New material to transcribe: Bentham and the foundation of the Thames River Police

By Tim Causer, on 7 October 2013

Bentham’s work on the panopticon during the late 1790s put him in contact with several influential individuals with whom he became friends. These included Patrick Colqhoun, whose works on the police and other statistical studies Bentham greatly admired. The Pool of London – a stretch of the River Thames running from London Bridge to just below Tower Bridge – was in Bentham’s time vital to London’s trading powers, and was filled with wharves and ships. However, theft of cargo was an increasing problem, and in 1797 John Harriot, a Justice of the Peace and a master mariner, worked with Colqhoun and Bentham to persuade the West India Merchants to fund a new police force. The Thames River Police was the first regular, professional police force in the world, was initially under Colqhoun’s direction, and had a permanent salaried staff of 80, and an on-call reserve of 1,000 more. It’s visible patrols were a success in reducing crime, even though a mob attempted to set fire to the police station.

Bentham worked on drafting the 1798 Thames Police Bill, and the manuscripts from Bentham Box 150 demonstrate just how much effort he put into the endeavour. The Bill was enacted in 1800, permanently establishing the Thames River Police. Colqhoun published his Treatise on the Commerce and Policing of the River Thames in 1800.

This material also contains some remarks by Bentham on the prevention of forgery of coins.

We hope that you enjoy exploring these manuscripts!