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WI: 'Straits Settlements' penal colonies relocated elsewhere?

SinghSong

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IOTL, The Straits Settlements (consisting of the four individual settlements of Penang, Singapore, Malacca, and Dinding) were established following the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824, by which the Malay archipelago was divided into a British zone in the north and a Dutch zone in the south, with the British settlement of Bencoolen (on Sumatra) exchanged for the Dutch colony of Malacca and undisputed control of Singapore. The Settlements were largely Chinese in population, with a tiny but important European minority, and their capital was moved from George Town, the capital of Penang, to Singapore in 1832. Their scattered nature proved to be difficult and, after the company lost its monopoly in the china trade in 1833, expensive to administer. During their control by the East India Company, the Settlements were used as penal settlements for Indian civilian and military prisoners, earning them the title of the "Botany Bays of India". The years 1852 and 1853 saw minor uprisings by convicts in Singapore and Penang. Upset with East India Company rule, in 1857 the European population of the Settlements sent a petition to the British Parliament asking for direct rule, but the idea was overtaken by events elsewhere, with the Indian Rebellion of 1857 breaking out.

When a "Gagging Act" was imposed to prevent the uprising in India spreading, the Settlements' press reacted with anger, classing it as something that subverted "every principle of liberty and free discussion". As there was little or no vernacular press in the Settlements, such an act seemed irrelevant- it was rarely enforced and ended in less than a year. However, this reception did greatly influence the decision by the British to relocate their penal settlements for Indian civilian and military prisoners (which they'd be a greatly over-supplied with for several years to come, courtesy of the Indian Rebellion) from Singapore and the Straits Settlements, and establish new, hitherto unsettled "Botany Bay/s of India" elsewhere. IOTL, the British elected to establish their new penal colony, for the Indian mutineers involved in the Indian Rebellion of 1857, on the Andaman Islands- shifting the Penal Settlement from Singapore to Port Blair (Viper Island) in 1858, and transporting an estimated 13-20,000 prisoners to the Convict Settlement, also known as the "British Gulag", between 1858 and 1864.

We know the list of the first group of 200 prisoners who were transported to the Ross Island Penal Colony under the control of Dr James Pattison Walker from Calcutta, who soon set the convicts the arduous task of clearing the dense forest of Ross Island, building their own shelters and other buildings, and laying roads, with no food, clothing or shelter provided. And just over a month after their arrival, on the 23rd April 1858, 91 out of the 288 inmates managed to stage an escape- only to be savagely attacked by the Andaman Aboriginals, forcing them to flee back to the prison camp seeking medical help (with all 81 returnees summarily executed by hanging in a single day). JP Grant, the President in Council in Calcutta complained to the higher authorities, but Walker wasn't reprimanded, and emboldened by this, he fitted the remaining convicts at the Penal Colony with iron shackles, chains and identity-tagged neck collars, to prevent any further escapes.

Of the 10 escapees who'd managed to escape, and hadn't made it back to the prison camp, at least one of them was spared by the Andamanese people- Dudnath Tiwari, a political prisoner. He was absorbed into the aboriginal culture, married two of their girls, and learned their language. However, when the Andamanese were on the verge of mounting a massive surprise attack on the penal colony, on 16 May 1859, he ran away, betraying them to the British and secretly informing the Superintendent of the coming raid. And when the aboriginals attacked the camp with bows and arrows, in the "Battle of Aberdeen", the British were fully prepared, and were able to easily bring their superior weapons to bear, completely routing the natives. This total victory did result in a change of approach from the British though; steps were initiated to seek peace with the natives, with a British officer was appointed to look after their welfare (a move which Dr Walker was reportedly deeply dissatisfied about).

And 'Dr Death' was finally deposed from his position of control over the penal settlement in early October 1859, after he suggested branding the convicts on their forearms with information of the crime and sentence that they had been given). Even so though, of the 13-20,000 prisoners shipped out to the Ross Island Penal Colony, almost half had already died by mid-1864, with an observed death rate of c.7-10% per annum, and with only 45 prisoners out of the c.10,000 survivors (at most) considered 'medically fit' by the camp's doctors. With no export products, and no means of income (other than the mass human testing of pharmaceutical drugs like quinine, which was forcibly fed to c.10,000 penal colonists in the 1870s) the Ross Island Penal Colony ran at a huge fiscal loss for the British, and wound up being an unmitigated failure as anything other than a death camp.

