Archive for the 'Digitisation' Category

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)


New material to transcribe: Bentham on political economy and religion

By Tim Causer, on 29 October 2013

We are delighted to say that two new batches of material have been uploaded to the Transcription Desk for volunteers to explore and transcribe.

Box 1 contains material pertaining to Bentham’s annuity notes scheme, and date from 1799 to 1801. Bentham spent almost twelve months planning, drafting, and revising a major work entitled A Tract Intituled [sic] Circulating Annuities, which has never been published (though a précis of the text was provided in a work entitled Abstract or Compressed View of a Tract intituled [sic] Circulating Annuities). Bentham hoped that his plan for an interest-bearing circulating currency would provide the means both to reduce, and even eliminate, the national debt, and to inculcate the culture of saving amongst the poor, thus preserving the stability of expectations from the political and financial threats of revolution and national bankruptcy respectively.

The Bentham Project’s Dr Michael Quinn, is currently working on Bentham’s writings on political economy, and an unexpurgated text of Bentham’s Annuity Note scheme will present an exciting resource to scholars and historians of economic thought alike. The work of Transcribe Bentham volunteers has the potential to significantly expedite work on this material, and contribute to its first publication in a forthcoming volume of the Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham.

The second batch of material is Box 5, pertaining to one of Bentham’s works on religion, Church of Englandism and Its Catechism Examined (1818). This work was part of Bentham’s sustained attack on the English political, legal, and ecclesiastical establishments. Bentham always argued that religion should bear no influence upon morals and legislation, and came to suggest that religious belief was used by the clergy to promote their own interests. Bentham was particularly critical of the role of the Church of England in education, whether this was in its schools for the poor, or its domination of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge (the ‘two public nuisances’, according to Bentham, ‘storehouses and nurseries of political corruption’). In Church-of-Englandism, Bentham recommended the ‘euthanasia’ of the Church, that is, as ecclesiastical offices became vacant, they should be left unfilled and abolished.

We hope that you enjoy transcribing these manuscripts, and do let us know if you have any queries!

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!

New material to transcribe: ‘like a great Spider in ye Center of yr. Panopticon’ – the return of Bentham’s prison

By Tim Causer, on 11 September 2013

A further series of fascinating manuscripts have been uploaded to the Transcription Desk: this material from Box 122 of the UCL Bentham Papers details the revival of the British government’s interest in the panopticon penitentiary scheme. As we have mentioned elsewhere, the panopticon was rejected in 1803 as a solution to the problem of treating criminals. Despite his anger at the time, Bentham seemed in 1808 to finally be at peace with this decision, writing to his brother Samuel that ‘JB has next to no expectation of panopticon being set on foot … and at his time of life scarce a wish about it: but that with him it has never been more than a secondary object, his primary object being a reform in the state of the law‘.

However, at the end of 1807 had received a rather rude reminder of the panopticon. The commissioners for auditing the public accounts had requested that Bentham account for the £2,000 of public money voted to him in 1794 for purchasing land on which to build a panopticon. The result of this request was a lengthy and somewhat acrimonious correspondence, some of which can be found amongst these manuscripts: Bentham found it difficult to comply with the commissioners request, not least owing to the passage of time, and his (and Samuel’s) haphazard account-keeping.

Bentham provided some documentation, but this did not satisfy the commissioners, and he was driven to plead with them to accept his verbal testimony. Bentham’s sense of persecution grew: hadn’t the government caused him enough pain over the panopticon? He wrote another account of his treatment, to be found here, bemoaning the commissioners’ unaccountability, and suggesting that he was subjected to ‘the principles of a Venetian Senate … or a Spanish Inquisition‘. Fortunately, the audit board finally accepted Bentham’s testimony in December 1808.

In the following years, the panopticon – somehow – was back on the agenda. Criminals were seen to be convicted at ever-increasing rates, the hulks were notoriously bad, and New South Wales was being viewed as an Arcadia for criminals, rather than as a place of punishment. Though in June 1809, William Wilberforce told Bentham that he was once more going to promote the panopticon, asking him if ‘had still ye Heart to go forward after all your former disappointments‘. Bentham remained very wary: in May 1810, he wrote that he had ‘no such ambition as that of passing the short remainder of my life among the Treasury Porters‘. Wilberforce replied with platitudes, telling Bentham that

After all you have experienced Unless ye way is smooth’d and the doors thrown wide for yr triumphant passage, I would have stir you from ye Chimney Corner … Surely you will not refuse to tend yrself to those who are eager to bring it forward … I am delighted by seeing with my mind’s Eye, your Honour like a great Spider in ye Center of yr. Panopticon‘.

