By Tim Causer, on 10 October 2018
To say that Jeremy Bentham was a prolific writer would be a massive understatement: UCL Library Special Collections and the British Library hold between them some 100,000 manuscript pages which he either wrote or composed. According to Bentham’s literary executor John Bowring—who oversaw the production of the eleven-volume edition of Bentham’s works and correspondence published from 1838 to 1843—Bentham wrote, ‘on an average, from ten to fifteen folio pages a-day. He was seldom satisfied with the first expression of his thoughts, and generally developed his views over and over again’. Bentham would also have written many more than the 100,000 or so extant pages, as when he printed or published a text he typically destroyed the manuscripts on which it was based, making it impossible to trace the iterative development of a text in the manner described by Bowring. (For more on Bentham’s writing process, see P. Schofield, Bentham: A Guide for the Perplexed, London, 2009, pp. 30-5).
Editing Bentham’s ‘Third Letter to Lord Pelham’ (1802-3), which exists only in manuscript and has recently been made available for the first time for a volume of his Writings on Australia, provides a brief glimpse at certain stages of Bentham’s writing process. In two preceding ‘Letters to Lord Pelham’ (Pelham then being the Home Secretary) Bentham had condemned both the practice of transporting convicts to New South Wales and the government’s preference for transportation over his panopticon penitentiary scheme, which he had spent much of the last decade trying to persuade the British government to adopt. In the ‘Third Letter’ Bentham turned his attention to the other two major forms of punishment which the government also appeared to prefer over the panopticon, namely what he referred to sarcastically as the ‘improved prisons’ of England and Wales, and the prison hulks, dismasted ships moored on the Thames, at Plymouth, and at Portsmouth.
Surviving among UCL’s Bentham Papers are two (perhaps two and-a-bit) versions of the ‘Third Letter: first is a manuscript draft, dating from November and December 1802, in Bentham’s hand and featuring heavy revisions on several pages; second is a revised fair copy, based on the draft and presumably dating from early 1803, in the hand of Bentham’s amanuensis John Herbert Koe, though with corrections and emendations in Bentham’s hand; finally, the ‘bit’ is a printed sample proof of the first six pages of the prospective text which Bentham had presumably sent to the printer in 1803, before he ultimately decided to abandon the ‘Third Letter’.
In late 1802 and early 1803 Bentham had privately printed the first two ‘Letters to Lord Pelham’ and a connected work, ‘A Plea for the Constitution‘, in the hope that the arguments they contained would cajole the government into proceeding with the panopticon. In addition he threatened on several occasions to publish the texts and go public with his allegations about the various illegalities of New South Wales and the corruption of the ministers who had sanctioned them, but each time he held back from following through on those threats. The suspicion is that Bentham realised that to publish these quite radical and subversive texts, so critical of the government and its ministers at a time of fear of political radicalism, could have been calamitous for his reputation and perhaps even for his liberty. (For instance, in February 1803 war with France loomed, and Colonel Edward Despard had been convicted of leading a conspiracy to overthrow the government and assassinate George III). Bentham expressed a particular fear that if his argument, made in ‘A Plea for the Constitution’, that New South Wales had been illegally founded and that the governors’ various local ordinances were all illegally issued, it could prompt a convict uprising and see the ‘setting of the whole Colony in a flame’. Bentham may have feared prosecution for not only seditious libel, but plain libel as well. In this sense, Bentham’s revision of certain parts of the ‘Third Letter’ might have seen Bentham engage not only in self-censorship, but also self-preservation.
Thanks to the wonderful Juxta Commons, a tool produced by Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth Century Electronic Scholarship (NINES) which allows for the comparison and collation of versions of the same text, it is possible to more closely examine the differences between the draft and the revised fair copy of Bentham’s ‘Third Letter’ (which we have made accessible through the Juxta Commons interface—please see the links below). Juxta Commons’s side-by-side visualization feature displays the draft and the revised fair copy alongside one another, and highlights where the differences between them are found. The majority of these differences consist of relatively slight changes to words and phrasing, correction of spelling, punctuation, and other alterations for sake of clarity—or, in other words, the typical finessing of a text which any writer goes through when drafting and redrafting a work.
