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Severe punishment employed at times of unrest?

John Pope Hennessy,George Bowen

In the early years of the port of Hong Kong the Legislative Council had yet to be founded, and William Caine, who gathered around himself the power of arrest, conviction and imprisonment, was the embodiment of the law. With the exception of major cases, he was free to decide how to deal with the criminals. He usually handed out sentences to Chinese criminals in accordance with the law of the Qing Court, and applied British law on expatriates. The latter thus received far more lenient punishments. This was perceived as preferential treatment by the public.

Besides imprisonment and monetary fines, criminals were punished by caning, public display in shackles, exiling (serving their sentence at British colonies such as North Borneo or Tasmania), branding (a permanent scar inflicted using a hot brand), and the cutting of the braid. Some criminals died in prison, unable to withstand the severe punishment.

In 1877, after John Pope Hennessy became the Governor of Hong Kong, he proposed to then Colonial Secretary Earl of Carnarvon the abolition of caning and the reduction of the number of strokes inflicted; that the area of caning be restricted to the bottom rather than to the back, and that the “cat o' nine tails” be replaced by rattan canes. These suggestions did not gain the favour of the Earl, who feared that criminals might not be deterred by lighter punishment. In 1880, during the tenancy of the Governor of Hong Kong George Bowen, such forms of inhumane punishment as branding and exiling were abolished; caning and public display in shackles were abolished successively in 1903 and 1909.

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