Saturday, 26 July 2008
Our story begins in the year of who knows when, with Britain at war.
In the midst of the turmoil, naïve, impetuous young Celestine is lured
by her ludicrously wealthy paramour, the disgustingly handsome Lord
Tarquin, to an afternoon's entertainment amongst the vagabond inmates
and low-life scum housed at the municipal bridewell. Evidently our
skallywag heroine has been a bit loose with her morals and needs to
see for herself where that sort of thing can lead.
The luckless prisoner - a lady of some twenty-five summers;
tempestuous, red-haired and petulantly attractive - is reputed to be
the wayward spouse of a certain well-regarded young officer. We learn
how the saucy young trollop has been caught in flagrante delicto with
a stable-hand and given over, on the orders of her incensed husband,
for correction by the stern Justices. The woman is brought out to face
the accusing stares and loud angry jeers of the vengeful townsfolk.
The court finds her guilty and her fate has been sealed. She blinks
and rubs her eyes, half-blinded by the dazzle of the afternoon sun.
She is shivering. Her cell is dark and cold.
A bailiff reads aloud the sentence. She is a thief and a harlot and is
to be, "... paraded before the citizenry and chastised with twelve
strokes to her bare back... God save the King!"
To be whipped by the Drum Sergeant, we are told, is a particularly
humiliating and painful affair. No doubt our pretty convict is acutely
aware that the dour old magistrate, in discreetly drawing the
chastiser's attention to her 'bare back', in truth means her to be
bound helpless at the whipping bench, or over a stout trestle, and
lashed about her naked buttocks in the manner fitting for a shameless,
unrepentant young strumpet. That she be of noble birth is of no
account. We are swiftly transported back in time to the bleak prison
yard where a jaded and world-weary crew have gathered to witness the
spectacle of the King's Justice. The bailiff lists the girl's many
grave offences. The reader begins to feel at once the shamefaced
culprit's poignant sense of abandonment and utter disgrace.
"... stole from Colonel Pratt the sum of five shillings and sixpence."
"I did not. I did not!!", she sobs, but the question is moot.
"... apparently while he slept... (ahem)", the Bailiff adds.
An ugly murmur ripples through the whispering onlookers. The officers
and men at the watchouse gate stiffen to attention, each awaiting the
order to assist, while the real villain of the piece, the evil
Tarquin, rounds on his blushing charge with obvious glee, "My word!
This will be something to see!"
The bailiff mouths something inaudible to the fat Sar'Major at his
side. The uniformed man nods approval and turns to address the
prisoner, "Now, my pretty..."
"Come, Celestine! We must gain vantage.", Tarquin commands. She
shivers at the huge hairy hand on her silken alabaster skin but offers
only a token resistance. "There! By the rail!", he snaps, hauling her
up beside him, " COME..! This will be the birch, by thunder! A rare
treat for Madam! Stand here. And, lassie! You're to take heed,
Nothing grows in the grey prison yard, save for the weeds and pallid
lichens which have invaded the cracks and crannies of the bare stone
walls. Everywhere is hard cold stone, from the high rocky parapets to
the worn crumbling steps. The prisoner is alone at the 'place of
correction'. Alone with the guards and the leering spectators. And
alone with the gruesome apparatus of the chastiser's doleful trade.
Our narrator, bless her heart, has, for perhaps the first time in her
noisy life, very little to say. For, in truth, we have arrived
unforgivably late and, of the quaking captive about to be punished, we
know little, yet, up by the barricade, standing with the officers and
the richer folk, we can almost smell her desperate plight - taste her
The bailiff is done with his long, acerbic tirade. The flushed,
fidgeting girl has been roundly denounced for her 'wanton harlotry',
her 'tireless mendacity', and for her 'outright brazen thievery'.
Having been pronounced fit to receive the punishment, she is now
handed over to the punishment detail and the fat, pompous Sergeant
Major who will supervise her whipping. Without ceremony, he gives the
order for the prisoner to disrobe.
