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From a system like that of war, we can expect nothing but cruelty in the treatment of its agents as well as its victims. Neither kindness nor lenity is compatible with its spirit, its principles or its aims. It is the law of violence dictated by malice, and executed by revenge ; and an intimate acquaintance with its operations, whether in a time of war or of peace, would fill a benevolent mind with disgust and horror. I shall not describe in detail the different kinds of punishment, but only give from eye-witnesses a general view of their barbarous and brutal severity.
Such testimony, like the rum-seller testifying against his own business, is given with reluctance. “But for my desire,” says one of these witnesses, * " to present the reader with a true exhibition of life on board a British man-of-war, it would be my choice to suppress these disgusting details of cruelty in punishment. This, however, is impossible; I must either draw a false picture, or describe them."
“ Our short passage from Gravesend to Spithead gave opportunity for one of those occurrences which are a disgrace to the naval service of any nation--a flogging. A poor fellow had fallen into the very sailor-like offence of getting drunk. For this the captain sentenced him to the punishment of four dozen lashes. He was first placed in irons all night; and the irons used for this purpose were shackles fitting round the ankles, through the ends of which was passed an iron bar some ten or twelve feet in length, with a padlock at the end of the bar to hold the prisoner securely. Thus placed in duress vile,' he was guarded by a marine until the captain bade the first lieutenant prepare the hands to witness the punishment. Upon this, the lieutenant transmitted the order to the master at arms. He then ordered the grating or hatch full of square holes, to be rigged; and it was placed accordingly between the main and spar decks, not far from the mainmast.
“ While these preparations were going on, the officers were dressing themselves in full uniform, and arming themselves with their dirks; and the prisoner's messmates carried him his best clothes, to make him appear in as decent a manner as possible, in the hope of thus moving the feelings of the captain favorably towards the prisoner. This done, the hoarse, dreaded cry of All hands ahoy to witness punishment!' from the lips of the boatswain, peals along the ship as mournfully as the notes of a funeral knell. At this signal the officers muster on the spar deck, the men on the main deck. Next came the prisoner; guarded by a
* SAMUEL LEECH, in his Thirty Years from Home.
marine on one side, and the master at arms on the other, he was marched up to the grating. His back was made bare, and his shirt laid loosely upon his back, when the two quarter-masters proceeded to seize him up; that is, they tied his hands and feet with spun-yarns, called the seizings, to the grating. The boatswain's mates, whose office it is to flog on board a man-of-war, stood ready with their dreadful weapon of punishment, the cat-o'-ninetails. This instrument of torture was composed of nine cords, a quarter of an inch round, and about two feet long, the ends whipt with fine twine. To these cords was affixed a stock, two feet in length, covered with red baize. The reader may be sure that it is a most formidable instrument in the hands of a strong, skilful man. Indeed, any man who should whip his horse with it, would commit an outrage on humanity, which the moral feeling of any community would not tolerate; he would be prosecuted for cruel. ty; yet it is used to whip Men on board ships of war!
“ The boatswain's mate is ready, with coat off, and whip in hand. The captain gives the word. Carefully spreading the cords with the fingers of his left hand, the executioner throws the cat over his right shoulder; it is brought down upon the now uncovered shoulders of the man. His flesh creeps; it reddens as if blushing at the indignity ; the sufferer groans; lash follows lash, until the first mate, wearied with the cruel employment, gives place to a second. Now two dozen of these dreadful lashes have been inflicted; the lacerated back looks inhuman; it resembles roasted meat burnt nearly black before a scorching fire; yet still the lashes fall; the captain continues merciless. Vain are the cries and prayers of the wretched man. “I would not forgive the Savior,' was the blasphemous reply of one of these naval demigods, or rather demi-fiends, to a plea for mercy. The executioners keep on. Four dozen strokes have cut up his flesh, and robbed him of all self-respect; there he hangs, a pitied, self-despised, groaning, bleeding wretch; and now the captain cries, forbear! His shirt is thrown over his shoulders ; the seizings are loosed ; he is led away, staining his path with red drops of blood; and the hands, .piped down by the boatswain, sullenly return to their duties. Such was the scene witnessed on board the Macedonian, on the passage from London to Spithead; and such, substantially, is every punishment scene at sea, only carried sometimes to a greater length of severity."
