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Bentham and Australia: Convicts, Utility, and Empire


Bentham and Australia: Convicts, Utility, and Empire

Hosted by the Bentham Project, UCL Faculty of Laws, in association with UCL History


The philosopher and reformer Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was one of the most important contributors to debates surrounding the colonization of the Australian continent, in the first place as a destination for transported convicts and later by free settlers. His 'Letter to Lord Pelham' (1802) was the earliest detailed philosophical critique of transportation to New South Wales; 'A Plea for the Constitution' (1803) saw Bentham contend that the penal colony had been unlawfully founded, which had ramifications for the Imperial constitution more generally; and 'Colonization Company Proposal' (1831) was 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 (1831).

To mark the forthcoming publication of Bentham's Writings on Australia, a volume in the new authoritative edition of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, this two-day conference will see scholars explore these exciting and challenging texts. (To download free pre-publication versions of Bentham's Writings on Australia, please visit:

Speakers will discuss, amongst other relevant topics, Bentham's interventions in the histories of Aboriginal and European Australia, colonialism, international law, convict transportatation, and in the histories of crime and punishment more generally.

Speakers and their provisional paper titles are listed below:

Prof Anne Brunon-Ernst (Panthéon-Assas University; ANU College of Law): '"If you can't write down the Colony of Thieves ... don't crush it by Rebellion": Bentham's Illegal Power of Governors and the Making of Early Australia (1803-1823)'

Professor Hilary Carey (Bristol): 'Jeremy Bentham, Rational Dissent and the Transportation Debate'

Dr Tim Causer (UCL): 'Bentham and the convict hulks, 1778-1803'

Dr Edward Cavanagh (Cambridge): 'War and Government in the Imperial Constitution: The English Administrative System and Bentham's Plea for the Constitution'

Honey Dower (Tasmania): 'Bentham's Disciples? Dr John Hampton and Civil Commandant James Boyd at Port Arthur'

Professor Margot Finn (UCL)

Professor Barry Godfrey (Liverpool): 'Pr*son versus Western Australia: What worked best, how do we know, and why does it matter?'

Dr Chris Holdridge (North-West University, South Africa; Monash, Australia): 'The Afterlives of Bentham: On Tickets of Leave, Exile and Penal Colonisation'

Professor Zoë Laidlaw (Melbourne)

Emily Lanman: 'The Panopticon and the Swan River Colony'

Professor Kirsten McKenzie (Sydney)

Professor Hamish Maxwell-Stewart (Tasmania): 'Bentham, Convict Transportation and the Great Confinement Thesis'

Professor Deborah Oxley (Oxford)

Professor Philip Schofield (UCL)

A full programme will be announced later.

Registration covers (on both days) welcome coffee and pastries, a morning tea and coffee break, a fork buffet lunch, and an afternoon tea and coffee break. A limited number of subsidised tickets for research students, the non-tenured, and precariously employed are also available. 


An optional conference dinner at Tas Bloomsbury (menu to follow) can also be booked below. For catering purposes, if you have any dietary requirements or allergies please note them when booking your registration, or contact Tim Causer (dCAhIGNhdXNlciB8IHVjbCAhIGFjICEgdWs=). Please use the same address if you have any other queries about the conference.

This conference is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Map Gideon Schreier Lecture Theatre, Bentham House, 4-8 Endsleigh Gardens, London, United Kingdom
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