There are, however, a number of significant differences between the draft and the revised fair copy, with Bentham presumably having decided that it would be wiser not to include in the latter several rather incendiary passages which he drafted for the former, which touch upon what in Bentham’s view was the deliberate cruelty and corruption of the ministry. The revised fair copy was sharp enough in Bentham’s personal criticism of Pelham and his immediate predecessor as Home Secretary, the Duke of Portland, for having overseen the conditions leading to the appalling mortality aboard the Portsmouth hulks; in the draft Bentham’s criticisms on this point were if anything more vicious.
For instance, Bentham drew comparison between the mortality on the hulks of Langstone Harbour, where in 1801 120 of 500 convicts had died, with the infamous ‘Black Hole’ of Kolkata, a small prison in which, according to the East India Company employee John Zephaniah Holwell, 143 of the 164 British prisoners-of-war died when confined there on the night of 20 June 1765. Invoking the rhetorical power of the ‘Black Hole’, Bentham claimed that conditions on the hulks were in fact far worse and were the result of Home Office policy. As Bentham put it, the ‘Black Hole’ would ‘henceforward yield in proverbiality to Lord Pelham’s and Mr King’s and Mr Baldwin’s Hulk: the Hulk La Fortunée: for such, by a horrible catachresis, happens to to be the denomination of this ever memorable scene of official barbarity and negligence’. (Mr King was John King, Under Secretary at the Home Office 1791-1806, and Mr Baldwin was William Baldwin MP, counsel for criminal and colonial business at the Home Office 1796-1813.)
The draft also contains Bentham’s blunt allegation of corruption and cronyism at the Home Office which was removed from the revised fair copy of the text. Bentham complained about the circumstances of the appointment, provided for by the Hulks Act of 1802, of Aaron Graham, a stipendiary magistrate at Bow Street, as Inspector of the Hulks on a salary of £350 per year. As a London police magistrate Graham’s salary had already been £400 per year, but had recently been increased to £500 per year by the Metropolitan Police Magistrates Act of 1802. Worse still for Bentham than this unwarranted augmentation of Graham’s salary was that Graham had not been appointed on merit but because he was a friend of John King, the Under Secretary at the Home Office, and because he would be willing to whitewash what had been happening on the hulks. Bentham suggested that conditions on the hulks had been allowed to become so bad until there came:
the occasion for recommending a friend [of King’s] to look at it. … A gentleman whose whole time had already been bought for the public and twice overpaid for it: paid by one Act, overpaid by another Act—an Act made on purpose. Two Acts made for one gentleman: both of them at the instance of Your Lordship’s Secretary—both of them under Your Lordship’s auspices. One to overpay a man for business he was already paid for … another to call him off from that to other business, pay and overpay still continued: one for making him receive more money: another for making him do less service.
Though this overt allegation of corruption was excised from the revised fair copy, it must be said that Bentham still hinted darkly at the circumstances around Graham’s appointment, but the point is made in a more subtle manner.
* * *
To compare for yourself transcripts of the draft and the revised fair copy of the ‘Third Letter to Lord Pelham’, please visit the links below. As it can take some time for Juxta Commons to load the visualization for longer texts we have separated the text into the four sections in which Bentham presented it, namely:
- Section 1: a short introduction
- Section 2: ‘XV. Hulk System compared with Penitentiary and New South Wales systems’
- Section 3. ‘XVI. Penitentiary system in England—improved local prisons
- Section 4: ‘II. Hulk mortality—Sinecure made to screen it’
Please note that the third section of the text is the longest and it may take a little longer for the visualization to load than the others. The comparison has been set to ignore differences in punctuation and capitalization. Many, many thanks are due to NINES for producing Juxta Commons and for making it freely available.
Readers can also download for free a pre-publication version of the ‘Third Letter to Lord Pelham‘, which is based on the revised fair copy of the text, though collating it where appropriate with the few printed pages and the draft. The other texts constituting Bentham’s Writings on Australia can also be downloaded for free from UCL Discovery.
By Tim Causer, on 9 October 2018
By Dr Katy Roscoe (ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Liverpool/Institute of Historical Research Associate Fellow).
For the past two years I’ve been working as a Transcription Assistant, helping prepare Jeremy Bentham’s Writings on Australia for publication. Despite my title, I spent little time transcribing Bentham’s scrawled handwriting—in large part thanks to the efforts of dedicated Transcribe Bentham volunteers! Instead, I spent most of my time fact-checking the editorial annotation to the text written by the editors, Dr Tim Causer and Professor Philip Schofield.
