India, 1853: a young British army officer finds himself in a difficult situation:
“One very painful circumstance stamped itself on my memory. I was obliged to be present at a flogging parade— the only one, I am glad to say, I have ever had to attend, although the barbarous and degrading custom of flogging in the army was not done away with until nearly thirty years later. A few years before I joined the service, the number of lashes which might be given was limited to fifty, but even under this restriction the sight was a horrible one to witness.
The parade to which I refer was ordered for the punishment of two men who had been sentenced to fifty lashes each for selling their kits, and to a certain term of imprisonment in addition. They were fine, handsome young Horse Artillerymen, and it was hateful to see them thus treated. Besides, one felt it was productive of harm rather than good, for it tended to destroy the men’s self-respect, and to make them completely reckless. In this instance, no sooner had the two men been released from prison than they committed the same offence again. They were a second time tried by Court-Martial, and sentenced as before.
How I longed to have the power to remit the fifty lashes, for I felt that selling their kits on this occasion was their way of showing their resentment at the ignominious treatment they had been subjected to, and of proving that flogging was powerless to prevent their repeating the offence.
A parade was ordered, as on the previous occasion. One man was stripped to the waist, and tied to the wheel of a gun. The finding and sentence of the Court-Martial were read out—a trumpeter standing ready the while to inflict the punishment—when the commanding officer, Major Robert Waller, instead of ordering him to begin, to the intense relief of, I believe, every officer present, addressed the prisoners, telling them of his distress at finding two soldiers belonging to his troop brought up for corporal punishment twice in a little more than six weeks, and adding that, however little they deserved such leniency, if they would promise not to commit the same offence again, and to behave better for the future, he would remit the flogging part of the sentence. If the prisoners were not happy, I was; but the clemency was evidently appreciated by them, for they promised, and kept their words. I did not lose sight of these two men for some years, and was always gratified to learn that their conduct was uniformly satisfactory, and that they had become good, steady soldiers.”
The officer was Second Lieutenant Frederick ‘Bobs’ Roberts who ended his career as Field-Marshal Earl Roberts of Kandahar VC and the last Commander in Chief of British Forces. Ths passage is from his memoirs, thanks to Project Gutenberg.