The Colonies: an introduction

What were the Colonies?

At the beginning of the 19th century, a large-scale social experiment took place in the United Kingdom of Netherlands. Goal: Eliminate poverty. The Society of Benevolence purchased large, undeveloped tracts of land from 1818 onwards. Over the course of seven years, seven Colonies of Benevolence were established: five in the northern and two in the southern Netherlands, in what is now the Belgian Kempen.

From across the country, large numbers of people and families living in poverty were sent there: to work in agriculture, go to school and learn discipline. Vagrants, beggars and orphans were forcibly inducted.

At the root of this ambitious initiative lay on the one hand a major social problem (poverty), and on the other a belief in the makeability of man and the landscape. Both private individuals and governments were involved. The Colonies attract a great deal of international attention. You can find more information about the history of the Colonies here.

What are the Colonies today?

The Colonies of Benevolence produced a highly typical landscape that is still recognisable two hundred years after their creation. This is the result of targeted development by man. Important components of two centuries of building have also been preserved. The former Colonies still fulfil social, judicial and health care functions, and people there still work in agriculture and forestry. For several decades now, we as a society have increasingly come to recognise the value of the Colonies as heritage. In 2020, they may be declared UNESCO World Heritage.

These vast areas with their quirky landscape invite you to come hiking, biking, horseback riding ... Come and enjoy the special nature of one of the seven former Colonies of Benevolence in the Netherlands and Belgium.


Johannes van den Bosch;Maatschappij van Weldadigheid;archief;historisch;generaal