Archive for January, 2014

Jeremy Bentham and the escaped convicts

By Tim Causer, on 13 January 2014

The Bentham Project is delighted to announce the publication, for the first time, a detailed, online annotated edition of the Memorandoms of the transported convict, James Martin, which is the only extant first-hand account of perhaps the most famous escape by prisoners transported to Australia. The manuscripts upon which this work are based are part of UCL’s vast Bentham Papers collection, having seemingly been collected by Bentham when he was writing his attack on convict transportation, Panopticon versus New South Wales.

On the night of 28 March 1791, Martin, in company with his fellow prisoners William Bryant, his wife Mary Bryant (née Broad) and their two young children Charlotte and Emanuel, William Allen, Samuel Bird alias John Simms, Samuel Broom alias John Butcher, James Cox alias Rolt, Nathaniel Lillie, and William Morton, stole the governor’s six-oared cutter. In it, the party sailed out of Port Jackson, and up and along the eastern and northern coasts of the Australian continent, where they encountered Aboriginal peoples, and were fortunate to survive several ferocious storms. They crossed the Gulf of Carpentaria, avoided capture by Torres Strait Islanders, and eventually landed at Kupang, West Timor, on 5 June. There, they successfully (for a while, at least) posed as survivors of a shipwreck and enjoyed the hospitality of their Dutch hosts. Theirs was an incredible feat of endurance and seamanship, in surviving a two-month journey of over five thousand kilometres in an open boat.

The Memorandoms, edited and introduced by Tim Causer, are now freely available to read online, and can also be downloaded as a PDF. For those interested, an XML version of the text is also available.

The introduction to the edition provides information about the manuscripts, Bentham’s interest in convict Australia and his acquisition of the manuscripts, context and background to the escape, and a summary of previous works dealing with this famous absconding. This is followed by annotated versions of Martin’s narrative, which are linked to digital versions of the original manuscripts, allowing readers to fully explore this fascinating primary resource.

We are, as always, very grateful to UCL Library Special Collections for permission to reproduce transcripts of manuscripts in their possession, and for their continuing support, and to UCL Creative Media Services, who created the digital images of the manuscripts for our Transcribe Bentham project. We would welcome any comments or feedback about this edition of Martin’s Memorandoms, or additional information which could further improve the resource. Please send them to t.causer [at] ucl.ac.uk.