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“Punishment Is All the Charity that the Law Affordeth Them”: Penal Transportation, Vagrancy, and the Charitable Impulse in the British Atlantic, c.1600-1750


  • Hitchcock David

    () (Canterbury Christ Church University, Canterbury, UK)


This article examines the policy of penal transportation to the colonies which underpinned the first British Empire in the Atlantic. It argues that the transportation and indenture of the criminal poor came to be justified by empire’s architects as a charitable reprieve from a life course of decaying indigence and idleness. “Charity” of this nature serviced the needs of the British imperial state and its elites, particularly the need for the malleable biopower of indentured labor, but also the demand for increasingly rigorous carceral control. Transportation also created a clear distinction between the poor so reprieved and those still deserving of traditional relief at home. The article names these justifying discourses of judicial punishment-as-charity as “welfare colonialism.” We might view this regime as an early forerunner of the terrible paternalisms of “philanthrocapitalism,” and its operation as fundamental to the first British “Empire of Charity.”

Suggested Citation

  • Hitchcock David, 2018. "“Punishment Is All the Charity that the Law Affordeth Them”: Penal Transportation, Vagrancy, and the Charitable Impulse in the British Atlantic, c.1600-1750," New Global Studies, De Gruyter, vol. 12(2), pages 195-215, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:bpj:nglost:v:12:y:2018:i:2:p:195-215:n:8

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