Penal transportation, deportation and exile in the 19th and 20th centuries

Perspectives from the colonies

Date: 1 September 2017, 09:00–03:30

Venue: Corvinus University, Fővám tér 8, room 303


Please note that there is a break from 12 pm - 1.30 pm.


The double session brings together a set of presentations on practices of penal and administrative expulsion in the British, Dutch, French, Japanese, US and German empires during the 19th to mid-20th centuries.
By looking at empires from the perspectives of punishment and forced migration, the session offers original insights on the relationship between empires, on the one hand, and revolutions, resistance, and social conflicts on the other. Moreover, by focussing on processes of “internal” and “overseas” colonisation in the 19th and 20th centuries, we seek to scrutinise the tension between nationalism and empire, beyond the narrative of the linear and supposedly universal trend from “empire to nation”. The broad geographical and temporal scope of the session will allow for comparative and connected perspectives on both issues.
Moreover, by working outwards from the perspective of the colonies, rather than the metropole, it overturns the standard approach to penal transportation, deportation and exile, and foregrounds flows originating from, and encounters/conflict taking place in, the colonies.
The goal of the double session is to make interventions in four related areas. First, we aim to understand which types of inter-colonial connections were created by penal transportation, deportation and exile, and how far they challenged or strengthened the vertical links between the metropole and the colonies. In this respect, the session explicitly connects to the rich methodological approach suggested by recent work in new imperial history and historical geography. Second, the presentations foreground the entanglements and disentanglements between the flows that stemmed from these penal practices, and other coerced and free migrations. Within this frame, labour extraction from convicts, deportees and exiles is especially addressed. Third, we interrogate the relationships between penal and administrative practices and their links with legal cultures, criminological knowledge and strategies of social control. Fourth, we seek to address the interplay between groups of individuals (e.g. political/non-political offenders, war-related deportees, etc.), types of punishment (exile, deportation, penal transportation), and destinations. The constitution of class, ethnicity, race and gender as understood and experienced in the colonies through the process of punitive and labour differentiation will be especially foregrounded.
The double session builds on the work of the two leading projects in the field of convict transportation and convict labour: the “Carceral Archipelago” project, based at the School of History, International Relations and Politics at the University of Leicester (, by including ts Principal Investigator, Clare Anderson, post-doc researchers Christian G. De Vito and Minako Sakata, PhD student Katherine Roscoe, and advisory board member Lorraine Paterson; and the “Four Centuries of Labour Camps” project, based at the IISH and the NIOD, including post-doc researchers Francesca Di Pasquale and Matthias van Rossum, and PhD student Zhanna Popova. Further presentations will be given by area studies experts Kathleen Rahn and Benjamin D. Weber.
The double session complements a double session held at the European Social Science History Conference (ESSHC), Valencia, 30 March-2 April 2016, and aim at the publication of a special issue of the International Review of Social History (IRSH), already accepted by the Review’s Editorial Committee. The special issue will be edited by Clare Anderson and Christian G. De Vito.


Christian De Vito (University of Leicester/Utrecht University)


Zhanna Popova (International Institute of Social History Amsterdam)

Katherine Roscoe (University of Leicester)


Clare Anderson (University of Leicester)

Christian De Vito (University of Leicester/Utrecht University)


Katherine Roscoe (University of Leicester)

Matthias van Rossum (International Institute of Social History Amsterdam)

Lorraine M. Paterson (Cornell University)

Clare Anderson (University of Leicester)

Minako Sakata (Tomakomai Komazawa University)

Benjamin Weber (Harvard University)



Katherine Roscoe: A colonial ‘Carceral Archipelago’: The transportation of convicts from the Australian colonies to off-shore islands, 1788-1901

