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The lash on St Helena Island


There were safeguards to ensure that the use of the lash at St Helena was not abused. It was never to be used other than in extreme cases and only then in the presence of the Visiting Justice and the Visiting Surgeon. The maximum number of strokes which could be inflicted was 50; frequently the flogging was stopped by order of the Visiting Surgeon.

In the early days, flogging was relatively common on St Helena in comparison with other colonial prisons in Queensland.

From 1867 to 1869, the lash was administered on 18 occasions—for such offences as attempting to escape (3), disobedience and gross insubordination (7), assaulting a warder (2), and creating a disturbance in a cell (1).

With the passage of time, however, it became a less frequent form of punishment. By 1907 it had been abolished; St Helena closed as a prison in 1932.

And what was it like to be flogged?

The flogging began when the recalcitrant prisoner was first examined by the Visiting Surgeon and, when pronounced in a fit condition to receive his punishment, he was stripped to the waist and his back exposed. He was then tied firmly to a wooden triangle.

At the Chief Warder’s command ‘One!’, down came the cat on the inmate’s back. Red streaks at once appeared. ‘Two!’ and ‘Three!’ followed and, at the word ‘Four’, the hooded flagellator stopped to disentangle the tails of his whip before the fourth blow could be administered. Blow after blow followed with merciless regularity and precision.

By the tenth blow, blood appeared in the blue weals caused by the vicious knotted tails of the lash. By the fifteenth stroke, the inmate looked faint and sickly. And by now the exertion was beginning to tell on the flagellator as well. At ‘Eighteen!’, a misdirected blow from a tiring flagellator brought the cat down on the prisoner’s neck. ‘Not too high,’ the Chief Warder called, and the remaining strokes fell in the usual place – shoulders and back.

By the twentieth stroke, all but the hardest of prisoners are usually broken and in a state of near collapse. Unless the Visiting Surgeon intercedes before the allotted number of strokes is inflicted, the prisoner is untied at the end of his punishment, led away to have his wounds dressed, and left in lingering pain to contemplate the folly of his ways.

– Telegraph, 15 January 1887 (adapted).

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