By Tim Causer, on 12 July 2016
It’s been a few months since the last update about the ongoing editing of Bentham’s writings on Australia. In the intervening period I’ve mostly been researching and writing editorial notes for Panopticon versus New Wales and A Plea for the Constitution to illuminate Bentham’s various allusions throughout the texts.
In writing and researching the First Letter to Lord Pelham (one half of Panopticon versus New South Wales) in 1802, Bentham sought out as much information as possible about the convict colony of New South Wales. Though he relied in the main upon historical accounts and official correspondence among Bentham’s other acquisitions was a short letter dated 7 October 1800, ‘from a female pen, as well as to a female eye’, which he cited as evidence of the immorality supposedly prevalent in New South Wales (p. 19). He quoted a portion of the letter which described how the new Governor of New South Wales, Philip Gidley King, would have to ‘pay some attention to the morals and instruction of the rising generation, to which none has hitherto been given; for certainly, if we ever hope to see worth or honesty in this settlement, we must look to them for it, and not the present degenerate race.’
Bentham was oddly coy about the letter’s providence, noting that for ‘authentication sake, designation will (I suppose) be regarded as indispensable; but where that sex is concerned, the most reserved mode that can be thought of, is the most respectful and the best.’ There the authorship of the letter might have remained a mystery but, as ever when it comes to Bentham, his manuscripts are fortunately more revealing. In an unpublished draft of the First Letter to Lord Pelham, Bentham wrote that ‘the Lady’s Husband—a Soldier—[was] the first man in rank under the Governor’ (UCL Bentham Papers, Box xciv, f. 335v). The Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales in October 1800 was Lieutenant-Colonel William Paterson (1755–1810), making the author of the letter his wife, Elizabeth (née Driver), one of the founders of the Sydney Orphans’ School and committee member of the Female Orphans’ Institution.
Elizabeth Paterson’s letter—or perhaps an extract from it— is held among the British Library’s Bentham Papers (Additional Manuscripts 33,453, folios 423–24) and a similar note to the quotation above about its authorship, in pencil and in Bentham’s hand, is written at the end of the letter. Furthermore, on the reverse of the letter it is stated that it was from ‘Mrs Patterson [sic] Port Jackson to Mrs B. Q.S.P.’—‘Mrs B’ being Maria Sophia Bentham (1765–1858), the wife of Jeremy’s younger brother, Samuel (1757–1831). This was not the only occasion that Jeremy tapped into Samuel and Maria Sophia’s network when writing Panopticon versus New South Wales: he also drew upon a letter dated 20 May 1799 from Samuel’s friend, John Hunter (1737–1821), Governor of New South Wales from 1795 to 1800.
As well as her remarks upon colonial morality (very much written from the point of view of the official class), Elizabeth Paterson’s letter also reveals anxiety about the security of the colony in the wake of several hundred convicts having arrived from Ireland, many of whom were apparently involved in the 1798 United Irishmen rising. In September 1800, a month before Paterson put pen to paper, a nebulous ‘plot’ had been uncovered in which some Irish convicts were supposed to have been ready to resort to armed revolt. Paterson wrote of how ‘for these last six months we have been under apprehensions’ of a rising, but as the rumours were unconfirmed ‘no steps [were taken] to prevent their designs’ until 28 September. This was the day apparently ‘fixed for the destruction of the Military and principal families at Parramatta, a considerable Settlement 15 Miles from [Sydney]’. Thirty ‘Ringleaders’ were arrested and questioned and ‘the greatest part confessed the horrid plot’ and, as a result, a number of men were ordered to be flogged and/or exiled to Norfolk Island. Even though the ‘plot’ had been prevented, Paterson remained concerned that the military force in the colony was insufficient and that even after ‘our critical situation’ became known back in London, there was still the prospect of more Irish prisoners being transported to New South Wales.
You can see the letter, and the page of the draft of Panopticon versus New South Wales below. In the meantime, the editorial work continues apace. The annotation of the printed versions of Panopticon versus New South Wales and A Plea for the Constitution is at quite an advanced stage, and transcripts of manuscripts from Box 116 , produced in the main by TB volunteers, are also being checked, and the quality is extraordinarily high. Once this checking is complete, we will begin to compare the draft versions of these two texts with the printed versions, and see just what Bentham decided to leave out from the final versions. But that is something for a future update…