New material to transcribe: panopticon

By Tim Causer, on 18 December 2013

UC 119, f. 120: plan of the panopticon prison

UC 119, f. 120: plan of the panopticon prison.
Courtesy UCL Special Collections, image captured by UCL Creative Media Services.

It’s just under a week before Santa comes to visit, but we are delighted to be able to provide transcribers and readers with an early Christmas gift. Two further batches of digitised Bentham manuscripts have been uploaded to the Transcription Desk, both of which pertain to Bentham’s unrealised panopticon penitentiary scheme, which so dominated his life for a number of years.

Box 117 is largely comprised of collectanea, including correspondence, a drawing of the ‘sawing machine’ designed by Bentham’s younger brother, Samuel, and Bentham’s account of his frustrating attempts to purchase the Millbank estate from the Marquis of Salisbury. It also includes Bentham’s letters to George Holford MP, the anti-Benthamite chair of the 1811 Penitentiary Committee, which gave a damning indictment of the panopticon scheme in its report.

Box 119 contains a number of interesting items about the details of the panopticon, including how the prisoners would be employed, how the panopticon would be run by contract management,and how the prison itself would be centrally heated (these manuscripts contain a few rudimentary diagrams of the heating system composed by Bentham). Bentham addresses objections which he expected to be made against the panopticon, and the bulk of the box is comprised of Bentham’s draft penitentiary bill.

Box 119 also contains several drawings and sketches of the panopticon drawn by the architect Willey Reveley, who was commissioned by Bentham to produce the plans based on his designs. A few of these are currently missing, as the manuscripts are on loan to a gallery in Italy, but will be digitised upon their return. A notable sketch is the one below, drawn up by Bentham, in which he reproduces Psalm 139; Bentham was not a believer, but the panopticon intended, to all intents and purposes, to give the prison inspector all the power of a god within the penitentiary.

We hope that you enjoy exploring this material! With our thanks, as always, to our colleagues at UCL Creative Media Services and the University of London Computer Centre, for respectively capturing and uploading the images. Do contact us if you have any questions.

UC 119, f.124. Courtesy of UCL Special Collections, image captured by UCL Creative Media Services. 'Thou art about my path, and about my bed: and spiest all my ways. If I say, peradventure the darkness shall cover me: than shall my night be turned to day. Even there also shall thy hand lead me: and thy right hand shall hold me'. (Psalm 139)

UC 119, f.124. Courtesy of UCL Special Collections, image captured by UCL Creative Media Services.
‘Thou art about my path, and about my bed: and spiest all my ways. If I say, peradventure the darkness shall cover me: than shall my night be turned to day. Even there also shall thy hand lead me: and thy right hand shall hold me’.
(Psalm 139)