Cat 'O Nine Tails
The cat is made up of nine
about 0.8 metres (21⁄2ft)
long, designed to lacerate the skin and cause intense pain.
traditionally has nine thongs as a result of the manner in which
plaited. Thinner rope is made from three strands of
plaited together, and thicker rope from three strands of thinner
rope plaited together. To make a cat o' nine tails, a rope is
unravelled into three small ropes, each of which is unravelled
Variations exist, either named
cat (of x tails) or not, such as the whip used on adult
Egyptian prisoners which had a cord on a cudgel branching
into seven tails, each with six knots, used only on adult men,
with boys being subject to
caning, until Egypt banned the use of the device in 2001.
Sometimes the term "cat" is used
incorrectly to describe various other punitive
flogging devices with multiple tails in any number, even one
made from 80 twigs (so rather a limp
birch) to flog a drunk or other offender instead of
80 lashes normally applicable under
shariah law. The closed cat, one without tails, was called a
provides a webpage
Judicial corporal punishment in Australia.
Below are extracts:
The following information
about the former position in each State is gleaned, except where otherwise
stated, from Benson & Glover (1931), Benson (1937), Cadogan (1938) and Kalet
South Wales had rules prescribing the
use of a tawse for boys under 18, for a range of crimes (or for any indictable
offence, in the case of a boy under 16), with a maximum of 25 strokes (or 50
strokes if over 16) at each of three whippings. These punishments were inflicted
in a prison. The prison service supplied two implements, "Tawse No 1" for boys
under 14, and a larger "Tawse No 2" for youths over 14 and under 18.
1884 news report
makes clear that the tawse was applied to the bare buttocks of the offender, who
was tied to a wooden bench.
over 18 convicted in NSW of serious sexual crimes and some other offences
(violent robbery, but also e.g. "malicious wounding of cattle") could be
given up to 50 lashes of the cat-o'-nine-tails at each of three whippings.
1883 news item
reports on what it says was the first such JCP sentence under the then new
Criminal Law Act.
Before that 1880s
legislation, courts in NSW ordered men to receive "lashes on the breech"
(precise nature of the implement not stated), the earliest case currently to
this one in 1824;
this 1841 case.
the implement could be a cane, birch, or leather strap, or (for offenders over
16) the cat, with the same maxima as for New South Wales. In 1937 it was claimed
that no JCP had been ordered "in recent years", but this overlooks
a July 1934 case
in which an aborigine was ordered at Cairns to receive "20 strokes with a
leather strop on the bare buttocks". See also
this April 1932
of a case in which a 17-year-old's father agreed with the court to give the boy
nine strokes of the cane on his bare buttocks in the presence of a police
sergeant, on which condition he would be released on a good behaviour bond. This
kind of "semi-official" JCP seems to have been common in several Australian
There was provision in
South Australia for offenders under 16 to be birched with up to 25
strokes at each of two whippings for certain offences including minor larceny,
indecent exposure, and "writing obscene words on walls". Adult men received up
to 50 strokes with the cat, again at each of up to three whippings, all of which
had to be administered within six months of the sentence. There had been four
instances of this from 1932 to 1937.
Flogging with the cat
for adult male offenders,... were still in use in South Australia in the 1950s,
as may be seen in
historical news items.
The clearest picture of what the "parental caning" involved comes in
this May 1956 illustrated news item,
where it is interesting to note that one youth so caned was aged 17, despite the
supposed upper limit of 14 (according to Cadogan).
listed as "none" in Cadogan, and not mentioned at all in Benson, but this
appears to mean only that no information had been obtained, not that there was
no JCP there. Certainly Tasmania had legislation providing for juveniles to be
This 1889 news item
describes a case in which a 16-year-old offender was given the maximum 15
strokes of the cane on his bare buttocks in the first of two whippings ordered
by the court, with the second due to take place six months into his five-year
prison sentence for assault. That was a Supreme Court case, but magistrates,
too, were empowered to order JCP for juvenile offenders, using a cane, birch or
strap, under the (Tasmania) Juvenile Offenders Act 1875 -- see Documents
Adult men in early
Tasmania could be ordered by local courts to receive "lashes on the breech", as
these May 1834 news items.
more serious offences were punished on the bare posterior with a birch
"consisting of willow withes soaked in water" or, for adult men, on the upper
back with a cat-o'-nine-tails, with the same maxima as for South Australia.
