Penal colony

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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.

Contents

Generalities

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.

British Empire

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.[1]

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.[citation needed]. 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.

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