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Whipping, as an action, is made definable by the Oxford English Dictionary as the 'infliction of corporal punishment by strokes' of an instrument resembling a whip or a form of rod, although this can also loosely refer to other forms of flagellation. As well as this primary context, however, the term 'whipping' is also registered as encompassing the usage of the whip in the driving of animals. Meanwhile, Johnson's 1819 edition of his Dictionary of the English Language operates with less specificity in terms of its application, defining the action as simply 'to cut with a whip; to lash'. In reality, the action of whipping arises in numerous contexts - from disciplinary forms within educational, military or judicial spheres, to equestrian uses in coachmanship, right through to whipping with respect to sexuality (borne out most, it seems, by the increasingly popular erotic sub-genre of 'fladge'). 

Perhaps the most fascinating discovery throughout the course of the project - certainly, the attribute of whipping seeming to span a number of its varying applications - is the arbitrary quality pertaining to whipping as punishment. A number of commentators during the period justifiably noted this quality. The punishment of whipping as circumscribed by the Old Bailey, whether public or private regardless, was party to huge discrepancies: besides being meted out for offences highly dissimilar in terms of severity, it was also largely dependent on the temper of the executioner inflicting the punishment, the length/crowdedness of the street or the pace of the cart (in the case of mobile public punishment), or even the strength of the particular whipper. Indeed, this arbitrary quality was highly pervasive; even the punishment of whipping as prescribed by court martial maintained the unstated rule that the higher echelons of the military were effectively exempt from the prospect of whipping facing soldiers of ordinary rank, on account of the humiliation entailed. 


A second element of the practice of whipping, which was not foreseen during the initial stages of the project, is the sheer inextricability of its varying applications: although it is true that certain parallels between punishments inflicted by the military and the judiciary, or between whipping as applied in the navy and that through slavery, were perhaps to be expected, the crossover between corporeal punishment in education and the depiction of the act of whipping within literary erotica of the day did present itself as something of a revelation. Not only did the newfound sub-genre of 'fladge' draw upon the actuality of disciplinary practice as a form of inspiration for its subject matter, as helpfully borne out by Rousseau's account (revealing a degree of sexual gratification to be obtained by corporal punishment), but the particularly clandestine nature of erotica and its readership during the period even led to meditations on educational practice to be harnessed as a form of veneer for erotic writing - through the inclusion of an undisputedly sexual sub-text. 




Figure 1 - The Google Ngram above depicts the increase in the use of the term 'whipping' throughout the eighteenth century. Given our knowledge that whipping as an institutionalised component within judicial processes entered decline during the period, ceding its place to alternative forms of punishment such as transportation (the 1718 Transportation Act permitting the courts to sentence felons guilty of offences subject to benefit of clergy to seven years transportation to America), it is perhaps indicated that the rise can be attributed to the use of the term within the contexts of coachmanship (which we know to be 'on the up' as the number of coaches on London's roads, for instance, are on the rise) and possibly even within erotica (although the clandestine nature of this renders it difficult to determine the extent of its effect on the above statistic).



Figure 2 - This second Google Ngram is included simply in order to provide a broader scope for the use of the term - to demonstrate its appearance not only during the eighteenth century, but in the neighbouring seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. Although without extended research into these periods as a supplement to that of the eighteenth century it is difficult to pinpoint the reasons behind the statistics in this wider temporal context, it is interesting nonetheless to observe. It is, however, perhaps possible to speculate that the dramatic decrease in the usage of the term during the preceding century perhaps stemmed from its decreasing use in the context of punishment. 



Flagellation as Punishment: Education, the Military and the Old Bailey



Whilst corporal punishment was frequently drawn upon within the eighteenth century as a means with which to instill discipline within the sphere of the education of children, its employment was perhaps not done on such a whimsical basis as is often imagined in the modern day. In fact, whipping was regarded as something of a last resort in the reprimanding of children, with the whip implemented only when other measures had failed. Such is stated by John Locke in his discussion of the subject in Some Thoughts Concerning Education

Beating is the worst, and therefore the last means to be used in the Correction of Children; and that only in cases of
extremity, after all gentler Ways have been tried, and proved unsuccessful; which, if well observed, there will be very
seldom any need of Blows. (67)


Indeed, Locke - who, in this regard, was consistent with the general consensus in eighteenth-century trends of thought - even went as far as to state that such whipping was not an absolute necessity; the need for chastisement in such harsh terms, he argued, sprung only as a consequence 'of former Indulgences, or Neglects' (68). Caution was similarly advised by Immanuel Kant in relation to the employment of whipping within the sphere of education. Also subscribing to the view that 'physical means should serve merely to supplement the insufficiency of moral punishments [as ...] in the beginning of physical constraints supply the deficiency of reflection within the child' (192), Kant similarly highlights the extent to which moral punishments - that is, for instance, the scorning of the child and a cold reservation in their treatment - should remain in tact, with physical punishments implemented only as a matter of recourse.

Nonetheless, whipping as a practice within the domain of education was often seen as retaining merit. The popular doctrine of thought during the eighteenth century was that, in the act of whipping a child, some degree of knowledge was transfused into said child - obedience and wisdom were, in a sense, literally thrashed into the child. Rather than subscribing to some form of superstition or mysticism, however, it must be recognised that this transfusion can be more aptly described as a means of expressing the disciplinary benefits of such punishment. Such a means of expression is illustrated within the following lines of A Paradox Against Liberty, whereby the act of 'whipping' is described as conferring a 'blessing':


To whip and lash the Childish on to Bliss;

Who sullenly refuse the Rod to kiss, 
And so the Blessing in the Whipping miss. (208-10)


Indeed, it is certainly notable that the 'Rod' to which the anonymous poet refers is the birch rod, definable as a form of whip, which constituted the instrument of choice in eighteenth-century schooling, prior to the introduction of the cane in the mid-nineteenth century. The birch rod, often shortened to simply the 'birch', comprised, in actual fact, not of a single rod, but of a number of leafless birch twigs bound together to form an implement capable of inflicting the appropriate degree of damage. Typically, the recipient of the punishment would be bent over the knee of the applicant or over a chair, depending on the age and stature of the particular child concerned, and the lashes would subsequently be applied to their bare buttocks. Often, the alternative of the 'horsing' position was also employed, whereby the recipient would be held by the arms over another person's (often a classmate's) back. In Scotland, a birching table was even employed to ensure the immobility of the child - not dissimilar to a pillory in concept, this would simply provide two holes through which the child's arms would be inserted. 



Figure 3 - Westminster School. or- Dr Busby settling accounts with Master Billy and his playmates (1785)

Print made by: James Gillray ; Published by: James Ridgeway
Pitt lies across Fox's knee, his posterior cut by the damage already wrought; he says "O Pardon me and I'll promise you on my honour that I will honestly and boldly endeavour a reform!" Fox, his birch-rod raised to smite, replies "That's all twaddle! - so here's for your India Task! there! there! there! And there's for blocking up the old Women's windows and making them drink Tea in the dark! - there! there!" Behind, a statue holds the scales of justice in the balance, holding another birch rod in her second hand. At the whipper's feet is a pot of further birch rods, possibly soaked in a liquid for greater impact. Those who have already been chastised are borne off on the backs of the Foxite party, remaining in the 'horsing' position aforementioned; the last three are characterised as Robinson (identified by the rats leaping from his coat), carried off by North's back, Sheridan (identified by the 'School for Scandal' protruding from his pocket) carrying off Sir RIchard Hill (identified by the two papers projecting from his coat) and Burke, carrying off Richard Atkinson, from whose pocket projects 'Rum Contr[act]'. 

