Convict Australia and Utilitarianism: Jeremy Bentham's 'Writings on Australia'

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Bentham Project

Abstract

The history of convict transportation, and in particular the emergence of Australia as a political state, is a subject of mounting interest, both within academic circles and among the general public. The critical period was the very end of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century, when the opening up of Australia, in the first place for transported felons, and in the next place for free settlers, gave rise to debates about crime and punishment, colonialism, and imperialism. One of the most important contributors to this debate was the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), whose writings on Australia were drawn upon by opponents of convict transportation in order to change the policy of the British government. There is, however, no authoritative and hence satisfactory edition of Bentham's writings on the subject. Hence, the centrepiece of this research is a critical edition of Bentham's 'Writings on Australia', which will form part of the Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, and will be published by the Clarendon Press. Open access versions of the texts will be made freely available online. The volume will contain 'Panopticon versus New South Wales', 'A Plea for the Constitution' (both written in 1802, and eventually published in 1812), and 'Colonization Society Proposal' (written in 1831, but never hitherto published). In the first two texts, Bentham argued that transportation did not fulfil the proper ends of punishment, namely deterrence and reform, and that the policy of transportation was unconstitutional. The printed texts of these two works will be supplemented by the original manuscripts in University College London Library, which contain early drafts and a substantial unpublished addition for 'Plea for the Constitution'. The drafts are particularly important in that they are more radical and confrontational than the printed texts, and show that Bentham may have moderated his views because of fears of prosecution for sedition. In the third text, influenced by Edward Gibbon Wakefield's systematic colonization system, Bentham argues in favour of establishing a free, democratic colony, a project that came to fruition in South Australia. The volume will contain full historical annotation, an editorial introduction, and name and subject indexes. Seminal texts in the history of transportation and colonization will be made available for the first time in an authoritative edition.
The researchers will produce original interpretive scholarship that will investigate (1) the relationship between Bentham's writings on Australia and his penal theory more generally, as well as their place in the development of his political radicalism; (2) the influence and impact of Bentham's ideas on the theory and practice of punishment in convict Australia; and (3) the influence and impact of Bentham's ideas on advocates and opponents of transportation and colonization in the first half of the nineteenth century, which have in turn shaped perceptions of Australian history ever since. A conference will be held with the aim of to assessing still further the significance of the new edition of Bentham's writings, and to stimulate new research on the intellectual history and theory of colonialism, liberalism, and imperialism, from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, including philosophy, law, and history. The conference will in turn give rise to a collection of edited essays.
The project will engage the interest of the general public in its research through a regular series of blogs and tweets, a YouTube video highlighting the significance of Bentham's views on convict Australia, and the exploitation of our contacts with the media.

Planned Impact

The research programme will aim to engage a potentially extensive non-academic audience consisting of the following groups:

1. Members of the general public interested in the histories of Australia, punishment and transportation, in the life and thought of Jeremy Bentham himself, as well as genealogists and family historians. This group will gain a better understanding of early Australian history, and in particular in relation to the provenance of some of the foundational myths about convict Australia, which were propagated by anti-transportationists influenced by Bentham. Bentham's ideas, in particular those put forward in 'Panopticon versus New South Wales', were greatly influential in the 1830s in undermining the rationale behind the convict colony. Bentham's work inspired those critics motivated by radical, utilitarian, and humanitarian ideals to argue that the convict system was unscientific, arbitrary, and unpredictable, a vastly expensive and corrosive failure, and that New South Wales was little more than a slave colony. The key anti-transportation text, the report of the Select Committee on Transportation of 1837-38 written by its Benthamite chairman Sir William Molesworth, is structured around the arguments made in 'Panopticon versus New South Wales' and is, essentially, an attempt to prove that Bentham had been right all along. This report has long shaped perceptions of convict Australia among the general public, and yet the evidence it used, like that for Bentham's polemic against New South Wales, has been contested. By fully assessing Bentham's case against the colony, the research will not only illuminate his methods and use of evidence, but the tactics adopted by later anti-transportationists.


2. Members of the general public interested in contributing to the generation of research and freely-available digital resources. This group will take advantage of the opportunity to transcribe historic handwriting and at the same time learn the mechanics of XML encoding through the provision of digitised primary sources, and thereby contribute to the production of a prominent online resource and scholarly edition. Many of Bentham's manuscripts have not been read since Bentham wrote them, and so volunteers will have a genuine opportunity to make new and exciting discoveries for themselves. Volunteer transcribers have already helped to identify the third, unpublished section of 'Panopticon versus New South Wales', as well as transcribing a manuscript in which Bentham offers a theoretical justification for the violent overthrow of the Governor of New South Wales.

