20th July 1951. Right to Flog.
Early in the 19th century radical Thomas Paine was imprisoned and fined £1.000 for publicly criticising the flogging of Militiamen which was later outlawed in the 1879 Cardwell Reforms.
Today in 1951 a memo was issued by the Prison Commission of Dean Ryle Street, London, signed by Controller, F.S. Collins, which referred in clinical terms to unused birches and cat-o’-nine tails, ‘which should be returned immediately to Wandsworth Prison if unused’.
It went on, ‘used ones should be destroyed in accordance with SO Appendix 8. All birches and ‘cats’ were only to be used from the national stock which should be tested and would be issued in triplicate’.
One hundred years before in October 1853 saw the introduction of Circular 131 of the Royal Navy which introduced summary flogging with a ‘reduced cat’ on naked posterior, and for the most serious cases, flogging after a Court Martial, and many was the sailor who ‘kissed the gunner’s daughter’, by being spread-eagled over a cannon.(1)
By 1860, the ‘cat’ was abolished for boys, only to be substituted by the birch, and any under 19 found skulking were ‘sharpened-up’ with the ‘stonnacky’ or the ‘Bosun’s Cane’.(2)
Caning on the Junior Training Ship, HMS Ganges was only abolished in 1970, but still in operation until 1967, the only form of punishment remaining in the armed-forces.
The Bill to abolish civil, judicial corporal punishment had been introduced in September 1948.
The army witnessed the notorious case in 1846 of Private John White of Hounslow Barracks who had died after receiving 150 lashes, which helped to spur efforts at reform.
The original coroner’s jury after hearing evidence from a military surgeon found that White had died from natural causes.
However William Wakley, the medical crusader, coroner of Middlesex, managed to get the original verdict over-turned.
The Penny Illustrated Paper reported that in 1860 the punishment had been administered to 180 soldiers with a total of 1976 lashes, the main crimes being ‘desertion, insubordination and something called disgraceful conduct’. (3)
Flogging in the Army was abolished in 1881 and replaced by Field Punishment No 1, which saw the prisoner attached to a fixed object for up to two hours a day, and repeated according to the level of punishment.
Only in 1929 was the death penalty abolished in the army, too late for those executed in WWI for ‘cowardice’.
In 2006 there was a blanket pardon for all soldiers executed in WWI, irrespective of merit, which draws a line under, which to modern eyes, seems a brutal past.
(1) On 7th October 1853.
(2) Flogging was suspended in the Navy in peacetime in 1871 and in 1879 in wartime.
(3) London, Saturday March 1st 1862 p.139 Issue 21.