Soldiers and Convicts in Front of the Building with the Sign "Infirmary"


This photograph is from an album of 47 views of convicts and structures at the Akatuy Prison, one of the main centers where political prisoners were held in the Russian Empire during the late-tsarist period. The album belonged to Isaiah Aronovich Shinkman, a physician and member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, who was incarcerated at Akatuy from 1906 to 1911. The prison was located at the Akatuy silver mine in Nerchinsk okrug (district) in the Transbaikal Territory of Siberia. Thousands of political prisoners were exiled to Siberia from European Russia and from Poland, Finland, Latvia, and Estonia (all then part of the Russian Empire) following the repression of the Russian Revolution of 1905. Criminal labor convicts and political prisoners had long been sent to Nerchinsk to work in extracting lead-silver ores in the region’s mines. The American explorer and journalist George Kennan (1845–1924) visited Akatuy in 1885, and wrote about his experience in his book Siberia and the Exile System (1891), a scathing critique of the system of prisons and prison camps in Russia. The album is held by the Irkutsk State University in Irkutsk and was digitized for the Meeting of Frontiers digital library project in the early 2000s. The photographs it contains offer glimpses into the day-to-day existence and activities of the political prisoners in Siberia in the years before World War I and the outbreak of the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Date Created

Subject Date


Title in Original Language

Служивые люди и каторжане на фоне здания с табличкой "Лазаретъ"

Type of Item

Physical Description

1 photograph : black and white, glossy paper ; 7.5 x 11.5 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