So then, what if, rather than relocating their Indian penal colonies from Singapore and the Straits Settlements to establish their Convict Settlement for the Indian mutineers on the cramped, worthless, unproductive and unprofitable Andaman Islands, as they did IOTL, they'd established it elsewhere? And which alternative location/s do you feel would make for the most feasible, profitable, impactful, and/or interesting place/s for the British to establish their Penal Settlement/s immediately after the Indian Rebellion of 1857, instead of OTL's Ross Island Penal Colony (to be explored as the basis/POD for a fully-fledged ATL)? Particularly if a variant of the 'Great Escape' attempt still happens ITTL, with up to 1/3rd of the inmates managing to stage a successful escape as they did IOTL? Could you imagine any of them potentially rising to rival, or even surpass, the success of OTL's Singapore (and/or Malaysia)? And how different from OTL could TTL wind up becoming as a result?
 

SinghSong

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To expand on this, the main three alternate locations I was considering going with were:

A- Northern Australia: With the settlement of the 'Top End' having been abandoned by New South Wales as a futile endeavor after three successive failed attempts, starting in the 1820s and finally given up on in 1849, before only being attempted again after the Northern Territory was annexed by South Australia by letters patent in 1863- with their early attempts, assigned to Colonel Boyle Travers Finniss in 1864, also failing and disbanding in short order, before the first enduring settlement was finally established at Port Darwin in 1869. At the time of the Indian Mutiny, and for several years afterwards, it's 'free real estate', devoid of European settlement- there for the taking. Might Indian Penal Settlements there, with the Top End becoming the new "Botany Bays of India", fare better- especially after the discovery of the region's extensive gold-fields, and other mineral wealth? And with the tropical monsoon climate of the Top End at least as similar to that of India as those of New South Wales and New Zealand are to that of the British Isles...?

B- The Aden Settlement: Under direct British rule for nearly a century IOTL, following the capture of the port of Aden by forces of the East India Company in 1839, and governed as a dependency of the distant Bombay Presidency of the British Raj. This had already expanded to include the outlying Red Sea islands of Kamaran and Perim, and Khuriya Muriya islands (immediately prior to the Mutiny), would later gain far greater strategic importance after the opening of the Suez Canal, and would be expanded further IOTL to include the island of Socotra, along with the entirety of British Somaliland (which remained extremely neglected and underdeveloped until the 'End of Empire'). Perhaps the most realistic and plausible alternate location, for political and administrative reasons- could the Aden Settlement(/s, ITTL), after taking over the role previously held by Singapore and the other three Straits Settlements, conceivably emulate their success? And if they did, and/or became majority Indian, given that they were already under the jurisdiction of the British Raj in the same manner that the Andaman & Nicobar Islands were, could they conceivably remain part of India post-independence too...?

C- The Colony of Natal: The epicenter of the Indian indentured labor system on (mainland) Africa IOTL, the dependence of the country on Cape Colony had been put to an end in 1856, with Natal constituting a distinct colony with a (settler) population of over 8,000, and a legislative council of sixteen members, twelve elected by the inhabitants and four nominated by the Crown. And shortly after being able to pass their own ordnance, alone among the South Africa states, Natal offered a welcome to Indians (with farm owners having had a difficult time attracting Zulu labourers to work on their plantations)- with emigration to Natal approved on 7 August 1860 IOTL, and the first ship from Madras arriving in Durban on 16 November 1860. Just over 4 decades later, Indians would outnumbered whites in Natal, and comprised more than half of the non-African population. Perhaps the longest stretch of the three, requiring a little jiggling- but offering the tempting potential for greater drama and broader ramifications. Especially in the event of a similarly large-scale successful escape from the Penal Colony to seek refuge among the Natives early on, given that said Natives in this instance would've been the expansionist Zulu Empire under the rule of King Mpande kaSenzangakhona. By the time the (/a) Anglo-Zulu War breaks out ITTL, how radically different might the balance of power be...?

So, which do you reckon I should go with? Or do you have any other decent suggestions of your own?
 
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Indicus

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I don’t think Britain would send Indian political prisoners to any part of South Africa, considering the proposed sending of Irish prisoners to the Cape Colony in the 1840s caused a wave of controversy which helped spur the movement for responsible government. And in Colonial Natal, conspiracy theories about Indian plots to rebel against and kill the white population were rampant, naturally that would result in high white opposition to sending Indian rebels there.

Australia also seems unlikely, considering the nineteenth century Australian shame of having been a former convict colony - sending political prisoners there, especially brown ones, would likely irk many. Aden has the most potential, being remote from the interior, even with its high levels of trade with India. I don’t think it would have an Indian majority by independence though - most of these prisoners would be men, and there would intentionally be lots of hard labour with high mortality rates.