3. Cultural institutions in Adelaide and South Australia. This group will take advantage of the provision of the authoritative editions of Bentham's 'Colonization Society Proposal', and of the associated interpretive scholarship, in order to gain a deeper understanding of the founding of the colony of South Australia, where Bentham's theories had a major influence. A public event at the State Library of South Australia will focus on Bentham's role as one of the main intellectual inspirations for the foundation of the colony, and an exhibition at UCL's campus in central Adelaide will examine Bentham's influence. We will offer our assistance to the committee for the Mount Lofty Ranges Agrarian Landscape in their application for UNESCO World Heritage status. By more closely linking the region to the utilitarian philosophical movement, we hope to strengthen their case and contribute to their success.
 
Title Fake News: Demystifying Jeremy Bentham 
Description Dr Tim Causer worked with UCL Museums to produce an exhibition, displayed in University College London's main building, challenging many of the myths surrounding Bentham's auto-icon 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact
URL https://www.ucl.ac.uk/culture/whats-on/fake-news
 
Title Interpretive material at Bentham's auto-icon 
Description Dr Louise Seaward and Dr Tim Causer collaborated with UCL Museums to produce new interpretive signage for visitors to Bentham's auto-icon, in UCL's South Cloisters. 
Type Of Art Image 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact
 
Title What Does it Mean to be Human? Curating Heads at UCL 
Description Dr Causer was one of the co-curators, with staff from UCL Museums, UCL's Institute of Arcaheology, UCL Genetics, Evolution, and Environment, and UCL Science and Technology Studies, of this interdisciplinary, public exhibition at UCL, which ran from 2 October 2017 until 28 February 2018. The exhibition was based around the heads of Jeremy Bentham and the archaeologist Flinders Petrie, who both consented to the preservation of their bodily remains, and their use for research. Bentham's head was displayed for the first time in decades, alongside cutting-edge scientific techniques to extract and sequence his DNA. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact Increased attention on Bentham and the work of the Bentham Project, resulting in coverage in a number of media outlets (see the round-up at https://www.ucl.ac.uk/culture/news/what-does-it-mean-be-human). 
URL https://www.ucl.ac.uk/culture/events/what-does-it-mean-be-human
 
Description On a visit to Adelaide in 2018, during a wider research trip, Dr Causer met with Stephanie Johnston, the Project Manager of the Mount Lofty Rangers UNESCO World Heritage application, to discuss how the production of the text of Bentham's hitherto unpublished 'Colonization Company Proposal' could add value to the application. Ms Johnston subsequently arranged meetings at which Dr Causer briefed state-level civil servants and regional and council politicians on the work of the research programme and the historical context of Bentham's engagement with Australia more generally, and Bentham's specific links to the foundation of the colony of South Australia. Dr Causer tooke part in a 'standing room only' panel on Bentham and South Australia at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas, and in advance the project's research was featured in an article in the 'Adelaide Advertiser', and Dr Causer was interviewed by ABC Radio Adelaide.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Title 'Third Letter to Lord Pelham' parallel text 
Description The draft version of the 'Third Letter to Lord Pelham' (1802-3), in Bentham's hand, and a revised fair copy of the text in the hand of Bentham's amnuensis John Herbert Koe were transcribed and prepared to create an online parallel text to indicate the differences between the two versions of the text. The two versions of the 'Third Letter' were divided into the four sections as indicated by Bentham and uploaded to 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. To view the parallel texts please visit the below links for their respective sections: Section 1: http://juxtacommons.org/shares/jIXm7A Section 2: http://juxtacommons.org/shares/q8dk0P Section 3: http://juxtacommons.org/shares/q8dk0P Section 4: http://juxtacommons.org/shares/FW3RwR 
Type Of Material Data analysis technique 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact
 
Title Transcriptions of relevant Bentham manuscripts 
Description This database currently consists of corrected transcripts, in Microsoft Word format, of over 800 manuscript folios (over 1,000 individual pages) from UCL's Bentham Papers. They consist primarily of manuscripts from Box 116 of the Bentham Papers, but also relevant material from boxes 8, 81, 94, 97, 109, 117, 120, 121, 149, and 163. In addition, we also have transcripts of approximately 750 individual manuscript pages from Box 116 of the Bentham Papers which have been saved in Text-Encoding Initiative-compliant XML format, which were produced by volunteers participating in the Bentham Papers Transcription Initiative, better known as 'Transcribe Bentham' (Award ref: AH/H037233/1). These were, in the course of 'Transcribe Bentham' checked by a Bentham Project researcher. in being used for editorial purposes in this project, the XML transcripts were converted to Word format, and checked again and corrected by the General Editor of the 'Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham'. As is the customary practice of the Bentham Project, these transcripts will be made available to scholars and researchers who required them. They will also ultimately be added to UCL Library's Bentham Papers digital repository. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The transcripts have allowed us to establish the text of three of Bentham's hitherto unpublished works, namely: (1) the 'New Wales' fragments, written during early 1791; (2) the 'Third Letter to Lord Pelham', written during early 1803; and (3) 'Colonization Company Proposal', written during 1831. The transcripts will, in the course of the research programme, where possible be compared against the versions of the 'First and Second Letters to Lord Pelham' and 'A Plea for the Constitution' which Bentham had printed, but not published, in his lifetime, to establish what he chose to leave out of his final text. The transcripts will also be used to establish the 'history' of the texts for the editorial introduction to the forthcoming volume of the 'Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham' entitled 'Writings on Australia', and in interpretive scholarship. 
URL https://www.ucl.ac.uk/library/digital-collections/collections/bentham
 
