Allegations of physical punishment heard by the Investigation Committee
7.87 The evidence heard by the Investigation Committee broadly grouped the complaints about physical punishment under three headings. They were:
- Formal beatings, where the children who had been singled out for punishment were lined up and beaten with a stick. This usually took place late at night, on a landing outside the nuns’ rooms or cells.
- Beatings given for specific ‘offences’ such as bed-wetting, or failure to work fast enough at making rosary beads. These also were usually administered on the landing.
- Informal beatings, where lay staff and nuns administered corporal punishment on the spot for trivial reasons or even for no reason.
The formal beatings: the implement used
7.88 The formal beatings were administered with an implement that Sr Alida called ‘a slapper’ and the girls called a stick. Several witnesses gave a description of it. One witness, who was in Goldenbridge in the 1950s and early 1960s, told the Committee that it was a stick that a carpenter had made for Sr Alida. She described it as a flat stick, rounded off at the end, and varnished.
7.89 Another complainant described the stick used by Sr Alida in some detail:
The stick, in my opinion, was about a foot and a half long, about that length (indicating), it had rounding sort of ends, it was about an inch and a half thick and the width of it was about two inches. It was dark brown in colour … It often reminds me of what I perceived to see as a hurl now with rounding ends but a bit thicker.
7.90 Sr Alida also gave a detailed description of it:
I used a slapper. I have never used a cane, there was never a cane used in the School in my time, neither was there a leather strap. The slapper I had, there was only one in the house and I don’t think anybody else used it except myself, it was made of polished wood and it was about 15 inches long. It was rolled at the end and was about half an inch thick in the middle, maybe less. I calculated that it never marked or cut anybody but I would agree that it hurt because I got it on the knuckles myself, when if a child pulled her hand away it came down on my hands; so I know what it was like. I wish I’d never had to use it or I wish I was never in that situation with any child, but that’s the situation I was in.
7.91 She added that she never saw anybody else use her slapper except for Sr Venetia. She said, ‘Lay people could give a clout with their hand but that would be the most that I would see them doing’. She said that no lay person ever beat the children, as far as she knew, but left it for her to do.
7.92 Sr Alida was inconsistent in her recollection of beating children on the landing. Initially, she recalled children being left on the landing for punishment, although not in relation to bed-wetting or bead-making. Later, when questioned by counsel for some complainants, she said that this was more a feature of Sr Bianca’s time, and that she had no real memory of that being a feature of her time there. She said that, although she could remember chastising a child on the landing, it was not on a regular basis.