Penal Colonization Of Siberia Of The XVII - XIX Centuries


The article studies "penal colonization" of Siberia. The history of this region is associated with the exile. Since the XVII century and until 1900, this method of development of the territory was key for the government. The authors determined that the central government set different goals for the exile. In the XVII century, people were exiled “to service”, “to posad”, “to the arable land”. All these types were aimed at the development of lands suitable for economic activities. The method “to the arable land” had a positive effect on the development of Siberian lands and consolidation of permanent population. In the XVIII – XIX centuries, the exile becomes criminal. The study showed the role of the exile in the social and economic life of Siberia: it contributed to craft workshops, processing enterprises. The workforce was used in the goldfields, the construction industry, fishery. However, at least 30–40% of the convicts wandered and had seasonal jobs, creating problems for local authorities. In 1900, the government abandoned the criminal exile. Thus, the exile was not a deterrent to the industrialization of the region. The article aims to study the application of the exile as a method for development of Siberia compared to other outskirts of Russia. It aims to determine the role of this type of punishment in developing Siberia. The following methods were used: the problem-chronological method (to reveal transformation of types of the exile throughout three centuries, changes in the purpose of this punishment); the narrative method; historical analysis.

Keywords: Siberiaexilecolonizationcriminalpenal servitude


The problem of development of the Russian suburbs arose in the 15th – 16th centuries. However, there was no uniform policy. State regulation methods differed for each territory, since the government set different goals for them. These were the territories of the Caucasus, Siberia, Finland, and Poland. The Caucasus has always been economically significant for the empire as an important source of raw materials. It was strategically important for Russia: Russia needed to protect its borders in the south. However, the government did not develop a uniform policy for integration of the Caucasus region into the imperial political administrative system. It was necessary to take into account local mental, religious, and ethnic features. Therefore, integration of the Caucasus into the Russian Empire took place in the first half of the nineteenth century and included four stages (Dameshek & Dameshek, 2017).

After the accession of Siberia to the Russian state, the exile was used for development of new territories, “penal colonization” of the region. Siberia became a convenient place to remove dangerous criminals away from the capital, to the region where they could contribute to the economic development of the territory. This method was more economically advantageous than prison construction which required large expenses. Thus, two significant problems were solved at once: development of the region and removal of the criminal element from the center of the country. Despite the appeals of local authorities who complained about an increase in crime, the central government continued to use this type of punishment.

Problem Statement

The article deals with the use of criminal exiles for development of Siberia and its industries.

Research Questions

Positive and negative aspects of the exile in Siberia are studied. On the one hand, it contributed to the development of the territory and industries, construction of roads and urban infrastructure; on the other hand, it increased crime in the region.

Purpose of the Study

The article aims to study the application of the exile as a method for development of Siberia compared with other outskirts of Russia. It aims to determine the role of this type of punishment in developing Siberia.

Research Methods

The following methods were used: the problem-chronological method (to reveal transformation of types of the exile throughout three centuries, changes in the purpose of this punishment); the narrative method (to distinguish between the main stages and identify the influence of the exile on the socio-economic and political processes in pre-revolutionary Siberia); historical analysis (to reveal causes of cancellation of the exile as a type of punishment and a method for developing Siberia.


In the XVII century, there were three types of the exile: to the service, posad, and arable land. Those who were exiled to the service in Siberia became boyar children, Cossacks and obeyed the general order established for other service people with few restrictions. The exile to the arable land had a positive effect on the development of Siberia: the lack of own bread held back colonization of the region, making the position of the garrisons unstable. The state took care of these exiled: they were given the best land plots and production tools. They were obliged to give part of the harvest to the state.

The Siberian exile used as a punishment not only to Russian servicemen. Almost all prisoners of war were exiled to Siberia. "Lithuania" (Belarusians, Poles, Lithuanians, Ukrainians) played an important role in the organization of the system of military and state service in the region in the 17th century. Their number exceeded 3 thousand people. Among the “disgraced people”, there were many Poles (Bolonev, Lukidarskaya, & Shinkova, 2007). In 1711, a large number of soldiers of the Swedish army were exiled to the Urals. 20-25 thousand exiled people lived in Siberia. The largest number of prisoners – up to one thousand – lived in Tobolsk. Among the Swedes were representatives of various occupations. They introduced the European household culture and craft to the Siberian society (Shebaldina, 2005).

