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Jeremy Bentham and the New South Wales convicts

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Bentham's penal theory persuaded him that convict transportation was inherently inferior to imprisonment as a punishment for serious crime. The transportation of convicts to New South Wales also threatened his plans to build a panopticon penitentiary. This penitentiary, he thought, would demonstrate the superiority of a prison run for profit by a private contractor over alternative schemes of convict management. In the process, it would also make him a fortune. His repeated attempts to persuade the British Government to abandon the New South Wales penal colony and to honour its commitment to his panopticon project, however, came to nothing. Neither the Government's acceptance of Bentham's key theoretical arguments nor its avowed support for his penitentiary scheme was sufficient to prompt it to act. Bentham found that winning the main theoretical argument was not enough. He was continually forced to concentrate on side issues and on particular and largely incidental matters of fact. As it turned out, the particular and the incidental combined to carry the day against his panopticon.
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Keywords: Australia; Bentham; Labour; Prisons

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 1998-02-01

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