UCL Faculty of Laws


Jeremy Bentham and the escaped convicts: first-hand account from Bentham Papers published

14 March 2014

The only first-hand account of the most-famous escape from Britain’s fledgling Australian penal colony has been published in full for the first time, 223 years on.

Jeremy Bentham Publications

The Memorandoms of James Martin is part of the vast Bentham Papers collection in UCL Library’s Special Collections and is the only extant first-hand narrative of the escape, and the only known account by a First Fleet convict.

On the night of 28 March 1791, James Martin and eight fellow convicts including William and Mary Bryant and their two infant children, stole a six-oared open boat from Sydney Harbour and sailed out into the Pacific. In this vessel they navigated the eastern and northern coasts of Australia, encountered Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders, and survived ferocious storms. They reached Kupang in Dutch West Timor on 5 June where they successfully—for a while, at least, passed themselves off as the survivors of a shipwreck. It was a journey of over 3,000 miles and an incredible feat of endurance and seamanship.

The open-access publication of the Memorandoms of James Martin is now available to read and download. It carries links to digital versions of the original manuscripts and has an introduction and detailed annotation by Dr Tim Causer, Research Associate at the Bentham Project and the Transcribe Bentham initiative, based at UCL Laws.

In May, the Memorandoms will be the subject of an exhibition in UCL’s South Cloisters, generously supported by the Laws Research Engagement and Innovation Fund. Dr Causer will give a talk about the document at 1pm on Thursday 29 May in the Haldane Room, as part of UCL’s Festival of the Arts.

Watch Escape from Australia: A Convict’s Tale with Dr Tim Causer on YouTube