The Cat and the Database

[ By Charles Cameron — of knotted cords, corporal punishment and external memory ]

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Tablet DQ 600 quipu cat-o'nine-tails 75

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I have long toyed with the idea of the Quipu as a variant HipBone game-board, as exemplified here:

QuipuBoard

I hadn’t until now considered the cat-o’-nine-tails in the same light.

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This particular ramble began when I saw this tweet:

Students get 99 lashes for attending mixed party BY @CJMortimer https://t.co/UsbB1k8Hgn #IRAN #NO2ROUHANI

— Iran Arab Spring (@IranArabSpring) May 27, 2016

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Reading that tweet set me wondering, not for the first time, what punishments were like in the Royal Navy, say 150 or 200 years ago — not so very many generations in the grand torrent of time.

I hail from a Royal Naval family, and hadn’t until today realized quite how recently fierce corporal punishment had been a part of RN training. This image shows the punishment known as Twelve Cuts administered on HMS Ganges, as recalled from his own early years by the singer Jimmy Lee of the Edge of Chaos Orchestra:

Corporal Punishment Jimmy Lee HMS Ganges

A few pertinent details:

Before receiving his punishment, the young man would be given a medical inspection (“the boy’s buttocks are examined and his general physical condition observed” — Admiralty, 1950). He was then marched to the ship’s tailor to be fitted into a pair of extra-thin tropical-weight white cotton duck trousers, with — at least on HMS Ganges — no underwear allowed. (The Admiralty wrote in 1950 that the latter provision “allows the strokes of the cane to be as painful as need be”. They seem not to have been following their own rules, because the King’s Regulations in 1943 had amended the wording to “Caning on the breech, duck trousers with pants being worn”, but perhaps this was intended to apply only to seagoing ships and not the training ships.)

Perhaps some idea of the fruits of such training can be found in this impressive video of Ganges

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That image of the “cuts” brings back sore memories.. though my own treatment was far more lenient.

In my own youth, I was caned as early as age 6 and as late as age 17, the latter beating administered with sincere expressions of regret by my housemaster, the great archaeologist of the Assassins’ castles, Maj. Peter Willey. I’d admitted to doing the (London) Times crossword puzzle in the time allotted for my maths homework, and school regulations left him with no option — I had no option, either.

Six with a bamboo cane was the worst I suffered, so I can barely imagine what twelve cuts, let alone a hundred lashes with a cat-o’-nine-tails, would be like.

Discipline, lad: chin up.

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Image sources:

  • Wikimedia, Cat-o’-nine-tails
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