In the XVIII – XIX centuries, the arable land exile existed but the contingent of the exiled changed: the criminal exiled prevailed. At the same time, there was no “free” land. The attitude towards the exiled changed. Those who wanted to engage in tillage, appealed for land plots. The exiled were entitled to 15 acres, but it was difficult, almost impossible to get these plots, because the peasant community did not have arable land which was in the exclusive use of individuals, invaders and descendants of the invaders (Olekh, 2001). The exiled got uncomfortable plots.

In addition to difficulties in getting land plots, it was difficult to start their own farm due to the lack of material resources. The local authorities and government did not support them.

If the exiled did not have any craft to feed himself, he was employed by peasants who paid him peanuts. Embittered by this attitude, the exiled often robbed owners, burned their hay, and plundered the harvest. This caused a response from the peasants who resorted to physical reprisals, murders (Dameshek & Dameshek, 2017).

The most common type of employment was gold mining. On the eve of the Great Reforms, the exiled made up the majority of mining workers of the region. After the abolition of serfdom, the labor share of settlers in the mines declined, but by the end of the century it remained quite high. For example, in 1891/92, the share of the exiled in the mines of the Lena gold mining association was 39.2%. In 1895, the number of the exiled was more than 4,000, which accounted for 26.1% of the total number of employed. In 1896, their share increased to 31.5% and reached 5258 people. After the adoption of the law on abolition of the exile under the peasant community sentence of June 12, 1900, the number of settlers sharply decreased: 20.6% I 1901; by 1906–1908, their numbers declined by 3.4% (TsGIA).

Most of the exiled worked in the mining industry. In the 1870s, in the Vitim-Olekminsk mines, it was possible to meet the exiled who had been working there for 15 years or more. The same was typical of Transbaikalia. According to Zinoviev (2007), “deprived of property, not tied to anything other than place of residence, exiled settlers represented an ideal material for forming professional workers” (p. 44) in the gold industry.

The criminal exiled were used not only in the agricultural and gold mining industries. They built Siberian fortresses: Okhotsk, Petropavlovsk, Omsk (1708), Semipalatinsk (1718), Ust-Kamenogorsk (1720), Trinity-Sheba (1727), Akshinsk, Ishim, Peter and Paul, Krestov (1752), Bukhtarma (1791) ones. Their labor was widely used in industrial enterprises of Siberia: Troitsk, Ust-Kut, Usolye, Selenga, etc. salt factories; Telma, Omsk, Tobolsk cloth and linen factories; Haitinsk, Taltsy, Pokrov glass making plants; Petrov and Nikolaev iron plants, Aleksandrov, Ilga, Kamensk, Nikolaev, Mikhailov still houses. Kolyvan-Voskresensk and Nerchinsk factories used labor of the exiled. In the first quarter of the XIX century, about 4,000 convicts worked in these industries. At Petrov, Troitsk, Selenga, Kamensk, Yekaterininsk factories, there were 300-600 exiled workers; in 1853, at the Aleksandrovsk factory, there were 1000 convicts. In 1839, at the factories of Nerchinsk mining district, there were almost 3,200 convicts (Ivanova, 2011).

The work of the exiled was widely used in construction, railway construction. They worked in the Central Siberian and Trans-Baikal sections of the Great Road. The exiled built the Circum-Baikal Railway.

The exiled played a significant role in the social structure and economy of Irkutsk. At the end of the 1780s, there were 50 exiled homeowners. 10 people were recorded petty bourgeoises, 32 – workshop workers. At the beginning of the XVIII century, the number of the exiled increased: only in 1800, there were 157 settlers from different districts and about 400 runaway exiles who were ready to do any work. This category of urban lower classes was a source for forming the urban proletariat. The exiled were among the urban artisans who worked in small processing enterprises of Irkutsk. Part of the exiled had their production, employees. Their products were much cheaper. According to Irkutsk craft council, in 1828–1829, 142 people were engaged in craft works: most of whom were men (52, 1%) and exiled (22, 5%) (Shakherov, 2011).

However, not all the exiled were integrated into the economic life of the region. A large share of criminals opposed forced labor. Some of them disappeared joining the ranks of “lost”, others did not get to the place of exile. The number of "lost" grew. At the end of the XIX century, from 30 to 40% of the exiled were on the run (Dameshek & Dameshek, 2017).

