The cane is one of the most important-and most intrinsically severe-of all instruments of punishment, and though it is most commonly found in the schoolroom, there is no reason why it should not be employed, where necessary, for domestic punishments as well. Second only to the birch, the cane stands-in England anyway-for the idea of corporal punishment, in the same way the martinet represents the same idea in France, the taws in Scotland, and the tapette in the Americas.
Canes: which materials?
Canes are made from a variety of materials, with rattan being the most popular, due to its unique combination of light weight and extreme flexibility. They can also be made from malacca and bamboo-both unsuitable materials in my opinion, since malacca is too “knobbly” and bamboo is liable to splinter-and also from whalebone, a very severe form indeed of this instrument. And of course, ad hoc punishment ferrules can be shaped very easily from switches cut from any hedgerow-hazel, willow and young ash-plants all being suitable, though only the last-named will last for more than one punishment.
The standard British school cane is universally manufactured from rattan, and is typically supplied with one end already curled into the traditional handle. Lengths vary from about two feet (these are intended to be used across the knee on smaller boys but I do not think this “punishment” can ever be effective) to about four feet. Canes longer than this will be difficult to control and aim properly and should be rejected (unless the caning is of the judicial type).
Canes: feel it
The weight of a cane is the important thing and here appearances may be deceptive. Rattan is a very light material and inexperienced governesses not appreciating this are liable to choose their canes on the slender side, reasoning that this will make the strokes more merciful. In fact the reverse is true: a slim, wand-like cane is crueller and more liable to cut. Thicker canes better combine the qualities of penetration and “spread”, and are less liable to break the skin. (I speak in this context of canings inflicted “on the bare”-if a boy retains his trousers you may use what cane you like.)
The cane in use
It is, as I have said, a severe instrument, and though versatile-it can be used to punish the hands and the clothed or unclothed bottom-the cane should be used with respect for its considerable powers of penetration. Wrongly used, it can be a vicious implement.
In fact, its widespread adoption within British schools during the last fifty years is a result of mistaken kindness and a certain prudery, mixed well together. Until the middle of the last century, the birch reigned supreme; but the application of the birch inevitably means the baring of the bottom-it can be applied under no other conditions-and a maidenly reluctance to strip young men meant that another instrument, capable of penetrating even the thick material of a boy’s workday breeches, had to be employed. For this purpose there is no better implement than the cane-unless it be the riding-crop, which is certainly not for use in schoolrooms-and so it became adopted, particularly in state or church schools.
The irony is of course that many pedagogues continue to punish errant youths on the bare buttocks; however, using the cane in this way, they are actually punishing with considerably greater severity, stroke for stroke, than with the birch! The result of the mid-Victorian prudery is therefore that many naughty boys actually suffer more than once they did (this is very often the case with ill thought-out “reforms”).
The cane is therefore one of the few implements that I occasionally administer across the trouser seat-that is, with no stripping taking place beforehand. Six or twelve strokes applied with vigour to a tightly-presented target will cause enough distress to expiate most offences.
If I desire to inject a greater degree of shame into a caning, particularly one administered in class, I make a boy take down his trousers-but not, automatically, his underwear (I retain this option as a further sanction in case he misbehaves during the punishment).
Nevertheless it frequently comes about that a culprit will commit offences of such gravity that it becomes necessary to administer the cane “on the bare”, almost always in private. I usually limit canings of this sort to a maximum of 12 strokes, though I have gone to 24 on a few occasions (they were very serious offences), and, once only, to three dozen. This was no schoolroom punishment but a judicial thrashing of the utmost severity.
Check out this caning scene with Jennifer Miller, too.
Applying the cane across the bare bottom is one way of observing the progress and effect of the punishment, and of checking one’s aim. Some males have tougher hides than others, but even a light caning of a few strokes will leave, in addition to the usual blush across the nether regions, intermittent evidence of the rod in the form of visible weals. If the strokes are administered at a slow pace-say, one every ten seconds-the caner has time to observe these marks begin to develop, and like a rifleman can correct her aim accordingly. All strokes should be delivered into as narrow a band as possible, and that area should correspond with the plumpest and best-padded part of the posterior.
Administering any sort of caning is a matter of some precision, the attainment of which is generally a matter of practice. In order to be effective at all, it must be administered with a minimum of real force.
