“That’s him, there.” Banker gestured at the giant sitting across the barracks.
“Christ,” said Crowley. “He’s immense.”
“That’s why they made him a scourger, cob,” smiled Banker. “Strong as a bull. I saw him give a hundred to a shirker not two months ago. You could see the poor bastard’s backbone before he reached thirty.”
Crowley wanted to ask if the man had lived, but thought better of it. “What’s his going rate?”
“Depends on the sentence. This new superintendent’s a pitiless bugger. Never seen him give less than twenty-five, and that for lateness.” He screwed up his eye. “Payment up front is recommended.”
Crowley fished his pockets and pulled out two gold guineas. Banker snatched them and secreted them in his clothes. “This should help him to go easy. Not that you won’t feel it, mind you. But they’ll at least be cutting a living man down from the triangle.”
For almost 80 years, the first third of Australia’s urban existence, thousands of British convicts were transported to Australia for non-capital crimes. Some convicts were transported for life and many of today’s Australians are descended from these men and women. Its penal colony past still embarrasses many Australians and is considered a taboo subject, much like Germany’s Nazi past or America’s history of slavery and Jim Crow discrimination.
In the penal colony, punishment of all infractions was swift and severe. The preferred method was a flogging at one of the many triangles erected in the public square. The prisoner was tied with arms upraised and whipped with either a cat-o-nine-tails or a long whip made of bull or rhino hide. Sentences of twenty-five, fifty, or even a hundred lashes were commonplace. Sometimes it was possible for a convict to bribe a scourger to “go easy,” and not hit them as hard, but not always.
The convicts took tremendous pride in not calling out or groaning despite the agonizing pain. Convict J.F Mortlock wrote: “Silent composure under suffering is strictly prescribed by convict etiquette.”
Many Australians still prize personal fortitude and toughness as cardinal virtues.