I’ve just discovered a rather remarkable account of “A visit to a prison in Siberia”, at the “Eros-Thanatos library”. Written by John Villiot in a volume entitled “Curiosities and Trivia on Flogging”, it purports to be “A copy of a letter written by a young English doctor, traveling in Siberia” in 1880 – although whether it’s genuine (or far more likely a work of Victorian spanking erotica), I can’t say for sure.

The full article‘s about 13 pages long, so the following extracts will have to suffice to whet your appetites. (The online version is in French – but Google Translate does a pretty wonderful job, and I’ve tweaked the output a little for readability).

The author claims to have met the governor and staff of the local jail, and the establishment’s doctor (Lazareff) extended a generous invitation:

You’ve seen all the arrangements of the prison, and you should see how we punish women resistant to discipline.  You have to stay in Tomsk at least six more days, and before your departure, it’s likely that  a flogging  will be ordered. Would you like to attend?

Our correspondent explains that “I was not exactly eager to see a woman whipped, but I thought that since I was on the scene, it was good that I take this opportunity to see everything that was related to the prison system in Russia.” Indeed.

Three days later…

… at ten o’clock, when I was about lunch, a Cossack appeared, bearing a note, informing me that a woman had been sentenced to receive fifty lashes of the birch, at noon.

At half past eleven on the dot, I arrived at the door of the prison where Lazareff was waiting.  After the usual compliments, we crossed the dark portal and shut the heavy door behind us…. We walked down a long hallway and finally went into the room at the end.  It was the punishment chamber: vaulted, oblong, lit by two long windows overlooking a small grilled court. The floor was wet and the air was cold, although the day was quite hot.

At the end of this room, so sitting in a chair, a prison officer held an open ledger before him; beside the pulpit stood two guards. At the other end, on a raised platform about two feet, was placed an oak chair.

In the middle of the room, was a timber frame mounted on four feet.  It was the flogging bench  - and as I watched the horrible thing, I told myself that if it could speak, it would be able to give many details on the plight of the hapless victims that had been fastened across it to receive their sentence.

Near this bench, there was a long narrow box… in which I saw a large quantity of birch rods of all sizes and strengths. I took one and waved it in the hissing in the air: this rod was about two and a half feet long and was made of six green branches of birch twigs all filled and covered with buds.

Lazareff informed me that the culprit’s name was Anna Petrovna, and she was twenty-five years old.  She was a farm girl from a village near Moscow and was undergoing the sentence of seven years in prison, convicted of injuring a young girl in a fit of jealousy.

She had been in prison for a year and had shown herself to be very undisciplined; often, for her misdeeds, she had been put on bread and water or sentenced to be locked in her cell, but until now she had not yet received the rods.  That she was now deemed to deserve this punishment was because of insubordination – which the governor viewed a serious offence.

The governor then entered the room and, after we had greeted him, sat in the oak chair placed on the platform.  The orderlies left the room and returned five minutes later with the prisoner.   She was blonde, with long, clear hair tied in a ponytail. Very pale, she looked around the room with a look of terror in her large gray eyes – and finally she rested them on two rods that were spread on the table.

I saw her shiver and tears came into her eyes; her lips began to tremble and her breasts lifted and lowered with precipitation.  She was dressed in the costume of ordinary prisoners, a dress of blue and white striped fabric…

[T]he governor made a sign to the guards who immediately seized the arms of the woman and led her to the bench… One of the men then lifted the patient’s clothing down over her shoulders; as women wore no pants, she found herself naked from the waist to the knees. Whilst the officer completed the preparations for his punishment, she did not move not utter a single word – but she trembled, her chest heaved and tears flowed from her eyes.

I was very struck by the coldness and indifference shown by the guards, methodical in their work. Soon everything was ready.  One of the guards, rod in hand, stood beside the patient’s left, awaiting the signal from the governor to start, during which time he moved the fingers of his left hand through the branches of the rod spreading the ends carefully.

The governor made a sign, the officer sat in the chair made a mark on his book and at the same time said aloud: “One!” And the  flogging began… long red stripes appeared immediately on the white skin of the woman, her flesh quivered, she shuddered convulsively and uttered an audible groan…

He punished her harshly, and:

When the twenty-fifth shot had been applied, the guard stopped and walked away from the bench.  The other guard, armed with a new rod, came to stand on the right side of the woman… The officer again shouted: “One!” and the man, holding the rod in the same way as his predecessor, began to strike… The girl continued to writhe in pain.

When the final stroke had been administered:

The governor knocked the ashes from his cigarette, rose from her chair, greeted me and went out.  One of the guards pulled up the victim’s clothes, while another untied her wrists and ankles… She got up from the bench without help and stood, shaking, while sobs shook her whole body. Then, with a faltering step, she walked slowly and with difficulty from the chamber between the two guards who had flogged.

The following day, the author returns to the prison to inspect the punished woman:

[Lazareff] said two or three words; she immediately turned and lifted her skirts as high as possible, and presented her gorgeous behind…. Placing my hand on her back, I found the skin was still burning pretty rough to the touch, and very tender.  Anna struggled and drew back as best she could, while I touched her…. She obeyed.. but she seemed ashamed and threw shy glances in my direction…

Lazareff then told me that Anna had said it was the first time she had been whipped and that this had caused so much suffering it would take great care to do anything to incur such punishment again.

One amusing footnote. In a quirk of Google’s translation, the word ‘rod’ is often misinterpreted. It leads to the following gems – where the word ‘rod’ would be so much more appropriate:

  • “The woman turned and stared at the penis”
  • “I had previously always been skeptical about the aphrodisiac powers assigned to the penis”
  • “Besides, she added, laughing, the penis is an institution in Russia”
  • “He told me some curious anecdotes concerning the penis and its use”
  • “As you see, I became a ‘fervent of the penis.’”