Water Bath

waterbath3.jpg The Water Bath (also known as the Shower Bath) was introduced into Canadian penitentiaries in 1845 as an alternative to whipping.

The Water Bath consisted of stocks in which the prisoner was secured in a seated position. The head was secured in a small barrel, which is hinged on one side to enable it to be closed around the head. Above the small barrel is a larger barrel, which was filled with ice water. The spout at the bottom has a spring-loaded control valve attached to a cord, which allowed the officer administering the punishment to control the torrent of water that poured down upon the prisoner's head. The prisoner would be submersed for a few seconds until the water ran through around the neck and out the cracks of the smaller barrel.

Warden Donald Ćneas MacDonell of the Kingston Penitentiary described the Water Bath in his Annual Report of 1853:

“I have been present in Auburn Prison and witnessed the water punishment, for which I felt under compliment to the Warden of that Institution. The Convict is stripped quite naked, and placed in what may be termed the stocks, in a sitting position; a shower of water is brought down upon the unfortunate being, which as I could observe, produced a suffocation; this is continued for some time, the operator either increasing or slackening the torrent at his pleasure. On view of this proceeding, I was quite satisfied with the system of punishment in practice in this Institution.”

A more critical report appeared Harper's Weekly in 1858: "We need no longer, it seems, travel to China or Japan for illustrations of torture. A visit to our own penitentiaries and prisons will furnish all the horrors that the curious appetite can desire. On 21 inst. a convict named More, imprisoned in the State Prison at Auburn, was showered to death by the prison officials. The circumstances of the case are simply as follows:

011crim The convict, More, was a negro. He is certified to have been a man of naturally pleasant temper, but violent when crossed. On 1st inst. he was said to have been in a bad humor; he was seen, or is said to have been seen, to sharpen a knife, and mutter threats against someone; on the strength of which he was, on 24 inst., seized by several keepers or deputy-keepers of the State Prison, and by them dragged toward the shower-bath for punishment. It seems he stood in dire dread of the shower-baths. Like most negros, he entertained a lively fear of cold. He knew that the water of the shower bath would be very cold indeed; and after vainly appealing to the feelings of his captors to release him, he broke away from and fled -- be it remarked -- to the shop where he was in the habit of working. At the door of the shop a convict arrested him; a keeper and his assistants swiftly followed; he was dragged by main force, and after many violent struggles, to the shower-bath; all the water that was in the tank -- amounting to from three to five barrels, the quantity is uncertain -- was showered upon him in spite of his piteous cries; a few minutes after his release from the bath he fell prostrate, was carried to his cell, and died in five minutes."

Following this article in Harper's Weekly, the use of the Water Bath was discontinued from 1859.

These photos show a reproduction of a water bath, in Canada's Penitentiary Museum, Correctional Service of Canada, Kingston, Ontario.

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Last modified 9 March 2018.
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