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THE HISTORY OF CORPORAL PUNISHMENT: A Survey of Flagellation in its Historical, Anthropological and Sociological Aspects

by George Ryley Scott

T. Werner Laurie, London, 1938 (245 pp, 18 b/w illustrations)
Republished 1948 by Torchstream Books, London
Published 1974 in the USA by Gale, Detroit
Republished 1996 in paperback in the USA by Senate Press, Princeton, 192 pp, ISBN 1859584934 (this edition is widely available secondhand, e.g. from
Republished 2003 by Kegan Paul, London, 276 pp, 24 plates, ISBN 710309708, £85

Review by Robert

Mediaeval flogging"Cruelty is inherent in mankind". That early statement by Ryley Scott sets the tone of this book, which catalogues in grim detail hundreds of examples of the application of the instruments of flagellation to humans. I have long been a believer in the use of mild forms of corporal punishment (CP) in the socialization of youth in their maturation into adults, and as a form of social control in schools and prisons. My belief in the efficacy of moderate and reasonable CP remains unshaken, despite Ryley Scott's barrage of horrifying and revolting anecdotes of humanity's savagery toward its weaker or criminal members.

Ryley Scott's thesis is that humans are fundamentally driven to assert power and control over their fellows, and that they will always express this power and control in an ungoverned, sadistic manner. To amplify the problem, he says, many humans readily accept this dominance in a masochistic manner, thus providing a moral and legal basis for the infliction of CP.

The result is a proliferation of rampant cruelty and sadism throughout all the ages of human history and in all societies across the globe. Since these impulses to power and cruelty are basic to the human nature, he argues, all forms of CP should be completely abolished.

Ryley Scott's history of CP is quite exhaustive, covering the subject from the earliest of times, among tribes of savages, through the Greek and Roman civilizations, into the middle ages, and on to the present era (the twentieth century, 1930s).

Reading his account of the medieval orders of Flagellants, I was amused by his mystification of this seemingly nonsensical and bizarre behavior. I suspect that a good portion of Ryley Scott's incomprehension of CP might have been alleviated by our modern understanding of the biochemistry of the brain. This research has shown the presence of a class of protein-like molecules called endorphins that are highly effective in dulling, and even mellowing, the effects of pain sensations. Thanks to endorphins, if the pain sensation is carefully applied to the body, an opiate-like trance may be produced in the recipient.

book coverModern sexual psychology has also studied the phenomenon of dominance and submission, and in general the psychiatry of paraphilia, the study of "abnormal" sexual behavior. Most if not all of the terrible cruelties inflicted upon helpless subordinates by dominant superiors, described in such detail by Ryley Scott, can be classified and dissected within the study of paraphilia. Of course, the understanding of such inhumane behavior in an academic sense in no way excuses it. All reasonable, decent people should condemn the practice of cruel, abusive, and sadistic forms of corporal punishment. Most of the flagellation methods described by Ryley Scott in this book must be included in this category, but suffer more from excess in their application than from a fundamentally evil nature.

Ryley Scott's work is, as I noted above, exhaustive in its coverage of all aspects of flagellation: its history including detailed descriptions of the instruments and techniques, medical and psychological effects, sexual pathologies, and a summing-up of the pros and cons of CP. All of this is presented in somewhat stilted, dense prose, and is colored throughout with fervent condemnation by the abolitionist Ryley Scott.

It is interesting to note that he also authored several other books on, well, rather offbeat subjects: A History of Torture (1940); Far Eastern Sex Life (1943); Sex Pleasures and Perversions (1963); and other books (which I don't have) on the history of prostitution, and on phallic worship. In the first two books mentioned there are sections dealing with flagellation methods of CP, but I couldn't really recommend any of these volumes to the casual reader. You have to be a genuine devotee of the subject to get anything useful out of them and to appreciate their arcane scholarship.

I must confess that as a supporter of moderate CP I began the reading of The History of Corporal Punishment with a zestful enthusiasm for the learning of new information on this subject, but I finished reading it in a glum mood and heavy-hearted, depressed by the disgusting cruelty and sadism exhibited by humankind.

Naturally, that repugnance towards CP in the reader is the objective of abolitionists like Ryley Scott, and he succeeds admirably in his quest: "The inhumanity of man toward man". All I can say in response is, let's learn from this litany of evil to ensure we, and others, don't repeat the cruelties of the past. At the same time, let's also keep CP in perspective, so that in its moderate, reasonable forms it can remain as a valuable tool in the socialization, and social control, of humans.