“ It is generally understood,” says Rev. J. C. WEBSTER in his account of his voyage across the Atlantic in one of our war-ships, * " that the word of a commanding officer is law. He can punish at will; his authority is well nigh absolute; for the process of redress for a common sailor, under any ordinary circumstances, by an appeal to a court-martial, would be so tardy and dubious, as hardly to be considered a qualification of the statement that the system is one of unlimited despotism. From the time Jack signs
Advocato of Peace, vol. iv. p. 48.
his shipping papers, during a three or four years' cruise, till he is discharged, he virtually surrenders his own free agency. He is kept like a criminal within the walls of a prison during most of the time, and I have known it to be with the utmost difficulty that a boy could get liberty to go on shore in a foreign land, and see a mother or sister whom he had not seen for years. No confidence is placed in Jack, and so none is begotten in him towards his officers.
“ The summary and barbarous practice of flogging upon the bare back is the means used to secure obedience to the laws. The principal offences for which this penalty is incurred are, want of cleanliness, intoxication, stealing, neglecting the watch, desertion, and disobedience of a superior officer. And sometimes Jack suffers deservedly, and sometimes he does not; for it requires but little ingenuity in a superior officer to get a man flogged for the satisfaction of a mere personal grudge. When I went upon deck before breakfast, I seldom failed to see some poor fellow smarting under the boatswain's lash at the gangway. The instrument used is a handle twelve inches long, with nine thongs attached to one end. When we lay at Portsmouth, Eng., several men sought an opportunity to desert the ship; most of them were retaken, and put in irons until we had gone to sea again. On the morning of the twelfth of July, I heard the order throughout the ship of all hands to witness punishment.' I had no disposition to witness the barbarous process; but even in the cock-pit I was not out of the reach of the sound of the lash, and the cries of the wretched sufferers. Seven men received three dozen lashes each, and one, who proved to be a ring-leader of the rest, four dozen
“ One night,” says McNALLY,* " it fell calm; and the officer of the deck ordered the forecastle men and foretop men to man the fore clew garnets and buntlines, and stand by to haul up the foresail. The word was given, and the sail hauled up, but not so quickly as he wished it to be. The yards were braced sharp up; and, as there was no wind, the fore tack and sheet blocks caught in the lee fore rigging, on the ratlines, and a man had to clear them. Nothing, however, would be taken as an excuse; and he flogged the whole watch of the forecastle and foretop men, giving them one dozen each, and ordered them forward to set the sail again. It was set, and they were ordered to man the clew garnets and buntlines, to haul it up again. The lee clew caught in the rigging as before, and he flogged them all again. Once more the sail was set, and hauled up with the same results ; in fact, it was a moral impossibility to run the lee clew right up, as the heavy blocks would catch the rigging; and the men were flogged three times in less than one hour. There were eleven in the foretop, and twelve on the forecastle, making twenty-three men, punished with three dozen each, for no offence under heaven.
* Edils and Abuses in the Naval Service, &c., as quoted in the Advocate of Peace, vol. iii. p. 188 et seq.
“ During the three years' cruise of the Fairfield, I do not believe a single day elapsed that punishment by flogging did not take place. At that time there was a custom in the service, directly contrary to law, whereby any officer of the deck could inflict punishment. This was not with the cat, as the law directs, but with what is termed a colt, a piece of eighteen-thread ratline, or one-inch rope, which generally has one or two hard twine whippings upon each end. Twelve lashes with this, over a thin frock or shirt, gave greater pain, and bruised the flesh more than the cat would have done; and it was with this instrument that the deck officers of the Fairfield punished the men, and there was no limit to the number of lashes, but just as many as it might please the officer to order—sometimes one dozen, and at other times three. Such punishment frequently brought the blood through the shirt, and often left the flesh black for two or three weeks, and then yellow for as many more, before it healed perfectly.
