Convict, Unfree and Coerced: Workers and the Expansion of Global Empires
Edited by Diane Kirkby and Vivien Miller
Carceral Frontiers: Prison Labour and the Making of New Zealand’s Pacific
Framed by an understanding that prisons and their work regimes mobilise as much as they confine, this paper highlights the importance of prison labour in the making of commodity and carceral frontiers in New Zealand’s Pacific empire between the 1890s and 1920s. Prison labour in the Cook Islands, Niue and Sāmoa not only appropriated “cheap nature” for the colonising work of “improvement” – roads, public works, plantation development, guano extraction and commodity production – but helped reproduce the logic of capitalist accumulation, gendered divisions of labour and the authority of the colonial nation-state. Rather than a peripheral phenomenon, prison labour operated alongside free and indentured labour and was a crucial element in shaping imperial authority and work regimes in New Zealand’s Pacific empire.
Forced Labour, Indenture and Convict Transportation: A Case Study of the Western Australian Pastoral Industry, 1830–50
This article analyses Western Australian pastoralists’ agitation for, and their expanding reliance upon, forced labour in the Avon valley in the 1830s and 1840s. I argue that coercive labour practices were already well established by the time the York Agricultural Society began lobbying for convict transportation in the late 1840s, and that this effort reflected a desire to intensify already existing patterns of unfree labour rather than a brand-new intervention. The shift to forced labour occurred soon after the settler conquest of Ballardong Noongar country facilitated the establishment of a profitable pastoral industry. Pastoralists struggled to hire sufficient numbers of free white workers to work their fields and stations, and to pay the exorbitant wages demanded by them; and they turned instead to Noongar workers, often using coercive methods to maintain labour discipline. Even so, it was clear by the mid-1840s that the settler and Aboriginal labour pool was too small to secure the pastoral industry’s long-term success; and initiatives to augment the colonial workforce by sending out juvenile offenders from Parkhurst prison, and by recruiting Chinese and Indian indentured labourers, were insufficient to meet demand. The Avon valley pastoralists therefore mounted a vigorous campaign to introduce convict labour to Western Australia.
Paying Aboriginal Rural Workers: Racism, the Labour Market and Worker Agency
Christina Lawrence and Jennifer Jones
Research into experiences of Aboriginal workers on pastoral stations in Queensland has revealed systemic slave-like conditions and underpayment, primarily focusing upon northern regions of the state. This article reveals details of Aboriginal workers’ employment on one station in the less examined southern districts of Queensland, specifically the South Burnett region, that suggest calibrated payments were well above the (later) legislated rate of pay, but less than rates awarded to white men on the same property. We adopt micro-historical and socio-linguistic methods to examine the Kilkivan station diary of 1898. By conducting a close reading of employment practices adopted by station owner, Aubrey Jones, we reveal how linguistic management of cultural difference intersected with the agency of Aboriginal workers. The level of business risk apprehended by Jones impacted the level of trust he exercised and the autonomy he granted to Aboriginal workers. The spare but unguarded prose of the diary reveals how Jones mobilised anonymising racist language or chose to individuate Aboriginal workers, depending on their compliance and perceived reliability. This article thus extends previous understandings of cross-racial relations, the racialised pay gap, and Aboriginal agency in the Australian pastoral industry.
“At Work, in Hospital, or in Gaol”: Women in British Guiana’s Jails, 1838–1917
This article argues that labour, particularly female labour, was central to the expansion of colonial Guiana’s post-emancipation penal system between 1838 and 1917. It highlights the intersection of coerced labour and colonialism in the post-emancipation period, by centring the lives of incarcerated women to understand the nature of state governance in colonial spaces. It argues the plantocracy leveraged the expansion of prisons not to control crime but to control labour. As the newly constructed prisons filled, colonial and local authorities explained increased incarceration rates as a legitimate response to increased crime, supported by an evangelical rhetoric that promoted incarceration to encourage reform when it was accompanied by religious instruction and education. In practice, authorities used the prison system as a means of labour discipline, labour extraction and as a threat to secure future docility. Female indentured labourers convicted of petty crimes, including breach of contract, were often sentenced to work on plantations; creole women worked on sea defence construction and maintenance. A common refrain in the colony was that free labour could not be obtained. The malleability of prisoners as a labour force was thus attractive to the government, as prisoners could be moved, deployed and disciplined in ways that were not possible for free labour.
The Colonial Ambiguities of Military Labour on the Penal Frontier: The Newcastle Penal Station 1804–24
This article examines ordinary soldiers garrisoned at the Penal Station of Newcastle, not merely as the discontented imperial captives of Linda Colley’s famous title, but as discontented imperial labour. At Newcastle they were deliberately reconstituted as such to manage periodic shortages in convict labour. Although military labour is one of the largest occupational groupings in the nineteenth century, it is also one of the most overlooked in the study of labour history. Colonial soldiers are traditionally excluded from the language of labour and its associated conflicts. They are, after all, deployed, but rarely, we assume, employed. This analysis pivots around the material history of a set of humble cedar boxes, intricately connected to the settlement’s function in the provision of valuable natural resources. The Soldier’s boxes also beg interesting questions about the political and subterranean economies of the settlement and the submerged working-class patterns of exchange and negotiation. Such questions reveal a defining conflict over the control of colonial labour, land and resources.
British Colonialism and Prison Labour in Inter-War Palestine
Great Britain ruled modern-day Israel and Palestine from 1917 to 1948. The exploitation of prison labour became a source to fund its colonial government. This study explicates the economic and legal rationale for prison labour, the living and working conditions and discipline of convicts, and public debates and controversies surrounding political prisoners in Mandatory Palestine. With specific references to forced labour in the colonised world, it evaluates the experience of Mandatory Palestine from a transnational perspective and makes a connection between global colonialism and prison labour. Using a rich trove of official documents and newspaper articles as its primary sources, this article links the proliferation of the prison labour system with the introduction and consolidation of British colonialism in Palestine and argues that colonial ideology and practices coloured and justified the use of prison labour.
The Fragility of Governmentality and Domination: The State, Carceral Labour and “(In)docile Resistance” in the Late Ottoman Empire
Kadir Yildirim and Yakup Akkuş
The “power relations” in the Ottoman Empire were gradually governmentalised and centralised through modernist reforms in the long nineteenth century. As part of this process, the practice of intramural and extramural carceral labour became an important element in the Ottoman penal system in the late empire. Despite the state’s emphasis on the rehabilitative effect of prison labour in legal regulations, particularly regarding intramural carceral labour, the expansion of the practice into extramural activities reveals that providing economic benefits was another driving force in the Ottoman case. In this line, extramural labour was used as a complement to free labour rather than a substitute for it. However, the adverse reactions of prisoners to carceral labour were just as important as the regulations, disciplinary practices, and the administrative and financial limits of the state in determining the success of the practice. By focusing on the resistance strategies of prisoners, including escapes, writing petitions, collective walkouts, slowdowns, strikes, and pilferage, this paper aims to amplify their voices. This prisoner-centred view enables us to take a Foucauldian perspective in the context of power relations and resistance to such practices and to illustrate how prisoners, as “indocile bodies,” weakened the governmentality and domination of the state through many forms of “indocile resistance.”