THE WHIP AND THE ROD: An Account of Corporal Punishment among all Nations and for all Purposes

by R.G. Van Yelyr

Gerald G. Swan, London, 1941 (240pp, 8 b/w plates)

Review by Robert

book coverThis book is a successor to Ryley Scott's definitive study of the subject, and indeed makes numerous respectful references to it throughout. (Yelyr, surely a made-up name, spells Ryley backwards -- is this a coincidence?) Many of Ryley Scott's anecdotes are reproduced in Van Yelyr's text, although there are a few novel illustrations to his discussion, mainly drawn from the author's experience in the United States.

The topics covered in this book are as expected: the history of flagellation from early times, among tribes of savages, biblical references, medieval practices (including the inevitable Flagellants), and up into the modern era.

The latter history is covered in the subtopics of corporal punishment (of the flagellation variety) of slaves, servants, criminals, prostitutes, soldiers and sailors, women and children in the home, schoolchildren, and generally of anyone who had the bad luck of being in a subordinate position to a dominant - and sadistic - superior.

Van Yelyr discusses in some detail the medical and psychological effects of CP, clearly indicating his displeasure at its application. After reading this dismal account of human cruelty across the ages, it may seem tempting to agree with his proposal for the complete banning of CP in the home, schools, and prisons. But a careful reading of the examples and anecdotes in this book suggests that the evil of CP lies not in its very existence, but in its mode of application. We are all truly appalled to read of the young black slave being literally whipped to death by her master. But is this representative of CP as it might be applied in a moderate and reasonable manner in the modern settings of home, school, and prison? I think not!

illustration from the book: artist's impression of UK school birchingBoth Ryley Scott and Van Yelyr seem to have been inspired to write their books after reading an influential UK government report on judicial CP, the Report of the Departmental Committee on Corporal Punishment ("the Cadogan Report"), issued in 1938. This recommended abolishing the birching of teenage boy offenders and most (but not all) flogging of adult male offenders. The latter would have been restricted to the most serious of prison disciplinary breaches.

The advent of World War II delayed the implementation of these recommendations until 1948, when all judicial and most prison discipline CP came to an end in the UK (it had long been abolished for women, in 1820, by the Whipping of Female Offenders Abolition Act).

The trend, at least in western nations, is for the gradual disappearance of the flagellation type of CP. Even in the more supposedly enlightened and liberal western societies, other non-flagellation forms of CP are widely practised in the other "unseen society" of prisons, but this isn't the proper forum for a discussion of such inhumane behavior. It has largely been through the efforts and influence of reformers and abolitionists such as Ryley Scott and Van Yelyr, in their books decrying the inhumanity of man toward man, that society is gradually renouncing the official application of the whip and the rod to its miscreants.


by Juanita Carberry with Nicola Tyrer

William Heinemann, London, 1999 (193pp, £17.99)
ISBN 0434007293

Review by Stephanie

"Had the fates decided I was going to grow up a slut or a monster they could not have found a more fertile nursery than Seremai, my childhood home in the White Highlands of Kenya."

Exotic, romantic, and tragic are the best words to characterise this intriguing book. It covers the life of a colonial girl growing up in bizarre circumstances. Juanita Carberry had no parents in the true sense of the word. Her father, John Carberry (who may not have been her real father), was a man whose only fatherly attention came in the form of bullying. She refers to him throughout only as 'JC'. Her birth mother died in an air crash when Juanita was three, leaving her at age five in the incapable hands of JC's second wife June, a playgirl singularly unsuited to become the stepmother of a five-year-old.

Juanita Carberry was born in Kenya's "Happy Valley" in 1925 after her father had failed to have her aborted. The "Happy Valley" was a region in the Kenyan highlands populated with the richest and laziest settlers in the British Empire; the term "Happy" derives from a native word that also means intoxicated. It is aptly suited. Drink, and occasionally drugs, were surpassed only at times by sex as the white inhabitants' foremost preoccupations. Amongst the wealthy and corrupt with whom they associated, the Carberrys were perhaps the richest and most decadent. For their daughter Juanita, life was a mixture of an exotic natural environment, an outlandish and promiscuous social milieu, terrible neglect, and punishment.

book coverThere are not many detailed descriptions of CP in this book, apart from frequent references to received or threatened 'beatings' and 'hidings'. The only incidents described in any depth are Juanita's first beating from her stepmother, and her most severe beating at the hands of 'The Rutt', her second, brutal governess, given at the behest of her father.

Her first beating came around age six or seven.

"It was while we were on holiday in the South of France that June gave me my first beating. ...June ... forbade me to have the creature in my room. I obeyed - albeit reluctantly. A few days later they found cat mess under my bed. It must have gone in there without my knowing and got shut in. I was accused of disobedience - compounded, when I denied it, by lying. June made me pull my knickers down and beat me with a shoe tree [a wooden shoe insert used to maintain a shoe's shape]. It was excruciating. It had a spring in it which drew blood and left horrendous marks." (70-71)

This was to be the first of many harsh punishments.