In OTL, Portugal sent 250 Goan rebels to Angola after suppressing Santoba Rane’s revolt in 1912. A British equivalent of that is plausible, in the context of a new colony with little to no settler population, no parliament, and a warm enough climate. But then any equivalent of the Great Escape seems like the thing which would create hostility to large convict settlement, especially if there is a large interior and hostile powers nearby.
 

Gary Oswald

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Also it's a little note but you at one point say this @SinghSong. "expansionist Zulu Empire under the rule of King Mpande kaSenzangakhona."

Zulu expansionism is one of those things that primary forces make much of and empire sympathetic historians also make much of but it's not really true. The Zulu Empire would have liked the disputed lands back from the Boers but not enough to go to war over and they'd already retreated from Mozambique and Eswatini. From 1852 to 1879 the Zulus wouldn't fight a single external war and the 1879 war happened when they were invaded while pleading for peace.

They're probably the single least expansionist state in the whole of Africa during this period.
 

SinghSong

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Wouldn't it be likely be Mahé which was the other indian ocean island the british sent political prisoners?
Could be. Didn't include The Seychelles as an option (or Mauritius) though, even though they'd rank alongside or above Aden plausibility-wise, since I didn't feel it'd have the same level of potential to write a full-fledged timeline about.
 

Gary Oswald

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Could be. Didn't include The Seychelles as an option (or Mauritius) though, even though they'd rank alongside or above Aden plausibility-wise, since I didn't feel it'd have the same level of potential to write a full-fledged timeline about.
Fair, if you're writing an actual story rather than just chatting history 'is this an interesting premise?' is the most important question to ask.

'Is this plausible?' is, depending on the tone of your piece, either secondary or completely irrelevant.
 

SinghSong

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I don’t think Britain would send Indian political prisoners to any part of South Africa, considering the proposed sending of Irish prisoners to the Cape Colony in the 1840s caused a wave of controversy which helped spur the movement for responsible government. And in Colonial Natal, conspiracy theories about Indian plots to rebel against and kill the white population were rampant, naturally that would result in high white opposition to sending Indian rebels there.
Ah, but that's half the reason I added it. I'll freely admit that it's the one of the three which stretches the boundaries of plausibility the most, but included it anyway since I felt it'd have perhaps the most potential for drama, hostility and conflict. Still, fair enough.

Australia also seems unlikely, considering the nineteenth century Australian shame of having been a former convict colony - sending political prisoners there, especially brown ones, would likely irk many. Aden has the most potential, being remote from the interior, even with its high levels of trade with India. I don’t think it would have an Indian majority by independence though - most of these prisoners would be men, and there would intentionally be lots of hard labour with high mortality rates. In OTL, Portugal sent 250 Goan rebels to Angola after suppressing Santoba Rane’s revolt in 1912. A British equivalent of that is plausible, in the context of a new colony with little to no settler population, no parliament, and a warm enough climate. But then any equivalent of the Great Escape seems like the thing which would create hostility to large convict settlement, especially if there is a large interior and hostile powers nearby.
So, what would the British equivalent of that be, then- a new colony, with little to no settler population, no parliament, and a warm enough climate, in the late 1850s? Lagos, perhaps, in the event of the British electing to annex it as a colony (on the pretext of its royal family proving unable or unwilling to end the slave trade) a few years earlier? Or Nairobi, or Mombasa?
 

Gary Oswald

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So, what would the British equivalent of that be, then- a new colony, with little to no settler population, no parliament, and a warm enough climate, in the late 1850s? Lagos, perhaps, in the event of the British electing to annex it as a colony (on the pretext of its royal family proving unable or unwilling to end the slave trade) a few years earlier? Or Nairobi, or Mombasa?
British Africa in the 1850s is tiny, is the problem. You had freetown, gambia, a bit of ghana and the cape.

The rest of it is islands, Mauritius, Seychelles, st helena and Asencion island. You're left with either an island (dull), somewhere else in asia (which brings you back to the aden), south africa or somewhere the british weren't in otl (in which case speculating is pointless, you might as well make a narrative choice as to where would be most interesting).
 

SenatorChickpea

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Australia would be fascinating- I'd actually suggest that Northern Queensland is more likely than the Top End, because what became the Northern Territory was so damn hard for the empire to settle, as you note. In the 1820s, the east coast is a better bet.

That in turn is going to have explosive consequences in the Australian settler colonies. Penal transportation was unpopular enough, but now it's bringing in non-white people!

