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Inscribed stone honouring an Irish prisoner in the Australian penal colony of Botany Bay.

A penal colony or exile colony is a settlement used to exile prisoners and separate them from the general population 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.

British Empire

Penal colony in the Andaman Islands (circa late 1890s)

The British used colonial North America as a penal colony through a system of indentured servitude. Merchants would settlement used to exile prisoners and separate them from the general population 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.

British Empire

Penal colony in the Andaman Islands (circa late 1890s)

The British used colonial North America as a penal colony through a system of indentured servitude. Merchants would transport the convicts and auction them off (for example) to plantation owners upon arrival in the colonies. It is estimated that some 50,000 British 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.

The British used colonial North America as a penal colony through a system of indentured servitude. Merchants would transport the convicts and auction them off (for example) to plantation owners upon arrival in the colonies. It is estimated that some 50,000 British convicts were sent to colonial America and the majority landed in the Chesapeake Colonies of Maryland and Virginia. Transported convicts represented perhaps one-quarter of all British emigrants during the 18th century.[1] The colony of Georgia, for example, was first founded by James Edward Oglethorpe who originally intended to use prisoners taken largely from debtors' prison, creating a "Debtor's Colony," where the prisoners could learn trades and work off their debts. Even though this largely failed, the idea that the state began as a penal colony has persisted, both in popular history and local lore.[2]

When that avenue closed after the outbreak of American Revolutionary War in 1776, prisons started to overcrowd. Since immediate stopgap measures proved themselves ineffective, in 1785 Britain decided to use parts of what is now known as Australia as penal settlements. So-called First Fleet soon transported first ~800 convicts and ~250 marines to Sydney Cove. Australian penal colonies in late 18th century included Norfolk Island and New South Wales, and in early 19th century also Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) and Moreton Bay (Queensland).

Advocates of Irish Home Rule or of Trade Unionism (the Tolpuddle Martyrs) sometimes received sentences of deportation to these Australian colonies.[citation needed] Without the allocation of the available convict labour to farmers, to pastoral squatters, and to government projects such as roadbuilding, colonisation of Australia may not have been possible,Template:Sydneylivingmuseums.com.au 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 When that avenue closed after the outbreak of American Revolutionary War in 1776, prisons started to overcrowd. Since immediate stopgap measures proved themselves ineffective, in 1785 Britain decided to use parts of what is now known as Australia as penal settlements. So-called First Fleet soon transported first ~800 convicts and ~250 marines to Sydney Cove. Australian penal colonies in late 18th century included Norfolk Island and New South Wales, and in early 19th century also Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) and Moreton Bay (Queensland).

Advocates of Irish Home Rule or of Trade Unionism (the Tolpuddle Martyrs) sometimes received sentences of deportation to these Australian colonies.[citation needed] Without the allocation of the available convict labour to farmers, to pastoral squatters, and to government projects such as roadbuilding, colonisation of Australia may not have been possible,Template:Sydneylivingmuseums.com.au 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 Island was the recipient of Indian convicts, who were tasked with clearing the jungles for settlement and early public works.[citation needed]

A common misconception is that most of the former British Empire colonies were formed via convicts sent over from Britain thus rendering countries like Australia a nation of convicts, where in reality they represented only a fraction of the established colonies at that time.[citation needed]

France sent criminals to tropical penal colonies including Louisiana in the early 18th century.[3] Devil's Island in French Guiana, 1852–1939, received forgers and other criminals. New Caledonia and its Isle of Pines in Melanesia (in the South Sea) received transported dissidents like the Communards, Kabyles rebels as well as convicted criminals between the 1860s and 1897.[citation needed]

The Americas