Nerchinsk Hard Labor Camps

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Nerchinsk Hard Labor Camps


the main Siberian hard labor camps in tsarist Russia, located in the Nerchinsk Gornyi Okrug of Transbaikalia, now part of Chita Oblast, RSFSR.

The Nerchinsk hard labor camps were established in the early 18th century. Here convict labor was used in lead and silver mines located on imperial lands and in foundries, distilleries, and saltworks; from 1850 to 1890, prisoners also worked in the Kara gold mines, on the construction of prison buildings, and in various service capacities. The Nerchinsk hard labor camps, previously under a local superintendent, were placed under the direct jurisdiction of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in 1869.

Convicts being deported were sent to the Sretensk deportation prison, where they were assigned to hard labor in prisons located in three administrative districts: the Algachi district, which included the Akatui, Algachi, and Pokrovskii Rudnik prisons; the Zerentui district, which included the Zerentui, Kadaia, Kutomarskii Zavod, and Mal’tsev prisons; and the Kara district, which included the Ust’-Kara, Sredniaia Kara, and Nizhniaia Kara prisons (the last two were closed in 1890).

The first political prisoners to be sent to the Nerchinsk hard labor camps were Decembrists, confined during 1826–28 at the Blagodat’ and Zerentui mines. An attempt was made by the Decembrist I. I. Sukhinov to stir up a rebellion, which is known as the Zerentui conspiracy of 1828. Between 1831 and 1840, many participants in the Polish Uprising of 1830–31 worked in the mines of the Nerchinsk hard labor camps alongside common criminals. Members of the Petrashevskii circle labored in the Shilka mine from 1850 to 1856. M. L. Mikhailov was held in the Kadaia prison from 1862 to 1864. In 1864, about 2,000 participants in the Polish Uprising of 1863–64 were deported to numerous mines within the Nerchinsk hard labor camps; N. G. Chernyshevskii was among the revolutionaries of the 1860’s sent to Kadaia.

From 1866, the Aleksandrovskii Zavod Factory became the major center for political deportation, and the Kadaia convicts were transferred there. Members of the Ishutin circle were sent to the Nerchinsk hard labor camps in 1867–68, as were followers of Nechaev in 1872–73. Between 1874 and 1890, all convicted revolutionary Populists were specially concentrated in the Kara district, and from 1890 in the Akatui hard labor prison. The Revolution of 1905–07 brought about an increased influx of political prisoners, which included workers, peasants, and soldiers. To supplement the older prisons of Akatui (which operated from 1888 to 1917), Algachi (from 1869 to 1915), and Gornyi Zerentui (from 1892 to 1917), the Mal’tsev women’s prison (1907–10) and the Kutomarskii Zavod prison (1908–17) were also opened.

Political prisoners were confined together with common criminals, and every one of the Nerchinsk hard labor camps operated under a strict regime, against which political prisoners struggled vigorously. The October Revolution of 1917 freed all political prisoners and the Nerchinsk hard labor camps were abolished.


Kara i drugie tiur’my Nerchinskoi katorgi. Moscow, 1927.
Chemodanov, G. N. Nerchinskaia katorga, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1930.
Na zhenskoi katorge: Sb. vospominanii, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1932.
Nerchinskaia katorga. Moscow, 1933. (Contains a bibliography.)
Maiskii, F. F. N. G. Chernyshevskii v Zabaikal’e. Chita, 1950.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.