"Show us yer tits, Sweetmeat!", comes a growl from the back of the
"Show us her arse, don'cha mean? Dirty little slut..!", is the one
"Quiet, you lot!", the Sar'Major bellows. He is growing impatient,
"Get that dress off, now! I'll 'ave none of yer manners 'ere, girlie"
Bravely, the tearful woman turns her back on the jeering and the
reprimands and pulls the dirty smock off over her head. Beneath the
drab cotton dress she is almost bare; save for her tattered black
stockings and white lacy drawers. We are then treated (or perhaps
subjected) to a maddeningly brief but truly florid commentary on
M'Lady's 'powerful feminine allure' her 'delightfully formed' breasts,
the classic flare of the hips, the strong athletic sweep of her
'flawless, downy thighs' - and her 'charmingly rounded little bottom',
firm and delicately proportioned; made 'more for her lover's kisses
than for the fiery kiss of the judicial rod.'
"Guards! Stand ready." The loud, imperious officer rounds menacingly
on the near-naked redhead, "Prisoner!! Face down on the bench!" For a
moment is seems as though the terrified lass will faint. Her eyes roll
back and her knees buckle, "..please... I... Ohhhh..."
"You men! Secure her!", comes the immediate order. "Corporal! A
birch, if you please."
In the ensuing fracas, we witness the young 'criminal' forcefully
overpowered and dragged kicking and cursing to the whipping bench.
"No! No! NOOOO....!!! Pigs!! Bastards!! Let me GO....!!! I'm innocent,
I tell you! Stop! Stop! Listen to me!" The tall stocky figure of the
Drum Sergeant stumps up to accept the proffered instrument of
chastisement. He eyes the guilty wench with obvious relish. Her wrists
have been roughly bound and she is strapped tightly down to the bench
with her pert, upthrust bottom presented for the punishment. To
complete her humiliation the chastiser now comes forward to strip the
mortified young woman of her expensive silk drawers, the last
remaining vestige of her haughty feminine pride and of her high-born
social station. "Oh Sir! Have mercy!", she sobs while he slowly peels
the flimsy little undergarment down past her knees, "Oh mercy please,
The pale unblemished moons are all a-tremble, as though in
anticipation of the punishing rod. She is terribly frightened.
Judicial discipline, she knows, is uncompromisingly severe and long
service on the prison-hulks and in the gaols of New South Wales will
doubtless have inured the seasoned hand to the suffering he is about
to inflict. He gives the evil black wand an experimental flick,
feeling its dense sodden weight, fresh and dripping from the briny
bucket. In the yard, behind the barricade, the people are growing
"C'mon ya queer fucker! Get on with it!"
"Aggh! Can ye nay see it's all part of the punishment man. Two
shillings says she swoons before the eighth!"
"SILENCE, you people!", cries the Sar'Major over the din. "Mister
"The sentence is an even dozen. And mind that you lay it on with a
The stout, bullish fellow flings back his brawny arm and the ferocious
castigation begins. For a brief moment the hellish yard-long bundle of
wet, knotted twigs seems to hang suspended, then descends abruptly
with a tremendous SWOSSHHHHHH!! and a great shower of salty spray.
"Heavenly Saints...!!", poor Celestine squeals with shocked dismay as,
with a sharp meaty smack, the convict-girl's flawless derriere takes
the full force of the blow.
"ONE!!", shouts the Sergeant Major. The chastiser throws back his arm
again, ready to strike, while the woman on the bench is yet to find
herself. Her jaw has dropped and her mouth gapes open, working
noiselessly as she chokes and struggles for a merciful breath, "Ah!
Ah! !hh.. !hh.. aahh..."
"OOOHHHHHH...!! PLEASE...!!", she wails, "Oh God! Ohhh, sweet Jesus!
"That's the way, Bully! Let's hear the little lamb bleat."
"SILENCE IN THE YARD! Chastiser!"
"NO! NOOOHHH...! Please God! Make them stop! PLEASE make them STOP!",
the hapless prisoner howls, but the Good Lord is not listening, it
seems, and her punishment continues.
"FOUR!" The heavy stroke lashes at the top of her thighs. The woman
shrieks and bucks wildly - in a lewd, immodest display.
"Ohhh! Tarquin! This is awful. May we not..."
"SIX! Corporal! See to the prisoner!" He looks about, annoyed,
"Where.. Where is the physick?", and then turns back to the Sergeant,
"Stand easy there, Mister. The prisoner has fainted."
Nonsense! She swoons!", the Sar'Major retorts angrily. The gaol-wise
Sergeant, though, is not easily swayed, "If I may, Sir. She mocks us.
The harlot is strong as a brood mare and in league with master
bookmaker here. That's what I say! Two shillings was it...? Ha!
