Victorian School Punishments
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.)