One particular added element of whipping within the sphere of education was frequently drawn upon by John Grubb in his work:


In Stygian water steep't
As Birchen Rod's first sok'd in Piss, 
When Boys are to be whipt. (54-6) 

Here, Grubb features in his poetry a popular prepatory practice in relation to the birch. The birch rod, during the eighteenth century, was traditionally soaked in liquid (most popularly brine) prior to use; having taken in said liquid, the weight and strength of the instrument was increased without compensatory air resistance, thereby increasing, too, the impact with the recipient - equalling, greater severity of pain and more damage to the victim's flesh in cuts and weals. Whilst urine would be likely to have an effect largely akin to brine, the reason for Grubb's substitution is likely to have been one motivated by the enhanced sense of humiliation conveyed. Upon re-examination of Gillray's print, then, it is ambiguous but perhaps likely that this is the ultimate purpose of the pot in which the birch rods are contained.

Law and the Old Bailey


The most frequently occurring form in which public flagellation arose as a form of judiciary sentence was ‘at the cart’s tail’; during this process, the prisoner would be tied to the rear end of a cart, stripped to the waist and then whippeduntil his [or, more rarely, her] back be bloody’ (Old Bailey). The mobile nature of this punishment is not to be understated, however; the cart would progress along the length of a street, along a route and at a particular time of day calculated to draw in the crowds greatest in number. The publicity inherent within this form of whipping is an absolutely essential feature; rendering the public the domain of punishment instilled it with an added element of humiliation. It served an important dual function, designed, first, to inculcate shame within the offender (compounded even more so given the possibility of acquaintances witnessing their punishment) and, second, to act as a deterrent to spectators from committing a similar crime.


Figure 4 - Print Study/ Drawing - Samuel Wale - 1730-86 - engraved in reverse, 'Tyburn Chronicle', Vol II, frontispiece
A man whipped at the cart's tail for petty theft, his hands are bound to the cart's rear end as the man to his left raises his left arm to strike with the whip, crowds spectate, even sat upon the pedestral of an equestrian statue to observe.  


Public to private

A gradually escalating reluctance to employ the death penalty as the eighteenth century progressed, with the exception of the most severe cases, caused a need for alternative forms of punishment that, in turn, had their impact on whipping as a practice. As transportation and imprisonment advanced as alternatives to the death penalty, there was a consequent evolution spanning judicial punishment in its entirety – firstly, through a shift from the more physical punishments to ones aimed at reform and, secondly, a move away from the punishments as spectacles to be beheld in the public sphere. Whilst courts had clearly differentiated between public and private whipping since the 1720s, therefore, increasingly the proportion of public whipping declined (with a considerable spike in the instances of private whipping). 




Indeed, whipping as a form of punishment came at no low cost. Following Parliament’s reinstatement of its demand that male vagrants must be whipped, the City of London was obliged to spend five shillings per Bridewell prisoner in order to fulfill this request. Moreover, in 1796, the City was forced to allocate £20.12s. 4d. to ‘correcting’ 83 Bridewell prisoners, the cost of whipping included within this sum.  




A preliminary scan over the recorded cases of whipping by the Old Bailey demonstrates a startling variation between genders with regards to the sentencing and application of whipping; whereas 150 cases of public whipping were identifiable as being executed on males in the eighteenth century, a mere 12 instances were directed towards females. It is notable that, in part, this disparity in whipping during the period can be attributed to a general perception of women as more inclined to a role of passivity, and by consequence, not so prone to criminality. Most crimes committed by women were more likely to be reprimanded by less formal judicial procedures (informal arbitration and summary prosecution, for example), and thereby female crime is not so apparent within the records of the Old Bailey. Indeed, the public whipping of women was abolished in 1817 (having entered a considerable decline from the 1770s onwards), whilst the public whipping of men was not formally abolished until 1862.



Whilst whipping as a sentence was undoubtedly commonplace during the period, as a punishment it is hard to descry just how often it was properly executed and how forcefully it was administered by the authorities. In a particularly detailed study of those incarcerated at houses of correction – in the areas of Westminster and Middlesex in the early decades of the eighteenth century – just over 50% were whipped on their first arrival. Such is borne out by the experiences of an entire host of such prisoners, as made evident by those of which who documented their experience; the particular case of Mary Saxby, who was charged with vagrancy after singing ballads at Epping Market and committed to a house of correction for six weeks, is typical in this regard, saying, ‘As to being whipped, I know little but the shame of it, for he took care not to hurt me’ (16). Ilive’s comment that, in the case of private whipping, ‘punishment many times is a mere ceremony, according to the disposition or temper the whipper is in’ (38), resonates strongly with the anecdotal evidence supplied on the topic, both combining to indicate the severity of the whipping was not circumscribed in a concrete way prior to the enacting of the punishment. Indeed, as registered by McLynn, the constable conducting the flogging ‘could lay on the strokes softly or strongly, the cart should proceed slowly or very fast, the itinerary could be very short or unduly protracted’ and, as if this wasn’t sufficient to instill within the practice a certain arbitrary quality, the punishment of whipping ‘was meted out for wildly dissimilar offences’ (281). In 1772, of two particular men whipped around the Covent Garden area, one had seduced his own niece, whilst the other had simply stolen a bunch of radishes! It was precisely this pervasive 'arbitrary quality' that caused Jeremy Bentham to resent the practice (and, crucially, not the principle) of whipping, stating:


Not even the qualities of the instrument are ascertained by written law: while the quantity of force to be employed in its application is altogether intrusted to the caprice of the executioner. He may make the punishment as trifling or as severe as he pleases. He may derives from this power a source of revenue, so that the offender will be punished, not in proportion of his offence, but to his poverty (Bentham 81)


Fascinatingly, Bentham even suggested a form of machine through which to inflict corporal punishment – one supposedly capable of utterly removing whipping’s arbitrary element, from the instrument used, to the force applied with each stroke , to the number of strokes – presided over by a public officer (more responsible and therefore more accountable than the standard executioner): 


A machine might be made, which should put in motion certain elastic rods of cane or whalebone, the number and size of which might be determined by the law: the body of the delinquent might be subjected to the strokes of these rods, and the force and rapidity with which they should be applied, might be prescribed by the Judge: thus everything which is arbitrary might be removed [...] when there were many delinquents to be punished, his time might be saved, and the terror of the scene heightened, without increasing the actual suffering, by increasing the number of the machines, and subjecting all the offenders to punishment at the same time. (82)


Military punishment


If the corporal punishment, as conducted by the ordinary judicial structures in Britain, appears arbitrary to some degree, then that implemented by the regimental courts martial undoubtedly exceeded this. As aptly stated by Steppler, ‘the manner in which [the latter] dispensed justice to the common soldier was strikingly similar to the practice of the civil courts’ (878). Even when accounting for a natural disparity in the severity of the offence and the according degree of punishment assigned to each of these, the variance presents itself as excessive in scale; indeed, the erratic nature of the number of lashes applied is borne out through the study of individual cases in comparison with one another: whereas three grenadiers, William Cockrell, William Johnston and David Hinds, tried upon suspicion of burglary and absence from camp overnight, were acquitted of the former and pardoned from their sentenced 300 lashes each for the latter, another soldier, Patrick O'Neal received 200 lashes for a night out of barracks, whilst James Dignan's inebriated night out from camp merited 300 lashes without pardon.

The number of lashes – that is, the severity of the punishment inflicted – depended considerably on the character of the officer sitting as president of the court martial on any given case; with regards to the whipping of errant soldiers, no concrete judicial process had been established which would offer a guideline for the actual number of lashes the said soldier must suffer. In addition to this, even acquittals could be handed out by the regiment officer with little seeming justification, often depending upon even such trivialities as who happened to sit as president of the court. Borne out within the British military's records is Douglas Hay’s assertion that ‘a formalistic administration of law […] was nevertheless based on ethical or practical judgements rather than on a fixed, “rational” set of rules’ (40), therefore. 