Birchings recorded in earlier times in Victoria include
this one in 1886,
in which a 19-year-old received 25 strokes for indecency, and
this one in 1907,
in which six boys received 15 strokes each for shopbreaking and larceny.
More recently there
had been seven floggings in one year around 1930 in Victoria. As of 1937 there
had been one juvenile birching and 10 adult floggings in the previous five
years. But in the following year a young man and three youths were birched in
one armed robbery case alone -- see
this Dec 1938
Another gang of young armed robbers, seven strong, were
ordered to be
birched in July 1942
in addition to prison terms.
Australia the implement could be a cane, birch, or leather strap, or (for
offenders over 18) the cat.
There had been two
floggings in one year around 1930 in Western Australia (one of which was 12
strokes of the "cat" for rape). In 1937 it was claimed that there had been no
JCP in the previous five years.
A 19-year-old was
sentenced in Perth to a 12-stroke birching for a sexual offence in 1962, and his
appeal against it failed, as documented in
this July 1962 news item,
so presumably it was duly carried out. This could be the "last birching" (August
1962) referred to in one of the documents below (see "external links").
abolition took place in 1971 in South Australia, 1973 in Tasmania, and 1974
in New South Wales, the ACT and Northern Territory, according to
this 1980 Law
Reform Commission document,
which also stated that at that point JCP was still on the statute books in
Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia.
In Victoria a
Committee sat in 1948 to consider abolition of the birch or the cat or both, but
its members could not agree. Abolition did not result: two Victoria criminals
were ordered to be flogged with the cat in 1957, and the flogging was actually
carried out the following year. A
press report of
stated that this was Victoria's first judicial whipping since 1943.
That case was said by
the aforementioned 1980 Law Reform Commission paper (at para. 39) to be the
"last officially sanctioned whipping in Australia", but there had been juvenile
cases more recently than that in which courts ordered parents to administer
formal CP to their sons (e.g. "Boys remanded for thrashing by father", The
West Australian, Perth, 6 January 1970, not yet on line).
Below are extracts from
History of whipping as a criminal punishment in
Australia - Griffith University - Research Brief 21:
has a long history as an instrument of social control. In early modern Europe,
whipping served both as a punishment for law breaking, and as a deterrent to
others. Both the military and naval forces had a long history of flogging as a
punishment for disobedience or other infringements against the military code. In
a civilian context, whipping was the penalty traditionally meted out for minor
offences like thieving. Whipping was also combined with other forms of
punishment, like banishment. This became a very common form of punishment on the
American goldfields, until 1851 when the Californian legislature replaced
whipping and exile with hanging.
Whipping (or flogging) was a common
form of punishment in early colonial Australia,
and used against both women and
men. In the early court system, some magistrates awarded quite brutal sentences.
Joseph Salter and William Doyle were
each sentenced to “thrice fifty lashes in the public street” for pig stealing.
One of the most infamous magistrates was Reverend Samuel Marsden,
“the flogging parson”; the nickname
arose from the severe punishments meted out to some of the convicts who appeared
before him in the New South Wales Court of Petty Sessions.
During the nineteenth century,
changing perceptions of punishment impacted the role of whipping in sentencing.
One important shift was the abolition of corporal punishment inflicted on female
offenders. Punishment focused more on physical deprivation than physical harm.
Instead of whipping, women were subjected to solitary confinement and dietary
restrictions. In April 1827, a Hobart newspaper reported that Jane Jackson, who
had absconded from her master’s service, was
sentenced to solitary confinement
for 7 days with only bread and water to sustain her. A decade later Julia Leech,
then Matron of the Parramatta Female Factory recorded that as of
June 30 1838 15 of the 596 women
detained in the Factory were held in solitary confinement.
