In 1856, despite there being thousands upon thousands of unskilled negro labourers languishing outside huts, and lazing aimlessly in the bushes in a post emancipation Bahamas, the British government, brought in convict labour all the way from their rotting prisons in England.
The recommendation for foreign convict labour came from Thomas Harvey, a Civil Engineer from England, based on the Out Islands. His job was development. His need was labourers.
He wrote in an 1856 report on the progress of the Out Islands about the urgent need for foreign labour “…seeing no possible mode in which it can be met by any internal resource in the colony…”
Attitudes, rivalries and a general want to be separated after the bitterness of slavery, caused a physical and psychosocial partition across the islands. It was a jagged rift, between the races, which, if truth be told, has yet to heal itself. The physical rift became an economic one, further advanced as populations of those living under the poverty line grew.
Around the islands, after emancipation, negro labourers were largely discounted.
Bahamians were deemed lazy, and too slow for real work. Even when Nassau and Out Island negroes moved to a Southern Florida in search of work and eventually settled, this post slavery reputation followed them, hounded them into marginalisation and further poverty.
In the late 1800s, only the most disparaging epithets were used to describe Bahama negroes and their legendary laziness toward work. An article on the Bahamas in the Los Angeles Sunday Times, April 19, 1895 makes considerable remarks about the negro worker from the Bahamas
(The Los Angeles Sunday Times, April 14, 1895)
PENAL TRANSPORTATION – CONVICT LABOUR
Sending convicts, vagrants, beggars, political prisoners, debtors and the incorrigible from the jails and workhouses of England, to its many colonies, was widely practiced. They were sent as indentured servants and labourers. The practice was called Penal Transportation.
Transportation was an ingeniously expedient practice perfected by the Europeans during colonisation. Transportation was a way of emptying jails, clearing streets and removing undesirables from the cities of Europe while concomitantly settling new colonies with their own citizens.
England began transportation of its convicts, political prisoners, as well as prisoners of war from Ireland and Scotland to its new colony of the Americas, as early as 1610. This continued until 1776 when hostilities began in the American Revolution.
European jails in the 18th and 19th centuries were brimming over with the undesirables of society. Convicted criminals, and other persons considered as undesirable, were sent to distant places, often a colony, for a specified term. While the prisoners may have been released once the sentence was served, they generally did not have the money to get back home.
Invariably they had to permanently settle in the colony they had been transported to.
In 1856, one colony designated to receive convicted British criminals was the Bahamas.
HOW MANY CONVICTS CAME AND WHO STAYED
We have no way of knowing how many convicts came and how many eventually settled in the Bahamas. It is an interesting notion however to consider that some families in The Bahamas today may owe their very existence to some convict criminal, who came is chains, from some old prison in England.