It seems to be a particularly British ‘instrument of correction’. Other European countries favour(ed) a variety of implements, many utilising various forms of leather and ranging from single rod-like whips that were probably designed for horses, through to multi-thonged flexible whips and scourges. And no list of classic European disciplinary implements can be complete without the inclusion of wooden paddles, switches and birches, and finally every mother’s favourite, the hairbrush.
Obviously cane was never available in Britain until colonialisation of Asian countries, and up to that point the birch rod (a tightly bound bundle of birch twigs originally designed for sweeping floors), was the implement of choice for chastising errant boys and girls. However, use of Rattan and Malacca cane spread back from the colonies and was quickly adopted because of its ease of use and effectiveness. Birches have to be maintained by soaking them in water (brine was the norm) in order to keep the twigs supple, and in use they scatter broken-off twig ends everywhere! This means that they wear away quickly and make one heck of a mess. A good quality cane on the other hand, is equally effective and will last for years. The British education establishment published approved punishment guidelines for schools, the cane being listed as the principle approved implement for corporal punishment of pupils. This principle was never adopted in Scotland, where they managed their own affairs, and instead the Lochgelly Tawse (so named because the approved supplier manufactured them in the town of Lochgelly) was favoured. I once lived in Lochgelly for several years, but sadly the original shop has changed use.
As Europeans colonised North America, they took their children and traditions with them, along with the established means of disciplining said offspring. Disciplinary implements were fairly low on the list of essentials that could be transported on wagons, and consequently items that came more readily to hand tended to be used. I welcome input from U.S readers – who are far better qualified to comment – as to the traditional punishment used by your own individual families.
In British schools then, The Cane was the penultimate sanction, superseded only by expulsion. Very serious offences were dealt with during Morning Assembly, when the offender would be called up on to the stage in front of the entire school. Their crime would be announced to the hushed throng, and they would be severely, and very publicly thrashed, in order to act as a deterrent to all. Being caught stealing from the local sweet (candy) store was a not uncommon offence. And so it was that numerous generations of Brits grew up to expect to see a black-gowned figure patrolling the school corridors, always carrying his discoloured-through-use crook-handled cane as a badge of office. Our Headmaster was not too affectionately known as ‘Swish’.
And what is good enough for school is also good enough for home. In the 1950s, in my experience at least, every kitchen door was equipped with a hook, and not for hanging ones apron on! The family cane quietly clattered there, acting as a constant reminder. It was more commonly used by the father of the house, as in ‘wait until your father gets home!’, and not necessarily exclusively used on the offspring. If the housewife was supposed to be supervising her children during the school holidays, then she must have failed in her duty when they got themselves into trouble.