"The beatings will continue until morale improves" is the single most popular banner on T-shirts bought by tourists in the BVI. The irony is lost on no-one. But it was not long ago that flogging was an accepted and effective form of punishment meted out to school boys, mariners, law breakers and criminals. Charlie can remember his own purple, blue and black buttocks from school days a mere 30 years ago.
In the British navy the cruel and barbaric punishment of flogging was inflicted for relatively minor crimes, like stealing an extra weevil at lunch. And "six of the best" (the schoolboys' beating) was pretty tame compared to a flogging with a cat o' nine tails. Floggings were meted out to those found guilty of thieving, disobedience and mutiny.
A slice of bread stolen from a bakery would mean transportation to the penal colony of Australia; a voyage of months with no prospects at the end. At the other extreme during the 18th century, several mundane crimes were punishable by execution. The "Bloody Code," as the regimen was known, was responsible for executing offenders for "scrumping" (stealing apples from trees in a private orchard), use of obscene language, the cutting down of a tree, stealing a rabbit from a warren, being out and about with a blackened face (definitely worrisome for West Indian crew), poaching and damaging Westminster Bridge.
Charlie has found the recent historical revelations to be most helpful on his charters. He has made a list of offences and punishments and pinned them up on a conspicuous bulkhead.
1. Blocked head: six lashes
2. Being sea sick over the windward rail: ten lashes
3. Not allowing nubile young daughter to go ashore for drinks with captain: transportation to Australia
4. Whining about the weather: six lashes
5. Not leaving adequate tip: summary execution
6. Having hellacious hangover: forgiveness (occupational hazard)
7. Asking dumb questions: six lashes
8. Asking same dumb questions again: ten lashes
9. Not stowing items properly: six lashes
10. Leaving hatches or ports open while underway:
transportation to anywhere miles from the sea
11. Whining about anything: six lashes
12. Not being ecstatic about the best sailing vacation in the world: the beatings shall continue until morale improves.
Hey, lubbers have to learn, and who am I to refute the rulings of our wise elders of yore?
Julian Putley is the author of "The Drinking Man's Guide to the BVI," "Sunfun Calypso," and "Sunfun Gospel."