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School CP - October 1905

Corpun file 25493 at

The Slough, Eton and Windsor Observer, 14 October 1905

Birching at Eton.

Press cutting

Lord Ronald Gower, writing to Saturday's "Daily Mail," stated: -- I see that the head boy of the Eton scholars has recently presented the new head master of the college with a fresh birch adorned with blue ribbon.

One had hoped that birching -- or, as it is called at Eton, "swishing" -- had become, if not altogether unknown, but little used at Eton. In no other country are youths, some of whom are almost grown-up men, punished in the manner which still obtains at this so-called "royal and pious foundation."

That a young fellow of between fourteen and eighteen should for some more or less trivial offence be partially stripped of his nether garments and made to kneel at a block, and held down by a couple of other youths while the head master belabours the boy's bared back with a birch until blood is sometimes drawn, is a form of punishment more fitted for some savage tribe in the wilds of Africa than for so Christian and refined a foundation as that of Eton College.

Looking back to my Eton days is a half painful, half amusing subject for contemplation; and when I recall the talk at Eton of present Cabinet Ministers, Bishops, and Colonial Governors, I wonder if they remember the way in which they behaved themselves when at this precious school in the late fifties and early sixties.

I cannot, however, think that the boys were so much to blame as the masters for allowing and approving of their school's disgusting punishment of birching.

Flogging at Eton as well as in the Services dates from the time when women were burnt to death in Smithfield for murder, when men were pressed to death for not pleading, when Tyburn was thronged by huge crowds to see the dying struggles of a wretch slowly strangled, when women and children were hanged for picking pockets, and when thousands of miserable and helpless old women were roasted or drowned as witches.

Surely the sooner the birch is done away with at Eton, and some less degrading mode of punishment instituted, the better.

Mr. Evelyn Wrench, of the Bath Club, writing to Monday's "Daily Mail" asked:

Does not Lord Ronald Gower, in Saturday's "Daily Mail," rather overstate the degradation that good old-fashioned institution birching or, to give its Eton name, "swishing"?

Possibly in "the late fifties and early sixties" birching was carried out with greater severity than is the case nowadays. During the three years I was at Eton I never remember a boy at Eton "thinking that he had been degraded" by a birching.

Mr. Frank Richardson, of the Garrick Club, in a letter to Monday's "Daily Mail," stated:

Lord Ronald Gower, in his attack on the practice of birching at Eton, alludes regretfully to the "talk" and "behaviour" of boys, contemporaries of his own, who are now Cabinet Ministers, Bishops, and Colonial Governors. Surely, it is obvious that the birch-cure, either "de facto" or "in posse," is responsible for the august positions held today by his unpromising schoolfellows?

But for this treatment the Cabinet Ministers might be practising in the Kensington Parliament, the Bishops rusticating in rural deaneries, and the Colonial Governors regarded in the Antipodes as undesirable immigrants.

In my day at Marlborough -- if one may compare small things with great -- the use of the birch was almost unknown. Now, there were in the 'eighties many brilliant boys at the school -- a state of things proved by the fact that I, myself, was superannuated at a ripe age in a low form. And, yet, no one of them has become a Cabinet Minister, a Bishop, or a Colonial Governor.

If only they -- and I -- had been birched!

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