Not only was the harshness entailed in the whipping frequently dependent on those presiding over the regimental court martials, but often the severity of punishment could be denoted by the status of the wrongdoer. The application of punishment by no means remained constant as you ascended through the military food-chain, with the ‘inequities of a society divided by class […] nowhere seen more clearly than in the army’s choice of punishments for its different ranks’ (879). Whereas the socially inferior private soldier would have to duly resign himself to the whipping prescribed, a commissioned officer (on account of his heightened honour and sensibility) could not endure such an ‘irreparable injury’ (879). The social cleavage, and the stigma incurred, were such that there was a ‘need to invest their military rank with sufficient authority “to carry a command” over the private men’ (879) – not least lent grounds through the expediency and the effective functioning of military order, it was an unstated rule that the higher echelons of the military must be exempt from the humiliation entailed in such whipping. 

Any perception of this note of humiliation as bereft for those of a lower military station, however, is ultimately misplaced – the considerable psychological impact involved in flagellation as a practice, as with the public whipping on which much of the Old Bailey’s punishment is founded, is equally not to be understated here. Common soldiers were ridiculed for having undergone corporal punishment - that is, ‘for being “bloody-backs”' - being 'called “slaves”, and sneered at as men who had lost their rights as Englishmen’ (Steppler 859). 

Whilst proponents of military law assert that the ‘entirely arbitrary’ (Woodhouselee 15) processes of the courts martial were excusable through the ‘plea of necessity alone’ (Steppler 877) – the need to curb the military’s licentiousness in a ‘more expeditious [therefore] summary’ manner giving rise to its arbitrary nature – an entire host of the eighteenth century’s foremost legal commentators denigrated such a system, whereby whipping could vary so hugely in scale upon the whim of a regimental officer and offenders were not invariably punished. As noted by Woodhouselee, the military code of discipline, rather than being severe and exacting, both rigourous and consistent in terms of its application of punishment (whipping included), was ‘built up upon no settled principles’ (15).

Within the Royal Navy, the punishment system was very similar; certainly, a firm hand was necessary to keep soldiers who had been unwillingly pressed into service in line during the period. Adopting the cat o' nine tails, nine waxed cords of thin rope with a knot tied at the end of each strand, as the implement of choice, captains favoured flogging because the navy was constantly short of manpower; whilst the cat was designed to tear the flesh of the victim and, indeed, to draw blood, the damage to the body was not lasting nor debilitating, thus allowing the offender to continue serving. Interestingly, the victim was generally taken below to have salt rubbed into the wounds resulting from the whipping - whilst undoubtedly painful, however, the primary foundation for this was as a preventative measure to ward against infection. By the 1750s in the navy, it is important to note, the maximum number of lashes had been limited to just a dozen.



Equestrian Practice: Whipping within Coachmanship


With regards to the employment of the whip in terms of coachmanship, it must be registered that there are starkly differing perceptions on the matter - specifically, on the degree to which the treatment of horses was compromised by its use. Whereas Grosley, for instance, declares that 'the coach whip is no more in [the coachman's] hands than a fan is, in winter, in the hands of a lady' (The Penny Magazine 200), suggesting therefore that the animals scarce felt the lash of the whip (which was perhaps only cracked next to their heads, as a form of mere threatened violence, in order to demand increased speed), and Meister that 'certainly in no part of Europe are horses better fed, better housed and more attended to' (52) than in England (although, this came after a visit to the stables of an affluent country house), the general consensus seems to suggest otherwise. An entire host of literature during the period felt it necessary to come out in favour of animals' rights for their protection, often drawing upon the ill usage of the whip as a manifestation of the more general cruelty suffered by them. 



Figure 5 - The Second Stage of Cruelty, from The Four Stages of Cruelty (1751) - William Hogarth 


William Hogarth’s series, entitled The Four Stages of Cruelty and released in February 1751, comprised of four separate prints (the second of which is featured above), each of which furthered the narrative of a fictional character named Tom Nero. Issued on cheap paper, these prints were intended for the lower social classes, and depict progressively greater degrees of cruelty with a view to underscoring the maltreatment of animals as a social ill in need of redress - one belying greater ills within society, also (demonstrated by the series' culmination in the mutilation of a murdered body by surgeons in the gallows). Not dissimilar to Gin Lane in its representation of a social epidemic, The Four Stages sought to counter the wanton cruelty, which appeared to permeate contemporary society, through a kind of melodramatic exemplum. As such, despite his characteristic wealth of detail, Hogarth appears to omit the comedic quirks typically tempering his work, these subsumed, in a sense, under the piece's broader humanitarian impulse.

The scene descried within the second stage is Thavies Inn Gate (often ironically named Thieves Inn Gate) – one of the Inns of Chancery housing associations of lawyers within the metropolis. Nero is depicted as having grown up into a hackney coachman, with recreational schoolboy cruelty having developed into a professional brutality, manifest within his maltreatment of his horse. Exhausted from years of overloading, said horse within the image is displayed as having collapsed under the strain of the carriage, thus overturning it. Meanwhile, four stingy barristers, caricatured depictions of what are most likely eminent jurists, scurry from the coach – indeed, their insensitivity is exacerbated in moral terms by the fact that the injury, in the short term, is depicted as caused by them and their refusal to hire two carts for their party. Utterly lacking regard for the animal’s distress, Nero is portrayed whipping it so vigorously that it gouges its eye. Such is recounted in the moral that accompanies the print:

The generous Steed in hoary Age, Subdu’d by Labour Lies; And mourns a cruel Master’s rage, While Nature Strength denies.


Only one character bearing witness to the scene of brutality is depicted as showing concern for the animal’s welfare; a man to Nero’s left notes down Nero’s hackney coach number (“No.24 T.Nero”) in order to report him. The print’s compositional elements on the whole, however, tend towards a similar cruelty, demonstrating that the horse’s fate was not an isolated incident; a drover clubs a tardy lamb (a recognised symbol of peace and innocence) to death, tormentors bait an enraged bull, a man drives an overladen ass on via force, and a sign proclaims “cockfighting”. Hogarth was reportedly disappointed by the routine acts of cruelty he witnessed on the streets of London, his commentary alongside the work informing us that the images ‘were done in the hopes of preventing in some degree that cruel treatment of poor Animals which makes the streets of London more disagreeable to the human mind, than any thing what ever, the very describing of which gives pain'. 


The cruelty to which Hogarth’s plate provides testimony is bolstered through the retrospective commentary from David Perkins in Romanticism and Animal Rights. Having pointed out that the actual instruments employed would have caused far severer pain than they do in the modern day (due to more rudimentary whip design), Perkins registers that ‘many animals belonged to people who could barely feed themselves’ (104), thus forcing these people to extract the utmost possible amount of work and energy from these exhausted animals by means of beating or whipping.

Aptly borne out within Hogarth’s work, it is commentated that much of the literature defending animal rights during the period took the excessive whipping of said animals and their overly heavy loads as focal points. Indeed, coach horses reportedly tended to arouse the greatest compassion and protest, particularly those in the stage-coaches. These were not uncommon: by 1800 approximately 50 coaches a day departed from London to Manchester, 40 for Brighton, 30 for Edinburgh, and 20 for York. Since coachmen were placed under considerable pressure to maintain their schedules and the horses were anonymous to these coachmen, the whip functioned as an accelerator and enjoyed heavy usage. Particularly shockingly, the coach-horses regularly reached the point of exhaustion where the whip had ultimately lost its effect to spur them on and, often, when their bodies bore signs of accumulating rough usage, they were employed at night in order to avoid the shock and disdained outrage of the general public.

John Woolman, an early American abolitionist and an itinerant Quaker preacher, protested with some vehemence against the maltreatment of horses as well as against slavery:


Stage coaches frequently go upwards of one hundred miles in twenty-four hours and I have heard Friends say in several places that it is common for horses to be killed with hard driving and that many others are driven till they go blind . . . so great is the hurry in the spirit of this world that in aiming to do business quickly and to gain wealth the creation at this day doth loudly groan. (175)


Unable to countenance the cruelty entailed in travelling a coach he had routinely witnessed on the streets of London, he insisted on walking from London to Yorkshire as a form of protest; the journey took six weeks, and Woolman died as a result. 


