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Broadsheet featuring the ballad 'Lay of the Lash'.

Date: 1790 - c 1870
Overall: 101 x 250 mm, 0.023 kg
Medium: Woodcut engraving and printed text on paper mounted on card.
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Broadsheet
Object No: 00017401
Place Manufactured:London

User Terms

    A broadsheet featuring the ballad 'Lay of the Lash'. This ballad reflects the public debate about appropriate use of flogging in the military. The debate had been raised as early as the 1790's and continued to be an issue for contention in newspapers and Parliament.
    In the early 1800's low British army morale and enlistment numbers were partially blamed on unjust flogging practices and military officers were often accused of being too liberal and unjust in the number of lashes handed out.
    SignificanceBroadsheets were designed as printed ephemera to be published and distributed rapidly. This also meant they were quickly disposed of with many of them not surviving the test of time. The museum's broadsheet collection is therefore a rare and valuable example of how maritime history was communicated to a wide audience, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries. They vibrantly illustrate many of the themes and myths surrounding life at sea. Some of them also detail stories about transportation and migration.
    HistoryLAY OF THE LASH.

    Why should the soldier or sailor - back stripped -
    Be tied to the halberds, or grating, and whipped ; '
    While the "officer" - acting, perhaps, very much worse,
    Is secured from the lash by the strength of the purse?
    By the strength of the purse! for to what, but to that,
    Does he owe his commission, signed, sealed, and all that?
    So raise the stern cry, nor till death let it fall : -
    "The Lash be for none - or the Lash be for all!"

    A commission to flog, and howe'er he trangresses,
    The laws of his trade, or bright honor oppress -
    The lash ne'er taste himself! - 'Tis a homage to pelf,
    Which should long, long ago have been tossed on the shelf,
    Which not all the fine talk in the world could make right,
    And against which 'tis high time britannia should fight.
    So raise the stern cry, &c.

    Were officers flogged when the lash they deserve,
    The same as the poor folks who under them serve,
    They'd take very good are that all matters were fair -
    That the whip not too ruthlessly ploughed the back bare -
    That its nine cords, so oft now with humble gore clotted,
    Nor too hard, nor too thick were, nor brutally knotted.
    So raise the stern cry, &c.

    So as aught to exceed in their truculence those
    Held lawful, when Wall's life approached it's grim close
    Then, too, heed would be taken that the Mutiny Act,
    Should not be made the subject of treacherous tact -
    That of flogable crimes to the list dire and dread,
    Not one should steal in, undebatd, unread.
    So raise the stern cry, &c.

    While, moreover, no doubt, 'twould be quickly found out,
    By the knaves in high places, whom Europe should scout,
    That all retrospective severe legislation,
    'Gainst rich or 'gainst poor, is abhored by the nation.
    For these reasons with others 'twere long I declare,
    I call on all women - just, fearless, and fair -
    So raise the stern cry, &c.

    So raise the stern cry, nor till death let it fall :-
    The lash be for none - or the lash be for all!"
    The lash be fo all - or the lash be for none! -
    Eve's daughters but will it - the battle is won.
    So raise the stern cry, &c.

    Broadsheets or broadsides, as they were also known, were originally used to communicate official or royal decrees. They were printed on one side of paper and became a popular medium of communication between the 16th and 19th centuries in Europe, particularly Britain. They were able to be printed quickly and cheaply and were widely distributed in public spaces including churches, taverns and town squares.

    The cheap nature of the broadside and its wide accessibility meant that its intended audience were often literate individuals but from varying social standings. The illiterate may have also had access to this literature as many of the ballads were designed to be read aloud.

    The ballads also covered a wide range of subject matter such as witchcraft, epic war battles, murder and maritime themes and events. They were suitably dramatic and often entertaining, but occasionally they were designed as elaborate cautionary tales for those contemplating a life of crime.

    The broadside ballads in the museum's collection were issued by a range of London printers and publishers for sale on the streets by hawkers. They convey, often comically, stories about love, death, shipwrecks, convicts and pirates. Each ballad communicates a sense that these stories were designed to be read aloud for all to enjoy, whether it was at the local tavern or a private residence.

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