Having written a PhD on 19th century Australian convicts, I was eager to learn more about the first decades of the penal colony. Bentham was the first ‘anti-transportation’ campaigner, and in three ‘Letters to Lord Pelham’ (1802-3) he seethes at the government’s choice to transport convicts to New South Wales rather than support his Panopticon prison design. His revisionist ideas were remarkable and rehabilitation for convicts was as much as priority to him as was being economical. I took the inner workings of the transportation system for granted, so Bentham’s argument that denying convicts the opportunity to return home meant 7 or 14 year sentences of transportation were illegal, was a real eye-opener for me. On the other hand, thanks to an over-reliance on David Collins’ Account of the English Colony of New South Wales (1798 and 1802), I was disappointed by Bentham’s barely concealed disdain for the convicts themselves—particularly the women—who he depicts as lazy, promiscuous and arson-prone. These are stereotypes we know today to be untrue.
As well as deepening my knowledge of the Australian convict system, checking the annotation of Bentham’s Writings on Australia meant forays into unexpected avenues of research. I perused travel narratives for references to a dog who went abroad and lost its sense of smell, looked at floor plans of the Treasury Building, and scoured Don Quixote for one (of many) incidences of mistaken identity. It was certainly a lesson to me, as a junior academic, on reading widely to create a framework on which to hang arguments and ideas. It was also a lesson on the importance of proper referencing and checking your figures—a mistaken page number in Collins’ Account or inaccurate calculation of passengers on board convict vessels could take hours or days to untangle. Somewhere along the line my academic writing started to feature just as many dashes as Bentham favoured, and my supervisors were less forgiving than Bentham’s editors. I resisted for the most part, the temptation to add too many Benthamite phrases into my thesis. Though Bentham coined well-known words like ‘international’ and ‘maximise’, I avoided his lesser-known neologisms like ‘uncircumlocatory’ and ‘incongnosibility’.
Working at the Bentham Project sometimes feels like we were working for an (absent) celebrity. Not only was Bentham’s face on ID cards and screens on campus, he appeared on BBC’s Have I Got News, Private Eye, major news outlets and in museum exhibitions. He also had some pricey jewellery—mourning rings—one of which was recently auctioned at Christie’s. I discovered that everything I thought I knew about him was wrong, and ended up having to explain this to everyone I met at a party (No, he wasn’t the founder of UCL; no, his head wasn’t used as a football). It certainly felt like having a VIP backstage pass when the team got to see his auto-icon up close when it underwent conservation work by UCL’s Museums and Collections’ team prior to his visit to New York (though I’m not sure if seeing his underpants being washed was rock and roll or not!). But the real stars of my stay were the Bentham Project team themselves – so all my thanks to them for being wonderful as I bid them farewell after two years.
By Tim Causer, on 5 September 2018
The Bentham Project is delighted to announce that open-access pre-publication versions of the texts constituting Jeremy Bentham’s Writings on Australia, edited by Dr Tim Causer and Professor Philip Schofield, are now available to download from UCL Discovery. The preparation of these texts has been made possible by generous funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
The texts in question, several of which are now made available for the first time, can be downloaded at the following links:
- ‘New Wales’ (written in 1791)
- ‘History of Jeremy Bentham’s dealings with Lord Pelham’ (1802)
- ‘Letter to Lord Pelham’ (1802)
- ‘Second Letter to Lord Pelham’ (1802)
- ‘Third Letter to Lord Pelham’ (1802-3)
- ‘A Plea for the Constitution (1803)
- ‘Colonization Company Proposal’ (1831)
The first six texts are intimately connected to Bentham’s attempt to persuade the British government to build his panopticon penitentiary. The ‘New Wales‘ material, written in June 1791, a matter of months after Bentham first offered the panopticon to the Pitt administration, constitutes Bentham’s first detailed engagement with Britain’s infant penal colony of New South Wales.
