Exiled Convicts Hauling Coal in the Yards of the Due Coal Mine


This photograph is from an album created on Sakhalin Island in the 1890s. Sakhalin was used by imperial Russia as a penal colony and place of exile for criminals and political prisoners. Between 1869 and 1906, more than 30,000 inmates and exiles endured the harsh conditions of the forced-labor colony on the island. The album, from the collections of the National Library of Russia, contains photographs that provide rare glimpses of Sakhalin's settlements and prisons and the prisoners, exiles, and guards who inhabited the island. The photographs show convicts working and prisoners in leg manacles or with partially shorn hair, most likely administered as punishment for attempts at escape. The album also contains photographs of Ainu people, the indigenous people of the island who also live on the Kurile Islands and in Hokkaido, northern Japan, and of Tungus, another indigenous people settled in eastern Siberia and on Sakhalin Island. The photographer who made the album is believed to have been Innokentii Ignat'evich Pavlovskii (born 1855), the manager of the telegraph station at Dui. Anton Chekhov, the Russian writer and medical doctor, spent three months on Sakhalin in 1890, where he extensively researched the plight of the prisoners and the native population. The publication of his Sakhalin Island in 1895 highlighted the depravity of the situation in this remote corner of Russia and led to public protests that helped bring about the closure of the penal colony.

Date Created

Subject Date

Title in Original Language

Ссыльнокаторжные на откатке угля во двориках Дуйского каменноугольного рудника

Type of Item

Physical Description

1 photograph ; 15.4 x 22 centimeters


  • In the marching convoys by which convicts and exiles were transported to Siberia, those condemned to penal labor wore both arm and leg fetters and were shackled together to prevent escape. Exiles―considered less dangerous―wore only leg fetters, while administrative exiles, the least dangerous group in the convoy, wore no chains. Usage of chains varied across different locations of exile based on individuals’ status and behavior. Penal laborers in the mines of Nerchinsk, for example, generally wore no fetters. However, convicts in many exile locations could be chained to wheelbarrows for five to ten years as a punishment for repeated crimes or escape attempts. The perpetrators of serious crimes, such as murder and arson, were sometimes chained to walls for up to ten years.
  • Chains came to symbolize state tyranny in educated circles of Russian society, especially after Decembrist Nikolai Bestuzhev began making jewelry out of the discarded chains of his fellow exiles. Bestuzhev’s creations found many imitators, and “Decembrist jewelry” achieved a high degree of popularity among the Russian intelligentsia.

Last updated: October 31, 2017