In discussing equine mistreatment during the eighteenth century and the 'efforts of the lash' which formed a constituent part of this, it is certainly necessary to examine Robert Bloomfield's The Farmer's Boy. Published in 1800, the poem addresses a farm horse named Dobbin and effectively upbraids him - relegating his toil, his 'trivial hardships', in comparison to that faced by the 'poor post-horse'. Post-horses, whilst certainly distinct from coach-horses, were the horses residing at inns or post-houses for use by post-riders or for hire by travellers and so served a not too dissimilar purpose.


Extract from The Farmer’s Boy (1800), Robert Bloomfield


Short-sighted DOBBIN!...thou canst only see
The trivial hardships that encompass thee:
Thy chains were freedom, and thy toils repose,
Could the poor post-horse tell thee all his woes;
Shew thee his bleedin
g shoulders, and unfold
The dreadful anguish he endures for gold
:ir'd at each call of business, lust, or rage,
That prompt the trav'eller on from stage to stage.
Still on his strength depen
ds their boasted speed;
For them his limbs grow weak, his bare ribs bleed;
And though he groaning quickens at command,
Their extra shilling in the rider's hand
Becomes his bitter scourge:...'tis he must feel
The double efforts of the lash and steel;
Till when, up-hill, the destin'd inn he gains,
And trembling under complicated pains,
Prone from his nostrils, darting on the ground,
His breath emitted floats in clouds around:
Drops chase each other down his chest and sides,
And spatter'd mud his native colour hides:
Through his swoln veins the boiling torrent flows,
And every nerve a separate torture knows.
His harness loos'd, he welcomes eager-eyed
The pail's full draught that quivers by his side;
And joys to see the well-known stable door,
As the starv'd mariner the friendly shore.
Ah, well for him if here his suff'rings ceas'd,
And ample hours of rest his pains appeas'd!
But rous'd again, and sternly bade to rise,
And shake refreshing slumber from his eyes,
Ere his exhausted spirits can return,
Or through his frame reviving ardour burn,|
Come forth he must, though limping, maim'd, and sore;
He hears the whip; the chaise is at the door:...
The collar tightens, and again he feels
His half-heal'd wounds inflam'd; again the wheels
With tiresome sameness in his ears resound,
O'er blinding dust, or miles of flinty ground.
Thus nightly robb'd, and injur'd day by day
His piece-meal murd'rers wear his life away.
What say'st thou, Dobbin? what though hounds await
With open jaws the moment of thy fate
No better fate attends his public race;
His life is misery, and his end disgrace.
Then freely bear thy burden to the mill,
Obey but one short law,...thy driver's will.
Affection, to thy memory ever true,
Shall boast of mighty loads that Dobbin drew; (1277-1324)


The notions drawn upon by Bloomfield surrounding the treatment of horses and the usage of the whip present themselves as remarkably in-keeping with that visible within Hogarth's print, and indeed Perkins' commentary, on the subject of coach-horses. Whereas the 'extra shilling in the rider's hand / Becom[ing] his bitter scourge' and provoking the 'double efforts of the lash' resonates with the overloading of the coach with the lawyers ultimately resulting in the horse's injury and the subsequent beating of it within Hogarth's Second Stage of Cruelty (the parallel, here, being the added exploitation of the horse for monetary gain and the culpability of the whip within this), the line 'Thus nightly robb'd, and injur'd day by day' perhaps recalls Perkins' exposure of the manner in which coachman would take out horses upon the point of exhaustion in darkness so as to conceal their wretched condition.



Whipping within the Slave Trade


Within the British slave trade during the eighteenth century, the whip could certainly be viewed as the most physically and psychologically ubiquitous symbol of racial oppression; the whip, in its ability to instill fear (and, thus, by way of extension, discipline) within the slave, became the indispensible instrument of the slave-driver, and indeed, the entirety of the institution. It is notable that, on the plantation or in the household, the master and his delegates could generally apply this form of physical coercion ‘without recourse to, and unusually checked by, any external authority’ (391). Were the punishment to result in a slave’s death, the master ‘almost always escaped the retribution: essentially, the owner could punish as he wished, although theoretically he might be fined for “wantonly” killing his slave’ (Phillips 391) – that is to say, the law provided slaves with virtually no protection from their masters or overseers. Indeed, blacks were unable to give testimony in court so the latter knew they were relatively safe in handing out whippings, even if largely undeserved. Notably, overseers in particular were generally under considerable pressure from the plantation owners (from whom a certain degree of power has been delegated) to maximise profits; this was achieved via the coercion of slaves into increased productivity and, in turn, this was achieved via increased application of the whip for slave perceived to be slacking. William Box Brown, a slave residing in Richmond writing about an overseer on the tobacco plantation at which he worked, reported: ‘On one occasion I saw him [Stephen Bennett, his overseer] take a slave, whose name was Pinkney, and make him take off his shirt; he then tied his hands and gave him one hundred lashes on his bare back; and all this, because he lacked three pounds of his task, which was valued at six cents' (in context, according to www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency/, the equivalent of six cents would have been under five pence).






In essence, the cat-o’-nine-tails is a style of whip consisting of nine knotted lashes or cords, typically leather and coated with tar, and each having a knot at the end for added impact; since its origin is believed to date back to ancient Egypt, where the domestic cat was hailed as sacred, the nine cords are intended to represent the nine lives of a cat. Fascinatingly, the cat-o’-nine-tails whip offers the origins of certain colloquial phrases which have endured into the modern day – notably, the saying ‘no room to swing a cat’ and to ‘let the cat out of the bag’ (the whip was typically kept in a bag on-board the ship, and so its removal from said bag indicated that a flogging was imminent). Interestingly, even in this context there appears to have been some following for the concept of whipping as a kind of transmission of benefit: Egyptians commonly subscribed to the belief that, when beaten with cat hide, the victim would gain virtue from the whip.



Yetman’s account in his slave narrative offers a particularly illuminating account of slaves’ punishment via the cat o’ nine tails:


I saw a lot of slaves whupped and I was whupped myself. Dey whupped me with de cat-o’-nine-tails. It had nine lashes on it. Some of the slaves was whupped with a cobbin paddle. Dey had forty holes in ‘em an’ when you was buckled to a barrel dey hit your naked flesh wid de paddle an’ everywhere dere was a hole in the paddle it drawed a blister. When the whuppin’ with de paddle was over, dey took the cat-o’-nine-tails and busted de blisters. By dis time de blood sometimes would be runnin’ down dere heels. Den de next thing was a wash in salt water strong enough to hold up an egg. Slaves was punished dat way for runnin’ away an’ such.

Yetman’s account provides a useful segway into the possibility of certain variants or additions to the structure of , the cat-o’-nine-tails for enhanced effect; whilst sometimes additional leather straps could be braided onto the nine existing straps for a greater surface area, sometimes the existing leather straps could be perforated so as to leave a blister upon contact with the flesh wherever a hole was present. A similar effect is recounted by Yetman in relation to the paddle he discusses: ‘Dey had forty holes in ‘em an’ when […] dey hit your naked flesh wid de paddle an’ everywhere dere was a hole in the paddle it drawed a blister’. A second routine practice with regards to whipping noted by Yetman, not at all dissimilar to that practised in the navy also (as aforementioned), is the ‘salt water cure’ (or so called by slaveholders) for the slave’s raw and open wounds, which served to aggravate the slave’s pain and was employed as a form of secondary punishment after severe whipping. 



