The Calhoon

A Letter to the Captain

Methods of Punishment & Torture

It’s very likely that you don’t need to read any of this, but the time spent in recovery has left me little left to do but research. I’ve finished all I need to in regards to mechanika for the time being, so I thought something practical, beneficial, and to be quite honest, cheap would be a good use of my time, as I’ll be saving up for a replacement for my bad eye; the blood-red look is intimidating and all, and a covered eye isn’t an uncommon enough thing to bring me unwanted attention, but I do miss being able to properly judge distances, etc… I’m boring you, I apologize. Herein lies my research into methods of punishment & torture used by pirates (and privateers, likely) to keep things running smoothly on board. I doubt that you need my help in this area, but I needed to familiarize myself with the subject, and if you’re able to find use in any of my findings, so much the better.

Punishment

Flogging & Its Variants

Flogging as punishment is either loved or hated; it’s one of the most common for breaking ship’s Articles, but has also been a relatively long-standing naval method for enforcing discipline, and for that reason has been “outlawed” on many pirating vessels; whether or not you find the method acceptable (or whether or not you define us as a pirating vessel) is your judgment, and yours alone; I’m merely supplying information.

FLOGGING (Basic): Whipping the victim with a simple rope end, sometimes with one or multiple knots.

A CAT ON THE BACK: Whipping the victim with a cat-o’-nine-tails across the bare back; while the standard cat-o’-nine-tails consists of nine tightly-wound & knotted strands of cord, attached to a piece of wood & bound in leather, I’ve found record of some less-than-popular men weaving fish hooks into the cords. I would trust your judgment of what is appropriate for whatever crime this would be intended for, but I could not in good conscience recommend adding hooks. (At least to anyone you were planning on keeping alive for very long.)

KISSING THE GUNNER’S DAUGHTER: This is quite specifically a Naval “tradition,” as opposed to a pirating one, but it remains quite brutal, and the metaphor makes for a more theatrical affair, which can prove useful at times. The victim/perpetrator of misdeeds is bent over & sometimes tied to the ship’s gun and lashed with a cat-o’-nine-tails.

Standard lashings (with the ‘Gunner’s Daughter being the exception) involve securing the receiver of punishment belly-up against the mast, or lying prone on the deck grating. In extreme cases, the entire crew sometimes participates, offering a stroke or two apiece, though depending on how many you’re employing, this may turn out to be a death sentence. The pain of the flogging is usually intensified by adding salt or brine to the open wounds.

Walking the Plank

A “classic,” if ever there was one; not included because I think you’re unfamiliar, but because I hardly think the list is complete without proper credit being paid. The offender may or may not be blindfolded, their hands are tied behind their back, and they’re made to walk overboard. Not actually as common a method as most think, but to call it well-known is quite the understatement.

Getting Clapped in Irons

We have manacles aboard, and this is a straightforward enough method of punishment.

Marooning

Generally this is reserved for deserters, cowards, and their ilk; those who would flee during battle or perhaps steal or defraud the crew of a proper share of a reward. The offender, sometimes stripped naked, is abandoned without fresh water on a desert isle. A token of mercy is to be given- a firearm or knife; to withhold a means to a swift end is a special insult for the worst of offenders only.

Dueling by Sword & Pistol

The punishment for fighting between crew members is usually settled on land, where the antagonists are instructed to fight a duel with pistols at ten paces. If both persons miss their first shots, they are to immediately resort to swords, and the first party to draw blood is declared the winner.

Keelhauling

This is one of the most feared punishments I’ll be mentioning here: a rope is passed under the ship from side to side as would be used for scraping barnacles off the ship’s keel, but the offender is attached to the rope and thrown overboard; the rope is pulled, forcing the offender underwater, beneath the ship’s hull, and finally back up the other side. Razor sharp barnacles will cut into the sailor like a saw’s edge, causing great pain, worsened by the salt of the sea. The victim might surface, gasping for air while being taunted by those on deck, and then be keelhauled again, returning the way he first came. This would likely be one of the slowest & most painful ways to be killed aboard ship, and I must tell you that someone surviving for more than a few days is a rare thing indeed; if drowning, hungry wildlife, or loss of blood don’t finish the victim off, the plethora of infected wounds likely would.

Hanging

We’ll steer clear of discussion about this method; there’s not much to say, and it’s not a favorite topic of discussion for most. “It’s better to swim in the sea below, than to swing in the air and feed the crow,” as they say, but again, your call & yours alone.

Torture

This is not an area I will pretend to be comfortable with, but considering the benefits and the lack of innocent parties in our line of work, I can see how it may come to be too useful to ignore from time to time. That said, I must admit that I would still refrain from bringing it up at all, were I serving under the type of man to take more pleasure from the means than the ends.

Benefits Include:

  • Fostering a ruthless reputation
  • Making it clear that if surrender is not immediate, no quarter will be given, and no pain shall be spared.
  • Assists in locating hidden valuables among the passengers, and the main goal, should there be one.
  • In extreme cases, can be used as punishment or vengeance upon those harming the cause.

“Talk or be tortured” is best known as an irreversible truth, and all parties should be fully aware that no one is immune, should information be refused or withheld; this helps avoid unnecessary injury & damage to the crew, the ship, and the main goal or prize. It would be highly advisable to leave at least one survivor to spread the word, assuming that the talk of such things would not hurt our reputation with the wrong people or mar our backing.

Dunking from the Yard Arm

This was once a traditional ceremony when crossing the equator, and had hygienic benefits as well, considering how standard a procedure bathing tends to be on most ships; however, it could be repurposed quite easily into a method of interrogation or torture. A sailor (or in this case “victim”) is attached to a spar, which is hoisted high above the ocean & dunked repeatedly into the water; the victim is tied or somehow attached to the spar, so that their grip doesn’t have to be relied on when the shock of impact against the water comes into play.

Tying to the Mast

A very theatrical, but no doubt effective method of torture involves tying the victim to the main mast, their arms & legs extended at full length, putting them on display while also exposing them to the harshness of the elements. This has technically been used as a punishment, but I can’t imagine what it would rightfully be used for that doesn’t have an easier, but equally effective counterpart. The only practical downside you might find with this method would be seeing other ships on the open water; it seems to me that the colors we fly won’t grant us much favor if we’ve got a dying man at half-mast beneath them.

I found this one in described in a court transcript; the details were rather graphic, and I won’t be getting into them here, but an 18 year old male signed on to a merchant ship and was assigned duties as the Captain’s cabin boy. He was accused of stealing rum from the Captain’s quarters, and was whipped and pickled in brine before being tied to the mast for a total of nine days & nights; a bit drastic, if I might say so myself.

Woolding

Fast and effective, though one of the most brutal methods in these pages; this technique is named for the binding of cords around the mast, as It requires only a short length of rope or cord positioned around the victims head. The ends of the rope are secured onto a length of wood that is continually twisted in a clockwise motion, thereby pulling the cord tighter and tighter against the victim’s temples until their eyes burst out of their skull. If information is not extracted before the end is reached, the next person in line for it is not likely to hold their tongue quite as fervently as their former colleague.

There you have it, Captain; I hope that it was an interesting, if not useful, read.

- Raz

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