In July 1793 William Pitt, the leader of the administration, and Henry Dundas, the Home Secretary, visited Bentham’s home at Queen’s Square Place in order see models of the panopticon and the machinery which the inmates would operate. They gave their approval to the scheme and asked him to proceed with making preparations. Bentham subsequently spent the best part of a decade in negotiations with the government to have the panopticon built, but the attempt to bring it to fruition was, in Bentham’s view, beset by wilful delay and obstruction on the part of ministers and their underlings. These delays and obstructions had led Bentham to believe that the government had acted in the interests of the nobility rather than in the public interest and, by January 1802, to more or less accept that the panopticon would never be built. The ‘History of Jeremy Bentham’s dealings with Lord Pelham‘ (who was then the Home Secretary) consists of letters and documents compiled by Bentham dating from 12 April 1802 to 21 August 1802, which sets out many of his grievances in regard to the panopticon, and in effect constitutes a history of the beginning of Bentham’s assault on New South Wales, the government’s preference for which over his penitentiary frustrated him.
The ‘Letter to Lord Pelham‘ constitutes perhaps the earliest detailed critique of transportation to New South Wales by a major philosopher of punishment. In ‘Second Letter to Lord Pelham‘ Bentham continues his attack, seeking by sheer weight of example to demonstrate the failure of New South Wales as an instrument of penal policy, and to compare the colony unfavourably with penitentiaries in Philadelphia and New York—institutions characterized by surveillance and hard labour, and which thus constituted the closest existing approximation to the panopticon. ‘Third Letter to Lord Pelham‘ sees Bentham extend his critique to the prison hulks and ‘improved prisons’, and is especially pointed in his criticism of Lord Pelham and his predecessor as Home Secretary the Duke of Portland for their having, for instance, not only ignored high mortality among the convicts aboard the Portsmouth hulks, but also in having actively contributed to the conditions leading to that mortality. In ‘A Plea for the Constitution‘ examined New South Wales on point of law, and sought to demonstrate that the colony had been illegally founded.
Bentham unsuccessfully sought to use his writings on Australia of 1802-3 to force the government to proceed with the establishment of the panopticon. Ultimately, the government decided to abandon the panopticon in June 1803 and Bentham set aside the works, only publishing the first two ‘Letters to Lord Pelham’ and ‘A Plea for the Constitution’ in 1812, in a single volume entitled Panopticon versus New South Wales, when the government briefly again showed interest in the panopticon.
Bentham returned to writing about Australia in August 1831, though on the subject of free rather than unfree emgration. Between 4 and 14 August 1831 Bentham composed around fifty sheets relating to an incomplete work entitled ‘Colonization Company Proposal‘, which effectively constitutes Bentham’s commentary upon the National Colonization Society’s Proposal to His Majesty’s Government for Founding a Colony on the Southern Coast of Australia.
‘New Wales’, ‘History of Jeremy Bentham’s dealings with Lord Pelham’, ‘Third Letter to Lord Pelham’, and ‘Colonization Company Proposal’, which exist only in manuscript, are here made available for the first time. The texts presented here are preliminary versions, in that the authoritative texts will appear as part of Bentham’s Writings on Australia for The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, with a full Editorial Introduction, name and subject indexes, finalized annotation, and working cross-references.
In addition to the AHRC we would like to thank the project’s co-investigator, Professor Margot Finn of UCL History; the British Academy and UCL for their continuing support of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham; UCL Library’s Special Collections for permission to publish material from its collection of the Bentham Papers; and our Bentham Project and UCL Laws colleagues. Particular thanks are due to Dr Katy Roscoe who has provided invaluable assistance in checking the text and researching the annotation. Finally, we would like to warmly acknowledge the contributions of volunteers to Transcribe Bentham whose draft transcripts of Bentham manuscripts were used in the preparation of these texts, and who are acknowledged in the introductions to the texts.
Tim Causer and Philip Schofield
By Louise Seaward, on 13 July 2015
It is a bit strange to go back to secondary school after more than 10 years away. I have recently been visiting Haberdashers’ Aske’s Knights Academy (HAKA) in Bromley to deliver a series of tutorials as part of The Brilliant Club. The Brilliant Club is a non-profit organisation focused on widening access to top universities for high-achieving pupils from state schools. PhD students and post-doctoral researchers work with The Brilliant Club to deliver University-style tutorials to sixth formers and younger pupils. These sessions are designed to build a foundation for University learning by developing students’ knowledge, research skills and confidence.