There was already a tendency to believe that the imperial government didn't take the preservation of the British race in the tropics seriously enough- this will confirm it. The labour movement in Queensland in particular will, if possible, become even more vehemently racist- I'd expect that Northern Queensland gets spun off as its own crown colony.

Lots of possible paths that could be taken, several of them very bloody.
 

TR1996

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Australia would be fascinating- I'd actually suggest that Northern Queensland is more likely than the Top End, because what became the Northern Territory was so damn hard for the empire to settle, as you note. In the 1820s, the east coast is a better bet.

That in turn is going to have explosive consequences in the Australian settler colonies. Penal transportation was unpopular enough, but now it's bringing in non-white people!

There was already a tendency to believe that the imperial government didn't take the preservation of the British race in the tropics seriously enough- this will confirm it. The labour movement in Queensland in particular will, if possible, become even more vehemently racist- I'd expect that Northern Queensland gets spun off as its own crown colony.

Lots of possible paths that could be taken, several of them very bloody.
I suppose this would all get caught up in and add to the existing angst about the presence of Islander sugarcane plantation workers in the area?
 

Indicus

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I think there is some potential in an Indian penal colony of Aden.

In OTL, the last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire, Duleep Singh, was exiled to Britain at the age of fifteen after the defeat of the Sikh Empire. Here, he was Anglicized and Christianized, and he was raised in the life of a British aristocrat. But eventually he grew to resent being separated from his family and culture, and he decided to reconvert to Sikhism. In 1886, he attempted to go to India to convert to Sikhism, but when he was en route in Aden, he was arrested and forced to convert to Sikhism in a much smaller ceremony there. He moved to Europe, where he died. If Aden is a penal colony filled with Indian political prisoners, could the presence and arrest of Duleep Singh cause a rebellion in his name among the prisoners? That would be an event with some considerable repercussions.
 

SinghSong

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Australia would be fascinating- I'd actually suggest that Northern Queensland is more likely than the Top End, because what became the Northern Territory was so damn hard for the empire to settle, as you note. In the 1820s, the east coast is a better bet.

That in turn is going to have explosive consequences in the Australian settler colonies. Penal transportation was unpopular enough, but now it's bringing in non-white people!

There was already a tendency to believe that the imperial government didn't take the preservation of the British race in the tropics seriously enough- this will confirm it. The labour movement in Queensland in particular will, if possible, become even more vehemently racist- I'd expect that Northern Queensland gets spun off as its own crown colony.

Lots of possible paths that could be taken, several of them very bloody.
The thing is though, regarding the 'preservation of the British race in the tropics', the loudest objections to the anti-immigration policies which preceded the White Australia policy, which were implemented by all Australian colonies between 1875 and 1888 to exclude all further Melanesian, Chinese and Asian immigration, actually came from wealthy land owners in the tropical areas of the Northern Territory and Queensland, who’d argued that, without Asiatics to work there, the area would have to be abandoned. Contemporary medical opinion held the tropics to be inherently and irredeemably unhealthy for the white race; ethnological science maintained that races colonizing regions outside their 'proper places', in other climatological zones, risked 'racial degeneration', with British experience in other tropical countries espoused as pseudo-scientific proof to bear out these suppositions. North Queensland, along with the rest of the 'Top End', was expected to develop along the lines of the plantation economies characteristic of other tropical colonies, with a minority of white people supervising a large 'coloured' workforce.

Even IOTL, North Queensland was disparaged in the decade running up to federation as ‘Queensmongreland’, with White Australian nationalists advocating that it be spun off from the rest of Australia and excluded on racial grounds. And many insisted for decades afterwards that the White Australia policy could not apply to the north of the continent, where ’coloured’ labour offered the only viable means of economic development. So, there are plenty of ways which the British Imperial government and Australian government could try and spin this as being favorable for their support groups and subjects, and in which this could potentially be accepted as a status quo with relatively little fuss and/or bloodshed (at least initially). And ironically, the most vehement and delusional white-supremacist racists in Australia could easily be the least opposed to, and most in favor, of such a scheme- after all, they were the ones who were arguing, IOTL, that "the imperial government didn't take the preservation of the British race in the tropics seriously enough" on the grounds that the British WERE asking them to settle the tropics in the first place, risking their 'racial degeneration' due to environmental factors.

