HC Deb 10 April 1877 vol 233 cc846-57

in rising to move— That, in thee opinion of this House, the time has arrived when the punishment of flogging in the Navy should be altogether abolished, said: Sir, when I last year, for the first time, brought forward a Motion for the prohibition of flogging in the Navy, and treated of the various steps, reducing the punishment from 500 lashes to 200 and 100, I remember telling the First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Hunt)—who I regret not to see in his place, and I regret also the reason—that there was still one chaplet to be gained by the man who should relieve the Navy of England from the stain of being the only Navy in the world which permitted this blot to remain, and I offered to place that chaplet on his brow. I repeat that offer to-night. The Motion I made had not been agitated throughout the country. I found the country did not know this practice remained in the Navy, and it was not known even to many in this House. I venture once more to make the offer I then made, and if the Government would undertake to reform the Naval Discipline Act with a view to remove flogging, which, however, is not the only abuse or inconsistency in the Act, I will not press for a division; but I will further venture to say that this is the last time I will make such an offer. If it be necessary for me to enter into the case again, should I now fail, the honour will not be with the Government; and I say this confidently, because I am perfectly certain that the people of this country, when this practice is made known to them, will not rest until it is abolished. When I first came into this House, I proposed for successive years the omission of the flogging clauses of the Mutiny Bill. The abolition of flogging in the Army was carried on the Motion of my Friend, Mr. Otway, and it is not really asking too much that it should be abolished in the Navy too. We are told it is practically abolished, that there are two classes in the Navy, that the upper class are never flogged, and that if men get into the lower class and then offend, they would probably be dismissed without flogging. There is for this no foundation in fact. Under a court martial at this time a man may be flogged for any offence whatever. The terms of the Act are that he may be flogged for "any act, disorder, or neglect, to the prejudice of good order and naval discipline." It has been said that the power to flog by summary order of the commander is limited to mutiny. What does "mutiny" mean? Not to resist officers and gain possession of the vessel, for if you do gain possession, you cannot be flogged, because you will be in possession of the vessel. What, then, does mutiny mean? It means insubordination, rudeness, disobeying the commander, or striking a petty officer. In fact, it means that should any dispute arise, the commander as judge and executioner shall have power to decide what is insubordination, and punish it with the cat. There is a court martial now going on—I will mention no names, as the case is not yet concluded. I would not allude to it at all, except that it equally illustrates my position, whether the commander be acquitted or not. In that trial many officers have come forward and borne testimony to the long-continued ill-usage by the captain of an inferior officer, whose presence they declared appeared to irritate his commander as a red flag does a bull. The junior officer appears to have offered no resistance, but to have yielded almost abjectly to a galling and continuous oppression. Now, whether this is true or not, the fact remains that a number of British officers believe it not incredible that such a system of persecution could have been maintained. Now, what if a common seaman were placed in such circumstances? How easy for such a commander to goad the man into insubordination, and then order him to be flogged! The regulations affecting punishment appear to outsiders truly astonishing. Thus in Section 56 it is laid down— Except in case of mutiny no man shall be sentenced to flogging until his offence has been inquired into by a sort of improvised court martial, appointed by the commander; and yet, should the man be reported as innocent to the commander, he may still flog him if he thinks fit. The Regulations of 1875 are more restrictive in regard to summary corporal punishment, but are specially limited to a time of peace. Was ever such fatuity? Suppose the time should come when we should unhappily be again at war and should need the best men and their hearty patriotism —that is the time which we choose to wave anew the cat over their heads. You have 20,000 of the merchant service reserve—what think you world be their answer to your appeal? It is true the punishment of flogging has been nominally retained in the Army in time of war; but I do not believe any Army