HC Deb 26 April 1861 vol 162 cc1191-5

said, he was anxious to call the attention of the House to some Returns which bad recently been laid before them in respect to the floggings inflicted on children in the various gaols of England. Hon. Members had just been expressing their indignation at the barbarity of the Chinese; but be hardly knew whether indignation or pity was more roused in considering the subject to which his question referred. That, in this nineteenth century, children who ought to be under tender surveillance, of the ages of 8, 9, 10, 11, and upwards, should be ar- bitrarily exposed to the lash in private in our gaols was an abuse of law which ought no longer to be tolerated. At Knutsford, according to the Return (and he would only take a few cases), a child of eight got 24 lashes; at Faversham two boys of nine got 15 lashes each; at Spilsby three boys of eleven, ten, and eleven got 10 and 12 lashes each with the cat, an instrument which inflicted immense pain. At Leicester a boy of eleven got 20 cuts with the cat, and when the wounds inflicted by those cuts were healed he had 14 more. At Morpeth a child of ten got 10 lashes with the cat, and another of ten 6 cuts with a new kind of instrument—a leathern strap. At Newcastle there was a perfectly scandalous list of floggings ordered by petty sessions. A child of eight was ordered 8 strokes with the eat, another child of eight 4 strokes, two children of ten and eleven 6 strokes, and three children of thirteen 15 strokes each. At Oxford two children of nine were ordered 24 strokes with the rod, and at Petworth children of seven, nine, and nine years were ordered 13, 10, and 15 strokes respectively. He had had forwarded to him an account of a private flogging at one of the gaols, written by a magistrate, which he would read to the House— I saw a boy marched along in custody, and was told that he was going to he flogged. His age was said to he eleven, but he was a little and delicate-looking child. He was committed the day previous for three days and to be once whipped for stealing. The boy was ordered to take off his trousers, and he was fastened by his wrist to the halberds, arms extended, and further secured by straps. The person who had to administer the punishment was a strong, stalwart man, and he was armed with a huge birch rod, about two feet six inches in length. The child received eight strokes, and then presented a picture of agony and terror, his eyes almost starting out of his head. I inquired how many such strokes constituted a flogging, and was told eighteen, and that that number was always inflicted if the prisoner's physical power would admit of it. I appealed to the surgeon, who said he could not interfere, so long as the boy was physically capable of enduring the punishment. I asked whether we, as magistrates, could not prevent its proceeding further, and was then told that we had the power to mitigate the sentence. This, of course, we at once did, as we should certainly have done at the first stroke had we received that intimation previously. I never witnessed so pitiful a scene, and hope I never shall again. Here was another instance— I once witnessed its infliction with the birch on three youths of about eighteen or nineteen. They had eighteen strokes each, and their screams, and writhings, and cries for mercy, testified to the severity of the punishment. One of them, after violent and fruitless struggles, fairly groaned with pain. The foregoing punishment is light compared with one with the cat, which a friend gave me an account of. The place were these floggings took place was a vaulted chamber under the gaol, where no sound could reach beyond those present. He could scarcely believe that such a thing was possible. The Returns, which he was glad had been printed for general circulation, read more like old tales of slavery, or of Eastern torture than of anything which could take place in England. It could scarcely be said that such punishments were necessary; for they were con fined to a few districts, mostly in the north, while in other districts they were not used at all. He did not deny that, in extreme cases, the thing ought to he done; but, that it should assume this ordinary character, and be inflicted on children of such tender years, who were often not themselves to blame, because they had been brought up in misery and crime was a national disgrace, and could never have been intended by the Legislature. He should be glad to hear from his right hon. Friend that he had had the subject under his consideration, and that he would be prepared to take some steps to put a stop to the practice.


said, he wished, before the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary rose to reply to ask him a question on the subject of the practice of flogging in prisons. The Returns already referred to by his hon. Friend (Mr. Kinnaird) near him related to 137 prisons, in sixty-three of which no flogging whatever had taken place either by sentence of the Courts or by order of the visiting justices. In twenty-two others there had been no corporeal punishment by order of the visiting justices. In twenty-six others the punishment had been inflicted partly by order of sessions and partly by the visiting justices, and in the twenty-six remaining prisons the punishment had been by order of the visiting justices only. Now, he submitted that it was never intended by the law that the punishment of whipping should be indiscriminately inflicted upon our criminals by order of visiting justices only. Another matter of which he complained was that no limit was placed on the visiting magistrate as to the number of lashes he might direct to be administered, or as to the instrument—cat-o'-nine-tails or birch—with which the punishment was to be inflicted; and, furthermore, that the punishments were inflicted in private, by which the public eye was drawn away from them; and the press was not allowed to report the proceedings. In many of the cases to which he had directed his observations, the infliction of the lash, no doubt, took place according to the caprice and temper of the visiting magistrate, and not in accordance with justice or the actual merits of the case. In the West Riding of Yorkshire prison, at Wakefield, whipping was entirely abolished, and, with few exceptions, that degrading punishment was disallowed in the county of York. He hoped, therefore, that the attention of the Home Secretary would be at once directed towards abolishing a power which in itself was manifestly tyrannical and susceptible of such great abuse.


said, that before the question was answered, he wished to ask the hon. Member whether, before a flogging was ordered to be inflicted, an examination must not take place on oath before the visiting magistrate; the proceedings taken down on paper; and the whole matter conducted in a proper and judicial manner? He also wished to ask whether any complaint had been made by the Inspector of Prisons as to the severity of the punishment inflicted by order of the visiting justices? Whether he was not aware that the birch-rod, and not the cat-o'-ninetails was the instrument usually employed in the punishment of boys? And, finally, was he not aware that the children of the nobility and higher classes were subjected to corporeal punishment, inflicted generally in private by the head master of public schools, in a much more severe form than that employed in public prisons?


said, that he should lose his self-respect if he remained silent with the convictions which he had in reference to the subject introduced by the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Kinnaird). They often indulged in vituperation of foreign states, and talked of the cruelties practised in the gaols of Naples and Austria. He would plead for the infants, children of tender age, in English gaols. Could it be believed that not a birch-rod, but a cat-o'-nine-tails, was laid on a child? It should be remembered that one stroke of the cat gave nine lashes, and, therefore, twenty strokes inflicted 180 lashes. [Laughter] It might be a matter of merriment to some hon. Gentlemen, but no one would be allowed to treat an animal with such cruelty.

He hoped to hear from the right hon. Gentleman, the Home Secretary, that a change was intended which would put an end to such disgraceful proceedings.