Skip to main content

Convict Carpets: Jails and the Revival of Historic Carpet Design in Colonial India

  • Abigail McGowan

One promising traditional industry slated for revival in late colonial India was carpet weaving. Characterized by low technology, high product value, and strong demand, carpets appealed for obvious economic reasons, while simultaneously evoking India's luxurious artisanal past. In western India, carpet weaving was centered in jails where convicts produced high-quality rugs using historic designs in prison factories that served as laboratories for redefining penal labor and traditional design under the eyes of the colonial state. For, even as they were poised at the center of new exchange networks of design ideas, jail factories also claimed practical economic goals: to earn money for jails, train convicts in new skills and habits, and build India's productive potential in a time of economic malaise. As such, they provide an ideal site for examining the economic context for the emerging design industry, and for limitations of colonial visions of the Indian economy.

Hide All
Ahuja Shyam. 1999. Dhurrie: Flatwoven Rugs of India. Mumbai: India Book House.
Andrews F. H. 1906. “Indian Carpets and Rugs.” Journal of Indian Arts and Industries 11(94):510.
Annual Report on the Bombay Jails. 1863, 1879, 1883, 1888, 1893, 1898, 1901. Bombay: Government Press.
Arnold David. 1994. “The Colonial Prison: Power, Knowledge, and Penology in Nineteenth-Century India.” In Subaltern Studies VIII: Essays in Honour of Ranajit Guha, eds. Arnold David and Hardiman David, 148–84. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Arnold David. 1995. Colonizing the Body: State Medicine and Epidemic Disease in Nineteenth Century India. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Birdwood George. 1880. The Industrial Arts of India. London: Chapman and Hall.
Brendon B. A. [1899] 1976. A Monograph on the Woollen Fabrics of the Bombay Presidency. Art in Industry Through the Ages: Monograph Series of Bombay Presidency. New Delhi: Navrang.
Convict Labour in Jails.” 1886. Native Opinion 23(27):5.
de Forest Lockwood. 1919. “Indian Domestic Architecture.” Unpublished book manuscript.
Durai j. Chinna. 1929. “Indian Prisons.” Journal of Comparative Legislation and International Law 11:245–49.
Dutt Romesh C. 1906. The Economic History of India in the Victorian Age. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co.
Dutta Arindam. 2006. The Bureaucracy of Beauty: Design in the Age of Its Global Reproducibility. New York: Routledge.
Fernandes G. P. 1932. Report on the Art-Crafts of the Bombay Presidency. Bombay: Government Central Press.
Foucault Michel. 1979. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books.
Government of Bombay. 1882. Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency: Vol. VIII, Part I: Thana. Bombay: Government Central Press.
Government Resolution on Jail Manufacture.” 1882. Native Opinion 19(42):23.
Guha-Thakurta Tapati. 1992. The Making of a New “Indian” Art: Artists, Aesthetics and Nationalism in Bengal 1850–1920. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hazen William. 1913. A Century in India: A Historical Sketch of the Marathi Mission of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Bombay: American Marathi Mission.
Hendley Thomas Holbein. 1884. Memorials of the Jeypore Exhibition, 1883: Vol. I–IV. London: W. Griggs.
Hendley Thomas Holbein. 1905. Asian Carpets: XVI and XVII Century Designs from the Jaipur Palaces from Material Supplied with Permission of the Maharaja of Jaipur and Other Sources. London: W. Griggs.
Hoffenberg Peter H. 2001. An Empire on Display: English, Indian and Australian Exhibitions from the Crystal Palace to the Great War. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Indian Industrial Commission. 1918. Report. Calcutta: Government Printing.
Indian Industrial Commission. 1919. Minutes of Evidence Taken Before the Indian Industrial Commission, 1916–1918: Vol. IV. Bombay. London: His Majesty's Stationery Office.
Indian Jails Committee. 1920. Report of the Indian Jails Committee: Volume I: Report and Appendices. Simla: Superintendent, Government Printing.
Indian Jails Committee. 1922. Report of the Indian Jails Committee: Volume IV, Minutes of Evidence Taken in Bihar and Orissa, the Central Provinces, and the Bombay Presidency. Calcutta: Superintendent, Government Printing.
