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'The whip is a very contagious kind of thing': flogging and humanitarian reform in penal Australia


Edmonds, P and Maxwell-Stewart, H, 'The whip is a very contagious kind of thing': flogging and humanitarian reform in penal Australia, Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History, 17, (1) Article 613283. ISSN 1532-5768 (2016) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Copyright © 2016 The Johns Hopkins University Press. This article first appeared in Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History, Volume 17, Issue 1, Spring, 2016, pages 1-16.

DOI: doi:10.1353/cch.2016.0006


This paper traces humanitarian debates over corporal punishment and the use of the lash in the Australian colonies in the nineteenth century, with particular attention to Quakers James Backhouse and George Washington Walkerís interventions in penal discipline in colonial Van Diemenís Land. It examine the ways that corporal punishment of convicts and Aboriginal peoples was framed through abolitionist eyes and explores in detail specific objections to the lash, including ideas around suffering, abstract vengeance and pain. The paper considers the move to other punishment strategies such as silent and solitary confinement, promoted in place of the lash. As we show, the evidence provided by the travelling investigative Quakers did much to inform the 1837 Select Committee on Transportation chaired by William Molesworth. The same report is also credited with reducing the rate of flogging in the penal colonies. However, while the Molesworth Committee is regarded as a decisive turning point in the history of Britainís deployment of convict labour, we argue that a shift in punishment strategies was already well underway before the late 1830s. Using new data on punishments awarded, we demonstrate that in Van Diemenís Land the demise of the lash had begun well before the Molesworth Committee met. We conclude by arguing that the association between the great humanitarian moment and the demise of flagellation so often associated Molesworth, was more complex and less direct than is often supposed.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:Convict Transportation, History Australia, Humanitarianism, History of punishment
Research Division:History, Heritage and Archaeology
Research Group:Historical studies
Research Field:Australian history
Objective Division:Expanding Knowledge
Objective Group:Expanding knowledge
Objective Field:Expanding knowledge in human society
UTAS Author:Edmonds, P (Associate Professor Penny Edmonds)
UTAS Author:Maxwell-Stewart, H (Professor Hamish Maxwell-Stewart)
ID Code:108559
Year Published:2016
Funding Support:Australian Research Council (LP140100623)
Deposited By:School of Humanities
Deposited On:2016-04-22
Last Modified:2018-03-08
Downloads:53 View Download Statistics

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