Convict punishment: the treadmill

As a punishment, convicts were made to step continuously on treadmills to power wheels that ground grain.

The men were rotated on and off the treadmills with rest periods of about 20 minutes per hour. This monotonous task was supposed to be a reformative punishment, unlike flogging. It also put convict manpower to good use, as they were helping to feed themselves. In 1825 Sydney’s treadmills were praised for producing 40 bushels (1000 kilograms) of ground corn per day.

Doctors and humanitarians were concerned that this type of punishment might be damaging to health. An overseer recorded in the ‘House of Correction Register’ each man’s weight as they went on and came off the treadmill to make sure they weren’t wasting away. Two punishment treadmills were installed at Carters’ Barracks in 1823 and were used for the next 25 years. The larger treadmill was worked by 36 prisoners at a time, with 18 on each side. The smaller had ten men on each side.

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