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Today in Labour History

8 February 1872
Convicts having their meal, Port Blair, Andaman Islands, photo c 1898
Source: Wikimedia Commons

A Heavenly Spot

The Andaman Islands lie in the Bay of Bengal to the south of Kolkata. In 1858 a convict settlement was established on the principal island. On 8 February 1872, the Viceroy of India Richard Bourke, on an inspection tour in the Andaman Islands, was stabbed to death by a convict named Sher Ali Afridi. His violent death was swept under the rug of history as it might have given the impression that there was widespread unrest in Asia against British rule. From 1858 until the 1930s, about 100,000 convicts – mostly Indian – were sentenced to transportation to the Andamans.

These massive transportations of convicts have rarely featured in history. Clare Anderson, in: 'The Age of Revolution, a Maritime Perspective' (IRSH Special Issue 21, 2013), argues that unfree convict labour might be positioned in global histories of the Industrial Revolution. And, as mutinous or insurgent colonial subjects, they link peasant unrest and rebellion in south Asia with piracy and convict mutiny at sea. Convict transportation has much to offer for an understanding of the maritime dimension in the Age of Revolution.

More info: Mutiny and Maritime Radicalism in the Age of Revolution (IISH Publication)