Towards a history of convict labour in the nineteenth century Cape


1 May 2013


Volume 1 – Number 3

How to cite

Nigel Penn



From the 1840s onwards an extensive and well-regulated system of convict labour was instituted in the Cape Colony of South Africa. At the time, the system was lauded for both its material achievements – the building of roads and mountain passes – and its reformative and rehabilitative influence on indigenous criminals. This article seeks to explain that the system had its origins in penal experiments in Australia, rather than Cape conditions. It also seeks to sketch a historiographical approach to writing a history of the convict experience within a system marked by tremendous diversity amongst the convict population and by disparate conditions across time and space.


Convict labour, Cape Colony of South Africa, Australia