I have been teaching a group of four sixth formers from HAKA who are studying a range of AS Levels including Sociology, History and Biology. Our course is titled, ‘Because I’m Happy: Jeremy Bentham and his Ideas on Happiness’. The course is an introduction to Bentham’s theory of utilitarianism and concentrates on the application of his philosophy in matters of politics, religion and penal reform. As well as reading extracts from Bentham’s own writings, the students have been able to engage with Bentham scholarship – Michel Foucault’s perspective on the Panopticon generated a particularly interesting discussion!
I have been impressed by my students’ consideration of the meaning of happiness – how important is it, how can we measure it and can it be fairly distributed through society? We have also spent time exploring the contemporary relevance of Bentham’s ideas. The pupils all recognised that utilitarianism could play a significant role in current debates over the acceptability of government surveillance, the usefulness of religion and the inevitability of political spin. It has been great to see the students grow in confidence as they weighed up the strengths and weaknesses of utilitarianism in each tutorial.
Now that school is out for the summer, the pupils have the next few weeks to complete an essay evaluating Bentham’s philosophy of utilitarianism. Once their essays have been marked, they will have the opportunity to participate in a Brilliant Club graduation ceremony to congratulate them on their progress. I would like to thank the pupils for their enthusiasm and hard work. Studying Bentham can be challenging but their thoughtful contributions have made the experience an enlightening one for me, and hopefully for them too.
By Tim Causer, on 18 February 2015
The Bentham Project has published online for the first time the text of George Wheatley’s A Visit (in 1831) to Jeremy Bentham. Wheatley’s work, which describes in detail his visit to Queen’s Square Place, Bentham’s residence in Westminster, is also available as an open-access text in PDF or XML format from UCL Discovery.
Upon the death of his father Jeremiah in 1792, Bentham inherited the family home in Queen’s Square Place. Bentham referred to his abode as the Hermitage and himself as the Hermit. Despite this apparent reclusiveness, many notable statesmen, politicians, lawyers, and intellectuals visited him, although some equally prominent figures (such as Madame de Staël) were refused an audience. Apart from half the year spent at another notable Bentham residence, Ford Abbey, between 1814 and 1818, Bentham spent the majority of his later years at Queen’s Square Place. He died within its walls, aged 84, on 6 June 1832.
Bentham’s house was demolished in the 1880s. The site is now occupied by 102 Petty France, otherwise known as the building which houses the Ministry of Justice. Between 1978 and 2004 this building (then known as 50 Queen Anne’s Gate) was the main location of the Home Office. On 12 October 2004, Councillor Catherine Longworth, Lord Mayor of Westminster, and Professor Malcolm Grant, President and Provost of UCL, unveiled a commemorative plaque to Jeremy Bentham on the gateway of the building.
We are sure that this text will prove extremely popular amongst Bentham enthusiasts, since Wheatley provides a rich first-hand account of both the house (such as the front garden or ‘paddock’, the steam central-heating, and Bentham’s ‘workshop’ with attendant ‘platform’ and ‘ditch’) and its permanent and temporary inhabitants (such as Bentham himself, his secretaries, and his visitors). Details are given about Bentham’s peculiar meal times (and his ‘preprandial circumgyration’, when he did his pre-dinner jogging) as well as descriptions of the dishes served. Illumination is also given to Bentham’s working practices, such as his unique ink-conserving writing style and his preference for ‘preaching’ (dictating to an amanuensis) whilst being shaved.
The text has been transcribed and lightly annotated from the original which was privately printed in about 1853. It contains a brief editorial introduction by Dr Kris Grint.
Response to The Guardian’s review of Bentham’s Of Sexual Irregularities by Professor Philip Schofield
By T Philip Schofield, on 7 July 2014
In his review of Jeremy Bentham’s Of Sexual Irregularities (Guardian, 28 June 2014), Faramerz Dabhoiwala suggests that the Bentham Project, which is producing the new authoritative edition of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, has been culpable in not editing and publishing these writings before now. The new Bentham edition is a massive scholarly task (30 volumes hitherto published out of a projected total of 80) which is almost entirely reliant on winning competitive grants from the UK’s research councils and educational charities. Of Sexual Irregularities, for instance, was generously funded by the Leverhulme Trust.