officer will ever exercise it. It is held to be necessary in order to prevent fire and rape in towns that may be occupied. Well, there are no towns on the deep, and therefore no excuse could be more untenable for the Navy. In fact, the excuse made for the retention of flogging in the Army applied ten-fold less to the Navy. There was no case in the world where a man was more absolutely subject to the will of another than on board a vessel on the broad waters of the sea. A hundred years ago, it was deemed necessary to inflict as much as 500 lashes. "Discipline must be maintained, Sir, you know." We are now the only Navy on the face of the world where discipline cannot be maintained without the cat. The Mercantile Marine can maintain their discipline without the cat. I have been able to get the opinion of a very intelligent man-of-war's-man. He says— I believe that were the Service polled, it would be found that by far the great majority were in favour of its entire abolition, on the ground that it is inhuman, not deterrent, and disgraceful alike to both judge and culprit; also that our seamen are now sufficiently educated to admit of an appeal being made to their mental faculties, rather than to their brute feelings. Another case shows how you may raise a feeling more dangerous than any crime. One who gives me his address, writes— Having served in Her Majesty's Navy, and been in action with the enemy, and also been tied up to the grating, I can give you the effect of such a disgrace—a longing for vengeance. The remainder of the letter, showing how that vengeance was carried out, I dare not read. It was said last year that although the American Navy had abolished flogging, they had found it necessary to resort to other severe punishments. I have taken means to ascertain from the American Navy how that representation originated. My correspondent, writing from New York, August, 1876, says— The Act of Congress, 1850, abolished flogging in the Navy and on board vessels of commerce. As nothing was substituted for flogging, this law left the commander of a vessel without legal means of maintaining discipline by punishment, and thus a system which gave our Navy for a time an unenviable reputation was forced upon the Service. By the Act of 1862, commonly known as the 'Articles of War,' this omission was corrected, and the punishments that may be inflicted were enumerated with much precision. There is no doubt that officers have at various times violated the law of 1862; but the Navy Department has invariably marked its disapprobation of such irregularities in the most emphatic manner, and in three notable cases of late years officers have been court-martialled for exceeding their authority in the punishment of seamen. The law in this respect is now rarely if ever violated. Officers prefer to govern their ships with as little punishment as possible, rather stimulating their men by hope of reward, &c., confinement in metal-boxes, tricing up by the thumbs, tricing up in the rigging, tying offenders near the boilers, &c., are practices now entirely unknown in the United States Navy. Unhappily such practices have not always been unknown in our own Navy. In The United Service Gazette of last Saturday I find— There is an expression made use of by ethnologists to signify the obscure traces of some forgotten custom, and which is styled 'a survival.' In this sense the continuance of the custom of flogging in the Navy may be looked upon as a survival of the Draconian code of punishments formerly used at sea, and which include 'keel-hauling,' 'gagging,' 'kettling,' confinement in coal bunkers, the application of the stomach-pump in the case of drunken men, and other ingenious methods of punishment too numerous to mention. Up to 1847 there was no power of imprisonment, and therefore no means of punishing refractory seamen, except by some such rough-and-ready method as flogging. It was suggested last year that I should postpone my Motion until I could find three admirals and three captains to support me in the matter. It was certainly not by means of colonels or captains that flogging was abolished in the Army. It was certainly not by the action of the Judges as a body that the abuses of capital punishment were removed in this country, and it was not by the hands of the manufacturers that the Factory Acts were passed. Not that any of these very men, or the officers of the Navy, were more cruel and coldhearted than other Englishmen, but because they were naturally steeped in the traditional superstitions of their profession. I am sure there is not a kinder-hearted man than the hon. and gallant Member for Stirlingshire (Sir William Edmonstone), who told us last year that the revolver and the cat were necessary to get the decks of a gun-brig properly cleaned. Sir Charles Napier said— You may put the stripes on a corporal's