Whipping Boys



Jack Page was around 12 or 13 years old when, in 1824, he was charged with stealing a rope of onions from a stall on Borough Market.  He was a too familiar face to the court.  The magistrate lamented that he did not know what to do with ‘so incorrigible a rogue’ who was not even deterred by the prospect of a return to the treadmill.

John Green, the governor of Brixton, who happened to be in the court at the time, was clear in his view on how the youngster should be dealt with: only a flogging would have an effect.  ‘Stout robust men, he said, might feel fatigued by the exercise of the [tread]wheel, but this never occurred with active and slender youths, as they descended from the machine as little exhausted as when they commence the work.’

Whipping was often used to spice up a prison sentence.  It was banned for women by 1820 but continued as a punishment for boys.  The cat-o’-nine-tails was the instrument of choice, though sometimes its knotted thongs would be tied together as a minor show of compassion.

Green was required to oversee all the floggings of those sentenced to Brixton.  The prison rules required he ensured they ‘be given with temper and humanity, yet not in such a manner as to render it trifling or ridiculous, but with every circumstance of seriousness and solemnity, and to be always applied in his presence.’

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They took place within the prison walls, but also in public.  The victims would be transported from Brixton to the scene of their crime.  It gave satisfaction to a vengeful crowd while simultaneously advertising the deterrent to those who might break the law.

 A Political Pilot (pamphlet), March 26th 1831.
In the first quarter of 1829, Green oversaw at least eight public whippings in locations including Clapham, Streatham and Weybridge.  Part of his expenses claim is pictured below.  It includes claims for transport, men to administer the punishment and brandy for the boys’ backs.


Expenses of John Green used with permission of the Surrey History Centre


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