Given the enormous size and complexity of the task of producing a scholarly edition from handwritten manuscripts, and the need to rely on external funding, the surprise is that our small research team is as productive as it is. The wider issue is UK academia’s refusal face up to the question of how to fund long-term research projects in the humanities and social sciences. The research councils seem to be happy to disburse money to the latest flavour of the month, which promises some short-term impact, rather than scholarship that will continue to be of value for decades, if not centuries, to come.
By Michael Quinn, on 7 July 2014
In his otherwise positive review of Of Sexual Irregularities (Guardian, 28 June 2014), Faramerz Dabhoiwala refers to the way in which the ‘official Bentham Project largely ignored this aspect of his thinking’, and regrets the fact that ‘Only three of Bentham’s documents from the 1810s are printed … so that the development and full range of his thoughts on sex are impossible to trace.’ One might be forgiven for concluding that a veritable army of ‘official’ editors had grudgingly placed in the public domain a disjointed fraction of a much more extensive and coherent discussion of sex and the law.
In order to obviate this misapprehension, two points require to be made. First, the ‘official Bentham Project’ relies entirely on funding from research councils, educational charities, and the generosity of UCL, whilst the task of its very far from ‘huge’, but rather tiny (and diminishing) staff, namely producing a critical edition of some 80 volumes, largely from semi-legible manuscripts, might be likened to that of emptying a bath full of water with a tea spoon without spilling a drop. Second, Bentham’s temporally disjointed discussions of sex form no coherent whole, having been undertaken at widely different times, for different purposes. To have combined the discussions on sex from the 1780s, which formed part of a putative work on penal law, with the discussions of 1816–18, which formed an integral part of Bentham’s sustained assault on the baleful influence of religion on popular morality, would have been contrary to the basic principles of a critical edition, whilst to have undertaken the editorial work on the earlier discussions necessary to provide proper cross-referencing would very likely, and not unreasonably, have strained the patience of the Leverhulme Trust, whose generosity funded this volume. Dabhoiwala also omits to note that the preliminary text of the closely related work Not Paul, But Jesus, Part III. Doctrine, has been freely available from the Bentham Project website since May 2013.
By Kris Grint, on 3 February 2014
The Bentham Project is pleased to announce the publication of the 30th volume in the Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham series. Of Sexual Irregularities, and Other Writings on Sexual Morality was published by Oxford University Press on 30 January 2014.
The present volume contains three essays, ‘Of Sexual Irregularities’, ‘Sextus’, and ‘General Idea of Not Paul, but Jesus’, written in the mid-1810s but have never before been published in authoritative form. Bentham presents the utilitarian case for sexual liberty on the grounds that the gratification of the sexual appetite constituted the purest form of pleasure, in opposition to the traditional Christian view that the only morally acceptable form of sexual activity was between one man and one woman, within the confines of marriage, for the purpose of procreation. Bentham offers classical Greece and Rome, where certain male same-sex relationships were regarded as normal, as alternative models of sexual morality, condemns the hostile portrayal of homosexuals in eighteenth-century literature, and calls for the removal of sanctions, whether imposed by religion, law, or public opinion, from all forms of consensual sexual activity, at least in so far as practised in private. Bentham was, moreover, persuaded by Malthus’s argument that population growth tended to outstrip food supply. In these circumstances, non-procreative sexual activity had the additional benefit of not contributing to an increase in the size of the population. In the course of his discussion, Bentham expresses forthright views on various aspects of sexuality.
A discount of 30% on the list price is offered for online orders of this volume until 31 March 2014. Please download the promotional flyer for information on ordering.
A related text to the present volume, the preliminary version of volume 3 of Bentham’s Not Paul, but Jesus was published online by the Bentham Project in April 2013.
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 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.
By Michael Quinn, on 26 November 2013
Jeremy Seabrook provides an arresting and provocative challenge to the rhetoric underlying cuts in welfare spending, and is acute in pointing out historical echoes of the effort—undertaken in tandem with the contradictory assurance that we are all in this together—to divide the recipients of such spending into the deserving and undeserving poor. I know of the stresses and paralyzing anxieties imposed on recipients of disability benefits by the fitness for work assessments, and agree that singling out the most vulnerable (and therefore least able to resist?) to bear a disproportionate burden is wrong, however effective as a political strategy. However, I do want to take issue with Seabrook over the attitude of Jeremy Bentham to poor relief in general, and to the deserving/undeserving dichotomy in particular.
