‘Felicia’? Jeremy Bentham and the naming of the colony of South Australia
By Tim Causer, on 23 October 2019
Over a period of eleven days in August 1831, the elderly Jeremy Bentham drafted the manuscript of a text entitled ‘Colonization Company Proposal’. This incomplete work was written as a reaction to and a commentary upon the National Colonization Society’s recently-printed ‘Proposal for founding A Colony on the Southern Coast of Australia‘. The National Colonization Society was then seeking to persuade the Colonial Office to agree to its proposal to establish, by the means of a joint-stock company, a free colony run according to the principles of Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s plan of ‘systematic colonization’. This entailed the managed emigration of carefully selected free people, funded by the sale of colonial lands, to a colony where settlement was concentrated and which would be granted powers of self-government as soon as was practicable—in direct contradistinction to the disordered settlement of penal colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land.
It is not uncommon to read claims in the literature that Bentham suggested such a new colony might be named ‘Felicia’ or ‘Felicitania’. For instance, in Age of Reform, 1815-1870 (second ed., 1962) E.L. Woodward noted that ‘if Bentham’s plan of a settlement had been carried out, South Australia might today be called Felicitania’ (p. 384), while in Great Southern Land (2004) Frank Welsh argued that Bentham was not only an enthusiast for the South Australia project, but that the ‘colony should be called “Felicia or Felicitania, or best of all Liberia”‘ (p. 141). Douglas Pike contended in Paradise of Dissent (1957) that Bentham ‘richly deserves a place among the founders of South Australia’ and ‘declared’ that the colony ‘should be called Felicia or Felicitania or, best of all, Liberia’ (p. 57), while the first page of The Flinders History of South Australia (1986) states that Bentham’s suggestion that South Australia might be called ‘either Felicitania or Liberia’ ‘happily reflect[ed] the Utopian idealism and the scientific principles upon which the new community would rise’. Perhaps most notably, the 1981 memoirs of the path-breaking Premier of South Australia, Don Dunstan, were entitled Felicia—as historian and biographer of Dunstan, Angela Woollacott notes, by harking back to the colony’s radical origins Dunstan had ‘self-consciously adopted’ the ‘sense of reformist exceptionalism woven into the history of South Australia’ (‘Radical Roots in Fiji: the impact of colonialism on Don Dunstan’ in Griffith Review 55: State of Hope (2017))
There is, however, the small matter that Bentham did not in fact suggest these names for the colony—though the coining of innumerable neologisms can be ascribed to Bentham, neither ‘Felicia’ nor ‘Felicitania’ are among them. Bentham certainly did suggest that the proposed colony might be called ‘Liberia’, which was a ‘single word’ that ‘speaks volumes’, since in its realization the colony would incur no expense to ‘the Mother Country’ and ensure there was ‘no patronage for the profit of any of its rulers’. (Bentham ignored the fact, of course, that the nation of Liberia already existed). As we have established in our editing of ‘Colonization Company Proposal’ for The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, and as can be seen below in the relevant manuscript, the suggested names of ‘Felicia’ and ‘Felicitania’ are written in the margin in pencil, and in a hand that is not Bentham’s.
If Bentham was not responsible for these suggestions, then who was? Unfortunately, we have been unable to identify to whom this handwriting belongs, though it does appear on several occasions in the margins of other ‘Colonization Company Proposal’ text sheets, indicating that this individual had at some unspecified point in time reviewed the text. For instance, the unidentified commentator made a note where Bentham apparently could not recall the English translation of a compte simulé (Box 8, folio 166), and about the ruinous failure of the attempted settlement at Algoa Bay in the Eastern Cape in 1820 (Box 8, folio 162)*.
‘Colonization Company Proposal’ will be published in Writings on Australia, a forthcoming volume of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, which is due to be published in 2020. In the meantime, you can download preliminary, pre-publication versions of the texts from UCL Discovery, while we keep trying to identify this handwriting.
(* I am extremely grateful to my colleague, Dr Chris Riley, for deciphering this marginal note)