Flagellation and Sexuality - John Cleland's Fanny Hill and Other Erotica 

Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, John Cleland

John Cleland's Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1749) is certainly an example of a work of erotica in which flagellation operates only as a sidelined feature rather than constituting a thematic strand of any eminence across the narrative as a whole. However, the relevant passage within Fanny Hill - that is, the account of the manner in which the nominal character accommodates Mr. Barville's sadomasochistic desires - interestingly does bear the mark of the sub-genre that would develop thereafter in its own right. Most notably, the symbolism of the colour white and the presence of blood in stark contrast to it acquire great significance within Cleland's passage: 


I was then, by Mrs. Cole, brought in, and presented to him, in a loose dishabille fitted, by her direction, to the exercise I was to go through, all in the finest linen and a thorough white uniform: gown, petticoat, stocking, and satin slippers, like a victim led to sacrifice [...] every lash had skimmed the surface of those white cliffs, which they deeply reddened, and lapping round the side of the furthermost from me, cut specially, into the dimple of it, such livid weals, as the blood either spun out from, or stood in large drops on. (145, 147)


The colour white, as ultimately a symbol of purity and supposed innocence, prevails yet again within this passage, manifest within terms of dress ('a thorough white uniform [...] like a victim led to sacrifice') as well as through the white flesh of the buttocks {'white cliffs'); indeed, her buttocks are later to be 'deeply reddened' and tainted by 'the blood [that] stood in large drops', evoking the imagery of blood so often harnessed within literature of this type during the period. 

Perhaps more illuminating, however, is the sheer consistency demonstrated between the passage and the medical case put forward by Meiborn (see below): 


What yet increased the oddity of this strange fancy was the gentleman being young; whereas it generally attacks, it seems, such as are, through age, obliged to have recourse to this experiment, for quickening the circulation of their sluggish juices, and determining a conflux of the spirits of pleasure towards those flagging shrivelly parts, that rise to life only by virtue of those titillating ardours created by the discipline of their opposites, with which they have so surprising a consent [...] for that machine of him, which I had, by its appearance, taken for an impalpable, or at least a very diminutive subject, was now, in virtue of all that smart and havoc of his skin behind, grown not only to a prodigious stiffness of erection, but to a size that frighted even me: a non-pareil thickness indeed! (143, 147)


Cleland, in no uncertain terms, draws upon the notion of flagellation as having some grounding in its curative powers, with Fanny's arguments (that of the London prostitute) resonating with that of the physician through their precise reference to 'the quickening [of] the circulation of sluggish juices'.  


Figure 8 (left): Fanny Hill is depicted flagellating Mr. Barville, in John Cleland, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, 1766. 
Figure 9 (right):  
John Cleland, Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, 1766.


The Harlot’s Progress (1732), William Hogarth


Even within William Hogarth's The Harlot's Progress, flagellation features in the form of one of its manifold allusions: the bundle of birch sticks affixed to the wall just above Moll's bed (hanging beneath the witch's hat, on the adjacent wall to that adorned by the periwig), as well as a reference to some form of black magic (specifically, that prostitution is the devil's work perhaps), points to flagellation as an erotic speciality ultimately for hire. The inclusion of an instrument of flagellation in the inventory of paraphernalia adorning Hogarth's plate (indeed, birches such as these were frequently confiscated in raids on London brothels) suggest Moll is catering to deviant tastes in the course of her profession. Whilst the practice only operates on the periphery of Hogarth's work and so cannot be considered at too much length, it is notable that flagellation as a sexual practice, as signalled by the birch, has very much been absorbed into the broader spectrum of prostitution as a means to exploit certain, and certainly very real, sexual tendencies within eighteenth-century society. 


Figure 10: Third plate - William Hogarth, A Harlot's Progress.


As aptly noted by Julie Peakman, John Cleland’s Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure constituted ‘a defining moment in English erotica, not just in applying novelistic technique to this brand of writing, but in recognisation of flagellation as a method with which to 'exploit English sexual fantasies’ (161). Whilst Cleland’s was by no means the first piece of erotica to register flagellation as a sexual predilection (flagellation had consisted in British seventeenth-century erotic writing and continued to proliferate into the nineteenth-century), it did assume something of a catalytic role in giving rise to an entire host of such flagellation scenes which would follow from it and would continue to circulate in eighteenth-century England. Later, Henry Spencer Ashbee would come to verify that ‘no English bawdy book is free from descriptions of flagellation, and numerous separate plates exist, depicting whipping scenes’. Indeed, in any discussion of the sadomasochistic tendencies in literature during the period, a passing mention must go to the works of Marquis de Sade: exemplified perhaps by works such as The 120 Days of Sodom (1785), Justine (1791) and Philosophy in the Bedroom (1795) to name but a few, de Sade's writing was pervaded by all manner of extreme sadistic and generally 'taboo' practices (whipping undoubtedly one of the tamer such practices), these serving to render a kind of libertine sexuality within his texts unrestrained by religion, morality or law.


It is worth noting, at this point, that the erotica of flagellation was ‘not merely a fantastical whim, but was wrought from flagellation practices in everyday life’ (Peakman 166) – that is to say, this new potent form of whipping fantasy entailed within erotic literature, poems, chapbooks, magazines, plays and pornography of the period were principally a response to those already occurring on the peripheries of British culture. For instance, the Bon Ton magazine, dated December 1792, reported that a club for ‘Female Flagellants’ met in Jermyn Street, London, every Thursday evening in order to indulge their passions; whilst it is not possible to state for sure as to whether the magazine was relating fact or fiction through this report, since the publication had some notoriety on account of its gossiping, it nonetheless evokes the trending preoccupations of the day. Indeed, the prevalence of these clandestine practices was so extensive as to enable the emergence of new sub-genre of fictional flagellation erotica during the last quarter of the eighteenth century, in which such practices would ultimately be crystallised. Colloquially named ‘fladge’, this genre set itself apart from the flagellation erotica that preceded it via the sheer pervasiveness of the flagellatory narrative within the text; rather than being sidelined or marginalised in favour of other, more common sexual activities, the sado-masochistic element would constitute a major thematic intention.


Within this new sub-genre, it is notable that the domestic arena became a popular site for the flagellation entailed; flagellation erotica underwent a relocation from the popular French setting of the convent to the familial parlour, nursery or schoolroom as the typical erotic backdrop (although cloister novels would undoubtedly remain popular). In Exhibition of Female Flagellants, a certain Miss L. (a ‘votary to birch-discipline’) even opens a boarding school specifically in order to indulge her sexual fantasies orientated around flagellation, ‘whipping sometimes a dozen girls a day’ (53). As such, the relationships between whipper and whipped became instilled with a domestic element – the authority figure would tend to be a mother, stepmother or a governess – in turn, introducing both paedophiliac and incestuous overtones to the scenes concerned, in which children ultimately became figured as sexual fodder.
Figures 11 & 12: Anon, Thérèse Philosophe, 1785

Flogging in the household


When studying the notion of sexualised flogging within the household, as can often be descried within eighteenth-century erotica, it is important to note that ‘wife-beating in the eighteenth century was placed above the law’ (Peakman 166), in a sense – that is to say, the beating of wives was accepted practice. Such is drawn upon by Havelock Ellis, who perceives sadomasochistic practices as mere points along an erotic continuum, regularly consisting of the intensification of acts widely regarded as ‘normal’ concomitants of sexual activity.

However, the fictional depiction of flogging in the household can not be seen as such with regards to whipping within marriage: early eighteenth-century chapbooks were known to carry themes of beatings, but these entailed a wholesale inversion of the matrimonial hierarchy in which husbands were treated to a sound thrashing by their wives. Contrary to the reductive assumptions of early sexologists who tended to form gender-biased assumptions, perceiving sadism as merely an excessive manifestation of inherent male aggression (and, by extension, masochism as an exaggeration of the submissive role allotted to women), then, the nature of this flagellation was entirely unfounded within the normal context of marital power dynamics. Fears of the domination of men at the hands of women surfaced, for instance, in The World Turned Upside Down, or the Folly of Man in its twelve satirical verses (see below), as well as Simple Simon’s Misfortunes and his Wife Margery’s Cruelty. Within the latter, Margery is depicted as, having ‘snatched up Jobson’s oaken staff of [sic] the table’, giving ‘Simon such a clank on the noodle, as made the blood spin’, before soundly flagellating him and becoming ‘as drunk as fishwomen’ with her avidly gossiping friends. The extent to which such an inversion of gender roles bore weight during the period is demonstrated not least by the fact that this particular text reached such popularity as to merit seven reprints between the years of 1710 and 1825.


