The Cane


It’s time for another bit of cod history, this time on the cane. This was inspired by a vanilla conversation about the alleged recent caning of an 18-year-old girl in Kerala, India.

A rather shocked and somewhat smug young woman said “they haven’t done that sort of thing in England since Victorian times.”

Given that even girls were caned in the UK up until the 1990s, it looked like it was time for a quick trip through history.

Incidentally, details on this alleged Indian caning are sketchy, good luck with your search (you know you will). This quote cropped up a few times possibly in connection with it, but little more.

“They tightened my churidar by pulling on it and then slashed the cane across my buttocks. It is very painful and is very shameful to get a caning across the buttocks in front of the boys.”

The cane is most associated with the traditional six-of-the-best in British, or more precisely English, schools, although, corporals and sergeants were also awarded (stripes of twos and threes).

The cane is erroneously thought to have been invented by Dr Arnold for boys at Rugby. The headmaster did introduce the cane there instead of the birch because it reduced the need to bare the buttocks and shortened the time needed to administer it.

However it was widely used in Scandinavia and Germany well before the early modern age and probably as far back as the middle ages.

It was widely used in convents in these countries for novices and other young women who had been secluded in convents for various reasons. The Prussians in particular were fond of thrashing noble women on the bared bottom for just about any breach of discipline.

A fact that inspired many silent movies and books before such things became politically incorrect. There are hints of it in the German movie, Mädchen in Uniform (1931) and of course the Prussian Girls explores the whole issue in detail. If somewhat fancifully.

Nevertheless, the British exported the cane to vast areas of the world, where for the most part it is still used.

In Singapore, where the rattan was the cane of choice, judicial caning still regularly makes the news.

Back in the 1930s the authorities used to separate the men and women for punishment, as they do now. So they had a separate institution for the summary caning of prostitutes and other women rather than go to the expense of prison, which was more usual for the male offenders no doubt.

It has not been shouted about, but sometimes well-to-do European women were caught in raids at the less savoury clubs and chose to take the cane rather than face the scandal.

Meanwhile back in Britain, the cane seems to have been more common in all-girl schools and colleges.

Also it was used in the military perhaps up until the 1960s, particularly in the navy.

Why women and not men? Well it is illegal to strike a serving soldier or sailor, but during the Second World War, when millions of women were drafted into the navy, they were never included in the King’s Regulations that had previously outlawed corporal punishment for men.

There are numerous reports (see earlier posts) where women received up to 30 strokes on the bare bottom. The CO’s 30 was applied to errant bottoms until just before the services were integrated, although even by the 1950s, correction was rarely given on the bare.

It is worth noting that contrary to some reports, male officers rarely carried out the sentences and they tended to be all women affairs. Indeed on ‘mixed establishments’ the men were often said to have behaved ‘like perfect gentlemen.’

In fact apart from during the notorious ‘Aden Mutiny’, it is unlikely that the men even suspected that this was happening at all.

The cane was also used in hospitals and secretarial schools up until the 1960s, which might explain various accounts of spanked nurses and secretaries right up until the 1980s. More on this another time.

For the record the last girlish bottom officially caned in the UK was in 1999. Thank god we live in enlightened times.


10 Responses to “The Cane”

  1. 1 jimisim

    A fascinating read, I didn’t realise that a cane was used in Germany before Britain.
    I beleive that some old extablished English schools may have used ash or hazel or possibly even apple switches before Arnold.

    One piece I found extremely interesting was your assertion that the cane was used in schools of nursing until the early 60s. I had always imagined that this was probably pure fantasy, although I can imagine it being used up to WW1′ but that changed nursing so radically that I had imagined it was just my fantasy that it happened after that.

    I always used to tease my wife that she should have been caned as a student nurse- she replied that she wouldn’t let any of the nuirse tutors near her, but could think of a couple od dishy senior doctors who she maight have allowed near her bum.

    If you have any factual or anecdotal info on this I would be grateful as I haven’t been able to find any.

    Keep up the good work, yours is by far the best blog I’ve found.


  2. I think my reading of this post falls under “morbid fascination” (GRIN). I am far more familiar with this rather un-lethal looking implement that I would want to be.

    Seriously though, enjoyed the post tremendously, but I am rather wishing that my dealings with the cane could stay in the spheres of reading and looking at pictures only!



  3. 3 fatherjim

    Wonderful read. Thanks.

    I know of the Aden Mutiny, but missed the inference to caning and mixed genders. Was this part of the issue? I do remember reading of Arab women being bent over the hoods of jeeps and thrashed with the cane by soldiers in Algeria, some allegedly bared for the punishment.

    I’d love to see a follow-up that deals with the Prussian desires to punish noblewomen!
    There are some wonderful pics of turn of the century thrashings dealt out by the Prussians at the Artastic site under the spanking pics heading.

    I remember reading years back that in Italy they had wine barrels cut in half lengthwise and secured to the ground in public squares specifically to mount women and thrash them for opposition to the politics of the times. Thus the-“They’ve got me over a barrel”- term. Never been able to confirm my readings.

    Likewise I once read of noble women in Jamaica receiving the cane quite publicly and shamefully (bared for the punishment)for siding against the government during the uprisings there. There was an outcry for “decency” from the British citizens in England and the practice ceased, at least publicly. Can you confirm?

    Again, thanks for all!


    • 4 DJ

      No inference on mixed genders only that I doubt apart from during instances such as the Aden Mutiny – it is unlikely that the men even knew that the women were being caned as it seems to be something carried out at largely female establishments.

      Many women weren’t subject to this kind of discipline it seems to very much depend where you were stationed.


  4. 5 anushree

    oh yeah, I do have something to say about this, and I think you know what its gonna be. First poonam, then this, come on. But how do you tighten a churidar by pulling on it? It rather makes the tailors useless if we could tighten or loosen just by pulling! Btw, kerela was suppossed to be the place in india where beating up or assaulting of women were never heard of! What happened to the good ol’ times?y

    • 6 DJ

      I have no idea how you tighten a churidar by pulling it – I don’t know what a churidar is. But is the only reference I could find.

      I suspect maybe what is meant is that it is pulled tight like you pull a skirt tight prior to correction – but if you tell me a churidar is a circle of iron that is put on the head then maybe that is not so???


  5. 7 Timory

    Very interesting post. But I thought that since rattan isn’t native to Europe, canes were not available to schoolmasters there until after the British colonization of Southeast Asia in the early 1800s.

    And while I’ve read before that cane appealed to Victorian sensibilities because it did not require the student be stripped naked, as the birch did, I always thought: what’s the point of a sound caning if it isn’t on the bare? That’s no fun at all!

    • 8 DJ

      The rattan cane is very much non-european and it is the British that introduced it – hence the myth of it being a British invention.

      but canes can be made from many species of European tree – such ash or willow etc and were prior to the introduction of the rattan and other asian species.

      The point of the cane was that it could be used over clothing – but that does not mean that it was. In fact it often wasn’t.


  6. For me the ultimate corporal punishment implement to use on a naughty woman’s bare bottom is a pliable stinging cane. An a hard caning at that.

  7. I believe that if a woman is naughty, any where in this big wide world of ours, she should be subject to corporal punishment. Be it in India, as in this case, England, where it has been called ‘the English Vice’, or here in the good old U.S.A, Yes, remove the sari’s, and bloomers, the knicker’s, or panties, to bare their bottoms, and spank these females, on their bare bottoms, either, with the hand, birchrod, or cane.

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