- Convict Labor in the Portuguese Empire, 1740–1932: Redefining the Empire with Forced Labor and New Imperialism by Timothy J. Coates
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.
The book covers the period in which Portugal’s empire was shrinking and the global system of penal transportation and exile described in Convicts and Orphans changed, especially after the independence of Brazil and its loss as an exile and imprisonment site. By the late eighteenth century only the fringe regions of Brazil were being used as exile sites, not those core regions of free settlement or mining boomtowns that attracted the greatest number of Portuguese emigrants even after independence. The shift in sites of exile reflected labor needs and first-wave colonization. Male convicts were often granted permission to be accompanied by their families into exile. After the independence of Brazil in 1822, the focus of degredo (exile) shifted to either the western or the eastern African colonies, Angola or Mozambique, respectively. Penal colonization was a main component of Portuguese imperialism in Africa, and convicts were supposed to provide cheap labor in the context of the abolition of slavery. Degredados (exiles) were concentrated increasingly in Angola as the focus of Portuguese imperial ambitions for a “second Brazil” (37).
Degredados were mostly poor, white urban men; only about 5 percent were women. Those from Portugal, the Atlantic colonies, and Mozambique were sent to Angola. Criminals from the Portuguese Indian Ocean colonies and settlements were sent to Mozambique. Women were generally not married and were implicitly expected to marry and settle in their places of exile. Convicts performed all kinds of manual labor [End Page 100] in Angola, particularly the construction of infrastructure in the colony. Penal reform influenced the classification and treatment of exiles with the possibility of rehabilitation through work. Although the degredados reached almost a third of the white population of Angola, they did not fulfill the state’s expectations of providing a permanent Portuguese colonial population, as many repatriated home after the end of their sentences or after having been granted a pardon.
Coates explicitly acknowledges that he does not deal with race as a category of analysis in penal transportation because it was not a factor in the treatment of convicts in Angola and Mozambique. This is very unlike the British empire, where penal transportation was strictly segregated, with the Australian colonies being reserved for convicts of European origin while Indian convicts, as Clare Anderson has shown, were sent to various British settlements around the Indian Ocean. The Portuguese government itself looked to British penal transportation to Australia as its ideal model of penal colonization, although its ambitions were never achieved. Angola’s and especially Luanda’s reputations as penal colonies retarded free immigration...