Convict Labour and the Western Empires, 1415–1954
chapterposted on 19.03.2014, 16:34 by Clare Anderson, Hamish Maxwell - Stewart
Between 1415, when the Portuguese first used convict labour in the capture of the Moroccan city of Ceuta, and 1954, when the French penal colony in Guiana closed, the European powers transported hundreds of thousands of convicts, and employed them as unfree labour in overseas colonies. Because convict transportation has either been framed historiographically within the history of crime and punishment, or viewed as part of the history of one nation or empire, there has been a general failure to understand its pan-European scale and scope. This chapter provides a first step in that direction: synthesising the existing literature, offering a starting point for the quantification of convict numbers, and suggesting that penal transportation represented not solely an instrument of punishment or criminal reform, but formed part of a continuum of unfree labour practices that underpinned overseas European expansion.