Convict Labor in the Portuguese Empire, 1740-1932

Redefining the Empire with Forced Labor and New Imperialism


Forced convict labor provided the Portuguese with solutions to the growing criminal population at home and the lack of infrastructure in Angola and Mozambique. In Convict Labor in the Portuguese Empire, Timothy J. Coates examines the role of large numbers of convicts in Portuguese Africa from 1800 until 1932. This work examines the numbers, rationale, and realities of convict labor (largely) in Angola during this period, but Mozambique is a secondary area, as well as late colonial times in Brazil.

This is a unique, first study of an experiment in convict labor in Africa directed by a European power; it will be welcomed by scholars of Africa and New Imperialism, as well as those interested in law and labor.
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EUR €111.00USD $138.00

Biographical Note

Timothy J. Coates, Ph. D. (1993) University of Minnesota, is Professor of History at the College of Charleston. He has published two monographs, numerous articles and chapters in collections. Most recently, he contributed to The Cambridge World History of Slavery.

Review Quotes

"[A]n insightful study of the bleak realities of penal exile in Portuguese Africa, especially with regard to its organisation and to the number of people the system affected. [...] Coates’s account is built on solid archival work; it reveals a deep preoccupation with a neglected aspect of the
past and opens a number of doors for further research."

- Z. Biedermann (University College London), The English Historical Review, EHR, cxxxi. 552 (October 2016), pp. 1195 - 1196

"This book brings to light [a] largely unknown imperial project in exiled penal labor in the late nineteenth century. Coates introduces many fascinating themes— such as gender differences, the lack of sadism in the Portuguese system, and the economic significance of forced versus slave and free labor, all of which should be developed by future historians. Extensive notes direct scholars to archival resources, while the appendices provide a glimpse of the richness of the sources. Seven detailed appendices present lists of convicts and vagrants sent to Angola, Cape Verde, and Mozambique, the locations of exile, the received income and expenses, the petitions for pardons, and the regulations for the Mozambique prison. All will open the field for future research."

- Alida C. Metcalf (Rice University), American Historical Review, vol 121, no 1, February 2016, pp. 204-205

"Timothy J. Coates is without doubt the world’s leading expert on forced labor and forced migration beyond slavery and the slave trade in the longue durée of the Portuguese empire. This long-awaited second book, as Coates himself states, is a follow-on from his first, Convicts and Orphans: Forced and State-Sponsored Colonization in the Portuguese Empire, 1550–1755 (Stanford, 2001). Read together, these books cover almost four centuries of coerced labor in the Portuguese empire as the Portuguese state and its empire were forming and changing over time. Coates’s research is truly global in scope. His path-breaking books have contributed to several fields beyond Portuguese imperial history, including comparative penal transportation, comparative empire, and world history. Convict Labor in the Portuguese Empire appropriately concludes with a chapter that discusses the comparative context of what Clare Anderson has termed the global “carceral archipelago."[...] Coates has a novel and transparent approach to his major sources. The prologue to the book includes a series of six prosopographies of Portuguese men born in the nineteenth century who were authors of various publications on Portuguese imperialism and penal reform. In bringing these men to the fore, Coates subtly indicates the various political positions behind some of the major sources used in the book. "

- Kerry Ward (Rice University), Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, vol 14, no 1, March 2017, pp. 100-101

"The mass of literature produced in the last few years on penal transportation in the British Empire – and to a certain extent also in the French and Dutch empires – has not been paralleled by research and publications on convict transportation in the Iberian empires. As far as the Spanish Empire is concerned, Ruth Pike’s 1978 article and 1983 monograph remain the most relevant (albeit in many ways incomplete) surveys of this topic, with numerous other publications containing just scattered information on specific geographical areas. In the case of the literature on the Portuguese Empire, the penal exiled (degredados) are usually mentioned only in passing and are often completely ignored in studies on crime and punishment, migration, and colonization. This state of the art has created a double distortion: on the one hand, in a manner similar to what happened with the Atlantic slave trade in relation to slavery as a whole, convict experiences in the British (and to some extent the French) empire have become the standard for convict transportation and convict labour as such; on the other hand, experts in the Spanish and Portuguese empires have largely felt justified in ignoring the topic, and have either affirmed the complete exceptionality of those empires in relation to the issue or postulated the marginality of this historical phenomenon as a whole. There are two fundamental exceptions to this rule as far as the Portuguese empire is concerned, however, both stemming from the decades-long research of Timothy J. Coates. Before co-authoring with Geraldo Pieroni a volume (in Portuguese) on Castro Marim, an exile destination in Portugal, he first dedicated an extended study to penal exile and dowries as methods of colonization Now we have another monograph under review which picks up chronologically from where that study stopped, i.e. the mid-eighteenth century. [...] The maps, charts, illustrations, and the rich appendices included in the volume are useful, as are the index at the end of the volume and the brief portraits of ‘‘major personalities’’ presented in the introductory pages. Altogether, they mirror the preliminary, and yet inspiring, nature of this study, and its successful quest to set a basis for future research."