arm and take them off again, but the stripes you put on the sailor's back with the cat you can never remove. If I am asked how I would dispose of these men, who are so bad, what I would do with them, I would venture to say with Dogberry—"Why then, take no note of him, but let him go, and presently call the rest of the watch together, and thank God you are rid of a knave." There are, in fact, two classes of men in the Navy whom we cannot afford to retain there; the one is the man who will not do his work without the influence of the lash, and the other is the officer who cannot maintain discipline without the aid of flogging. But it may be said, that in the year 1874 there were only seven men flogged, and I may be asked why, if only so small a number of men out of so many are flogged, what is the use of making such a fuss about the matter. Now, this is just one of those arguments—cutting both ways, used to bolster up a foregone conclusion. If 700 men instead of seven had been flogged last year, it would then have been urged against me that flogging was an absolute matter of necessity. I contend, on the other hand, that as only seven men were flogged last year in the whole Navy, that the argument is irresistible in favour of my Motion for its abolition, for this very fact proves that flogging is utterly unnecessary. Among other communications I have received on this subject, is one from a naval officer of over 30 years' standing, from which I will venture to read an extract— Flogging is a rare thing in the Navy—now it may be said, that there are not more than seven men out of 40,000 flogged in the course of a year; one special reason, I submit, why you should abolish it altogether rather than run counter to the sentiments—prejudices if you will—of the remaining 39,993 men. No man stays with you after you have flogged him; he takes the first opportunity afterwards of deserting. Wisely or unwisely, he makes up his mind not to run the risk of a second application of the cat if he can help it. Every naval officer will tell you this. The enormous amount of corporal punishment among the boys (535) leads to the belief that they must be a very bad lot. No wonder. What decent parents would consign their sons to the one sole employment in the country in which they are liable to the cat. So long as you continue it you will be more and more dependent on the workhouses to supply the raw material; and. a Service which in other respects offers so many advantages to enterprising lads will become the monopoly of the waifs and strays of society. I greatly regret that the House should have refused the Return which I asked for recently, as to the extent of crime and punishment in every ship in the Navy. But as that was refused, it is ten times more essential that flogging should be abolished. It is an absolute abomination to maintain flogging in the Navy, and to refuse the fullest particulars to this House and to the country. It is contended that it is not a disgrace to the Navy to have a cat waved over its head when it is not inflicted. Why, then, are officers, by a specific clause in the Naval Discipline Act, exempted from this punishment? It may be admitted that there is a small danger of an officer being flogged. It might be said, also, that there is small danger of a gentleman committing murder or rape; but, at all events, he ought to be left to take his chance. Here is a class difference of the grossest character, giving a key to the whole position—that it is a matter of caste relations. Well, Sir, in conclusion, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hunt), if he were here, and his Representative as he is not, When do you mean to abolish flogging in the Navy? You do not mean to tell us that for all time England shall remain the only country in which the Navy is governed by the lash? If not, then when will you do it? If not this year, will you do it next year, or the year after? The time is long past when, by all logic and decency, it should have been abolished, and therefore I appeal to the House to say that now is the time to abolish it. Lord Clarence Paget, in 1860, in introducing the Naval Discipline Act, said— And if any should think how Draconic they still appear I pray them to bear in mind that we have to deal with a great body of men of all classes, often drawn from the very dregs of society, who too frequently enter the Navy without religious or moral principles, and with tainted morals, and who are rarely improved by being boxed up together, as it were, in a ship… I cannot resist the pleasure of reading to the House certain statistics with regard to corporal punishment which I have been at some trouble to procure, as they show that year by year this degrading punishment is decreasing in a steady ratio, and is gradually dying out of the Service. I am positive that the necessity for its continuance will even more rapidly diminish if the House will continue, as it has hitherto done, to support the Government in its efforts for the maintenance of discipline, and for the improvement of the Service by the training of a large number of boys, who, having entered at an early age, become attached to the Service, and in the great majority of instances turn out skilful and valuable seamen."