“ Never let citizens in the Northern States rail at slavery, or the punishment inflicted on slaves, or say that it is wrong, so long as their own sons, their own flesh and blood, their own seamen, their own free citizens, and the men to whom they look for protection in case of war, are daily subject to the same treatment as the southern slaves. The late John Randolph openly declared in the legislative halls of Congress, that he had witnessed, in a few months, more flogging on board the man-of-war that carried him to Russia, than had taken place during ten years on his plantation, where there were five hundred slaves.
“I was on board the Lexington from 1821 to 1824. The captain was a kind man, but often very passionate, and, when so, very unjust. He allowed no punishment on board except what he inflicted himself; but he sometimes went far beyond the law in punishing petty offences. When we were at the Falkland Islands, the men were put on allowance in consequence of the provisions on board being likely to run short. Having gone from a warm climate to a cold one, their appetites increased, and made the allowance too little ; and this created a ferment among the crew. One day they had been called aft, and a vehement lecture read them by the captain; they were sent forward, and one man made some remark, which was overheard by the lieutenant, who immediately reported it to the captain. All hands were instantly called to witness punishment. The marines were turned out with fixed bayonets, and the captain brought a pair of ship’s pistols from the cabin, loaded with ball cartridges, which he laid upon the capstan. The man was then ordered to strip, which he did without a murmur, as he knew that to attempt to appease the captain, would be like trying to stop the sea from raging. He was seized up, and received twenty-four lashes without a stop. The weather was extremely cold, being in so high a latitude; but the man bore his punishment in silence; his lips writhed, but no complaint escaped him. He was taken down, and warned not to grumble about provisions again, under penalty of receiving twice the number of
lashes. He spoke not; but those who looked upon his calmness, knew that it was the calmness of resolution. Had Captain D. lived until that man returned to the United States, it would have been bad for both of them. This punishment was inflicted directly contrary to law, for it declares that a captain shall punish only a private, and this man was a petty officer; he shall not punish beyond twelve lashes, and yet he inflicted twenty-four.
“ About the same time a more severe punishment took place. Wm. McIntire, a tailor, who was employed by the captain in his cabin, had persuaded one of the cabin boys to give him some of the captain's brandy, which the steward missed, and reported. The man was not drunk ; but he had drank the brandy, and for so doing was brought to the gangway, and punished with three dozen lashes upon the bare back. It was his first and last flogging; he did not long survive it; it sank deep into his heart, and he never more held up his head. He sleeps the sleep of death on the bleak barren Falkland Islands, far from his home and friends. I dare the medical men that were on board that ship, to say that he did not die in consequence of the flogging he received, the victim of cruelty and oppression.”
“ The worst species of punishment,” says Leech,“ is flogging through the fleet. This is never inflicted without due trial and sentence by a court-martial, for some aggravated offence. After the offender is thus sentenced, and the day arrives appointed by his judges for its execution, the unhappy wretch is conducted into the ship's launch-a large boat—which has been previously rigged up with poles and grating, to which he is seized up; he is attended by the ship's surgeon, whose duty it is to decide when the power of nature's endurance has been taxed to its utmost. A boat from every ship in the fleet is also present, each carrying one or two officers and two marines fully armed. These boats are connected by tow lines to the launch.
“These preparations made, the crew of the victim's ship are ordered to man the rigging, while the boatswain commences the tragedy. When he has administered one, two or three dozen lashes, according to the number of ships in the fleet, the prisoner's shirt is thrown over his gory back; the boatswain returns on board, the hands are piped down, the drummer beats a mournful melody, called the rogue's march, and the melancholy procession moves on. Arriving at the side of another ship, the brutal scene is repeated, until every crew in the fleet has witnessed it, and from one to three hundred lashes have lacerated the back of the brokenspirited tar to a bleeding pulp. He is then placed under the surgeon's care, to be fitted for duty—a ruined man-broken in spirit! all sense of self-respect gone, forever gone! If he survive, it is only to be like his own brave bark, when winds and waves conspire to dash her on the pitiless strand, a wretched, hopeless wreck; a living, walking shadow of his former self.
“ No plea of necessity can be successfully urged in behalf of whipping men; for, if subordination is expected to follow such