"Punishment was a regular part of my life as a child. It took various forms. Often I would be locked in my room, sometimes for several days, deprived of regular meals. There were other, more bizarre punishments. June could be vindictive in an unpredictable way, punishing me for things I didn't even know were transgressions." (71)

Juanita would occasionally be given reprieves from this regime, such as when temporarily fostered out to less harsh relatives. "Although, unlike at home, I was never afraid of being beaten at my grandmother's house in Nairobi..." (54)

There is clearly a difference between the beatings she received by and at the discretion of her stepmother and those given by 'the Rutt', her second governess - especially when done at the behest of her father. Her stepmum's beatings seem to have been much more spontaneous and the result of a loss of temper; in contrast her father seems to have been much more pathological about such things.

If anything good can be said about Juanita's childhood it is that she was not sexually abused, and that she was often free to imbibe the marvels of her exotic natural environment. The people of her early childhood for whom she has the fondest memories are African servants. The fact that she was frequently in the care of male servants and never abused, but constantly feared her official caregivers, says something about the moral disparity between the servants and their supposed social superiors in this mid-century Kenyan plantation household.

In spite of her own experiences, Juanita (an elderly lady by the time this book went to print) is by no means anti-CP.

"I was also beaten regularly, though I doubt that either June or JC had been hit themselves as children. I did not resent the beatings per se. I don't think, if a child has been really naughty, a hiding does any harm. But like most children I had a well-developed sense of justice. I was prepared to accept punishment if I had done something which deserved it but I did resent the many unfair ones. ... It was June who beat me. JC used to take delight in a form of mental torture by frightening me with the threat of a beating, but he never hit me himself. June, who lost her temper easily, used whatever came to hand." (67)

Despite his own spoilt upbringing, or perhaps because of it, JC seems to have developed a sort of sadism, but not one of a deliberately sexual nature (Juanita speculates that he may have been impotent; it would account for his tolerance of his wife's open promiscuity).

"JC never beat me himself but liked to be there when someone else did. There may even have been a voyeuristic element in his relationship with June." (81)

From just after her fourteenth birthday until just after she turned sixteen, Juanita lived under the domination of three of the most wicked and selfish people in Kenya: her father, stepmother, and new governess, Isabel Rutt. They purposely isolated her from contact with relatives and friends, and often conspired against her.

"I did not hate June Carberry [stepmother]. I did not even hate JC, though I was mortally afraid of him. But I did come to hate Isabel Rutt... [She was] vicious and manipulative... The fact that JC was profoundly uncaring about my welfare gave her carte blanche when it came to punishment and she laid about me physically with impunity... She told tales, which got me into trouble, and then gleefully administered the worst hidings I ever endured." (127)

Juanita's stepmother insisted on reading all her mail, something Juanita detested, as one might expect. It led to the worst beating of Juanita's life.

"... I received a letter from a girl called Hilda who lived in Nairobi. Holding out her hand June commanded, 'Give me the letter.' ... It seemed so unwarranted an intrusion into my privacy - and by people whose moral authority was deeply questionable - that I decided to stand firm. 'No. I won't.' 'Give me the bloody letter,' bellowed June. 'No. You've always told me it's wrong to read other people's letters.' At this, June, outraged at being thwarted, lunged at the letter. As she did so I decided I would sooner miss reading it myself than give it to her. I tossed it on to the fire. All hell broke loose. The incident was reported to JC. He ordered that I should receive a beating for the double offence of disobedience and defiance. The beating was not to take place at once for JC liked to turn the screw by telling me that I would be beaten but not specifying when, to give me time to sweat. When the time came JC issued detailed instructions. I was to pull down my pants and lie across one of the armchairs with both my hands touching the floor [note to American readers: 'pants' in British usage means underwear, not trousers]. With JC looking on the Rutt took the rhino-hide whip and gave me twelve strokes, more than I had ever had before. It was excruciating. My back and bottom were a mass of blood, with angry welts which remained for days. 'Beat her until she screams', I heard JC say. I remember thinking, 'I won't scream - just to spite him,' but I did." (147-148)

Finally Juanita decided it was time to try to do something about her situation:

"That day I made up my mind to get out, whatever the consequences... In those days the authorities did not believe in intervening in a parent's methods of disciplining his child. If I had set off down the road with my suitcase I would have been brought back and whipped again." (148)

"What I did do, a few days later, was go to the police... I thought that if a description of the injuries the Rutt and JC had inflicted on me were placed on record at the police station then JC would not be allowed to have me back... It hurt getting on [her pony, to take her to the police station] but I managed. The policeman in charge was a young European. I pulled down my pants and insisted he look at my bottom and write what he saw in the observation book. The poor chap was very embarrassed." (148-149)

From the descriptions of the beatings she provides, the use of the terms 'beating' and 'hiding', and the reference to her stepmother using any implement 'at hand', one gathers that she was usually if not always punished with an implement. The two incidents described make it clear that these beatings were done on the bare bottom, but it's hard to say whether she mentions this because it was the exception or the norm. The fact that 12 strokes with a whip was considered an unusually high number would suggest that a smaller number of hard strokes with an implement was the norm.