I have spoken much already about this excellent implement so here I shall confine myself to observations concerning its use. The cane is a highly penetrating instrument of great potential severity, and care must be taken when administering it-so much is obvious. It is also lighter than it looks. But the important point is its extreme flexibility. During the quarter-second or so of flight, the instrument achieves a near semicircularity in shape. Although it may appears straight and even stiff (till it is moved), in practice it is more whiplike. The arm and wrist motion is therefore a complex one. At the beginning of the stroke, the hand leads the tip of the cane; it continues to lead throughout the descent; only at the last moment, after the shortest of follow-throughs, does the wrist halt and reverse direction slightly so that the business end of the cane “catches up” at exactly the right angle to the posterior. The achievement of a good caning action is therefore a matter of some diligence and constant practice.
Another precaution is to take one’s stance slightly to the left of the target-perhaps as much as a half-pace. This ensures that the tip of the cane, which travels faster than the rest of the instrument during the latter part of the flight, strikes the far buttock at precisely the same instant, and with the same force, as the rest of the cane makes contact with the near buttock. The result should be a perfect stripe across the broadest part of the bottom. This mark will immediately appear in white as you finish the stroke; then it will fade; to reappear (if it has been a severe stroke) within less than a minute as a thin welt.
I have spoken earlier about limits on the use of the cane. Feeble strokes merely tap the skin. Savage blows can cut it. Both are to be deplored. The result of a sound caning should be a welted bottom, certainly-if the behind is not vividly marked the punishment has been too mild and will be too rapidly forgotten-but not a scarified one. That is simple brutality.
The cane should hum or whistle in the stroke and fall across the target with a sharp snap, like a toy pistol. There should be a pause between strokes-say, a minimum of ten seconds.
Beware of canes that are too long. While a long cane whips-in satisfactorily, it is harder to control, and the stray six inches at the end may cause the further buttock to be punished more severely than the nearer. Standing well to the left of the target is one cure, but on the whole it is best to use a slightly shorter weapon, and to strike slightly harder.
When a culprit is bending over in the conventional position, do not make the mistake of shaping your stroke with too great a downwards component. The chances are you may hit the base of the spine, or the cane will fall at an awkward, grazing angle, or you may punish the upper half of the buttocks and leave the lower, more sensitive portion, unscathed. Take a horizontal or even slightly upwards aim, draw the cane back slowly within the same are, then whip the forearm and wrist smartly through from one side to the other, keeping your eyes on the exact spot you are aiming for. Do not look up from this spot until you have completed the stroke. If the buttocks have been bared beforehand, observe the mark and compare it to your point of aim; adjust the next stroke accordingly.
A traditional way of limiting the amount of force that may be applied is to tuck a large book-say, the Bible-under your punishing arm and retain it there throughout the caning. A little experimentation will shew that it is impossible to use the shoulder and upper arm muscles without letting the book fall. You are constrained to wrist and forearm, which is exactly as it should be. An even greater error is to be over-harsh. The difference between the lightest cut that may reasonably be given, and the severest, is not large; and if greater severity is required it is safer to increase the number of strokes, or to apply some additional measure, such as baring the bottom, or administering the punishment in public, or all three.
Canings are well-nigh impossible to administer in most of the spanking postures (over the knee, &c.,) due to the length of the weapon. They must be inflicted with the culprit bent over (or if necessary held), for example touching his toes, or across a chair, or a desk, or the end of his bed, or in any of the postures already discussed for the Taws (see above). I do not favour any of the kneeling postures since this makes the angle of the body too acute for such a penetrating instrument as the cane: a culprit bending over clasping his shins with his knees straight and his feet together is presented at precisely at the correct angle.
There being a natural level of formality in a caning, this tone should be maintained both before and after the punishment proper, wherever it is inflicted and under whatever conditions of dress. At the very least I make a caned offender write an imposition. On occasion-when the trousers have been taken down, for example-I send him shuffling to the corner to further shame and isolation, with his garments about his ankles and his hands on his head.
A culprit may either be caned on the spot, as soon as may be following the commission of the offence-this is particularly true of schoolroom punishments; or be sent to another part of the house to prepare himself and await your arrival (with the cane); or he may be sent to fetch the cane from a closet-himself obliged to choose from your considerable and varied collection.