Particularly in the late 1850s- 1857, the year in which the Indian Rebellion took place (with the proposed POD coming quite some time afyer the 1820s- though imagining the full potential implications and repercussion of that far earlier POD, and an ATL in which the Straits Settlements are never utilized as penal settlements for Indian civilian and military prisoners at all, would also be fascinating to explore), is also noteworthy in Northern Queensland as the year in which the first Australian cotton plantations were established there, IOTL. And these experienced a sustained boom going into the early 1860s, courtesy of the US Civil War, with Chinese, Indian and other Asian immigration, as well as 'blackbirding' kicking into high gear. The anti-immigration acts which were passed against non-whites in the late 1870's and 80's soon put paid to that though; cutting immigration to the Top End by more than 2/3rds, immediately resulting in net emigration for several decades, greatly hampering the growth of the Australian sugar industry and strangling the fledgling Australian cotton industry in its cradle; the Northern Queensland cotton plantations went bust immediately after the new restrictions were introduced, thanks to the loss of the majority of their labor.

IOTL, the Australian cotton industry was only revived in 1926, with the establishment of the Queensland cotton marketing board- which was specifically inaugurated to promote industry growth in Central, not Northern Queensland, predominantly on the grounds that Northern Queensland still wasn't white enough for their liking. So, ITTL, given the convenient coincidence of the first Australian cotton plantations in Northern Queensland having been established literally a couple of months prior to the 'Great Sepoy Mutiny', it isn't too hard to imagine those Indian penal colonists being put to work on them, and on clearing and planting new cotton and sugar plantations, from the off. Or to imagine that the region's cotton industry, super-charged with cheap (effectively free) manpower and British Imperial support, could well take off to an even greater degree- perhaps even killing off the 'King Cotton' strategy, along with the CSA's hopes, markedly earlier, and usurping the Southern USA to become the world's primary exporter (which it very nearly did in the aftermath of the American Civil War IOTL).

By then, Northern Queensland would've almost certainly been spun off as its own crown colony ITTL, along with the regions in the vicinities of the 'Indian Settlements'. Who's to say how much more populous, wealthy, or powerful, the region might be as a result compared to OTL? Or, if things do become bloody, who'd come out on top?
 
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SenatorChickpea

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Much of that is true, but it is incomplete. The scientific racism that underlay the white Australian views of the tropics did indeed mean that northern Queensland was viewed as uninhabitable- but it is completely inaccurate that the Australian government was resigned to using non-white labour in the plantations. It's even more inaccurate to think that the 'most vehement' racists would support it- this goes directly against their actions in our timeline.

Yes, writers like Charles Pearson were enormously influential, and yes Pearson (let's use him as an exemplar here) argued that the white race would inevitably decline in the tropics and Asian societies inevitably rise.

However, when the Immigration Restriction Act was introduced in 1901, the Prime Minister read from Pearson's National Life and Character specifically to warn of the future that must be averted. White Australia simply cannot be understood without understanding the paranoia that lay at the heart of it- it was feared that it was scientifically impossible to keep Australia white, but they were determined to do it anyway.

Forgive me for leaving it at that for the moment: I understand that you've written a very thoughtful piece here, and it deserves more engagement. I'm in a hurry, so please excuse my argument from expertise here- I just wrote a doctorate on Australasian views of race, the Empire and immigration in the 1890s and spent a lot of time reading about the use of non-white labour in Queensland. I'm not saying you're wrong, I'm saying you're missing a few key parts of the picture.

I wanted to sit down and write this properly, because you're making a serious argument here that deserves a serious response, but this morning I woke up to find an old friend had passed away so I'm a bit distracted.
 

Sulemain

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I don’t think Britain would send Indian political prisoners to any part of South Africa, considering the proposed sending of Irish prisoners to the Cape Colony in the 1840s caused a wave of controversy which helped spur the movement for responsible government. And in Colonial Natal, conspiracy theories about Indian plots to rebel against and kill the white population were rampant, naturally that would result in high white opposition to sending Indian rebels there.

Australia also seems unlikely, considering the nineteenth century Australian shame of having been a former convict colony - sending political prisoners there, especially brown ones, would likely irk many. Aden has the most potential, being remote from the interior, even with its high levels of trade with India. I don’t think it would have an Indian majority by independence though - most of these prisoners would be men, and there would intentionally be lots of hard labour with high mortality rates.

In OTL, Portugal sent 250 Goan rebels to Angola after suppressing Santoba Rane’s revolt in 1912. A British equivalent of that is plausible, in the context of a new colony with little to no settler population, no parliament, and a warm enough climate. But then any equivalent of the Great Escape seems like the thing which would create hostility to large convict settlement, especially if there is a large interior and hostile powers nearby.
Part of the reason the Natal ended up with such blatantly discriminatory voting laws is that if they'd maintained them at a Cape level threshold, a considerable number of Natal Indians would have gotten the vote.
 
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