—[3 Hansard, clx. 1651–1655.] But flogging is still going on, although that was 17 years ago. Instead of now sweeping the dregs of your ports, in order to get men for the Navy, you have now a body of seamen who enter the Navy as boys at 15 or 16, and gradually work their way through the training ships until they become full sailors. They cost you £300 or £400 each—they are, in fact, costly machines —there are not 2 per cent of the whole class now in the Navy who are not thus trained, and these are the men whom you now hold up to the scorn of the world as the only men who cannot be governed without the lash. The schoolmaster still has an antagonist in the irresponsible martinet, who still waves his lash over their backs. Educated men are now necessary in consequence of the change in naval affairs. We do not now want men who can merely reef a sail—our sailors are obliged to know something of machinery. These men are drawn from the respectable working classes of the country, and from the small shopkeepers, and I tell you they will not stand the continuation of this system. I have said that I believe the best authorities are against this system of flogging. Let me quote a few words from The Army and Navy Gazette:In truth we recognize the fact that our seamen have altogether grown beyond the lash. It is a punishment inconsistent with their superior education, habits and training—entirely opposed to the spirit of the age, and not even practised in foreign Navies, where its retention was more excusable, if possible, than in ours. We cannot see what possible good can arise from subjecting the sailor to a degrading punishment from which we shelter the soldier; it is enabling the soldier to point the finger of scorn and derision to his comrade the sailor. How do you obtain the men with which you fill the Army? You have been obliged to lower your physical capacity, and to raise the age. You are now actually recruiting men of 25 and 30, of whose antecedents you know nothing. Yet you have not dared to maintain the cat over their heads, although these seamen whom you have educated, and whose education you have taken under your parental care from 15, are still subjected to this abominable degradation. I read in The Times the other day an incident to which I should wish for two reasons to direct the attention of the House— The other day an order was issued forbidding seamen to wear plain clothes on shore, without special permission in each case from their captains. A meeting of the men was called, and delegates were appointed, —enough, I should think, to frighten the hon. and gallant Member for Stirlingshire out of his head— The Admiralty telegraphed that the men were to be told not to attend; if they did so, it would be at their peril. I narrate this fact for two purposes. First, I wish to ask why it is that the sailor feels it a degradation to be seen in his uniform on the shore in town; and, in the second place, I venture to mention it to show that the men, though they yielded to the Admiralty, have a power, and will use it, to protest against the continuance of such a degradation as the cat. I know there are very strict regulations to prevent the men from communicating with the newspapers, or from attending public meetings; but the Admiralty cannot prevent their communicating with their fellow-subjects and Members of Parliament. I have a communication from a number of sailors—I dare not mention the port where they are stationed, or anything connected with it—expressing their sympathy with my Motion, and their hope that it will succeed. They have sent me a model of a cat—not, as the hon. and gallant Member for Stirlingshire wished, to be applied to my shoulders, but to show what they have to put up with; and I declare I will never stay my agitation in this matter until I succeed. I appeal to the House, to the Government, to the country, I appeal to the Press, to save this country from the degradation of being marked out before all the world as the only country which cannot manage its Navy without the cat. John Milton said it was England's high prerogative to teach the nations how to live—more modest in our ambition, we are content to show them how to flog. I beg, Sir, to move the Motion which stands in my name.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, in the opinion of this House, the time has arrived when the punishment of flogging in the Navy should be altogether abolished."—(Mr. P. A. Taylor.)


