Victorian School Punishments

Corporal Punishment, from
Corporal Punishment, from
Caning, from
Caning, from

Victorian School Punishments


I'm trying to recollect what prompted me to write the poem below, written about four decades ago. I guess it was my reading of Tom Brown's Schooldays, because you have Dr Thomas Arnold in the poem. But I think it was F.W. Farrar's morbid tale, 'Eric, or Little by Little' that influenced me; that was a grim account, that horrified me when I read it as a school-boy in the late '60s.

Recollecting my own school-days, I must say that I was caned only once, that too, on the calves of my legs. I was not the lone victim; the entire high-school class of 16 boys was given this punishment. In the 8th grade, I received a few sharp 'knocks' with a wooden 'ruler' or 'scale' on my knuckles. Not with the flat end of the scale, but the narrow, sharp end. It hurt really bad. I remember once, when caught doing mischief in class (I was in 8th grade, age 12 or so), I thought I would be subject to some really old-style Victorian caning (like you see in the second cartoon below); but I got a more refined form of punishment from the Principal himself, who I now remember was a cultured gentleman named Brinnicombe. I was asked to memorize a poem of about 16-20 lines in an hour and a half, and after a desperate struggle I did it!

While checking out the Internet, I found tons of material on corporal punishment, which seems to have been widely practised in schools in Victorian times. Well, the same school punishments were carried over to the British colonies across the globe. Schools in our country have been practicising corporal punishment well into the '90s. I think the anti-corporal-punishment movement has since picked up and we keep reading nowadays in the newspapers, sensational stories of how teachers in the districts (countryside) revel in punishing their students in sadistic ways.

Well, I hope you enjoy the poem. It seems morbid, but is actually very sarcastic.


Crime and Punishment in the Dark Ages

'Beat him till his back is blue, '
Said Arnold Thomas with a grin;
'If two and two is twenty-two
Then stealing is a mortal sin;
Proverbs thirteen, twenty-four
Is good as anything you know,
So beat him till his back is blue;

'For little boys with playful ways
May lose themselves in Satan's maze
And never find their way out till
They're beaten and the blood doth spill,
Freeing them of fiery fumes
That burn from nasty witches' brooms;
Let all the gleams of she-cats' eyes
Fade far away with every blow;
Likewise the crooked tales and lies,
Until the beaten back is sore:

'Then you may (but better not)
Pour some brandy down his throat,
Some salad-oil on his wounds
To alleviate the twinge of pain;
But if he tries to fake a swoon
Get up and beat him blue again.'

© Tan Pratonix/Roland N Oliver

(This poem was written at the age of 18! It strongly inveighs against corporal punishment.)

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Comments 14 comments

Darlene Turpin 6 years ago

This poem again was marvalous..It sure was dark though, but then I can see back then and they way they punished in schools and in the homes..Boy sure have changed in so many ways..I see them with each and everything you pen..You have matured, grown through Christ!..What a blessing to read your earlier poems..Your words always make me ponder and think..and you always bring your poems to life!

Voted up and awesome!

kaltopsyd profile image

kaltopsyd 6 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

This poem is awesome! I think it's a very powerful piece. You're very talented... but of course you already know that.

Doug Turner Jr. 6 years ago

Harsh but how true of boarding schools. Good poem.

Lantokey 2 years ago from Olde London Towne

I vividly recall receiving 6 strokes of the school cane across my rump whilst facing the class to see my facial grimance with each swish. When the next boy bended over for his '6 of the best' the stick broke causing uproarious laughter from the class and the sadist administering the punishment unable to complete his lusting for power.

limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

merrie we meet

Another form of chastisement in schooling of my tymes was 'the strap'.

They could strap a pupil for no reason and say it was 'impudence'. They would make you hold out your hand and if the strap clipped the fingers it wouldn't count and was delivered to the palm of the hand. Each teacher had his own style in delivery of the strap and one brutal monster had massed strapping sessions for boys during lunch hour with smaller boys looking on in fear. Alternatively you could be strapped across the ankles.



Lantokey 2 years ago from Olde London Towne

I never heard of any boys traumatised by getting the cane. Actually it was a rite of passage for many of us. Girls were luckier as they were exempted from corporal punishment. It was mainly but not always administered to the bad boys. One particular headmaster had a cane collection in his office and the boys sent for a dose of it were classed by their age for the size of the cane to be used. It was customary for the teachers and prefects to have a fag and to enforce the school rules there would be deterant punishment as well as standard punishment.

the gadfly

Lantokey 2 years ago from Olde London Towne

Yes! As for the different size school canes, the smallest for boys under the age of 7 was known as the nursery cane. No boy i knew received the cane until after the age of 7 at my first school anyway. Then the junior cane was used on boys up to the age of 14 which could be any length of wooden dowell. Whacked across the seat of the pants it wouldn't leave any welts unless the boy concerned was wearing light summer clothing. The senior cane was for the older students and was whippy, designed to sting. A swish of the school cane was a terrifying sound accompanied by the nunbing pain.

limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

merrie we meet

Punishment at school was mild compared to what we got at home. There a cane was called 'the switch' with no limitations on how many strokes and also with shorts removed.


the limpet

limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

merrie we meet

Must confess that i never got caned by a Lady teacher during my school days. Their punishments were more like 'stand in the corner facing the wall' etc. In the infants class one paticular teacher would glue a piece of paper to a naughty boy's nose for humiliation in front of the class. I did however once get a tight slap from a Lady teacher for annoying her.

They were the days!


limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

I did a count up of all the teachers i had that used the cane in classes during my schooling The result only five used corporal punishment to maintain school discipline out of the whole 30 teachers during my education. The five does not include the two 'sicko's' not my teachers who presumed they had the right to cane boys for their own gratification.

Lantokey 6 months ago from Olde London Towne

To say that the sting of the cane was painful is an understatement. In our secondary school every teacher was issued a cane to administer corporal punishment. It was used to maintain classroom discipline either by deterrant or actual chastisement. The school canes were imported from India and made from rattan although we heard of canes made of bamboo also from Asian sources or birch which was locally crafted. Before my time corporal punishment could be metered out by the head boys or prefects but this was stopped due to overzealous beatings. Girls were exempt from receiving the cane and lady teachers seldom caned boys. Though they could be sent to the headmaster for canning. School punishments were recorded in a register.

Lantokey 6 months ago from Olde London Towne


limpet profile image

limpet 2 months ago from London England

I'm just reminded of the 1968 English public school feature with Malcolm McDowell as a student. The three chums are caught drinking alcohol in their dorm resulting in a violent thrashing in the school's gym. Leaning over a wood vaulting horse, 40 strokes are administered to the boy's buttocks after which McDowell's character thanks the person who caned him. Got to admit myself after the pain has gone it did leave a warm sensation!

Lantokey 2 months ago from Olde London Towne

One of our teachers was Miss Kane and she never used the school cane on errant school boys.

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