The "wandering" population increased at the expense of the exiled. Despite the fact that their work was paid on a par with labor of hired workers, there were a lot of people who left factories in the spring. According to the official data, in 1837, 380 convicts out of 735 (51.7%) escaped from Irkutsk salt plant, and 286 out of 1112 (25.7%) – from Aleksandrovsk distillery (GAIO). Vagrancy, fugitive criminality resulted from the exile of the XIX century.

For our research, it is important to find out the ratio of exiles to the population of Siberia. According to the GTU, as of January 1, 1898, there were 309,265 deportees of all categories in Siberia. The exiled districts were distributed as follows: Tobolsk - 106,093 (35.5%), Tomsk - 38,334 (12.8%), Yenisei - 51,019 (17.1%), Irkutsk - 71,800 (24.1%) ), Trans-Baikalia - 14,395 (4.8%), Yakutsk - 5,177 (1.7%), Amur - 679 (0.2%), Primorye - 2,117 (0.7%), Sakhalin - 8,963 people (3.1%). Convict prisoners were sent to Transbaikalia and Sakhalin. In relation to the population of Siberia, the exiled accounted for 5.4% (among Russians - 6.3%), including in Tobolsk - 7.4%, Tomsk - 6.4, Yeniseysk - 9.1, Irkutsk - 14.2, Trans-Baikalia - 2.2, Yakutsk - 2.0, Amur - 0.6, Primorye - 1.0, Sakhalin - 31.8% (along with convicts - 53%). The largest number of the exiled lived in Irkutsk and Tobolsk regions. The total number of the exiled in the XIX century was more than 900 thousand.

The Siberian authorities, regional intelligentsia appealed to the government with a proposal to cancel the exile. Finally, after numerous “secret” commissions, on June 12, 1900, the government adopted a decree providing for complete cessation of judicial exile, as well as limitation of the number of the exiled under under sentences of rural and petty-bourgeois communities. These exiled accounted for 85% of the total number of all the exiled to Siberia, therefore this law reduced the criminal exile. By abandoning the criminal exile, the legislation did not abandon the settlement after serving hard labor. As a result, the central and local authorities increased the number of people sentenced to hard labor, and this increased the number of the exiled.

The peculiarity of socio-economic development of Siberia was a significant number of the criminal exiled. Initially, the government used the exile as “penal colonization” of the region sending convicts “to the service” “arable land”. During this period, the exiled participated in the development of the territory, plowed land, were among the first townspeople, carried the Cossack service. Since the second half of the XVIII century, peasants were exiled to Siberia under landowner sentences. In the XIX century, the contingent of the exiled changed again. Criminals were exiled to Siberia.

The contribution of the exiled to the development of the region was determined by the contingent itself, the nature of employment. The exiled peasants easily got accustomed; they knew rural life. Some of these exiled, mostly family members, settled there. At the same time, the number of settlers who received land plots and built houses was small due to peculiarities of the existing land use, mentality of Siberian peasants, and the lack of real government support.


The criminal exile to Siberia played a significant role in various economic areas. Unlike agriculture, where it was not possible to achieve significant results, the role of the exile in developing local industries was significant. The convicts became a basis for forming permanent workers in the gold, salt mining, distillery, and road construction industries. After the abolition of serfdom, expansion of the free labor market and its cheapening, the use of forced labor became unprofitable, but the state continued to exploit the exiled. After the construction of the railway, Siberia received a powerful stimulus for development, the region began to play an increasing role in state programs aimed at the resettlement of peasants to new lands. Along with the growth of the industrial and agricultural potential of the region, the exile and penal servitude did not change. The exile was a deterrent to the transition of the Siberian society from the traditional agrarian mode to the industrial one.


The research was carried out as part of the federal assignment (project XII.187.1.4. "XII.191.1.2. Intercultural interaction, ethnic and socio-political processes in Central Asia", state registration number АААА-А17-117021310264-4).


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28 December 2019

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Kuras, T., Kuras, S., Kuras, L., Kuznetsov, S., & Ivanov*, A. (2019). Penal Colonization Of Siberia Of The XVII - XIX Centuries. In D. Karim-Sultanovich Bataev, S. Aidievich Gapurov, A. Dogievich Osmaev, V. Khumaidovich Akaev, L. Musaevna Idigova, M. Rukmanovich Ovhadov, A. Ruslanovich Salgiriev, & M. Muslamovna Betilmerzaeva (Eds.), Social and Cultural Transformations in the Context of Modern Globalism, vol 76. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 1398-1403). Future Academy.