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Captain's Daughter - Cat-of-Nine-Tails

What is a whip called on ship?

Captain's Daughter

One name is the 'Captain's Daughter' or the 'Cat-of-Nine-Tails, or simply, the Cat. It was a multi-tailed whip that implemented severe physical punishment, used in the Royal Navy and the U.K. Army. It was even used as a judicial punishment in numerous countries including Great Britain. The Cat was made by unwinding the nine stranded rope, about 76 cm long and was designed to lacerate skin and cause severe pain.

The Cat the Navy used was known as the "captain's daughter" because it was used under the Captain's authority. It weighed around 13 ounces/370 grams and was kept in a red baize bag. Hence the saying, Don't let the cat out of the bag. If it came out, the offender was in serious trouble.



Floggings on ships were administered on deck and the crew were summoned to witness the punishment. Drunkenness received a dozen lashes. At the captain's discretion, punishments were given for striking an officer, sitting on the deck, poor seamanship, insubordination, fighting, gambling, and slacking off.

If the transgression wasn't too serious, the sailor was stapled to the deck for a day, or put in the lifeboat with only bread and water rations. The worst punishments were administered after a formal court-martial. There are Royal Navy records of standard penalties being two hundred lashes for deserters, three hundred for mutineers, and up to five hundred for theft, depending on the circumstances. Sodomy received the death penalty, although one 18th-century court martial gave a punishment of one thousand lashes. That was roughly the equivalent sentence as there was no hope of survival. Not a great way to die.

A new cat was made by the bosun's mate for each flogging and if several dozen lashes were needed, each dozen could be administered by a different bosun's mate. If a left-handed sailor was included it assured extra pain from the crisscrossing of wounds. 

For Royal Navy boys, the flogging was administered to their bare posterior, usually while bending over a gun barrel. This was called kissing the gunner's daughter. The embarrassment of being punished bare-bottomed was thought essential for optimal deterrence. They were told to take it like a man. 

Flogging Round The Fleet

The harshest punishment was called flogging round the fleet. The number of lashes was divided by the number of ships in the port at that time. Then the offender was rowed from ship to ship in an open boat so each ship's company could witness his punishment. If the penalty was hundreds of lashes the prisoner was flogged as long as the surgeon allowed. Sentences could take months or years to complete depending on how much a man could bear at one time.

Normally 250–500 lashes killed a man, not just from the pain and loss of blood, but because of infection. If all of this wasn't enough, the sailor's lacerated back was often rinsed with brine or seawater. Perhaps it was believed to be a crude antiseptic to control infection, but it caused the sailor to endure further pain and is where the expression rubbing salt in his wounds comes from.

The Captain's Daughter was also used in the penal colonies in Australia until 1957. It was used in Canada until 1881 and on slave trade ships.

In 1948 it was removed from the Judicial corporal punishment statute book in Great Britain, but it is still in use in a few Commonwealth countries.

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