Tuesday, 10 July 2012

To flog or not!

It never ceases to amaze me what Parliament discusses. I came across volume 156 of  Hansard for the year 1860, and read the discussion about flogging in the Army and Navy.

Mr W. Williams started the debate stating that he can’t understand why flogging was allowed as it would prevent respectable men from joining the Army or Navy.

The argument for flogging was that it had to be maintained as otherwise there would be “total subversion of discipline.”

He goes on to state that for trivial offences the soldiers and sailors would receive worse treatment than convicted criminals and felons!

Apparently the maximum of lashes for the army was one thousand, but this number was reduced to three hundred after a soldier died from flogging, and reduced again by the Duke of Wellington to fifty lashes.

The descriptions of flogging a soldier would appear in newspapers. One such incident concerned a young soldier named Davis, “his back was covered with a mass of large, red, inflamed boils, which bled profusely at every stroke, and reddened the ground under his feet, upon which the cat was ordered to be withheld for a few moments.” Even after pleading for mercy and escaping the confines the punishment still continued.

An interesting note is that the cat used in the Navy was heavier than the Army and was wielded in a different fashion which meant that 50 lashes in the Navy was equivalent to 150 in the Army.

In seconding the motion Mr Bristow when asking a French officer if there is any flogging in the French Army, received the reply “Neither the French men nor the French soldiers are brutes.”

However, later on the debate it is mentioned how the French treated crimes in the Army. “Do not talk about our treating men as brutes, when the French shot where we flogged. In Berlin solders were punished by being placed in a room six feet by four, with a series of re-entering angles, so that it was impossible for him to stand.”

It is a fascinating but horrific debate and an insight into what Parliament discussed in the Victorian era.

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