Until September 1941 New Zealanders could be legally flogged.

Thanks to Saudi Arabia’s brutal and inhumane treatment of blogger Raif Badawi in 2015, flogging as a punishment was back in the news. In 19th century Britain, the case of a young soldier who died after a similar assault provoked a national outcry. As well as Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Indonesia and Iran also continue to practice flogging with 40 to 80 strokes prescribed in the Quran. The most severe lashing assigned by a modern Saudi Arabian judge took place in 2007, when two men received a staggering 7,000 strokes each as punishment for loving each other.

In the 19th century in Christian countries, flogging was often administered in the army and navy as well as in schools and private homes. In order to discipline the mind it was considered necessary to discipline the body. The torture was divided into instalments: when the skin had started to heal it was time to whip again. The torture usually caused infections from the broken skin. It also affected the organs and could lead to heart failure. Death was not uncommon after repeated sessions of flogging. Thank goodness, this form of punishment has now been officially banned in all Christian countries.


In 1872, five years after corporal punishment was formally introduced to New Zealand, two children aged six and eight were found guilty of stealing a cash box containing 16 shillings. The younger child was sentenced to a week in jail while the elder was given 2 weeks. Both were flogged as part of the sentence.

During this period of New Zealand history, the New Zealand Herald reported that every week a child was charged for petty robberies and ordered to be whipped. “At the expiration of these short sentences and after receiving their whippings, they are sent out of the prison with no home to go to and no-one to care for them. They get hungry and they steal and get caught again,” the article said.


In September 1893 Dr Dalziel of Pukekohe and his wife, Mara Gracie, were charged with flogging Anne Jane, their 24-year-old daughter, with a leather cat-o’-nine-tails. They were unhappy that she had not cleaned a horse properly. Newspapers reported how the couple tied their daughter to a post and struck her over the back and hips and used their hands to hit her face and head, leaving marks on every part of her body. The girl reported the incident to Constable McGovern. He said her face was cut and disfigured and the victim complained her back and stomach were so sore after the beating that she could barely walk.

The violent treatment the parents inflicted on their daughter created huge interest throughout the country and it became the first case taken up by the Society for the Protection of Women and Children.

In 1908 New Zealanders learned girls at Te Oranga Girls’ Home had been repeatedly flogged. Letters to newspaper editors condemned the brutalities of corporal punishment as the public began to turn against floggings. With so much controversy caused by the barbaric practice, flogging began to also fall out of favour with judges. Just 17 men had up to 15 strokes of the cat-o’-nine-tails between 1919 and 1935, when the last flogging took place behind prison walls. Fourteen of the men had committed sexual offences. It would take 80 years after its introduction before the call for abolition was finally heard.


In 1924 Blanche Baughan, an advocate for prisoners, read about the Howard League in the London Spectator, and established the New Zealand branch. The league’s aim was to help rehabilitate prisoners into society by teaching them skills to help them gain employment. Blanche also wanted to stop the flogging of prisoners and with the help of influential pacifists and conscientious objectors she formulated a bill for the abolition of flogging which was introduced to parliament in 1941. Attorney-General Rex Mason said he would consider abolishing corporal punishment because it had been tried and found to be ineffective. “It is to bring our law into line with that of many other countries. It is high time we did, because it leads to the moral advancement of the people.” he said when the Crimes Amendment Act was passed on the 17th September 1941 finally abolishing flogging in New Zealand.

Ceidrik Heward

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