Sadly, the convicts sent to beautiful Bermuda probably weren't singing the Beach Boys' "Kokomo." A British territory, Bermuda received 9,000 British and Irish prisoners in the mid-ninteenth century. They were kept on board nine "prison hulks," ships designed especially for convicts, anchored off the main island. Unlike other penal colonies (like Australia), only men were sent, and they primarily built public monuments like Bermuda's Royal Dockyard.
One of the prison hulks that housed convicts in Bermuda. Image via ConvictVoyages.
According to a priest sent to Bermuda, the punishment of being sent to Bermuda was awful. The living conditions were abysmal, mob riots broke out, and there was little fresh air on the hulks. And the form of punishment didn't really rehabilitate anyone. He said:
"It is my painful conviction, after some years' experience of the matter, that the great majority of the prisoners confined in the hulks become incurably corrupted, and that they leave them, in most cases, more reckless and hardened in sin than they were upon reception."
Ironically, many of the surviving men were pardoned and eventually went home.
2. Tarrafal, Cape Verde
This island nation off the coast of West Africa was part of Portugal until the 1970s, and the Portuguese used it as place to deposit convicts almost up until Cape Verde's liberation. In the 1950s, Portuguese dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar sent those who opposed his regime to a prison camp in Tarrafal, Cape Verde, a place that was once a tourist destination for its beautiful beaches.
Image via Waymarking.
Salazar and his regime were vehemently against intermarriage between Portuguese and Cape Verdeans, exchanging violently racist opinions on the subject. Unsurprisingly, then, Tarrafal was heavily inspired by Nazi concentration camps.
Tarrafal closed in the 1950s, but reopened a decade and a half later to imprison activists who fought for the independence of various African nations, including Cape Verde, Angola, and modern Guinea-Bissau. Today, the camp is the site of a Portuguese-funded museum, and visitors can still see the horrifying torture chambers and barracks where prisoners were kept.
3. French Guiana (and Devil's Island)
Located along the northern coast of South America (next to Suriname), French Guiana is still technically owned by France. It's also home to the penal colony of Saint Laurent de Maroni, where 70,0000-80,000 French convicts who'd been exiled were forced into hard labor over about a hundred years (from the 1850s to 1938). About 50,000 of those individuals died.
This brutal colony, where a framed Steve McQueen was sent after being convicted for murder in the movie Papillon, was dubbed the "Dry Guillotine" because a ton of people died there from disease and being worked to literal death. And then there was the nearby Devil's Island, which played host to the most "dangerous" prisoners of all - including Alfred Dreyfus of French treason/Dreyfus Affair fame.
4. Andaman Islands
These remote Indian islands - only three of which are inhabited - were penal colonies under British control in the Victorian era. Mortality rates for individuals in a tropical climate performing hard labor were very high. Some convicts, including "self-supporters," who could eventually leave and could choose any labor they wanted to perform.
Kala Pani, or the Cellular Jail. Image via TourMyIndia.com.
In contrast, Indian prisoners who had participated in the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (they revolted against the British for many, many reasons) were treated far worse than their Caucasian counterparts. In fact, one of the reasons the Brits settled these isles was to expressly punish these individuals. Many were housed in a jail called Kala Pani, in which prisoners starved themselves to death rather than stay incarcerated; the cells were full of scorpions, and prison doctors mutilated patients in "surgery."
Siberia has served as a penal colony in Russia for two centuries. Tsar Nicholas I banished the Decembrists (military protesters, not a band) to the northernmost reaches of the frozen tundra. Stalin did the same thing, sending people he disliked to horribly brutal forced labor camps that were administered by the Gulag. Stalin knew firsthand how awful these were - he was banished seven times to a camp! - and he sent millions of people there for even speaking out against him. Even under Vladimir Putin, Siberia is still a spot to send people he hates, like a billionaire he banished up north.
Feature image of Siberian exiles via BG A44/225/International Institute of Social History.