The second development was that
whipping sentences became directed at specific groups in society and
increasingly employed for specific offences. In Western Australia, the
government passed the Aboriginal Offenders (Amendment) Act 1892 that
legislated whippings for minor offences and misdemeanours heard in the
magistrates’ court. The Act stipulated 25 strokes as the maximum number
possible for an adult male offender, and 12 strokes as the maximum for juvenile
males. Larry, an Aboriginal man who had absconded from police, was sentenced
in the Roebourne court to
18 lashes with a cat-o-nine
tails, and a month in leg irons. An unnamed Aboriginal man was sentenced to the
full 25 lashes for stealing from
a shepherd’s hut.
Whipping was a common penalty for
infractions whilst in prison. This did not always sit well with a fledgling
settler society keen to leave its convict years well behind, and flogging
prisoners was an uncomfortable reminder of the often arbitrary treatment of
convicts and prisoners which had given colonies like New South Wales a brutal
reputation. Gaol wardens were keen to
that such floggings, when warranted, were carried out in a way that could not be
distressing to the public. Prison floggings became increasingly rare, although
illegal physical punishment of prisoners did sometimes occur. In 1869, a South
evidence that prisoners were sometimes beaten with guns and occasionally even
with prison bayonets.
But despite the rhetoric, violent
punishment retained some acceptability in the minds of many in the community. In
some cases, judges were reported as lamenting their inability to order the
defendant be flogged, particularly for those convicted of sexual offences
and children. Certainly, some judges during the first few decades of the
twentieth century continued to direct the use of whipping, primarily for these
kinds of offences.
Data in the Prosecution Project
database shows that sentences often stipulated particular types of striking
Into the 1930s and early 1940s,
judges ordered whippings with a cane, a leather strap or a birch rod. Others
directed whipping with the infamous cat of nine tails. While whippings were in
decline, they continued to be applied to offences like robbery in company,
robbery with violence, or wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm. But
most whipping sentences occurred following convictions for sexual offences
against women and children.
In March 1964, two men were
convicted of rape,
an offence which at the time attracted a
Legislation provided that whipping could be ordered if the death sentence was
commuted. In this case, the men’s death sentence was commuted to twelve and
eight years imprisonment respectively. But they were not whipped. An unsigned
submission to Cabinet argued that NSW did not have the “appropriate facilities”
to carry out a whipping sentence. The prisoners would need to be transferred to
another state which, the submission surmised, “would give rise to unfavourable
public opinion”. The advice was to avoid this complication, and so neither man
received a whipping for their crime.
In Queensland, whipping stayed ‘on
the books’ in the Criminal Code until the mid-1980s. These specifically
related to sexual offences like ‘the abuse of children’ (s. 213), and
‘indecently dealing with girls under 16’ (s.216). However, judges utilised
sentencing options other than corporal punishment, and the provisions became
redundant. The Queensland Parliament moved to remove all provisions for
whipping by passing The Criminal Code Amendment Act 1986. The Act was
assented to on the 6th March, 1986, effectively removing all references to
whipping from the relevant sections of the Code."
Sydney in the 1840s
the most common forms of convict punishment was flogging (whipping) with a
‘cat-o’-nine-tails’, a whip named for the way it scratched the skin like the
claws of a cat. Made up of nine lengths of knotted cord attached to a
handle, it would lash the back of the offender, tearing the skin and causing
intense pain. The number of lashes, 25, 50, 75 or 100 or more was
determined by a magistrate or court, and dependent on the seriousness of the
convict’s offence. In 1833, Ernest Slade, Deputy Superintendent of Hyde Park
Barracks introduced a new cat-o’-nine-tails that he boasted could draw the
blood after only four lashes. All convicts present at Hyde Park Barracks
were ordered to watch the floggings. Contrary to popular belief, not all the
convicts experienced multiple floggings; two thirds of all convicts
experienced only one or no flogging during their sentence.
is an extract from
Roger Therry, Reminiscences of thirty years’ residence in New South
Wales and Victoria, London, Sampson Low, Son, and Co., 1863, 2nd ed,
41-42. Object(s): Hyde Park Barracks Museum collection, HPB2003/11:
"As I passed along the road about eleven o’clock in the morning there
issued out of the prisoners’ barracks a party consisting of four men,
who bore on their shoulders (two supporting the head and two the feet) a
miserable convict, writhing in agony of pain – his voice piercing the
air with terrific screams. … I... was told it was “only a prisoner who
had been flogged, and who was on his way to the hospital!"