Description A Wake for Jeremy Bentham 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Dr Tim Causer gave one of the 'toasts' to Bentham at this public event, organised by UCL Museums, which sought to explore how we grieve and celebrate a person's life at the point of their death.

The event was part of the public programme around the exhibition 'What Does it Mean to be Human? Curating Heads at UCL'.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.ucl.ac.uk/culture/whats-on/wake-jeremy-bentham
 
Description Article about 'Memorandoms by James Martin' in 'Portico', UCL's annual alumni magazine 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A full-page feature article on Dr Causer's edition of 'Memorandoms by James Martin' was published in the 2018 edition of UCL's alumni magazine, intended to showcase research being carried out at UCL, and items held in UCL's Special Collections.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Fake News: The Heads of Jeremy Bentham and Flinders Petrie 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A public talk, featuring Dr Causer, at the 'What Does it Mean to be Human? Curating Heads at UCL' exhibition, exploring and exploding the myths surrounding the heads of Jeremy Bentham and William Matthew Flinders Petrie.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.ucl.ac.uk/culture/events/fake-news-heads-jeremy-bentham-and-flinders-petrie
 
Description Interviewed for Czech national radio 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Dr Tim Causer was interviewed about Bentham's life and death for Czech national radio.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://radiozurnal.rozhlas.cz/je-180-let-po-smrti-a-jeho-hlava-vypada-jako-rekvizita-z-hororu-i-pre...
 
Description Interviewed for an article in the 'Adelaide Advertiser', published on 11 July 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Dr Tim Causer was interviewed for a half-page article, published in the 'Adelaide Advertiser' (South Australia's most-read newspaper) on 11 July, about Bentham's influence on the foundation of the modern state of South Australia. The article also acted as publicity for Bentham's 'Writings on Australia' more generally.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/scholars-are-unravelling-a-historic-document-whi...
 
Description Interviewed in for 'Mental Floss' culture website 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Dr Tim Causer was interviewed about Bentham's life and death for the 'Mental Floss' culture website, and in regard to Bentham's auto-icon travelling to the United States to be featured in major exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://mentalfloss.com/article/535814/jeremy-benthams-bones-how-dead-philosopher-got-be-display-new-...
 
Description Interviewed on ABC Adelaide radio, 12 July 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Dr Tim Causer was interviewed on ABC Adelaide Radio's 'Afternoon's with Spence Denny' programme, in regard to Bentham's influence on the foundation of the modern state of South Australia. The interview also acted as publicity for Bentham's 'Writings on Australia' more generally.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Lost Skills: Will Writing 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A workshop on will writing: Dr Causer gave a presentation on the wills made by Jeremy Bentham, followed by a presentation from a professional will drafter.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Public talks at Jeremy Bentham's auto-icon 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Dr Causer regularly gives talks about Bentham's life and thought in front of his auto-icon (i.e. his preserved body, which is on permanent display at UCL) to groups and visitors from around the work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017,2018
 
Description Review of 'Memorandoms by James Martin' in 'The Weekend Australian' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A full-page review of Dr Causer's edition of 'Memorandoms by James Martin' was published in Australia's only national newspaper, the 6-7 January 2018 edition of 'The Weekend Australian'. The newspaper has a circulation of approximately 220,000, and the review has led to an increase in the number of downloads of the open-access version of the book.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/memorandoms-by-james-martin-an-astonishing-escape-from-...
 
Description Review of 'Memorandoms by James Martin' in the 'Australian Book Review' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A review of Dr Causer's edition of 'Memorandoms by James Martin' was published in the December 2017 issue of the 'Australian Book Review', which has a readership of over 50,000. The publication of the review led to an increase in the number of downloads of the open-access edition of the book.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.australianbookreview.com.au/abr-online/current-issue/4504-james-dunk-reviews-memorandoms...