The Drenthe Colonies of Benevolence: a preliminary evaluation of results

Activity: Talk and presentationAcademic presentationAcademic


In this presentation we want to give a rather critical assessment of the social
experiment conducted by the Society of Benevolence, looking at the legal
foundations, juvenile mortality rates and prospects of female inhabitants. During
their existence, three groups inhabited the Colonies of Benevolence: the urban
poor (paupers), orphans and vagrants. The (mainly) urban poor were the first who
arrived (in Frederiksoord). From 1818 onward, they inhabited the so-called free
colonies, and were bound to the Society (a private enterprise) by contract. In
practice, the management of these free colonies controlled every aspect of daily
life. However, an important question which we will raise is whether the way the
Colonies were organised was actually lawful, and also to which extent the
colonists were really capable to fulfill the obligations from this contract. As a
second group, a large number of young urban pauper orphans were send to
Colony of Veenhuizen from 1824 onward. The aim was to enhance their skills
and social chances. We will try to answer the question if this sending of young
children to the Colonies was a good idea, especially looking at the mortality rates
of these boys and girls in comparison with juvenile death rates elsewhere. The
third group in the Colonies were the beggars. Recently, there has been more focus
on the female inhabitants of the beggar colonies of the Society of Benevolence.
What was the social background of these women and how did this change over
the 19th-century? And taking into account the goals of the Society, to what extent
could these women afterwards make a new start in outside the Colonies?
Event titleThe Dutch Colonies of Benevolence in International Context: Veenhuizen Symposium
Event typeConference
LocationVeenhuizen, NetherlandsShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Vagrancy
  • Mortality
  • Social inequality