- Christian G. De Vito (International Institute of Social History), in International Review of Social History, 59(3), pp. 513 -515

"Timothy J. Coates’ Convict labor in the Portuguese empire is an apt and much-needed follow-up to his first book (Convicts and Orphans: Forced and State-sponsored Colonizers in the Portuguese Empire) on aspects of demographic movements in the Portuguese empire.[...] [T]he bibliography does an admirable job by providing the detailed listing of the archival documents consulted on top of the update of the latest literature in the field. In terms of the scholarship on demographic and social history of the Portuguese empire, Timothy Coates’ work is a book that should be read by anyone researching on the field."

- Y.H. Teddy Sim (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore), in: Bulletin for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies. Journal of the Association for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies, Vol 40, No 1

Table of contents

List of Maps, Illustrations, Charts, and Tables
Abbreviations and Glossary of Foreign Terms
Major Personalities

1. Objectives
2. Secondary Literature
3. Related Aspects
4. Exile as Punishment
5. A Problem of Sources
6. Archival Materials
7. Fundamentals

1. The Global Portuguese Penal System to circa 1830
1.1 Introduction and Conclusion
1.2 The Portuguese Use of Exile as Punishment
1.3 Jails
1.4 The Azores and Madeira
1.5 Public Works

2. Setting the Stage for Africa
2.1 Introduction and Conclusion
2.2 Brazil in Late Colonial Times
2.3 Penal Reform in Portugal
2.4 The Sociedade de Geografia de Lisboa
2.5 Islands in a Portuguese Sea

3. Colonial Realities in an Empire without Brazil
3.1 Introduction and Conclusion
3.2 Nineteenth Century Angola
3.3 Earlier Efforts: Penal Colonies
3.4 A Few Words about the Prison in Mozambique
3.5 The Depósito Geral de Degredados in Luanda
3.6 Organization and Administration
3.7 Discipline and Punishment
3.8 A Question of Numbers: Angola and Mozambique

4. Crimes, Punishments, Ages, and Origins of Convicts
4.1 Introduction and Conclusion
4.2 Ages and Origins of Prisoners
4.3 Crimes and Punishments
4.4 Petty Recidivists (addidos)
4.5 Political Prisoners (deportados)
4.6 Vagrants (vadios)
4.7 Military Deportees
4.8 Health
4.9 Diet
4.10 Uniforms

5. Work and Freedom
5.1 Introduction and Conclusion
5.2 Rehabilitation through Work
5.3 What Did They Do in the Colony?
5.4 Salaries and Deductions
5.5 Exiting the Depósito
5.6 The End of the Luanda Prison

6. Comparisons and Conclusions
6.1 Introduction
6.2 The British
6.3 The French
6.4 The Spanish
6.5 Secondary Punishment
6.6 Major Differences
6.7 Were the Depósitos Successes or Failures?
6.8 The End of Degredo as Punishment
6.9 A Question of Overall Numbers
6.10 Lingering Questions and Concluding Remarks

Appendix 1: 1755 List of People from the Jail … leaving for Portuguese Asia
Appendix 2: 1783 List of Those Cleared from Madeira to Angola
Appendix 3: Degredo and Exile Locations (other than Brazil), 1742-1872
Appendix 4: Income and Expenses by Colony, 1852-1886
Appendix 5: The 1905 Regulations Governing the Prison in Mozambique
Appendix 6: Inmates from the Mozambique and Angolan Prisons Requesting Pardons in 1911-1912, and 1914.
Appendix 7: Vagrants Sentenced by the High Court of Porto to Be Transported to Cape Verde, 1907.



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