The thumbscrew is a torture instrument which was first used in early modern Europe. It is a simple vice, sometimes with protruding studs on the interior surfaces. Victims' thumbs, fingers, or toes were placed in the vice and slowly crushed. The thumbscrew was also applied to crush prisoners' big toes. The crushing bars were sometimes lined with sharp metal points to puncture the thumbs and inflict greater pain in the nail beds. Larger, heavier devices based on the same design principle were applied to crush feet.
The thumbscrew was also referred to as thumbkin or thumbikin (1675–1685), the "kin" part being a diminutive suffix of nouns.An alternate spelling was thumbikens. The terms pillywinks and pilnie-winks were also used. Other terms may have been applied as well.
Historians James Cochrane and John McCrone wrote in 1833,
The torture of the boots occurs at an earlier period of our history than that of the thumbikens... Thus we read, that in 1596, the son and daughter of Aleson Balfour, who was accused of witchcraft were tortured before her to make her confess her crime in the manner following: Her son was put in the buits where he suffered fifty seven strokes; and her daughter about seven years old, was put in the pilniewinks. In the same case, mention was made, besides pilniewinks, pinniewinks or pilliwinks, of caspitanos or caspicaws, and of tosots, as instruments of torture. Lord Royston, in his manuscript notes upon Mackenzie's criminal law conjectures that these may have been only other names for the buits and thumbikens; thus much seems certain, that in those times there was some torturing device applied to the fingers which bore the name of pilniewinks; but it will immediately appear, that the most authentic accounts assign the introduction and use of the instrument known by the name of thumbikens to a much later period.
Cochrane and McCrone, somewhat wryly, argue that the thumbscrew entered the British Isles later than the invasion of the Spanish Armada in the 16th century:
"It has been very generally asserted," says Dr. Jamieson, "that part of the cargo of the invincible Armada was a large assortment of thumbikens, which it was meant should be employed as powerful arguments for convincing the heretics." The country of the inquisition was certainly a fit quarter from whence to derive so congenial an instrument; but other accounts, as we have said, and these apparently unquestionable, assign it a later introduction... In the torturing of [William] Spence, Lord Fountainhall mentions the origin of the thumbikens, stating that this instrument "was a new invention used among the colliers upon transgressors, and discovered by Generals Dalyell and Drummond, they having seen them used in Muscovy." The account of Bishop Burnet gives of the torturing of Spence confirms the then recent use of the thumbikens. ... This point we think is put beyond all doubt by the following act of the privy council in 1684, quoted in Wodrow's invaluable history: "Whereas there is now a new invention and engine called the thumbikens ... the Lords of His Majesty's Council do therefore ordain, that when any person shall be put to the torture, that the boots and the thumbikens both be applied to them..."
In the early 17th century, Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi was subjected to thumb-screw torture during a trial to establish[ how? ] whether or not her virginity was forcibly taken by painter Agostino Tassi.
As late as the mid-18th century, the ex-slave Olaudah Equiano, in his autobiography The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano , documented the use of thumbscrews to torture slaves.During this period (mid-18th century), Thomas Clarkson carried thumbscrews with him to further his cause for the abolition of the slave trade and later emancipation of slaves in the British Empire. He hoped to, and did, inspire empathy with the display of this and other torture devices used on slaves. They were used on slave ships, as witnessed and described by Equiano and Ottobah Cugoano.
The thumbscrew is shown in use in various media, including The Headsman , a film about Europe's 16th-century Inquisition, starring Steven Berkoff and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (2005)
Execution by elephant was a common method of capital punishment in South and Southeast Asia, particularly in India, where Asian elephants were used to crush, dismember or torture captives in public executions. The animals were trained and versatile, able to kill victims immediately or to torture them slowly over a prolonged period. Most commonly employed by royalty, the elephants were used to signify both the ruler's absolute power and his ability to control wild animals.
