The forced labour of convicts represented a significant circuit of colonial labour migration networks in Asia. Between the 1780s and the 1940s, approximately 110,000 convicts were transported from India to various British territories in the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia, including Singapore, Penang and Melaka (the Straits Settlements). Convict transportation was a highly-gendered experience in the Straits Settlements, as in other penal colonies. Norms of masculinity shaped the male-dominated penal labour system. The construction of ‘skill’ was shaped by colonial understandings of gender and race, while the penal hierarchy was premised on notions of manly character. This seminar will explore the identity-making of convict men and show ways in which they articulated gender identities under conditions of state bondage. The experience of convict men in the Straits invites comparison with other penal colonies in the British Empire, including Australia.


Jessica Hinchy is Assistant Professor in History at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Her research investigates the history of gender and sexuality in British India, the Indian princely states and the Indian diaspora. In particular, Hinchy has explored the history of the transgender hijra community in north India in the context of colonial criminalisation. This research has been published in journals such as Gender & History, Asian Studies Review, Culture, Theory & Critique and South Asian History & Culture.