You sons of Great Britain attention pray give unto me for a while, Let us hope that on every brave soldier dame fortune in future will smile; The disgraceful affair was at Hounslow, has excitement great caused afar, The death of John White, the brave soldier, of Her Majesty's 7th Hussars.
A STREET BALLAD
In the early summer of 1846 John White, a 27 year old private in the 7th Queens Own Hussars based at Hounslow Barracks was found guilty of striking his sergeant with a metal bar in a drunken fight. At a drumhead court-martial he was sentenced to receive a flogging of 150 lashes.
This was a time when the good and the great of the land, including the Duke of Wellington and Admiral Nelson, were convinced that “the greatness of England, that Waterloo and Trafalgar”, depended on the right of summary courts-martial to flog offenders. They did not believe it was possible to maintain discipline without the threat of the cat-o’-nine-tails. As a result men were routinely flogged, five hundred, eight hundred, and a thousand lashes being no unusual sentence. Some of the victims died under this barbaric punishment.
689 Private Frederick John White was given his punishment on 15th June 1846 by the regimental farriers, the strongest men in the regiment, in the presence of 300 soldiers, their commanding officer Colonel Whyte and the surgeon Dr. James Low Warren. In a departure from usual practise White, stripped to the waist, was tied to a ladder rather than the usual triangle of halberds. The farriers, under the command of a sergeant, began their task in relays of twenty-five lashes each. It was a punishment that soon drew blood, and ten privates, four of them hardened soldiers, fainted at the sickening spectacle. When the grim ritual was over and John White taken down from the ladder, Colonel Whyte addressed the whole regiment, calling White “a brutish fellow”, and threatening similar punishment “on every occasion that reports of insubordination were made”
“After the flogging, White was as usual taken to the hospital. Here it was found that his back was not badly lacerated, the ‘real skin not being cut through’. He was duly treated and all went well with him till the morning of 6 July, on which day he was to return to duty and be discharged from the hospital, his back being completely healed. White now complained of a pain in the region of the heart, through his back and shoulder blade.
Dr. Warren, the surgeon of the Regiment, who had of course been present at the punishment, did all that he could to relieve the man. Paralysis of the lower extremities, however, was discovered, and the unfortunate soldier died at 8.15 p.m. on 11 July."
The History of The 7th Queen’s Own Hussars Vol. II, by C.R.B. Barretts
In due course Dr Warren issued a death certificate for John White, stating that the soldier had died from natural causes. Then an application was made to Rev. Henry Trimmer, the Vicar of Heston for a certificate to bury the man in Heston churchyard.
In Hounslow Barracks White’s death had so enraged his comrades that their cartridges were taken away in case they resorted to violence against their officers. Rev. Henry Trimmer shared their unease. Dissatisfied with the statement on the death certificate, Trimmer refused to give a burial order until an inquest had been held. This was the last thing that the War Office wanted. They had already completely exonerated the regimental doctor, and had even taken some twelve square inches of skin from White’s back, with the obvious intention of removing all evidence of the flogging.
The local coroner was the redoubtable Thomas Wakly, a determined and courageous reformer and a firm opponent of military flogging. He was not going to be deterred by the War Office and their protests.
The inquest duly opened early in August 1846 at The George IV inn in Hounslow. Wakley immediately made an order for the exhumation of the body. The War Office strenuously opposed this. To prevent Wakley proceeding they sent two military surgeons to Heston to obstruct the Court’s officers. Wakley, who had foreseen the possibility of this happening, banned them from the churchyard. Following the post-mortem the Hounslow jury, instructed by Wakley, brought in the verdict that Private White had died “from the mortal effects of a severe and cruel flogging of 150 lashes”…
They also added this rider…
“In returning this verdict the jury cannot refrain from expressing their horror and disgust at the existence of any law among the statutes or the regulations of this realm which permits the revolting punishment of flogging to be inflicted upon British soldiers; and at the same time the jury implore every man in this kingdom to give hand and heart in forwarding petitions to the legislature, praying in the most urgent terms for the abolition of every law, order and regulation which permits the disgraceful practice of flogging to remain one moment longer a slur upon the humanity and fair name of the people of this country.”
Encouraged by a series of letters in “The Times” detailing many similar and often fatal lashings, in barracks, penal colonies and aboard ships, the public swiftly responded. A petition demanding the end of flogging was presented to the House of Lords on 14th August 1846 obliging the government to devote a whole day’s debate to the subject of military floggings. As a concession, following the advice of the Duke of Wellington, the War Office altered its regulations, making fifty lashes the maximum punishment, soothing public opinion somewhat. Further attempts to abolish flogging in the Army were unsuccessfully made in 1876 and 1877. In 1879 flogging was reduced by the Army Discipline Act and rendered commutable to imprisonment. The total abolition of this form of punishment in the Army did not take place until 1881. Surprisingly after years in abeyance flogging was only officially abolished in the Navy in 1939.
After the inquest in Hounslow 689 Private Frederick John White was reinterred under the trees in Heston churchyard underneath a stone paid for by the officers and men of the Queens Own 7th Hussars. It says;
“This stone is erected by his comrades as a testimony of their sympathy for his fate and their respect for his memory.”
The wretched Colonel Whyte, the commanding officer of the 7th Hussars soon became the subject of ballads sold and sung in the public streets. Such was the anger and contempt directed towards him that he was unable to show his face outside the barracks. After a time he was quietly moved to the command of a native cavalry regiment in India, and was never heard of again. 689 Private Frederick John White however will always be remembered as the man whose cruel death resulted in the eventual abolition of a merciless law.
Round Isleworth, Brentford & Hounslow & Heston it caused much pain, In Twickenham, Richmond and Hampton, in Sunbury, Egham and Staines; Thomas Wakley empanelled a jury, which caused great excitement afar, From London resounded to Newry, the fate of John White the Hussar
A STREET BALLAD OF THE TIME
— from Martyn Day