Colonisation or incarceration? the changing role of the French penal colony in fin-de-siecle New Caledonia

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7 Scopus citations


There was a growing belief among 19th century French social theorists that the urban-industrial milieu, with its poverty and social dislocation, was a breeding ground for criminal activity. Such opinions led legislators to remove the malfeasor, convicted of either felonies or repeated misdemeanours, from this urban environment, and relocate him to the distant land of New Caledonia where he would be restored to a moral life by serving in France's colonial project. Through his hard labour he would pay his debt to the mother country while simultaneously increasing the domain of her rule. Thus, penal colonisation was seen as not simply the banishment of dangerous and undesirable individuals, but a process of re-socialisation that would eventually allow for their re-insertion in civil society. This article examines how the penal-colonial mission was transmuted by colonial officials and penal administrators. Analysis of the internal memoranda and correspondence between these two groups uncovers a fundamental tension in penal-colonial ideology and practice, that, by the close of the 19th century, would sharpen the calculating power of the French penal colonies, and eventually lead to their demise.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-74
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Pacific History
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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