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The 'sealed pattern' Navy cat o' nine tails - the standard cat

Flogging is a military and naval punishment administered with a cat o' nine tails, a whip with nine cords or thongs to it. In the Royal Navy, the punishment was administered by a bosun's mate with a heavier cat than that used in the Army, where the punishment was given by a drummer or bugler and the number of lashes was correspondingly higher than was routine in the Navy.

In Britain, a legal distinction was drawn between "flogging" (with a cat-o'-nine-tails) and "whipping" (formerly with a whip, but since the early 19th century with a birch)[1]. To be flogged always meant flagellation with a cat o' nine tails, whether the heavier Navy cat or the lighter Army one.

Corporal punishment was reserved for the rank and file, or common sailors, but NCOs and petty officers could face both the loss of rank and a flogging, as happened to the erstwhile Corporal Cross Johnson[2][3], a Royal Marine serving aboard HMS Terpsichore.


Patrick Harper being flogged

It took a regimental court martial of no less than three officers to sentence a soldier to be flogged. The minimum of lashes that could be given was set at 25, with the maximum at 1200 (which was almost never awarded) until the end of the Peninsular War, and an award that high could only be passed by a general court-martial, with officers from other regiments sitting on the court martial board. Awards of 1200 lashes were only given about nine or ten times during the whole eight years of the Peninsular War, and each time the sentence had to be ratified by Arthur Wellesley before it could be carried out, and each for a grievous military offence (desertion to the enemy or striking an officer) that could have easily brought a sentence of death on the perpetrator.

Gabriel Cotton, a Rifleman in the 5/60th Rifles, was awarded a sentence of two hundred lashes[4] for stealing a watch, of which he received fifty lashes[5] - a very light sentence by the standards of the day, although he will still have the scars for life.


A flogging aboard ship

With a ship often out of contact of anyone else, and a requirement of no less than five officers to sit on a court-martial, all of whom had to be at least of the rank of commander, plus the fact that the senior officer in a fleet convened the court but could not sit on it as he had to ratify any verdict and sentence it passed, it was usually a ship's captain who awarded a flogging. He was legally limited to awarding no more than twelve lashes to any one man at once, but this could be (and often was) got around by awarding twelve for, say, drunkenness and another half-dozen for another offence committed at the same time, say swearing at an officer while drunk.

There were very few captains who awarded higher sentences than two dozen lashes at once, and strangely flogging was not one of the grievances of the mutineers during either the Spithead or Nore mutinies; while the mutinies were in progress, the mutineers awarded floggings to any sailor who broke the strict codes of conduct they had imposed on themselves and their fellows.


Jamie Fraser's back showing the newly healed scars from a flogging (Outlander)

Various sources mention flogging, and several of them mention that it often broke a man's spirit, or made a good man bad and a bad man worse.

A flogging scarred a man for life, and William Lawrence, recounting his memoirs as an old man in the late 1850s, recounted that he still bore on his back the scars from a flogging he received when he was about eighteen.[6]

Show the Colours[]

Three characters in Show the Colours have been flogged in-game and three more have received floggings according to their back stories:

Noah Braithwaite[7]

Jacob Chase[8]

Gabriel Cotton[9]

Cross Johnson

Sam Oxley[10]

George Thompson[11]

Slang Terms[]

Black book - to be in the black book was to have been convicted of a crime, possibly from the regimental punishment books having black covers. (Army) To be in the master-at-arms' black book was a minor Naval punishment relegating the man to dirty and menial chores for a period of time, a lesser punishment than a flogging.

To go to the grating - to be flogged (Navy)

To go to the halberds - to be flogged (Army)

Nightingale - a soldier who cried out when being flogged (Army)

Spread-eagle - a soldier tied to the halberds to be flogged (Army)

To receive a checked shirt (at the grating) - to be flogged (Navy)

Notes and References[]