Erotic flagellation is one of the earliest activities now recognized as SM to emerge with a well-documented erotic literature. Victorian pornography was full of it, and there are clear records that in the bigger cities at least there was a flourishing network of prostitutes catering to the interest from at least the end of the 18th century. The following is extracted from the ‘Flagellation’ entry in Ashbee’s Index of Forbidden Books (Ashbee 1969:147-151), written in late Victorian times. Unfortunately Ashbee does not acknowledge the source of the quoted account of Mrs. Berkley.

whipping

Henry Spencer Ashbee aka Pisanus Fraxi 1969, Index of Forbidden Books (written 1880s), and London: Sphere

The author of the Victorian porn classic Walter’s My Secret Life provides a detailed guide to his extensive collection of dirty books, with extracts, providing amongst other things evidence of the widespread existence of SM activities prior to the ‘invention’ of SM.

At the early part of this century [the 19th], very sumptuously fitted-up establishments, exclusively devoted to the administration of the birch, were not uncommon in London; and women of the town served, as it were, an apprenticeship in order to acquire the art of gracefully and effectively administering the rod. It would be easy to form a very lengthy list of these female flagellants, but I shall restrict myself to mention a few only. Mrs. Collett was a noted whipper, and George IV is known to have visited her; she had an establishment in Tavistock Court, Covent Garden, whence she removed to the neighborhood of Portland Place, and afterwards to Bedford Street, Russell Square, where she died. She brought up her niece in the same line, who, as Mrs. Mitchell, carried on a successful business in various places, among others at No 22 (afterwards 44) Waterloo Road, and finally at St Mary’s Square, Kennington, where she died. Then came Mrs. James, who had been a maid in the family of Lord Clanricarde; she had a house at No 7 Carlisle Street, Soho; she retired from business with a good fortune, and dwelt at Notting Hill in luxury, her house being decorated with pictures, and her person covered with jewels.

There were, further: Mrs. Emma Lee, real name Richardson, of No 50 Margaret Street, Regent Street; Mrs. Phillips, of No 11 Upper Belgrave Place, Pimlico; Mrs. Shepherd, of No 25 Gilbert Street; Mrs. Sarah Potter, alias Stewart, of various addresses, who died in 1873; and, were it not indiscreet, I might add the names of one or two other ladies who still carry on their calling. But the queen of her profession was undoubtedly Mrs. Theresa Berkley, of No 28 Charlotte Street, Portland Place; she was a perfect mistress of her art, understood how to satisfy her clients, and was, moreover, a thorough woman of business, for she amassed during her career a considerable sum of money…

“Her instruments of torture were more numerous than those of any other governess. Her supply of birch was extensive, and kept in water, so that it was always green and pliant: she had shafts with a dozen whip thongs on each of them; a dozen different sizes of cat-o’-nine-tails, some with needle points worked into them; various kinds of thin bending canes; leather straps like coach traces; battle doors, made of thick sole-leather, with inch nails run through to docket, and currycomb tough hides rendered callous by many years flagellation. Holly brushes, furze brushes; a prickly evergreen, called butcher’s bush; and during the summer, a glass and China vases, filled with a constant supply of green nettles, with which she often restored the dead to life. Thus, at her shop, whoever went with plenty of money could be birched, whipped, fustigated, scourged, needle-pricked, half-hung, holly-brushed, furze-brushed, butcher-brushed, stinging-nettled, curry-combed, phlebotomized, and tortured till he had a belly full.

“For those whose leech it was to flog a woman, she would herself submit to a certain extent; but if they were gluttons at it, she had women in attendance who would take any number of lashes the flogger pleased, provided he forked out an ad valorem duty. Among these were Miss Ring, Hannah Jones, and Sally Taylor, One-eyed Peg, Bauld-cunted Poll, and a black girl, called Ebony Bet.

“A notorious machine was invented for Mrs. Berkley to flog gentlemen upon, in the spring of 1828. It is capable of being opened to a considerable extent, so as to bring the body to any angle that might be desirable. There is a print in Mrs. Berkley’s memoirs, representing a man upon it quite naked. A woman is sitting in a chair exactly under it, with her bosom, belly, and bush exposed: she is manualizing his embolus, whilst Mrs. Berkley is birching his posteriors. The female acting as frictrix, was intended for Fisher, a fine, tall, dark-haired girl, all must remember who visited Charlotte Street at that day, as well as the good humored blonde, Willis; the plump, tight, frisky and merry arsed Thrulow; Grenville, with the enormous bubbies; Bentine, with breadth of hip and splendor of buttock; Olive, the gipsy, whose brown skin, wicked black eye, and Medicean form, would melt an anchorite; the mild and amiable Palmer, with luxuriant and well-fledged mount, from whose tufted honors many a noble lord had stolen a sprig; and Pryce, the pleasing and complaisant, who, if birch was a question, could both give and take.

“When the new flogging machine was invented, the designer told her it would bring her into notice, and go by her name after her death; and it did cause her to be talked of, and brought her a great deal of business. She died in September, 1836, having funded ten thousand pounds during the eight years she had been a governess. The original horse is among the models of the Society of Arts at the Adelphi, and was presented by Doctor Vance, her executor.

“Mrs. Berkley has also in her second floor, a hook and pulley attached to the ceiling, by which she could draw a man up by his hands. This operation is also represented in her memoirs.”

Shortly after her death, her brother, who had been a missionary for 30 years in Australia, arrived in England, but when he learned the source from which the property she had left him had been derived, he renounced all claim, and immediately went back to Australia. In default, the property was bequeathed to Doctor Vance, her medical attendant and executor; but he refused to administer, and the whole was escheated to the crown. Doctor Vance came into possession of her correspondence, several boxes full, which, I am assured by one who examined it, was of the most extraordinary character, containing letters from the highest personages, male and female, in the land. The whole was eventually destroyed.

Many of these women, there can be little doubt, took an interest, if not a pleasure, in their vocation. The following is extracted from the correspondence of a gentleman still living, a passionate devotee of the birch, and one who is worthy of all confidences in matters connected to flagellation:

“In my experience I have known personally several ladies of high rank who had an extraordinary passion for administering the rod, and that too with merciless severity. I knew too the wife of a clergyman, young and pretty, who carried the taste to excess. I have known one only who liked receiving it, and she was quite of the lowest order; when excited by drink, she would allow herself to be birched until her bottom was utterly raw, and the rod saturated with blood, she crying out during the operation ‘harder! harder!’ and blaspheming if it was not well laid on. At the establishment I have named (existing at present in London, but of which I suppress the name) there come twenty young girls who go through all the phases of schoolmistress, and whip fearfully severely. The programs sent by the pupils are extraordinary – some like to be whipped as children on the knee, some on the back of a servant, others to be strapped down.”

It is a well-known fact that women are, and always have been, even fonder of wielding the rod than men, and this passion pervades the higher, rather than the lower classes.