Figure 13: Frontispiece and title-page to Anon, The World Turned Upside Down, or the Folly Of Man.


Flogging as a school discipline


Flagellation practices, as aforementioned, common in public schools, were reflected in plays, mainstream novels and poems as a matter of commonplace. For instance, the 1790 production of The Opera of Il Penseroso eulogised, in a sense, methods of punishment at Eton College. Advertised as ‘a performance both vocal and instrumental as it is acted with authority, at the Royal Theatres of Eton & Westminster’ (emphasis added), and with principal characters Mr Twigg-Him, Mr Monitor and Miss Birch, the extent to which whipping permeates the play was made undisputedly clear from the outset. Indeed, the body of the text itself is riddled with such double entendres so as to celebrate the instrument of flagellation: ‘our hero must be unmasked, that no tender part may unfeelingly be passed over; and that each masterly stroke in the performance may have its full force and emphasis, the more speedily to draw tears’ (emphasis added).

Fascinatingly, and really evoking the clandestine nature of flagellation as a practice, conduct literature for young boys during the period – despite ostensibly warning said boys of the dangers of naughtiness – often read more as though it were a thinly veiled piece of erotica. Such was similarly the case with correspondence supposedly on disciplining children observable within magazines during the period – most expressly in the Gentleman’s Magazine, prominent in the 1730s, and the Bon Ton of the 1790s.


Indeed, the extent to which the erotic flagellation depicted within this new sub-genre drew upon the actuality of the disciplinary practice is elucidated by Jean-Jacques Rousseau's frank and posthumously published Confessions (1782), which similarly evokes the element of sexual gratification underlying corporal punishment: 


Miss Lambercier felt a mother’s affection, she sometimes exerted a mother’s authority, even to inflicting on us when we deserved it, the punishment of infants. She had often threatened it, and this threat of a treatment entirely new, appeared to me extremely dreadful; but I found the reality much less terrible than the idea, and what is still more unaccountable, this punishment increased my affection for the person who had inflicted it. All this affection, aided by my natural mildness, was scarcely sufficient to prevent my seeking, by fresh offences, a return of the same chastisement; for a degree of sensuality had mingled with the smart and shame, which left more desire than fear of a repetition. I was well convinced the same discipline from her brother would have produced a quite contrary effect.


The revelation of the infant Rousseau's active seeking of the 'same chastisement', with its admixture of 'sensuality [...] with the smart and shame', and, indeed, the notion that the brother of his female tutor could not have produced the same effect, all attest to the specifically psychological element of sexuality belying the act of punishment. 


Curative powers of flagellation


Besides its appearance as a sexual predilection in the eighteenth-century, flagellation was perceived as a cure for impotence. Writers provided anatomical reasons as to why stimulation, albeit painful, in the gluteal area could evoke arousal in the contiguous genital organs. Edmund Curll’s A Treatise of the Use of Flogging in Venereal Affairs in 1718, notably a reprint of Johann Heinrich Meiborn’s 1629 essay De Flagrorum Usu in Re Veneria & Lumborum Renumque Officio (translated as On the Use of Flogging in Venereal Matters and in the Office of the Loins and the Reins), serves to testify to the persisting conviction of the curative powers of the whip even into the eighteenth century (but not having arose within the eighteenth century). Within said document, the following conclusions are made: 


I further conclude that Strokes upon the Back and Loins, as Parts appropriated for the Generating of the seed, and carrying it to the Genitals, warm and inflame those Parts, and contribute very much to the irritation of Lechery. From all which, it is no wonder that such shameless wretches, Victims of a detested appetite, such as we have mention’d, or others by too frequent a Repetition, the Loins and their vessels being drains have sought for a remedy by FLOGGING. (34) 

Within eighteenth-century discourse, the line that demarcated pornography and medical literature was undoubtedly ‘a fine one’ (Peakman 169) – and, indeed, one which appeared to fluctuate. Despite the widespread knowledge of Meiborn’s work among the educated strata of society, Curll was even prosecuted for his re-publication of it, the prosecutor opposing it on the grounds of obscenity.

The notion of whipping as ultimately curative persists into another of Curll’s work, A Treatise of Hermaphrodites, which features two women alternating gender roles whilst indulging in the practice. Upon Barbarissa – the reportedly less masculine of the two – having difficulties in obtaining an ‘erection of her Female Member’, her lover Margureta flogs her with a birch rod.

Interestingly, those advocating the corporal disciplining of children often ‘latched on to the curative powers of flogging as an example of its beneficial effects’ (Peakman 170): such is illustrated through one particular London letter, dated 6 December 1795 in the monthly issue of the Bon Ton (375-6). Evoking the nature of society (‘an age so dissolute, that if young girls are not kept under some sort of restraint, and punished when they deserve it, we shall see, by and bye [sic], nothing but women of the town parading our streets and public places’), before recommending the medicinal powers of flagellation, as hailed by physicians (‘nothing tends more to promote the circulation of the blood than a good rod, made of new birch, and well applied to the posteriors’), the anonymous writer goes onto assert the ultimately harmless nature of the rod (‘birch breaks no bones, and therefore can do no great harm […] the harm it does is very trifling, when put in comparison to the evils it can prevent’).  


Themes in flagellation fiction

When examining the development of the flagellation narrative as its own distinct sub-genre, the emergence of commonplace scenarios, thematic strands and motifs contributing to its highly formulaic character cannot be neglected.



The image of blood on the skin, particular on contrastingly white skin, constituted an essential ingredient which pervaded much of the flagellation fiction produced during the eighteenth century. Such is demonstrated through the Exhibition of Female Flagellants, for instance, an anecdotal and prosaic collection predominated by conversation between two women, Flirtilla and Clarissa, whereby discipline as inflicted upon the pupil by her governess acquires the bloodied buttocks as its sexually-charged focal point: ‘All which the lovely disciplinarian listens to with the utmost delight, running over with rapture at the same time those white, angelic orbs, that in a few minutes she crimsons as deep as the finest rose, with a well-exercised and elegantly-handed rod!’(8)

Elsewhere, blood can be perceived in connection with sexual fervour – the notion of the heroine’s blood rising as a manifestation of passion coming to the fore. Such alluded to in Flirtilla’s case: ‘[I] felt her [the governess’s] soft angelic hand catch hold of my arm to bring me to the sopha [sic], my blood mantled within me as if I had been in a fever’ (14).


Figure 14: Frontispiece and title-page to Anon, Exhibition of Female Flagellants in the Modest and Incontinent World, reprint c. 1840.



Within the sub-genre, a very particular manner of dress prevailed as a means to underscore the (generally, elite or upper-middling) class of the protagonists, and, in turn, to compound the image of the leading character(s) - that is, the character leading the whipping - as recognisably that of the strict and controlled disciplinarian female. As noted by Peakman, ‘this added to the excitement when she invariably collapsed in a frenzy of uncontrolled sexual abandonment’ (181). Generally, extravagant ornamentation and costly jewellery were instrumental in cultivating such an image. Harking back to the Exhibition of Female Flagellants, such a trope is borne out through Flirtilla’s observations of Lady Caroline: as she ‘idolised Lady Caroline’s hand and arm, [she] could not bear to see it hold the rod without the ornaments of pearls, bracelets, a wedding and diamond rings’ (31).




Typically donned by the party inflicting the flagellation, gloves developed as ‘a curious yet popular phenomenon’ (Peakman 182), employed for a dual function: first, to signify the power held by the wearer, and second, perhaps more crucially, to denote their sexual experience in the practice of flagellation.

One extract from an anecdote related in Bon Ton (November 1795) – an episode whereby a mother disciplines her two daughters –  is particularly illuminating on the subject:


And you, Miss; give me my purple kid mitts out of that drawer and tell Molly to come up to my bedroom […] When she had received the mitts, she drew them on her arms, fastening them up so tight that they looked almost like her skin […] her skin was almost as white as the white kid gloves she had on, and which she held on her backside to save the strokes.