Surprisingly, there are no references to school CP in this book. Juanita spent a term at a boarding school in England at age 12, several terms at two different Swiss finishing schools (where she was far younger than any of the other girls), and a year at a South African boarding school before returning to Kenya at age 14. At the English school she describes extremely wilful behaviour for which she was punished with deprivation of food, so presumably there was no CP there. The two Swiss schools were actually for girls aged 16-19, so it is unlikely they used CP. One would suspect some form of CP to be prevalent at a South African boarding school, though for someone somewhat inured to severe beatings at home perhaps the odd whack at school with a slipper, ruler or strap is not worth mentioning. In the BBC film based on her life there is apparently one scene of Juanita being strapped on the hand at an African school, presumably the latter one. She also spent part of a term a small Kenyan girls school which was little more than a handful of girls under a private tutor in a remote location. Some sort of CP there would not seem at all surprising.

Juanita spent the last two years of her minority at another South African girls' school where it would appear there was no CP. At age seventeen she was punished for very childish misbehaviour (singing along to a Christmas carol with silly, made-up lyrics) by being banned from riding horses, her greatest passion. If this was an alternative to CP it would have seemed a much worse one to her, no doubt.

Juanita's assessment of her parents and caregivers seems at first glance to be remarkably judicious. She carefully weighs all possibilities when assessing them and tries to see from their points of view without making assumptions. However, one wonders whether there is not another side to some of the things she describes. It certainly seems likely that she was a very wilful and rebellious young woman; it is hard to see how she could not be.

This is not, however, a sob story by someone trying to make the most out of victimisation. Life on the plantation included tropical mongoose bites, dangerous animals, riding injuries, and a host of other physical discomforts that add meaning to her use of the terms 'excruciating' and 'brutal' to describe the corporal punishment she endured. In spite of the cold bitterness she feels towards her parents she is greatly appreciative of some aspects of her childhood and realises very well the extent to which her family's affluence was the product of exploiting Africans.

Juanita's life took a remarkable turn for the better when she turned sixteen. After tearful pleas describing her abusive situation she was able to convince her maternal uncle Gerald Anderson, a Kenyan surgeon, to take her in. After complicated negotiations he legally adopted her. Though Gerald was a Christian fundamentalist of a very strict sect, '[none] of the Anderson children was ever beaten'. She tried to adapt to life in a relatively normal household, but deficiencies in her education led the Andersons to enrol her in a South African boarding school, where she spent the next two years. After this she enlisted in Female Army Nursing corps (called 'FANYs' - I'm not making this up). Later she joined the British Merchant Navy as an officer.

This book is thoroughly readable. I find the prose eloquent but not over-embellished. It is difficult to know how much the writing is the product of Juanita's hand and how much that of her authorial aid Nicola Tyrer. In any event, the result is a straightforward account that draws upon the richness of mid-century colonial Africa.

Whoever produced the descriptions of abuse was careful to provide a full and honest account without falling into the trap of sensationalism. What makes the book sensational is Juanita's life itself. Nothing in it seems exaggerated, and her life is covered rather topically. If there is a fault with the literary form it is that it is somewhat lacking in plot. The chapters are only loosely connected, and the pace seems to hurry as one gets towards the end. But then it is, after all, supposed to be a memoir.

BBC television produced a fictionalised account of Juanita's life, The Happy Valley. Juanita at no point makes any reference to this film, though it was made before the book. It has three CP scenes, which I've seen in short clips, and they appear to be only vaguely based upon her real experiences. In the first two she is caned over shorts, by a woman who I believe is her stepmother, as her father watches. In the last one she is beaten over knickers with a whip until she passes out, with her father taking over from her stepmother partway through. This last scene clearly conflicts with her real-life story. All three beatings in the film are done at the order of her father, as were many of the beatings in real life. However, it is clear from the book that often CP was inflicted solely at the discretion of her stepmother or governess.

This book is not sensual or salacious in any way. Juanita even describes her early sexual encounters with the same enthusiasm one would use to describe a bowel movement. Her discussion of the beatings suggests that it was fairly normal for a teenage girl to be whipped in this setting in the 1940s.

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Reviews copyright © the authors 2003
Presentation copyright © C. Farrell 2003
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