The history of Australian colonialism is divided in two: beginning with the long maritime journeys of convicts from Britain and Ireland to the ‘fatal shore’, and then conquering the land, as convicts dispossessed the Aboriginal Australias through farming, building and bushranging. This article fills this gap by discussing the transportation of convicts – both European and Aboriginal – from the Australian colonies to off-shore islands. I argue that this ‘carceral archipelago’ was as important to the colonisation of Australia, as the activities of convicts on land. Using six island case-studies, I show that carceral islands served three purposes in the colonial project: first, skilled convicts were sent to islands near trade routes to expand Britain’s geopolitical influence. Second, islands were extra-punitive destinations for European convicts who challenged law and order by repeat-offending. Third, islands were sites for the dislocation of Aboriginal Australians who disrupted European colonisation of the interior. Using archival material from the British Colonial Office, the India Office, and the colonies’ Convict Departments, this paper suggests that transportation of convicts had an ongoing role to play in the colonial sphere long after the cessation of convict transportation from the metropole had ceased. The perspective from the colonies demonstrates the flexibility of transportation as a punishment, and how it was adapted (both legally and in practice) to accommodate labour demands, penal reform, and racial theories. By taking the perspective of carceral islands, the metropole and colonial mainland are both decentred; instead, marginal sites holding marginalised people emerge as central nodes in imperial networks of trade, punishment and governance.

Matthias van Rossum: The Carceral colony: The system of coerced labour exploitation in the Netherlands East-Indies, 1810s-1940s

This article studies the employment of convict labour and its disciplining function within the wider system of coercive state and labour regimes in Dutch colonial context. The convict system of the Dutch colonial state in the Netherlands-Indies evolved from largely pre-existing patterns but gradually adapted to changing strategies of colonial exploitation over the course of the 19th and 20th century. Under the Dutch colonial state, all prisoners were coerced into performing convict work. There were differences between convicts sentenced to short-term convict labour via the politierol (magistrates or police law) and convicts were sentenced to medium- or long-term convict labour via criminal courts (landraad and Raad van Justitie). Average population ‘in prison’ grew steadily over time, while the number of convicts sentenced to short-term sentences for ‘small crimes’, often related to criminalised labour, mobility and other social offences literally exploded from the 1860s onwards. This article shows both the disciplining effects of convict labour on other (coercive) labour systems (corvee, contract) as well as the strategic use of convict labour by the colonial state, especially in activities related to the infrastructural and expansionist aims.

Lorraine Paterson: Ethnoscapes of exile: Political deportees from Indochina in a colonial Asian world

Throughout the course of French colonialism in Indochina (1863-1954), over ten thousand prisoners – many of them convicted of political crimes – were exiled to twelve different geographical locations throughout the French empire. From Gabon to Guiana, there was hardly a corner of the French empire to which they weren’t sent. However, many of these prisoners came from a Chinese background or a culturally Chinese world and the sites to which they were exiled (even the penal colonies themselves) contained diasporic Chinese communities. For many prisoners knowing Chinese was their greatest asset or being able to “pass” as Chinese the most valuable tool to facilitate escape. Arguably for many of these prisoners, the ethnoscapes of their exile were not as unfamiliar a world as the French authorities had intended. Examining the lives of these exiles reveals first that the ability of the colonial state to act as a surveillance apparatus was far more limited than imagined. The colonial administration was often chaotic in these exilic locales and the French authorities were often unable to police boundaries between prisoners from Indochina and the resident Chinese communities. The French administration had difficulty keeping track of these exiles, understanding the language they spoke and wrote, categorising them racially and so forth. If exile is in one sense the ultimate exercise of colonial power – capable of moving bodies to distant places – the exilic experience of political prisoners from Indochina also makes clear that colonial power was fragmentary, arbitrary, and incomplete in its ability to constrain cultural and political flows.

Clare Anderson: The Andaman Islands penal colony: race, class, criminality and the British Empire

Between 1858 and 1939, the British government of India transported around 83,000 Indian and Burmese convicts to the penal colony of the Andaman Islands. In terms of the total number of convicts received, this renders the Andamans the largest penal colony in the entire British Empire. A rich historiography has elucidated aspects of the Islands’ history, with respect to penal colonization, Indigenous marginalisation, convict work and resistance; and the Islands’ use as a means of British imperial governmentality and as a place for the incarceration of Indian nationalists. What has been missing from these accounts of British dominance, Andamanese destruction and Indian subjugation is an appreciation of the racial and cultural spaces in between them. Attention to this reveals the presence of various non-convict populations in the Andamans, each sent to the Islands under peculiarly colonial conditions. These included Anglo-Indians and resettled ‘criminal tribes’. Here, the British reconfigured imprisonment and transportation in mainland India into new modes of carcerality and coerced migration, which underpinned their attempts at imperial political dominance and economic development.