said, the hon. Member had begun his speech by asking for a distinct expression of opinion from the Government with respect to the point under discussion. He had no objection to give that opinion. It was this—that the Admiralty, as at present advised, had no intention of altering the existing regulations in regard to the infliction of corporal punishment in the Navy. The Board regretted the necessity which existed for the maintenance of the rule; but they were unable to see how discipline was to be maintained unless the power to flog offending seamen was retained. The Board of Admiralty could not think that the time had arrived at which corporal punishment could safely be abolished. Admirable as it was in some respects, the speech of the hon. Gentleman displayed very considerable ignorance of the principles on which the question under debate rested. He had had no experience whatever of what took place either on board ship or in the case of an Army in time of war. He (Mr. Egerton) had had experience of both. The hon. Member seemed to think that under the existing regulations no officer would take the responsibility of flogging a soldier in time of war. That was a mistake. During the Abyssinian campaign soldiers were frequently flogged; and in his own experience there was an officer called a provost-marshal with every Army in the field, who had the power of inflicting summary corporal punishment without the preliminary of a court martial. To his knowledge the same thing was done daily at Balaclava. With regard to discipline at sea, there were officers on both sides of the House who who would, he believed, corroborate him when he said that from the information he had received, in some cases it would have been impossible to preserve discipline without having recourse to the lash. He was, however, happy to say that the cases of flogging were becoming fewer every year. But it was in the interests of the Service found necessary to leave such a power in the hands of the commanding officer. In 1875 there were seven instances of inflicting corporal punishment, and there were seven courts martial held. Every single case of corporal punishment was reported to the Admiralty, and it was carefully watched by the Members of the Board. One of the seven instances referred to in 1875 might be quoted as a sample of the rest. A brig having on board a number of boys and ordinary seamen, commanded by a lieutenant, proceeded on a cruise to Lisbon. When at sea an ordinary seaman struck a petty officer and resisted the escort, and was guilty of an act of insubordination, fearing the spread of the spirit of insubordination, the consequence was that the officer in command of the ship ordered the man to receive corporal punishment, and the crew came back from the cruise in excellent order. The hon. Member might say that if the punishment had not been inflicted the ship would have returned in an equally satisfactory state; but what would have been the state of affairs? The man would have been put in irons, he would have been brought home, have been tried by court martial, and probably sent to prison for one or two years, and the country would have lost his services for that time. The hon. Gentleman had said that corporal punishment was degrading. No doubt it was; but the enormity of the crime ought also to be borne in mind. Had the man referred to been in the French or Italian Navy the probability was he would have been shot. As far as he knew, the discipline of the British Navy was as well preserved as any Navy in Europe, or on the other side of the Atlantic; and that was the reason why the Admiralty did not consider it right entirely to abolish this punishment. It was now inflicted only in cases of mutiny and insubordination. The hon. Member spoke lightly of acts of insubordination; but he seemed to have forgotten that that class of offence spread very rapidly. In another instance he would refer to, the commanding officer of a ship expressed his desire to abolish the use of the cat; but a spirit of insubordination broke out, and the crew were only brought to discipline by resort to the cat. He might quote various instances where its use had been beneficial and necessary; and so long as the morale of the British Navy was such as at present, he thought that it was necessary that this punishment should be preserved.


considered it was necessary to preserve corporal punishment in order to ensure discipline. He quoted the advantage of it by an instance in the war in the Malacca Straits, where a blue-jacket sentry was caught asleep, and was punished with the lash. Of course, the lives of a great number of men were dependent on his vigilance. In a foreign Navy that man would have been shot, but instead he received 36 lashes, and probably the next day he was again employed on duty. With reference to the punishment being degrading, that might be the case; but he would cite a case to show that in one instance at least a man who had been flogged bore no revengeful feeling. When he (Admiral Egerton) was in command of a small ship he was the prosecutor in a case where a man got four dozen lashes and was dismissed his ship. On the following day he met that man, who saluted him just as if he still belonged to the ship and had not been punished. Within three or four months of that time the same man was serving as a petty officer in the Navy, and probably he ought to have reported him; but he deemed it right in the interests of the Service to be blind on that occasion. That instance at least showed that the flogging had not had a demoralizing influence on that man. Last year an hon. and gallant Gentleman (Sir William Edmonstone) defended the punishment of flogging on the ground that the men rather liked it; but, without going that length, he himself thought that it was probable that 999 men out of 1,000 in the Navy who knew that they were not going to be flogged might not be entirely opposed to the thousandth man being liable to be flogged, inasmuch as it secured them from having to do his work. The Admiralty had announced that it was not their intention to abolish this punishment in the Navy, and he presumed that Her Majesty's Government were able to carry out their views. For the reasons he had stated, he was unable to support the Motion of the hon. Member for Leicester.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 122; Noes 164: Majority 42.—(Div. List, No. 62.)