For Bentham, the question of poor relief highlighted the conflicting imperatives of the two most important subordinate ends of legislation, namely subsistence and security. In 1796 he began a detailed analysis of poor relief, fundamental to which was the distinction between poverty (i.e. dependence on investment of labour for subsistence), the unavoidable condition of almost all mankind, and indigence (i.e. exposure to starvation through lack of property, and inability either to labour, or to procure subsistence despite labour). Relief of poverty was neither possible, nor desirable: upon the ‘natural’ connection between investment of labour and acquisition of subsistence depended the production of both the matter of subsistence, and, by accumulation of surplus productivity, the matter of abundance, or wealth. Bentham was thus an unapologetic advocate of economic competition between individuals as the motor of increasing wealth, while the energy for driving the motor was derived from individual responsibility for individual subsistence in the first place, and for that of helpless dependents in the second.
Bentham analysed the contingencies responsible for indigence, rejecting desert as a criterion for receipt of relief, to which the fact of indigence alone constituted the legitimate claim. He refused, that is to say, the attempt to allocate relief according to a distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor: ‘Neither by good nor by ill desert, can anything be added to, or taken from, the quantum of demand on the score of indigence.’ That said, the state could and should impose deterrent conditions upon relief, since their absence enhanced the attractiveness of dependence on relief as an alternative to self-maintenance, and since making relief more eligible than (i.e. preferable to) independent labour ultimately threatened generalized indigence or widespread starvation. I hesitate to detail Bentham’s conditions, for fear of putting ideas into heads at the Department of Work and Pensions, but they are: first, since the aim was to prevent starvation, relief should be limited to ‘the necessaries of life’. Second, since labouring for subsistence was mankind’s inescapable condition, the indigent too, excepting only those utterly incapable, should be required to labour. Third, since out-allowances, that is cash welfare payments, were incompatible with the efficient extraction of labour, the indigent should be obliged to enter large-scale Industry-Houses.
Seabrook is also absolutely correct in seeing Bentham as an advocate of the private provision of welfare services. Bentham proposed transferring responsibility for relief to a joint-stock company, the National Charity Company, subsidized by receipt of the existing poor rates. The company would build two hundred and fifty panopticon industry-houses in England and Wales, each accommodating two thousand people. Paupers would be occupied largely in ‘self-supply’, that is the production of their own subsistence. It should also be noted, however, that Bentham’s company would differ from modern private providers in the transparency of its management. It should also be noted that Bentham would have rejected utterly the notion of a cap on benefit spending. He called this idea the ‘Limited or Inadequate Provision System’, and he thought it both intellectually disreputable, in drawing an arbitrary ceiling on that spending, so that once that ceiling is reached, no further claims can be met—‘it admits the propriety of a provision at the public charge, and, at the same time, as far as the deficiency extends, refuses to make any such provision’— and morally bankrupt—pregnant ‘with profusion on one side, homicide on the other’.
Finally, it really is time that Bentham’s reference to ‘that part of the national live stock which has no feathers to it, and walks upon two legs’ was recognized for what it is, namely a humorous allusion to Plato’s definition of man in The Statesman, and its parody by Diogenes the Cynic, rather than as an example of Bentham’s own casual inhumanity. Bentham alluded to the definition twice in his poor law writings, the second time in the admittedly complacent and underwhelmingly funny reference quoted by Seabrook, but first in attacking the notion of the rights of man:
‘the pompous, the wordy, the nonsensical, the pretending Plato, fancying he had discovered and was explaining the secret of man’s nature, defined him a two-footed animal without feathers. Stripping a fowl of its feathers and tossing it down into the street among the by-standers, there, cried a contemporary philosopher of more acuteness and pleasantry than humanity, there, cried he, runs Plato’s man. Take a new-born infant, and setting it down in a cart-rut just before a Cart were passing by, thus (might a philosopher of like complection say to a French Constitution-maker) there lies your man, with all his rights. Hold! What are you about? Dare you snatch him up without his consent?—if you do, he is your slave.’
The relentless economies of the National Charity Company are rebarbative enough to a twenty-first century reader—even when set against the raft of ancillary services which they helped to make possible—without adding ill-founded character assassination.
Michael Quinn is Senior Research Associate at the Bentham Project, UCL and editor of two volumes of Jeremy Bentham’s Writings on the Poor Laws (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2001 and 2010).