Minako Sakata: Territorial expansion and population management in the Japanese Empire, 1869-1945

In this paper, describing Japan’s territorial expansion as a continuing process starting from Hokkaido and ending with Manchukuo, consider relations among convict transportation/labour, relocation of indigenous peoples and other types of coerced/semi-coerced migration/labour which took place in the Japanese empire.
In the Japanese empire, penal transportation was introduced in 1881, under influence of Western empires. The destination was Hokkaido where is the northernmost part of Japan today. As it was incorporated into the mainland since the early 20th century, Hokkaido has not been treated as a colony in Japanese historical scholarship, and the history of penal transportation to Hokkaido has not been discussed in colonial studies of Japanese empire. Convict transportation was shrunken since the late 1890’s and abolished in 1907, just after when Japan gained Taiwan and Southern Sakhalin. As the penal system in colonies primarily followed the mainland system, penal transportation was not introduced in colonies. Whilst criminals were confined in prisons, the poor in colonies, especially the Korean, were sent to many destinations in Japanese empire as settlers or labourers.
On the other hand, during WWII, when extramural convict labour was revived in Hokkaido, prisons in colonies followed to introduce this system. Convicts were sent to colonies and occupied territory from prisons of the mainland, Korea and Taiwan.
As it is often suggested, Japan enlarged its territory concentrically for the purpose of ‘national security.’ In the period of nation-state building, Hokkaido, Okinawa and the Ogasawara Islands were incorporated, and then Taiwan, Southern Sakhalin, Korea and the South Sea Islands became Japanese territory. Manchukuo, founded in 1932, was not a Japanese colony, but a puppet state built by Japan.
Actually, regarding the Japanese empire, the boundary between nation-state building and imperial expansion was not clear. Hokkaido was called colony in the pre-war period. Taiwan governor general’s policy was based on the idea of “extending homeland (naichi encho)”. Under this policy were mainland’s legislations introduced in Taiwan depending on the degree of assimilation. It can be said that Japan’s new territories were imagined as lands which eventually become a part of the mainland.
Viewing Japanese territorial expansion from Hokkaido to Manchukuo, and demonstrating manners of population management by the government, might be seen continuity and relations among several types of coerced/semi-coerced migration/labour seen in colonies of the Japanese empire.

Benjamin Weber: Fearing the flood: Prison revolt and counterinsurgency in the U.S.-occupied Philippines, 1899-1910

When United States officials sought to establish civil government in the Philippine Islands amidst ongoing warfare, they feared that prison uprisings would threaten their bid for governance. Anti-imperial critics in the U.S. and the Philippines, for instance, pointed to prisoner revolt as a primary sign of anti-colonial opposition, and to prisoner death rates as proof that the U.S. had not established control on the ground. Through the administration of prisons, colonial officials sought to vindicate their sovereignty claims and differentiate a more “modern” U.S. imperialism from Spanish “misrule.” Indeed for many, prisons came to be seen as the sin qua non of colonial rule more generally. Drawing on a range of archival sources, this paper examines the role of convict transportation in W. Cameron Forbes’ scheme to reorganise prisons in response to this specific strategic context in the turn-of-the-20th- century Philippines. Initially used to distribute convict labourers around the archipelago, recurrent fears of prison uprisings soon turned transportation into a primary tactic of counterinsurgency more generally. Beginning with a plot hatched in Bilibid Prison at the dawn of U.S. colonial rule, the narrative moves to the “mutiny” at the Iwahig Penal Colony a few years later, and closes with an analysis of two escaped-prisoner led movements: Felipe Salvador’s “People’s Rising” and “Mandac’s Rebellion” in 1910. By placing Filipino prison revolt at the heart of the story, I seek to understand how perspectives from the colonies can reveal aspects of the social history of revolutionary organising and anti-colonial struggle alongside histories of the rise of the American carceral state.

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