Lal Vinay. 1999. “Everyday Crime, Native Mendacity and the Cultural Psychology of Justice in Colonial India.” Studies in History, n.s., 15(1):145–66.
Latimer C. 1916. “Carpet Making in the Punjab.” Journal of Indian Art and Industry 17(131):1526.
Mathur Saloni. 2007. India by Design: Colonial History and Cultural Display. Berkeley: University of California Press.
McGowan Abigail. 2008. “Educating Artisans as Colonial Modernity: Industrial Education in Late Nineteenth Century Western India.” In Claiming Power from Below: Dalits and the Subaltern Question in India, eds. Bhagvan Manu and Feldhaus Anne, 84100. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
McGowan Abigail. 2009. Crafting the Nation in Colonial India. New York: Palgrave.
Mehta Shirin. 1981. “Social Background of Swadeshi Movement in Gujarat, 1875–1908.” Vidya 14(1):3146.
Metcalf Thomas. 1989. An Imperial Vision: Indian Architecture and Britain's Raj. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Metcalf Thomas. 1995. Ideologies of the Raj. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mills James H. 2000. Madness, Cannabis and Colonialism: The “Native Only” Lunatic Asylums of British India, 1857–1900. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Mouat F. J. 1891. “On Prison Ethics and Prison Labour.” Journal of the Royal Statistical Society 54(2):213–62.
Mukharji T. N. 1888. Art-Manufactures of India. Calcutta: Superintendent of Government Printing.
Naoroji Dadabhai. 1901. Poverty and Un-British Rule in India. London: S. Sonnenschein.
Pandian Ananda. 2009. Crooked Stalks: Cultivating Virtue in South India. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.
Proceedings of the Art Conference Held in the Technical Institute at Lahore on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th January 1894. Calcutta: Government Central Printing Office.
Ranade Mahadev Govind. 1906. Essays on Indian Economics: A Collection of Essays and Speeches. Madras: G. A. Natesan & Co.
Rao Anupama, and Pierce Steven. 2006. “Discipline and the Other Body: Humanitarianism, Violence and the Colonial Exception.” In Discipline and the Other Body: Correction, Corporeality, Colonialism, eds. Rao Anupama and Pierce Steven, 135. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.
Roy Tirthankar. 1999. Traditional Industry in the Economy of Colonial India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sen Satadru. 2000. Disciplining Punishment: Colonialism and Convict Society in the Andaman Islands. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Sen Satadru. 2004. “A Separate Punishment: Juvenile Offenders in Colonial India.” Journal of Asian Studies 63(1):81104.
Singha Radhika. 1998. A Despotism of Law: Crime and Justice in Early Colonial India. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Solomon W. E. G. 1924. The Bombay Revival of Indian Art. Bombay: W.E.G. Solomon, Sir JJ School of Art.
Swaminathan Padmini. 1995. “Prison as Factory: A Study of Jail Manufactures in the Madras Presidency.” Studies in History, n.s., 11(1):77100.
Tolen Rachel. 1991. “Colonizing and Transforming the Criminal Tribesman: The Salvation Army in British India.” American Ethnologist 18(1):106–25.
Twigg H. J. R. [1907] 1976. A Monograph on the Art and Practice of Carpet-Making in the Bombay Presidency. Art in Industry Through the Ages: Monograph Series on the Bombay Presidency. New Delhi: Navrang.
The Viceroy on the Delhi Arts Exhibition.” 1903. Indian Review 4(1):5051.
Walker Daniel S. 1997. Flowers Underfoot: Indian Carpets of the Mughal Era. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Watt George. 1903. Indian Art at Delhi: Being the Official Catalogue of the Delhi Exhibition, 1902–1903. Calcutta: Superintendent of Government Printing.
Yang Anand. 1987. “Disciplining ‘Natives’: Prisons and Prisoners in Early Nineteenth Century India.” South Asia 10(2):2943.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Journal of Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-9118
  • EISSN: 1752-0401
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-asian-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 53
Total number of PDF views: 171 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 422 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 18th February 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.