Penal colonies are mostly a thing of the past, but once they were rather common. They were sometimes on distant island possessions from which escape was nearly impossible, and sometimes on continental possessions, just very far away.
The best-known penal colony is Devil’s Island, off the coast of French Guiana, used as a dumping ground for prisoners exiled from France from 1852 to 1939. Over those years, the French exiled some 80,000 convicts there. One of them was Captain Alfred Dreyfus, unjustly charged with treason in an infamous event that shook France to the core.
The essence of a penal colony is a sentence of distant exile. France also used New Caledonia as a penal colony. The Russians exiled dissidents to Siberia and to the island of Kamchatka, a big island off Siberia, north of Japan.
The British used sentences of exile against common criminals, but also sentenced early trade union organizers and Irish dissidents to terms of exile. They used various parts of Australia as penal colonies, sending an estimated 164,000 people there during the years of operation (1788-1868).
But why did the British send exiles halfway around the world? The answer is the American Revolution. Prior to that, the British had dumped approximately 50,000 criminals in their American colonies, a quarter of all British immigrants during the 1700s. The exiles actually were often only guilty of what today would be minor crimes, like petty larceny, or no crimes at all.
With the American option gone, they decided to send exiles to Australia. The Australians have come to terms with this history of penal exile. Americans have ignored it.
Deep knowledge,and happy reading.
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