Besides the physick lies tucked up abed. One of his own evil draughts,
A single stroke of the fierce judicial birch raises a series of long
ragged welts over much of the exposed posterior. Their severity will
vary greatly depending on the weight, size and density of the
instrument chosen, as well as on the skill and severity of the officer
assigned to administer the whipping. The birch would usually consist
of nine or ten fresh birch twigs, each of around a yard's length,
steeped overnight in brine and vinegar. While the instrument is not
specifically designed nor intended to cut or break the skin, women who
have suffered the punishment speak of the 'sting worse than hornets'
which follows every stroke; swelling rapidly to an unbearable,
prickling pain which renders even the most modest Miss careless of all
else. Modesty, after all, means little when she is bare-bottomed
before the crowd. After three lashes with the birch her bottom is
welted fully from hip to hip and the application of further strokes
will often see the prisoner fainting away with the pain and fright of
her predicament. On these occasions the physick or apothecary could be
called on to give smelling salts to reunite the offender with her
truant senses. Frequently, however, there would be no qualified man in
attendance and chastisers would use the means at their disposal.
Sometimes an extra lash would be given - to be sure the prisoner was
indeed unconscious - sometimes a bucket of cold dirty water.
“A fresh birch! At the double!"
The young corporal blushes deeply. "Sir!"
"EXECUTIONER!", the Sergeant Major rails. "I shall not be mocked by
some highborn slut! I want to see you put your back into it!"
"Sah!" The corporal has returned at a trot and the cruel chastiser
takes up his new weapon which, if anything, looks more formidable than
the first, "Thank you, Corporal." He turns back to the Sar'Major,
SSSCHHMAAACCKKK! - "Ooooohhhhh.....!!!"
"SEVEN! Here! You, man! Quit playin' with yerself and lend a hand!
Hold her down for pete's sake..! 'fore she snaps the crossbeams!"
The leather strap at her waist has, in the course of the flogging,
worked loose and the prisoner has begun to thrash about uncontrollably
in her frantic efforts to escape the bench and the ongoing ordeal of
her birching. An NCO, eager to assist, jumps to and claps a strong
hand at the small of the girl's heaving back, "Courage, lassie.", he
counsels, 'Twill be over soon enough." He can smell her sweat and her
fear. He tightens his grip, holding her steady with both hands. "The
prisoner is ready.", he announces, barely able to contain his
SSSCHHWWOOOOSSSHHH! .. KERAAACCKKKK!
"NINE! Stand ready, Gentlemen. Master Physick. How kind..."
When her punishment is done, the howling, pleading, chastened young
hussy will be set free to sin again. In the meantime, the mumbling,
crotchety old physick has seen fit to attend. He examines the
prisoner; still humping and thrusting like an enraged animal. She
spits and she hisses, her face sodden with tears, her poor little
bottom thrashed a hot scalding red.
"Crocodile tears!", the Sergeant Major roars.
"Mmm.. yes.. Mmm.. Perhaps you are right. As you were, gentlemen."
"Ready with the birch, Mister! Guard! Take hold!"
"Three to go home with!"
"Ohhhh!! Dear God! Have mercy! Have mercy!!
"MISTER OVERSEER..! DO YOUR DUTY!!"
"TEN!" You! And you! Her legs! - Sergeant!"
"TWELVE! Stand down, Mister.",the Sergeant Major commands, with a
smug, self-satisfied grin, "Well done. Guards ! Release the
The punishment is over and the stricken nymph is unfastened and helped
shakily to her feet. The poor creature seems barely able to straighten
up, let alone walk. The corporal is trying to force her torn, useless
drawers into her hands but dressing herself is out of the question.
For a minute or so she remains half-slumped, blubbering and moaning,
supported by two guards. Finally a man steps forward to take charge of
"Take her away, then!", the Sar'Major orders, and the last we see of
our bawling, beaten she-imp, is her being led, limping from the
platform - still naked and weeping - by her none too sympathetic
husband and his impassive coachman. As the piteous sobs recede into
the distance, our tremulous narrator recounts for us her odd feelings
of 'overwhelming awe and excitement' at what she has witnessed. Never,
she says, will she forget the young woman's 'frightful screams echoing
about the high stone walls of the prison yard', nor the 'awful sound
of the birch' as the stern judicial chastisement was administered.