- Penal colony
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.
The prison regime was often harsh, sometimes including severe physical punishment, so even if prisoners were not sentenced for the rest of their natural lives, many died from hunger, disease, medical neglect, excessive labour, or during an escape attempt.
In the penal colony system, prisoners were sent far away to prevent escape and to discourage returning after their sentence expired. Penal colonies were often located in inhospitable frontier lands, where their unpaid labour could benefit the colonial powers before immigration labor became available, or even after because they are much cheaper. In fact, some people (especially the poor, following a similar social logic as could see them domestically 'employed' in a poorhouse) were sentenced for trivial or dubious offenses to generate cheap labor.
The British used North America as a penal colony through a system of indentured servitude. Convicts would be transported by merchants and auctioned off to plantation owners upon arrival in the colonies. It is estimated that some 50,000 British convicts were sent to colonial America, representing perhaps one-quarter of all British emigrants during the 18th century.
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. Some of these included Norfolk Island, Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) and New South Wales. Advocates of Irish Home Rule or of Trade Unionism (the Tolpuddle Martyrs) often received sentences of deportation to these Australian colonies.. Without the allocation of the available convict labor to farmers, pastoral squatters and Government projects such as roadbuilding, colonisation of Australia would not have been possible, especially considering the considerable drain on non-convict labor caused by several goldrushes that took place in the 19th century.
Bermuda, off the North American coastline, 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, Boer prisoners-of-war were sent to the archipelago and imprisoned on one of the smaller islands.
In colonial India, the British had 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.
- During the Argentine rule of the Falkland Islands, Major Esteban Mestivier was commissioned by the Buenos Aires government, as the new governor of the islands, to set up a penal colony. He arrived at his destination on November 15, 1832 but his soldiers mutinied and killed him. Lt. Col. José María Pinedo quelled the rebellion and took charge as governor. Argentinas southermost city Ushuaia was founded as a penal colony.
- France sent criminals to tropical penal colonies including Louisiana in the early 18th century. Devil's Island in French Guiana, 1852–1939, received forgers and other criminals. New Caledonia in Melanesia (in the South Sea) received dissidents like the Communards, Kabyles rebels as well as convicted criminals.
- In Ecuador, the Island of San Cristóbal (in the Galapagos archipelago) was used as a penal colony 1869–1904.
- Imperial Russia used Siberia as a penal colony for criminals and dissidents. Though geographically contiguous with heartland Russia, Siberia provided both remoteness and a harsh climate. In 1857, a penal colony was established on the island of Sakhalin. The Gulag and its tsarist predecessor, the katorga system, provided slave-type penal labor to develop forestry, logging and mining industries, construction enterprises, as well as highways and railroads across Siberia.
- 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 near to the end of the War of the Triple Alliance and soon after destroyed by Brazilian troops.
- The Netherlands had a penal colony since the late 19th century. A town called Veenhuizen, originally set up by a private company to "re-educate" vagrants from the large cities in the west like Amsterdam, was taken over by the Department of Justice to be turned into a collection of prison buildings. The town is located 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.
- Currently in Mexico, the island of Isla María Madre (in the Marías Islands) is used as a penal colony. With a small population (less 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 was a Portuguese penal colony in the Cape Verde Islands, set up by the head of the Portuguese government, Salazar, before WWII (1936) where anti-fascist opponents of this right-wing regime were sent. At least 32 Anarchists, Communists and other opponents of Salazar's regime died in that camp. The camp was closed in 1954 but was 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. Plans have been put forward for tourist development.
- Con Dao Island in Vietnam was used as a penal colony by both the French colonists and the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
- Gorgona Island in 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 the sharks patrolling the 30 km to the mainland. The penal colony was closed in 1984 and the last prisoners were transferred to mainland. The former jail buildings now have been covered by dense vegetation, but a portion can still be seen.
- The Guantanamo Bay detention camp has been used by the United States as a penal colony to maintain and interrogate prisoners outside US legal jurisdiction.
- "Papillon" is the title of Henri Charriere's 20th Century autobiographical novel concerning a Frenchman interned on a penal colony in French Guiana, and the 1973 movie directed by Franklin J. Schaffner.
- Botony Bay is a historical fiction written by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall about the trials and tribulations of the first European settlers of the Australian continent.
- In the Penal Colony is a short story by Franz Kafka upon which the movie La Colonia penal (1970) is based.
- More than one of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series, including Desolation Island and The Nutmeg of Consolation include scenes set in and around New South Wales.
- "For the Term of His Natural Life" by Marcus Clarke is a 19th Century novel dealing with the main characters deportation to the Port Arthur penal colony in Hobart, Australia in 1830. There are several movie versions, such as the 1983 TV movie starring Colin Friels.
- "Morgan's Run" by Colleen McCullough is a 20th Century novel dealing with the main characters deportation to the Australian penal colony.
- "Our Country's Good" a play by Timberlake Wertenbaker, focuses on the story of deportees to a penal colony.
- The events that Sherlock Holmes investigates in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s "The Sign of Four" are set in motion by the background story of Jonathan Small, who had served time in the Andaman Islands penal colony. While there Small befriended an aboriginal Andamanese, Tonga, who helped Small escape and then accompanied Small when he returned to England.
- The 1979 musical "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" written by Stephen Sondheim and based upon Christopher Bond's 1973 play of the same name, begins with its protagonist, Sweeney Todd, returning to London in 1846 having spent fifteen years in an unnamed British penal colony in Australia.
- Kessel, a prison planet which specialized in spice mining in the Star Wars universe.
- Robert Sheckley's Omega
- Salusa Secundus in Frank Herbert's Dune,
- Fiorina 'Fury' 161, the penal colony in Alien 3 that was an abandoned leadworks,
- The CoDominium series of Jerry Pournelle showed several planets, such as Tanith and Haven, that were used as dumping grounds for criminals and dissidents,
- Rura Penthe, a Klingon colony where prisoners mine dilithium in the Star Trek universe.
- The Doctor Who serial Frontier in Space features a lunar penal colony in the 26th century; a lunar penal colony of the 2002nd century is also mentioned in the episode "Bad Wolf",
- In several episodes the TV series Stargate SG-1, whole planets are used as penal colonies, generally by the goa'uld, e.g. Hadante in episode 25 (season 2)
- Crematoria is the sun scorched prison planet in The Chronicles of Riddick,
- "Hawksbill Station" by Robert Silverberg is a 1970 novel where political prisoners are sent to the pre-Cambrian period via a one-way time travel machine.
- The Moon in Robert A. Heinlein's novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
- The planet Shayol appears in Cordwainer Smith's stories.
- In episode 1–2 Trust of the Starhunter series, the planet Mercury is a fully automated prison.
- In an episode of The Outer Limits, the rulers of Zanti used Earth as a penal colony for their criminals and misfits.
- On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, New Zealand is mentioned as the location of the Federation's minimum security Penal Settlement. In the pilot of Star Trek: Voyager, the character Tom Paris is recruited from said Penal Settlement.
- On Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 5 episode 15 (515 – Power Play), they encounter a planet which they later find out is used as a penal colony.
- In Children of Men, the British Isle of Man is used as a penal colony for political dissidents of the authoritarian dystopia.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, the Wall serves as a prison colony/military order for convicts.
Notes and references
- Diiulio, John J., Governing Prisons: A Comparative Study of Correctional Management, Simon and Schuster, 1990. ISBN 0029078830
- Dupont, Jerry, "The Common Law Abroad: Constitutional and Legal Legacy of the British Empire", Wm. S. Hein Publishing, 2001. ISBN 0837731259, 9780837731254
- 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 9971691957, 9789971691950
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