Matthias van Rossum – ‘To be send to the island Allelande’: Convict Islands, Transport and Labour under Dutch East India Company (1650-1800)


Event Dates: 13 – 16 September 2015
College Court Conference Centre
Knighton Road,
Leicester LE2 3UF

The Carceral Archipelago: Transnational Circulations in Global Perspective, 1415-1960

Matthias van Rossum (IISH, Amsterdam) – ‘To be send to the island Allelande’: Convict Islands, Transport and Labour under Dutch East India Company (1650-1800)

From the 18th century rope factory on the island Edam to the 20th century convict labour camp in Upper Digul, the Dutch colonial history has been intimately linked with histories of unfreedom, imprisonment, forced mobility and forced labour. The people convicted and the practices of internment and coercion varied significantly during the period from the beginning and end of colonial presence in Asia. During the 18th century, diverse groups of convicts, originating from different parts of the Indonesian archipelago, India and other parts of Asia, were placed in public places, such as the ‘gemeene werken’ in the middle of Company-settlements, as well as in isolated places, such as the convict island of Edam, lying close to Batavia, at the centre of the Dutch empire. During the first half of the 20th century, Dutch colonial authorities deported political opponents, mainly communists, to places at the far end of its colonial empire, such as the convict camps in Upper Digul. As yet, little is known of this history of imprisonment, forced labour and ‘labour camps’ – the places where forced internment and labour coincide.

This paper will study practices of convict transport and convict labour in the Asian empire of the Dutch East India Company in the 18th century, as well as the transition and transformation of these practices during the early British and Dutch colonial period in the Netherlands-Indies in the first half of the 19th century. For the VOC, practices of confinement and convict work have been studied mainly for Galle and Batavia (Wagenaar, Blussé). Convict transportation has mainly been studied for the Batavia-Cape connection (Ward). Patterns of transportation and employment of convicts were more complex, however, including different circuits on local, regional and intercontinental levels, and different practices of public or isolated confinement and work. This paper will outline and analyse these different practices and circuits across the Asian empire of the VOC, focusing especially on practices in and connections between Batavia (and its islands, Onrust and Edam), Ceylon (including the Coromandel Coast), the Cape of Good Hope and the Banda Islands. Furthermore, it will study the changes occurring in the period of intensifying colonialism in the Netherlands-Indies in the early 19th century.


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