As Janet Semple remarks in her masterful Bentham’s Prison: A Study of the Panopticon Penitentiary (p. 264), ‘This letter did incalculable harm; first, by luring Bentham with false hopes that were to embroil him in further fruitless labour and public humiliation; and secondly in the use of a vivid metaphor to stamp for ever the image of him as a spider in the midst of his penal web’.

The Treasury contacted Bentham around this time, and he confirmed that he was still willing to serve as governor. On 4 March 1811, a committee was appointed to consider the 1779 and 1794 Penitentiary Acts, chaired by George Holford MP, a known anti-Benthamite. Yet Bentham seemed confident now in the panopticon’s success, recalling later in life that: ‘I assumed all along as a matter of course, that the determination of the Committee and thereafter would be favourable to me‘. Bentham was to be disappointed: he gave evidence on 27 March and 1 April (the latter date proving very apt), and faced frequently hostile questioning. Holford’s report, completed in May, was a damning indictment of the panopticon, and the only crumb of comfort was the conclusion that Bentham should receive financial compensation.

Following the rejection, Bentham returned to complaining of sinister interests and ‘an originally preconcerted plan for setting aside Panopticon‘. He submitted a compensation claim for the astonishing sum of £689,062 11s. (over £23 million in today’s money), for lost profits which would have been earned from the panopticon between 1795 and 1813. Bentham finally settled for the not inconsiderable sum of £23,000 (c. £800,000 today). The panopticon scheme was finally dead.

We hope that you enjoy exploring this material, and do let us know if you have any queries!

New material to transcribe: the panopticon’s failure and Bentham’s anger

By Tim Causer, on 21 August 2013

A new batch of extremely interesting Bentham manuscripts has just been made available on the Transcription Desk. Box 121 contains a great deal of interesting material relating to Bentham‘s panopticon prison scheme, or rather its failure. This batch of manuscripts, composed mostly in 1802, illustrate Bentham’s anger and sense of betrayal towards the British legislature which, despite having passed the 1794 Penitentiary for Convicts Act, failed to build Bentham’s prison. In Bentham’s eyes, the panopticon had been thwarted by the failure to find a site, first at Battersea Rise, thanks to the opposition of George Spencer (the 2nd Earl Spencer), and then at Tothill Fields owing to the opposition of Richard Grosvenor (1st Earl Grosvenor). Thanks to the vested interests of landlords, Bentham ended up purchasing a small and boggy site at Millbank, and became aware that politicians had little real commitment to the panopticon.

In June 1803, after a campaign of many years, it was clear that the panopticon was to be abandoned. The scheme’s failure was the greatest disappointment of Bentham’s life: ‘They have murdered my best days’, he remarked. The experience left him incensed at the treachery of British politicians, and he turned his attention to detailing their perfidy. According to Bentham, the 1794 Penitentiary Act was for no ‘better or other intention than of serving as a bait for gulling me out of money’’, and in JB/115/145/001, he wrote:

My hairs, already grey, are pointing to the grave. It remains for me to try whether my country be as devoid of faith and feeling, as those whom the jumble of events has given to it for its rulers … It may then be said—simple neglect would have been sufficient: disappointment and ruin, at the end of five years of treachery and oppression, were too much’.

Box 121 contains some of Bentham’s angry outpourings, in an unpublished text entitled A Picture of the Treasury under the Administration of the Rt. Hon. W. Pitt and the Rt. Hon. H. Addington with a sketch of the Secretary of State’s Office under the reign of the Duke of Portland. Written in 1802 and 1803, this is a near-contemporary account of Bentham’s dealings with men in high office, albeit one told from Bentham’s point of view. (From the other side, Charles Long, the junior secretary to the Treasury, came to hate the sight of Bentham hanging around the Treasury, waiting to attempt meetings with him).

It was perhaps during this period that Bentham fully developed the idea of ‘sinister interests’ – that legislators did not necessarily act in the interests of the happiness of those they ruled, but rather to satisfy their own vested interests. By transcribing this set of manuscripts, you will be going some way to exploring this theory, and the timing of Bentham’s conversion into a political radical, convinced of the need for a representative parliament with universal adult suffrage. It seems likely, as Prof. Philip Schofield contends, that it was ‘the panopticon experience which began to convince him [Bentham] that nothing worthwhile could be achieved through the existing political structure in Britain’. (Schofield, Bentham: A Guide for the Perplexed, Bew York, 2009, pp.12-13).

We hope that you enjoy exploring this rich material, and will be happy to help with any questions you may have!