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Unfree Colonies of Benevolence
In the early 19th century, the Society of Benevolence founded several free Colonies where the poor were given opportunities to build a better life. An unfree Colony was also founded in 1819; Ommerschans in the province of Overijssel. Groups of beggars were accommodated here, as well as colonists who did not function well in the free Colonies. They had, for instance, abused alcohol, committed sexual offences, displayed rude behaviour, or attempted to run away. The unfree Colony Veenhuizen in Drenthe was founded in 1822, consisting of three institutions.
Vagrants and Beggars
In the unfree Colony in Veenhuizen, orphans, vagrants, and beggars were housed, put to work, and given education. Based on an initiative by Johannes van den Bosch, the founder of the Society of Benevolence, it was even officially decided to send all foundlings and orphans over the age of six to Veenhuizen. Other groups that were included in the unfree Colonies were the poor who could not work full shifts, disabled, sick, and elderly.
The three built institutions of Veenhuizen all have the same layout. The central institutions are situated between straight avenues. Surrounding a large courtyard, in the interior sections of the institutions were the dormitories containing 80 hammocks. These dormitories housed the 'vulgar poor', beggars, and vagrants. Men and women were separated. Orphaned children were housed in their own institution. A ‘child father’ or ‘child mother’ was appointed per every sixty children. Military veterans kept watch.
Noteworthy is the presence of both a protestant and a catholic church, as well as a synagogue, all three located on the main avenue. The system of the Society of Benevolence took a neutral stance toward religion. Colonists were obligated to go to church, but could visit the church of their preference.
The 'respectable' poor lived toward the outside of the institutions. A room was assigned to them per family. They each had their own front door and could go outside whenever they wanted. Around the institutions, on the edges of the Colony, large communal farms were built, as well as several village amenities. This is where the guards and staff resided.
In 1859, the free Colonies were taken over by the Dutch government. Until 1953 (Veenhuizen) and 1934 (Ommerschans) these remained institutions aimed at reducing poverty. From then on, a number of the institution buildings were repurposed as prison facilities.
The Gevangenismuseum (Prison Museum) in Veenhuizen pays attention to The story of Poverty and Impoverishment and Crime and Punishment. In Museum De Proefkolonie (The Test Colony Museum) in Frederiksoord, you can learn about how the first Colonies came to be. In Merksplas, the bezoekerscentrum Kolonie V VII (Colony V VII visitors' centre) shows the history of the Colony.