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Penal colony

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Penal colony

Epigraphy in honour of an Irish prisoner in the Australian penal colony of Botany Bay.

A penal colony is a settlement used to exile prisoners and separate them from the general populace by placing them in a remote location, often an island or distant colonial territory. Although the term can be used to refer to a correctional facility located in a remote location it is more commonly used to refer to communities of prisoners overseen by wardens or governors having absolute authority.

Historically penal colonies have often been used for penal labour in an economically underdeveloped part of a state's (usually colonial) territories, and on a far larger scale than a prison farm. In practice such penal colonies may be little more than slave communities. The British, French, and other colonial empires heavily used North America and other parts of the world as penal colonies to varying degrees, sometimes under the guise of indentured servitude or similar arrangements.

British Empire

Penal colony in the Andaman Islands (c. 1895)

The James Edward Oglethorpe by using penal prisoners taken largely from debtors' prison, creating a "Debtor's Colony". However, even though this largely failed, the idea that the state began as a penal has stayed both in popular history, and local lore.[1] The British also would often ship Irish and Scots to the Americas whenever rebellions took place in Ireland or Scotland, and they would be treated similar to the convicts, except that this also included women and children.

When that avenue closed in the 1780s after the American Revolution, Britain began using parts of what is now known as Australia as penal settlements. Australian penal colonies included Norfolk Island, Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), Queensland and New South Wales. Advocates of Irish Home Rule or of Trade Unionism (the Tolpuddle Martyrs) sometimes received sentences of deportation to these Australian colonies.. Without the allocation of the available convict labor to farmers, to pastoral squatters, and to Government projects such as roadbuilding, colonisation of Australia may not have been possible, especially considering the considerable drain on non-convict labor caused by several goldrushes that took place in the second half of the 19th century after the flow of convicts had dwindled and (in 1868) ceased.

Bermuda, off the North American continent, was also used during the Victorian period. Convicts housed in hulks were used to build the Royal Naval Dockyard there, and during the Second Boer War (1899-1902), Boer prisoners-of-war were sent to the archipelago and imprisoned on one of the smaller islands.

In colonial India, the British made various penal colonies. Two of the most infamous ones are on the Andaman Islands and Hijli. In the early days of settlement, Singapore was the recipient of Indian convicts, who were tasked with clearing the jungles for settlement and early public works.

Elsewhere

  • In Paraguay the first ruler and supreme dictator Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia opened the penal colony of Tevego in 1813, where mostly petty criminals were sent. It was abandoned in 1823, but re-established in 1843 as San Salvador. It was evacuated towards the end of the Paraguayan War of 1864-1870; soon afterwards Brazilian troops destroyed it.
  • The Kingdom of Hawaii under the rule of King Kamehameha III (reigned 1825-1854) replaced the death penalty with exile, and Kahoolawe became a men's penal colony sometime around 1830, while Kaena Point on Lanai served as the female penal colony. The law making the island a penal colony was repealed in 1853.
  • The Netherlands had a penal colony from the late 19th century. The Department of Justice took over the town of Veenhuizen (originally set up by a private company to "re-educate" vagrants from the large cities in the west like Amsterdam) to turn it into a collection of prison buildings. The town stands in the least populated province of Drenthe in the north of the country, isolated in the middle of a vast area of peat and marshland.
  • Mexico uses the island of Isla María Madre (in the Marías Islands) as a penal colony. With a small population (fewer than 1200), the colony is governed by a state official who is both the governor of the islands and chief judge. The military command is independent of the government and is exercised by an officer of the Mexican Navy. The other islands are uninhabited.
  • Tarrafal operated as a Portuguese penal colony in the Cape Verde Islands, set up in 1936 by the head of the Portuguese government, Salazar, where anti-fascist opponents of this right-wing régime were sent. At least 32 anarchists, communists and other opponents of Salazar's regime died in this camp. The camp closed in 1954 but re-opened in the 1970s to jail African leaders fighting Portuguese colonialism.
  • Taiwan had a penal colony at Green Island during Chiang Kai Shek's White Terror of 1949-1987. As of 2015 the island is promoted as a tourist destination.
  • Colombia housed a state high-security prison from the 1950s. Convicts were dissuaded from escaping by the poisonous snakes in the interior of the island and by the sharks patrolling the 30 km to the mainland. The penal colony closed in 1984 and the last prisoners transferred to the mainland. As of 2015 most of the former jail buildings are covered by dense vegetation, but some remain visible.

In fiction

The concept of remote and inhospitable prison planets has been employed by science fiction writers. Some famous examples include:

See Also


Notes and references

  1. ^
  2. ^ Taylor, Alan. American Colonies. Penguin: London(2001).
  3. ^ For example:
  4. ^
  5. ^
  • Diiulio, John J., Governing Prisons: A Comparative Study of Correctional Management, Simon and Schuster, 1990. ISBN 0-02-907883-0
  • Dupont, Jerry, "The Common Law Abroad: Constitutional and Legal Legacy of the British Empire", Wm. S. Hein Publishing, 2001. ISBN 0-8377-3125-9, ISBN 978-0-8377-3125-4
  • Johnsen, Thomas C., "Vita: Howard Belding Gill: Brief Life of a Prison Reformer: 1890-1989", Harvard Magazine, September–October 1999, p. 54.
  • Serrill, M. S., "Norfolk - A Retrospective - New Debate Over a Famous Prison Experiment," Corrections Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 4 (August 1982), pp. 25–32.
  • Mun Cheong Yong, V. V. Bhanoji Rao, "Singapore-India Relations: A Primer", Study Group on Singapore-India Relations, National University of Singapore Centre for Advanced Studies Contributor Mun Cheong Yong, V. V. Bhanoji Rao, Yong Mun Cheong, Published by NUS Press, 1995. ISBN 9971-69-195-7, ISBN 978-9971-69-195-0
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