Evident here is a particular ritual prominent within the eighteenth-century flagellation narrative; the donning of (specifically) purple gloves, as opposed to ordinary white ones, implicitly indicated on a second level the switch from the business of everyday life to that of sexual "performance". The symbolic associations of the colour white with purity (particularly, with regards to sexual innocence here) are borne out in the extract – not only within the context of the white gloves, but also in terms of the flesh (as aforementioned, commonly evoked in stark contrast to the crimson blood constituting a by-product of such harsh whipping).



Annotated Bibliography


Primary sources


Anon. Exhibition of Female Flagellants. London: n.p., n.d. 


Whilst this text was instrumental in informing the entirety of the section concerning flagellation as a sexual predilection, barring the study of its specifically curative powers, it proved perhaps most useful in providing concrete evidence for the various thematic strands and recurrent motifs in "fladge" erotica noted by Peakman and other commentators.


Anon. "A Paradox against Liberty." Miscellanies and Collections, 1660-1750. Cambridge: Chadwyck-Healey, 1993. Accessed via Literature Online:


The extract from this poem was largely employed in order to demonstrate the extent to which whipping was seen as entailing a form of transfusion whereby obedience and wisdom were literally thrashed into the errant pupil - the practice was perceived as conferring a form of blessing.


Anon. The Opera of ll Penseroso. London: n.p., c.1790. Accessed via the Peakman document.  


Despite the fact that only a fleeting reference to this particular eighteenth-century text was included in the body of the "Wiki", the performance cited operates as a clear (and humourous) illustration of the thinly veiled sexual dimension inhering to the notion of school discipline and its dramatisation during the period.


Anon. Simple Simon’s Misfortunes and his Wife Margery’s Cruelty which Began The Very next Morning after their Marriage. London: n.p, c.1710. Accessed via Historical Texts (ECCO):

This text provided a convenient example of the gendered power play operating across whipping as a sexual practice and the manner in which it featured in erotica; within the private sphere and the marital domain, if only within fictive writings, there occurred an inversion of the conventional patriarchy.


Bentham, Jeremy. The Rationale of Punishment. London: Robert Heward, 1830. Accessed via University of Warwick Library.  


Bentham proved particularly useful as one of the foremost commentators on the arbitrary qualities of flagellation as a form of judicial discipline in his critique of the extent to which the severity of punishment depended upon the caprice of the executioner involved. His less seriously considered contrivance of a 'whipping machine' to inflict such punishment provided a fascinating sidenote as a kind of exemplification of the commonly dealt critique of arbitrary flagellation.


Bloomfield, Robert. The Farmer's Boy. 1827 (posthumously published). Accessed via Literature Online:<http://literature.proquest.com/searchFulltext.do?id=Z200282854&childSectionId=Z200282854&divLevel


Coming at the very end of the century, Bloomfield's poem seemed almost as if a continuation of the social ills with which Hogarth concerned himself regarding the equine deployment of the whip and the almost symbolic role it assumed within the context of cruelty towards animals.


Bon Ton magazine. December 1792, November 1795, December 1795. 

Various extracts from issues of this prominent eighteenth-century magazine really enhanced the section of my project focussing on whipping within the context of sexuality; it could be said that, through this medium, I gained my most acutely authentic glimpse into the matter as a social issue of the day.


Brown, William. Narrative of William W. Brown, A Fugitive Slave. Boston: Anti-Slavery Office, 1847. Accessed via Project Gutenberg (2005): 


Having witnessed a particular incident of flagellation within the context of slavery on a tobacco plantation, as dealt out by the overseer, Brown's account was useful in the sense that it provided empirical evidence for the overseer, Brown's account was useful in the sense that it provided empirical evidence for the wanton cruelty to which slaves were subjected.


Cleland, John. Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. 1749. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. 

Needless to say, Cleland's Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, was included due to its featuring on the module syllabus. Prior to undertaking the project, however, I had not fully appreciated the extent to which the whipping episode within the text conformed to the commonplace motifs of such erotica during the period. It is worth noting that this is an example, also, of an earlier text in which this sadomasochistic element of sexuality was yet to feature as a thematic strand dominating the plotline of erotic texts.


Fraxi, Pisanus [Henry Spencer Ashbee]. Index Librorum Prohibitorum, Centuria Librorum Absconditorum and Catena Librorum
. London: privately printed, 1877. Accessed via the Peakman document. 


Henry Spencer Ashbee, whilst commenting significantly outside the range of the period, does nonetheless attest to the evolution of erotic literature throughout the eighteenth century to the point where flagellation erotica came to predominate in the early stages of the nineteenth. The necessity of the use of a pseudonym in itself (Pisanus Fraxi) is a point of interest in conveying the clandestine aspect of   eighteenth-century circulation of erotic literature.


Grainger, James. The Sugar-Cane. 1764. Accessed via Literature Online:


As well as simply providing an instance of the whip employed as a symbol of the oppressor within the context of western slavery, Grainger's poem aptly demonstrates the extent to which the literature of the day condemning the practice of whipping and the system of slavery in general was couched specifically in terms of the inhumanity entailed within the whip. 


Grubb, John. "The British Heroes: or, A New Ballad in Honour of St. George." Poems upon Several Occasions. 1713. Accessed via Literature Online:

Grubb's poem proved useful solely in its depiction of a commonplace practice in the discipline of whipping within education - that is, the soaking of the birch rod in liquid prior to contact - and the primary motivations behind this practice.

Ilive, Jacob. Reasons Offered for the Reformation of the House of Correction in Clerkenwell. London: J. Scott, 1757. Accessed via Historical Texts (ECCO):

This explicitly rendered indictment of whipping as a judicial practice, or rather, the arbitrary manner in which whipping was executed during the period, provided a very directly issued criticism which informed my findings on this particular element of the practice. It was certainly an interesting example of the contesting discourse surrounding whipping within the eighteenth-century.      


Jacob, Giles. Tractatus de hermaphroditis, or, A Treatise of Hermaphrodites. London: E.Curll, 1718. 


In its depiction of two women engaged in whipping in its sexual context, alternating gender roles, Giles's work simply provided a useful example of a fictional text subscribing to the relatively commonplace beliefs in flagellation as a cure for impotence.


Kant, Immanuel. Kant on Educatio [Über Pädagogik]1804. Trans. E. Buchner. New York: AMS Press, 1971. 


Kant's commentary on the nature of education was useful in offering further support to the Lockean argument of discipline via whipping as something of a final resort - only to be implemented once moral punishments had been exhausted. It is notable that the work contains a translation of Kant's lecture notes on for a course in education, as well as selections on education from his other writings; therefore, the ideas expressed are cumulatively built up throughout the eighteenth century despite the 1804 publication date.


Locke, John. Some Thoughts Concerning Education. London: n.p., 1693. Accessed via Defining Gender:


Locke's writings were particularly useful in providing an impression of the circumstances in which whipping was seen as an acceptable practice within the sphere of education - that is, the point at which physical modes of punishment became permissible. 


Meibomius, John Henry. A Treatise Of the Use of Flogging in Venereal Affairs: Also of the Office of the Loins and Reins. London:E. Curll, 1718. 34. Accessed via Historical Texts:

The fact that Meibornius's document outlining the supposed curative powers of flagellation - as a counter to sexual impotence - was republished by Curll alone bespeaks the ongoing popularity of this form of painful stimulation as a medically relevant practice throughout the eighteenth-century. Indeed, the controversy its publication incurred was very useful as evidence of the thin line demarcating erotica and supposedly medical literature during the period.


Meister, Jacques Henri. Letters Written During a Residence in England. London: T.N Longman, 1799. Accessed via Google Books: 

Although only one short quote was taken from this primary source, in particular, it was nonetheless useful, in that it provided an outsider's perspective on the supposed cruelty exhibited on the streets of London during this time, this cruelty inextricably associated with whipping.   


The Penny Magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. 23 May 1835. 


