “submitted a similar proposition on March 25, 1824”—nine years previously.  Further investigation turned up a couple of the debates, in 1826 and 1834.   (They make fascinating reading.)  Undoubtedly there were many more.  Flogging was not completely abolished in Britain’s army and navy until 1881.

*John Cam Hobhouse, Byron’s good friend; later Lord Broughton.

The top left illustration is James Gillray's  "The caneing in Conduit Street. Dedicated to the flag officers of the British Navy."  Courtesy Library of Congress Prints ( LC-USZC2-1323), which offers the following description:  'Caricature showing a stout naval officer attacked by Lord Camelford, who says, "Give me satisfction, rascal! Draw your sword..." Captain Vancouver replies, "Murder! Murder! ..." The print may reflect the growing discontent due to harsh naval discipline.'  (Loretta's note:  30 years before Hume first presented his motion).

Bottom right illustration is "Flogging on a Man-of-War."   Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.


Keith said...

It always amazes me what some humans will do to other humans and other animals with very little or no provication.
Le Loup.

Jane O said...

It's a good illustration of the power of law. When told something is legal, people will accept and even participate in an action that they might otherwise view with horror (or at least distaste). It's sort of an extension of the effect of a mob — people in a group will do things they would never dream of doing as individuals.

Katy Cooper said...

"that it ought to be continued because it had existed." Also expressed as, "But we've always done it this way..."

I can't decide if I'm amused or depressed by how persistent this idea is.

On the other hand, I come here every day, which is an example of continuing...

nightsmusic said...

Did I read that right? 400 to 500 lashes? It's a wonder any of the men had enough skin left to cover their bones, let alone turn around and fight for King and Country!

Though I don't see the lead balls or tiny hooks that often were at the end of each tail on the lash, it still did enough damage without them.

Civilized society indeed...

LorettaChase said...

I did find it interesting that in a time when corporal punishment was common--when even aristocratic schoolboys were whipped--there were men who made speeches like the one Hobhouse made as well as men like Hume, who year after year continued to present his motion, even though it apparently became a sort of joke in Parliament. This struck me as one in a long line of legislative efforts to reform something or redress a wrong that take forever to be enacted, in spite of the fact that so many people support the reform in principle. But again and again, such efforts come smack up against Resistance to (or Fear of) Change. I thought the "I can't vote for it or against it" response expressed this beautifully. For me, reading these debates sheds a very bright light on Dickens's novels.

Rowenna said...

nightmusic--my understanding, and I can't recall where I picked this up, is that the punishment was often meted out over time. So you didn't get the 500 lashes at once, you got a more "reasonable" number, healed a bit, then went at it again. Not sure if that's the case, but it made sense from the point of view of not actually killing the guy.

What amazes me are the fellows who were continually being flogged--I would have been terrified of the mere threat enough not to misbehave at all! Makes you wonder how effective it was, though, if some people were constantly repeating flogging offenses.

Daniel Thomas said...

For whatever reason, corporal punishment seemed to have been deeply ingrained in the English psyche, not only in the military, but through the public schools as well. Curious.

Anonymous said...

Floggings of schoolboys up until the early nineteenth century were savage in their severity, consisting of several dozen strokes of the birch applied to the bare buttocks of a boy mounted over a school 'flogging block'. School floggings would leave the whole of a boy's bottom and upper thighs (including the anoperineal sphere) a mass of blood and raw, lacerated flesh.

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