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per the night before, so that he might at least begin his torture in blessed stupefaction. After a severe punishment they took the poor mangled body down to the sick-bay, and left it there in the care of the surgeon. A body that had been severely lashed looked something like raw veal. It generally healed up, but for weeks after the punishment the sufferer's life was a misery to him, for reasons which may be read in the proper place, but which need not be quoted here.
It may interest some people to know what the punishment felt like. A ruffian has left it on record that it was “nothing but an O, and a few O my Gods, and then you can put on your shirt." It was more than that. A very hardy fellow may have found a dozen or so comparatively easy to bear. But when the lashes ran into the scores it became a different matter. We will quote a poor soldier who was flogged in 1832 with a cat precisely similar to that used in the King's fleet.
"I felt an astounding sensation between the shoulders, under my neck, which went to my toe-nails in one direction, and my finger-nails in another, and stung me to the heart, as if a knife had gone through my body. ... He came on a second time a few inches lower, and then I thought the former stroke was sweet and agreeable compared with that one. . . . I felt my flesh quiver in every nerve, from the scalp of my head to my toe-nails. The time between strokes seemed so long as to be agonising, and yet the next came too soon. ... The pain in my lungs was more severe, I thought, than on my back. I felt as if I would burst in the internal parts of my body. ... I put my tongue between my teeth, held it there, and bit it almost in two pieces. What with the blood from my tongue, and my lips, which I had also bitten, and the blood from my lungs, or some other internal part, ruptured by the writhing agony, I was almost choked, and became black in the face. ... Only fifty had been inflicted, and the time since they began was like a long period of life; I felt as if I had lived all the time of my real life in pain and torture, and that the time when existence had pleasure in it was a dream, long, long gone by.”
Another man, who saw a good deal of flogging in his time, has told us that, after the infliction of two dozen lashes, "the lacerated back looks inhuman; it resembles roasted meat burnt nearly black before a scorching fire." The later blows were not laid on less heartily than the first. The striker cleaned the tails of the cat after each blow, so that they should not clog together with flesh and blood, and thus deaden the effect. A fresh boatswain's mate was put on to flog after each two dozen. Some captains boasted of having left-handed boatswain's mates, who could "cross the cuts” made by the righthanded men.
For striking "an admiral, a commodore, captain, or lieutenant," or "for attempting to escape," no matter what provocation may have been given, the most lenient punishment inflicted was flogging through the fleet. The man was put into the ship's long-boat, and lashed by his wrists to a capstan bar. Stockings were inserted between the wrists and the lashing “to prevent him from tearing the flesh off in his agonies.” The other boats of the ship were lowered, and each ship in the harbour sent a boat manned with marines to attend the punishment. The master-at-arms and the ship's surgeon accompanied the victim. Before the boat cast off from the ship the
captain read the sentence from the gangway. A boatswain's mate then came down the ladder, and inflicted a certain number of lashes on the man. The boat then rowed away from the ship, to the sound of the halfminute bell, the oars keeping time to the drummer, who beat the rogue's march beside the victim. The attendant boats followed, in a doleful procession, rowing slowly to the same music. On coming to the next ship the ceremony was repeated, after which the poor man was cast off and covered with a blanket, and allowed to compose himself. He received a portion of his torture near each ship in the port, "until the sentence was completed.” If he fainted he was plied with wine or rum, or, in some cases, taken back to the sick-bay of his ship to recover. In the latter case he stayed till his back had healed, when he was again led out to receive the rest of the sentence. “After he has been alongside of several ships,” says Jack Nastyface, who often saw these punishments, “his back resembles so much putrefied liver.” Those who lived through the whole of the punishment were washed with brine, cured, and sent back to their duty. But the punishment was so terrible that very few lived through it all. Joshua Davis tells us of a corpse being brought alongside, with the head hanging down and the bones laid bare from the neck to the waist. There were still fifty lashes due to the man, so they were given to the corpse, at the captain's order. Those who died during the infliction of the punishment were rowed ashore, and buried in the mud below the tidemark, without religious rites. Those who survived such fearful ordeals were broken men when they came out of the sick-bay. They lived but a little while afterwards, in a nervous and pitiful condition, suffering acutely in many ways. It is said that those who
were flogged through the fleet were offered the alternative of the gallows.
A man caught thieving was generally set to run the gauntlet. The members of the ship's crew formed into a double line right round the main or spar deck. Each man armed himself with three tarry rope yarns, which he twisted up into what was called a knittle or nettle, knotted at the end, and about three feet long. The thief was stripped to the waist, and brought to one end of the line. The master-at-arms stood in front of him, with a drawn sword pointing to his breast. Two ship's corporals stood close behind him, with drawn swords pointing to his back. If he went too quickly or too slowly the sword points pricked him. When he was placed in position at the end of a line a boatswain's mate gave him a dozen lashes with the thieves' cat. He was then slowly walked (or dragged on a grating) through the double line of men, who flogged him with their nettles as he walked past them. When he arrived at the end of a line a boatswain's mate gave him another taste of the thieves' cat, and either started him down another line or turned him back by the way he had come.
It was very cruel punishment, for it flayed the whole of the upper part of a man's body, not omitting his head. After running the gauntlet the man went into hospital, to be rubbed with brine and healed. He was then sent back to his duty, "without a stain upon his character.” He had purged his offence. It was never again mentioned by his shipmates.
Those who contradicted an officer-or appeared to contradict him, by answering back, however respectfully -were punished by gagging. The lieutenants had no power to flog, but they had power to inflict minor punishments. Gagging was one of those they inflicted on their own initiative. The offender was brought to the rigging, or to the bitts, with his hands tied behind him. An iron marline spike was placed across his mouth, between his teeth, like a bit. The ends were fitted with spun-yarn, which was passed round the head, and knotted there to keep the iron in position. With this heavy piece of iron in his mouth the man had to stand till his mouth was bloody, or till the officer relented. If a man displeased an officer at any time he was often punished on the spot, by a boatswain's mate. The officer would call a boatswain's mate and say: "Start that man.” The boatswain's mate at once produced a hard knotted cord, called a starter, with which he beat the man unmes
nercifully about the head and shoulders, till the officer bade him to desist. The sailors found the starting even harder to bear than the cat, for it generally fell upon their arms as they raised them to protect their heads. It was very severe punishment, and frequently caused such swollen and bruised arms that the sailors could not bear to wear their jackets. It was inflicted with very little cause. Whenever an order was given the boatswain's mates drew out their colts or starters and thrashed the men to their duty with indiscriminating cruelty. It was not lawful punishment, being wholly unauthorised by regulation. But there was no appeal; the sailors had to grin and bear it. After 1811 it was very strictly suppressed.
The boatswain, master-at-arms, and ship's corporals, with their rattans, or supplejacks, were
every whit as ready to thrash the seamen as the boatswain's mates. They, too, carried colts, or starters, made of 3-inch rope, so unlaid that the strands made three knotted tails. With these they beat the seamen for any slight,