This magazine featured in my project as a source of primary material far less than the Bon Ton, but in the specific writings from Grosley it did provide it enabled me to appreciate an alternative view of the treatment of horses to that claimed by the majority of the sources I examined on the topic, Hogarth's work for example - this was a view placing the emphasis on the whip as a mere instrument with which to provide threat to the horses concerned, rather than to ultimately follow through.


Pratt, Samuel. Humanity. 1788. Accessed via Literature Online:


Included deliberately alongside the poems of Grainger and Yearsley within the body of the article, Pratt's poem follows a similar vein and proved useful specifically for this reason. Within this poem in particular, the sense of inhumanity pervading the depiction of the whip in all three is here most explicitly rendered, providing its very namesake even.


Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Confessions. 1782. Accessed as English translation via Project Gutenberg (2004):<http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/3913

The frankness with which Rousseau conveys various episodes within his infancy in this autobiographical work was of great benefit to me in revealing the extent to which the contemporary erotica - depicting corporal punishment within education as tinged by the sexual gratification received from it - was embedded in eighteenth-century actuality. As well as this, his work testifies to the often distinctly psychological nature of the enjoyment gained.


Saxby, Mary. Memoirs of a Female Vagrant, written by herself. London: Dunstable, 1806. Accessed via the Peakman document.

I referred to this document solely for the benefit of an anecdote contained within it. Saxby's account of her private whipping revealed two attributes of the punishment upon which much of my examination of whipping within this sector was focused: both the extent to which the punishment arbitrarily hinged on the temper of its executioner, as well as the element of shame playing an instrumental part in the retributive aspect of judicially circumscribed whipping. Although the document is dated at 1806, the episode of which she speaks crucially occurs during the eighteenth century.


Woodhouselee, A. F. T. An Essay on Military Law, and the Practice of Courts Martial. Edinburgh: Murray & Cochrane, 1800. Accessed via Historical Texts (ECCO):

This particular essay was useful in revealing the fact that military law, not dissimilar to that imposed by the Old Bailey in this respect, was relatively erratic in its handling of punishments - meted out for wildly different offences. Whereas specific cases of these were drawn from other sources, Woodhouselee's arguments did provide an overarching impression of the martial courts in distribution of punishment


Woolman, John. A Journal of the Life, Gospel Labours, and Christian Experiences, of that Faithful Minister of Jesus Christ, John Woolman. Dublin: R. Jackson, 1776. Accessed via Historical Texts (ECCO):

As one of the most outspoken critics on the maltreatment of animals during the period, Woolman's vehement condemnation of the cruelty enacted by the whip-bearing coachman within the profit culture of the eighteenth century certainly proved useful.  


Yearsley, Ann. A Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave Trade. 1788. Accessed via Literature Online:<http://literature.proquest.com/searchFulltext.do?id=Z200545262&childSectionId=Z200545262&divLevel=2&queryId=284944813

As aforementioned, the inclusion of Yearsley's poem, by and large, stems from the same motivations as that of Grainger and Pratt, Worth nothing, however - Yearsley attests to a sense of the slave-driver, or overseer, as parasitic in his "feeding" off of the hardships of the slaves and utterly sadistic in his taking delight from their toil and their pain. Her poem, it could be said, provides the most biting condemnation in its terms of conveyance. 


Secondary sources


Phillips, William D. The Cambridge World History of Slavery Volume 3: AD 1420-AD 1804. Ed. David Eltis and Stanley L. Engerman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Accessed via Cambridge Histories Online: 

As well as giving a fairly comprehensive overview of the nature of slavery during the period, this source provided primary anecdotal evidence, which proved highly useful - these anecdotes, in particular, revealing the nature of the whip, the severity of the punishments inflicted, and the practices surrounding usage of the whip. 


Hay, Douglas, and Peter Linebaugh. Albion's Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth Century England. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975. Accessed via Google Books: 

Commenting on discipline within the British military, Hay, similarly to other commentators, asserts that no formal or objective set of rules was enforced; rather, the distribution of punishment (whipping included) largely depended upon ethical or practical judgements.


Hitchcock, Tim. Down and Out in Eighteenth-Century London. London: Bloomsbury, 2004. Accessed via Google Books:<http://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Down_and_Out_in_Eighteenth_Century_Londo.html?id=ZPu7AAAAIAAJ&redir_esc=y> 


Although not directly quoted in the body of the text, this source was invaluable to me throughout the course of the project - primarily in alerting me to the expense entailed in the practice of disciplinary judicial whipping, but also reinforcing the testimony also made by other texts as to its ultimately arbitrary element.    


McLynn, Frank. Crime and Punishment in Eighteenth Century England. London: Routledge, 2013. Accessed via Google Books:<http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ylf8t7uSGJEC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false>     


 The writings of McLynn were discovered fairly late within the course of the development of the project, but reassuringly the  conclusions  drawn by McLynn testified to my own findings from the study of primary sources. He aptly notes, not only the disparities  in the actual  application of whipping, but in the severity of the offences for which it was meted out as punishment. 


Peakman, Julie. Mighty Lewd Books: The Development of Pornography in Eighteenth-Century England. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Accessed via University of Warwick Library:

Peakman's work in unearthing the nature of the - often clandestine - circulation of erotic writing, the nature of such writing, and its social impact in eighteenth-century England, was invaluable to me in my examination of flagellation was a sexual predilection and subject matter for erotica during the period. Peakman's text, which devotes an entire chapter to the practice, provided something of a springboard at times for further avenues of thought and the discovery of other related sources.


Perkins, David. "Romanticism and Animal Rights." Studies in Romanticism. 43.3 (2004): 482-5. 
Accessed via JSTOR:<http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/25601692?sid=21105432797191&uid=3738032&uid=70&uid=4&uid=2129&uid=2

Perkins' study, particularly that examining the notion of animal rights during the period, was useful in examining the employment of the whip with regards to coachmanship and equestrian practices. Naturally, it acted as a convenient supplement to my study of Hogarth's print condemning the maltreatment of horses, with which the whip was frequently associated.  


Steppler, G. A. "British Military Law, Discipline, and the Conduct of Regimental Courts Martial in the Later Eighteenth Century." The English Historical Review. 102.405 (1987): 859-86. Accessed via JSTOR:

This article, in its exposure of the extent to which those in the upper echelons of the military were frequently exempt from the spectre of the whip within the eighteenth-century, further informed the arbitrary quality which (in the course of my findings) seemed to pervade both the military and the punishments inflicted by the Old Bailey alike.




Figure 1 - Google Ngram Viewer, generated at: <https://books.google.com/ngrams>

Figure 2 - Ibid. 


Figure 3 - Accessed through British Museum catalogue:

Figure 4 - Accessed through British Museum catalogue:

Figure 5 - William Hogarth, The Four Stages of Cruelty: Second Stage of Cruelty. Etching and engraving (458 x 385 mm). 1
February 1751. Accessed through Tate Britain:

Figure 6 - Sourced from Liverpool National Museum Maritime Collection. 

Figure 7 - Accessed through Wikipedia media:

Figure 8 - John Cleland, Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. 1749. London: George Fenton, 1766. Plates depicting flagellation were incorporated into the book, taken from the edition whose bibliographical information is stated in this entry.


FIgure 9 - Ibid.

Figure 10 - Third plate from series: William Hogarth, A Harlot's Progress. 1732.

Figure 11 - Anon, Thérèse Philosophe, 1785. Accessed within Peakman document (bibliographical information above).

Figure 12 - Ibid. 

Figure 13 - Frontispiece and title-page to Anon, The World Turned Upside Down, or the Folly Of Man. 

Figure 14 - Frontispiece and title-page to Anon, Exhibition of Female Flagellants in the Modest and Incontinent World, reprint c. 1840.

Dictionary Entries and Statistics


Oxford English Dictionary. Accessed via:


Johnson, Samuel. Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language. Accessed via: 


Criminal Trials and Confessions of the Old Bailey. Accessed via:


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