Alternatively, while the culprit, already positioned and stripped, waits in suspense and fear, the Governess may coolly take her pick, assessing each of her canes at leisure until she is certain she has chosen the correct instrument for the task at hand. There is no hurry, after all, and the unanticipated waiting time adds to the overall punishment.
If I may here insert a relevant personal anecdote: my own Governess, before I was sent to boarding school and escaped her rod, used to punish my brother by saying to him, in front of me and my sisters and whoever else happened to be present in the schoolroom: “Henry, go to your room and put down your trousers. Count to three hundred, slowly, and pull the bellrope.” When we heard the bell ring-and you may believe our attention was bent on nothing else no matter what our scholarly demeanours proclaimed-she would cease her work, go to the closet, take out the long yellow waxed cane, roll up her sleeve thoughtfully-she never gave us a glance during these proceedings-say “Get on with your work, girls”, and leave the room.
We would hear her slow footfalls pass down the corridor, then the opening of a door, and then silence for a minute, before the familiar sounds of the cane being applied to our brother’s bare backside came to us; every smack, every squeal-though Henry was stalwart in these affairs and did not as a rule become vocal until near the end of his punishments, and sometimes not at all, much to her visible chagrin.
The cane in the schoolroom
The simplest and-these days-most common way in which the cane is used in schoolroom settings is when it is applied on the hands (see page 50). However, as I may have mentioned, there are many occasions on which this is not a suitable punishment (for example, when the pupil has a writing task in hand), and whenever the cane is in use in my classroom, I usually apply it to the bottom in one of the modes described above-that is, across the seat of the trousers, or with this garment lowered to the knees. If a more severe form of encounter with the cane becomes necessary, I administer it on the bare bottom, usually in private.
Today the cane is favoured by many mamas and stepmamas for many reasons: Not only has it become a “traditional” instrument of correction-supplanting the birch, alas! in many homes-but it is economical both of effort and implement, being both easy to apply with force and long-lasting (a good cane may never wear out at all and I still possess at least three which I acquired when I began my career as a professional governess twenty years ago, though one of these is taped at the end). In addition, canes are easily acquired-most general stores sell them for sixpence apiece. Apply the punishment cane in the same modes of position and preparation as you would the taws.
In some of our Colonies, the cane is the official instrument of judicial correction, due almost certainly to the absence of birch in those latitudes (the birch is still favoured in Britain for whippings awarded by courts and in reformatories). Judicial canings are perhaps the most severe corporal punishments that may be awarded-certainly far more severe than the birch. And although there may never be any reason to administer a punishment of such weight, it should be kept in reserve, as a truly “last resort”. The long cane is used on these occasions, and the strokes are separated by at least fifteen seconds. A typical award is a dozen strokes.
The preparations are as follows: the culprit-I will not call him a young gentleman at this point-is informed of his fate, and confined under restraint, wearing only a pair of knickers, to await it. In the meantime I prepare a trestle, padded on top with a blanket and fitted with straps for restraint during the punishment (which is too severe to be borne otherwise). When all is ready, my maid and I go to the place where he is confined, release his immediate bonds, and march him, willing or no, to the place where the caning is to be administered. He is then fastened across the trestle, head down, and his wrists are strapped to his ankles. His knees are also strapped together so that he really cannot move. Then I instruct the maid to draw the knickers to his knees, and, after a pause of about a minute in order to regain the solemnity of the occasion, I step forward and apply the first stroke. The culprit is himself required to count the strokes aloud, but many lose count after a few cuts and I have to rely on my own tally. On these occasions I use real force, since the object is to leave “three-week” weals. A bare bottom on the receiving end of such punishment will naturally shew evidence in startling form.
At the end of the whipping I leave the scene; my maid then applies ointment to the afflicted area, the offender is released from his posture, and the punishment is over. I never apply further sanctions (impositions, shame isolation &c.) in cases of this sort since I am of the opinion that a whipping of this severity is all the punishment that should be inflicted for any single offence. After being on the receiving end of a judicial caning a young gentleman (having taken his award he may now once more be regarded as such) should not be expected to appear again that day-he will not be able to walk easily, nor to sit down at all, and will have to spend at least that night sleeping on his face.
Let us not mince matters: these are severe punishments, and in all my career I have administered less than half-a-dozen in total.