The Igbo people are a meta-ethnicity native to the present-day south-central and southeastern Nigeria and also Equatorial Guinea. There has been much speculation about the origins of the Igbo people, as it is unknown how exactly the group came to form. Geographically, the Igbo homeland is divided into two unequal sections by the Niger River – an eastern and a western section. The Igbo people are one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa.
The term boot refers to a family of instruments of torture and interrogation variously designed to cause crushing injuries to the foot and/or leg. The boot has taken many forms in various places and times. Common varieties include the Spanish boot and the Malay boot. One type was made of four pieces of narrow wooden board nailed together. The boards were measured to fit the victim's leg. Once the leg was enclosed, wedges would be hammered between the boards, creating pressure. The pressure would be increased until the victim confessed or lost consciousness. Newer variants have included iron vises—sometimes armed with spikes—that squeezed feet and metal frames employed red-hot. John Spreul is reported to have been tortured with two different boots.
A scold's bridle, sometimes called a witch's bridle, a brank's bridle, or simply branks, was an instrument of punishment, as a form of torture and public humiliation. The device was an iron muzzle in an iron framework that enclosed the head. A bridle-bit, about 2 in × 1 in in size, was slid into the mouth and either pressed down on top of the tongue as a compress or used to raise the tongue to lie flat on the wearer's palate. This prevented speaking and resulted in many unpleasant side effects for the wearer, including excessive salivation and fatigue in the mouth.
The Middle Passage was the stage of the triangular trade in which millions of Africans were forcibly transported to the New World as part of the Atlantic slave trade. Ships departed Europe for African markets with manufactured goods, which were traded for purchased or kidnapped Africans, who were transported across the Atlantic as slaves; the enslaved Africans were then sold or traded for raw materials, which would be transported back to Europe to complete the voyage. The First Passage was the transportation of captives (slaves) to the African ports, such as Elmina, where they would be loaded onto ships. The Final Passage was the journey from the port of disembarkation, such as Charleston, to the plantation or other destination where they would be put to work. The Middle Passage across the Atlantic joined these two. Voyages on the Middle Passage were large financial undertakings, generally organized by companies or groups of investors rather than individuals.
Olaudah Equiano, known for most of his life as Gustavus Vassa, was a writer and abolitionist from, according to his memoir, the Eboe region of the Kingdom of Benin. Enslaved as a child, he was taken to the Caribbean and sold as a slave to a Royal Navy officer. He was sold twice more but purchased his freedom in 1766.
Ottobah Cugoano, also known as John Stuart, was an African abolitionist, anti-imperialist, and natural rights philosopher from Ghana who was active in England in the latter half of the eighteenth century. Captured in present-day Ghana and sold into slavery at the age of 13, he was shipped to Grenada in the Lesser Antilles, where he worked on a plantation. In 1772 he was purchased by an English merchant who took him to England, where he was taught to read and write, and was freed following the ruling in the Somersett Case (1772). Later working for artists Richard and Maria Cosway, he became acquainted with British political and cultural figures. He joined the Sons of Africa, African abolitionists in England.
A tribrach is an attachment plate used to attach a surveying instrument, for example a theodolite, total station, GNSS antenna or target to a tripod. A tribrach allows the survey instrument to be repeatedly placed in the same position over a surveying marker point with sub-millimetre precision, by loosening and re-tightening a lock to adjust the instrument base in a horizontal plane.
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African, first published in 1789 in London, is the autobiography of Olaudah Equiano. The narrative is argued to represent a variety of styles, such as a slavery narrative, travel narrative, and spiritual narrative. The book describes Equiano's time spent in enslavement, and documents his attempts at becoming an independent man through his study of the Bible, and his eventual success in gaining his own freedom and in business thereafter.
