Derby’s Dose: The Extremely Vile Torture Method Used to Punish Enslaved Africans in Jamaica

Thomas Thistlewood was an 18th-century British plantation overseer and slave owner, notorious for his brutal treatment of enslaved Africans in Jamaica. Among the numerous atrocities recorded in his diaries, which he kept meticulously from 1750 to 1786, one of the most infamous is the practice he named “Derby’s dose.

Derby's Dose: The Extremely Vile Torture Method Used to Punish Enslaved Africans in Jamaica

Thistlewood’s 14,000-page diary contains detailed accounts of how he treated and punished the slaves under his control. These accounts are often described in very shocking and graphic ways.

Derby’s dose” was named after a slave named Derby, one of its earliest victims. This extremely vile punishment started with a severe beating. Afterward, the wounds of the punished slave were rubbed with a painful mixture of salt, lime juice, and pepper. To add further humiliation, another slave would be forced to defecate into the punished slave’s mouth, who would then be gagged for hours with their mouth full of faeces.

Thistlewood inflicted “Derby’s dose” primarily on slaves who attempted escape or committed minor offenses such as stealing food. The punishment was not only physically excruciating but also psychologically devastating, intended to instill fear and maintain control over the enslaved population.

Thistlewood’s use of “Derby’s dose” was not an isolated case of sadism but part of a broader system of violence that was the norm during the slave era. Physical punishment, psychological torture, and sexual exploitation were routine. Slaves had little recourse or protection against the whims of their overseers and owners, who wielded almost absolute power over them.

Thistlewood’s diaries, which detail the daily horrors endured by his slaves and the slaves on the plantation he controlled, are currently preserved at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University.

Uzonna Anele
Uzonna Anele
Anele is a web developer and a Pan-Africanist who believes bad leadership is the only thing keeping Africa from taking its rightful place in the modern world.

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