Dr Alexander Falconbridge was a British surgeon who took part in four voyages in slave ships between 1780 and 1787. In time he became an abolitionist and in 1788 published An Account of the Slave Trade on the Coast of Africa. In 1791 he was sent by the Anti-Slavery Society to Granville Town, Sierra Leone, a community of freed slaves, where he died a year later in 1792.
Catherine Obianuju Acholonu was a Nigerian author, researcher and political activist.
The Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor was a charitable organisation founded in London in 1786 to provide sustenance for distressed people of African and Asian origin. It played a crucial role in the proposal to form a colony in Sierra Leone. The work of the Committee overlapped to some extent with the campaign to abolish slavery in Britain and its empire.
The Iron Chair is a torture device that has several different variations depending on its origin and use throughout history. It also has many names - the Chinese torture chair, the torture chair, and the Iron Chair. In all cases, the victim was seated on several strips or plates of brass and placed over an open flame and slowly roasted alive. In other variations, the "culprits" were tied to an iron armchair and then slowly pushed nearer and nearer to a blazing fire." Other versions of this chair had the addition of small sharp spikes which lined the back, seat, armrests and leg rests. The number of spikes ranged from 500 to 1,500.
Sons of Africa was a late 18th-century group in Britain that campaigned to end African chattel slavery. The "corresponding society" has been called the Britain's first black political organisation. Its members were educated Africans in London, included formerly enslaved men like Ottobah Cugoano, Olaudah Equiano and other leading members of London's black community.
For a history of Afro-Caribbean people in the UK, see British African Caribbean community.
John Kimber was the captain of a British slave ship who was tried for murder in 1792, after the abolitionist William Wilberforce accused him of torturing to death an enslaved teenage girl on the deck of his ship. Kimber was acquitted, but the trial gained much attention in the press. The case established that slave ships' crew could be tried for murder of slaves.
The iron bit, also referred to as a gag, was used by slave masters and overseers as a form of punishment on slaves in the Southern United States. The bit, sometimes depicted as the scold's bridle, uses similar mechanics to that of the common horse bit. The scolds bridle however, is almost always associated with its use on women in the early 17th century and there are very few accounts of the device as a method of torture against black slaves under that particular name. As opposed to the whip, the iron bit lacks the historic, social, and literary symbolic fame that would make information on the use of the iron bit as accessible. Its use throughout history has warranted some attention though, mostly from literary texts. Even earlier, slave narratives and publications of newspapers and magazines from the 18th century on give evidence of this device being used to torture and punish slaves.
James Tobin (1736/7–1817) was an English merchant, and a plantation owner in Nevis. He is known as an advocate and apologist for slavery.
Arthur Torrington CBE is a Guyanese-born community advocate and historian who is Director and co-founder of the London-based Windrush Foundation, a charity that since 1996 has been working to highlight the contributions to the UK of African and Caribbean peoples, "to keep alive the memories of the young men and women who were among the first wave of post-war settlers in Britain", and to promote good community relations. The organization commemorates in its name the Empire Windrush, the ship that on 22 June 1948 docked at Tilbury bringing the first significant group of Caribbean migrants to Britain, including Sam King, who with Torrington established the Windrush Foundation. Also in 1996 Torrington set up the Equiano Society, with the main objective of celebrating the life and work of Olaudah Equiano, as well as the literary and cultural legacy in Britain of Equiano's African contemporaries.
We here stop our extracts from the Fountainhall Diary, to make some observations relative to the introduction and the use made of the instrument of torture called the thumbikens. ... The Thumbikens, as the name imports, was an instrument applied to the thumbs, in such a manner as to enable the executioner to squeeze them violently; and this was often done with so much force as to bruise the thumb-bones, and swell the arms of the sufferer up to his shoulders.
Many unfortunate womeh was sometimes fitted with protruding studs on the interior surfaces.
The iron muzzle, thumb-screws, &c. are so well known, as not to need a description, and were sometimes applied for the slightest faults.
Most of the tortures we see in the film are genuine practices, such as strappado and the use of pillywinks.