UCL Faculty of Laws


The Bentham Project awarded AHRC grant to produce critical edition of ‘A Picture of the Treasury’

10 March 2023

The Bentham Project has been awarded a grant of almost £400,000 by the Arts and Humanities Research Council to produce a critical edition of ‘A Picture of the Treasury’ for the authoritative edition of The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham.

A page from the Bentham Papers

Image credit: ‘Bentham Papers, Box 121, folio 16, UCL Library Special Collections’.

Hitherto unpublished and virtually unknown, ‘A Picture of the Treasury’, is one of Bentham’s most remarkable and personal works, and was written during 1801 and 1802 in a period of intense disillusionment and personal crisis. It consists of Bentham’s intimate account of his ultimately fruitless negotiations with Treasury and Home Office officials between 1798 and 1802 to build a panopticon penitentiary. Bentham came to the view that the government wished to abandon the panopticon scheme, despite Parliamentary approval and several years of negotiations, planning, and expenditure of public money, and suspected that officials were conspiring to ruin him financially or even drive him to suicide.

Commenting on the award, Professor Philip Schofield, Director of the Bentham Project and General Editor of the Collected Works, said: ‘Publication of “A Picture of the Treasury” for the first time will be landmark in our understanding of the genesis and failure of Bentham’s panopticon penitentiary scheme, which is now iconic across many disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. In addition, the intensity of Bentham’s anger and distress in “A Picture of the Treasury” gives credence to the view that the failure of the panopticon scheme was key element in Bentham’s transition to democratic republicanism.

‘A Picture of the Treasury’ is a major work of some 200,000 words, structured around transcripts of official and unofficial letters, introduced and interpreted by Bentham’s own, often sardonic, commentary, together with accounts of meetings and verbatim reports of conversations. The story is told by Bentham with grim, occasionally vicious, humour, revealing Bentham as a masterful satirist. ‘A Picture of the Treasury’, moreover, gives an unexampled insight into the inner workings of the Home Office and the Treasury at the turn of the nineteenth century. As a major work of autobiography, the work will arguably become to be regarded as important as Rousseau’s Confessions and John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography.

The project team consists of Professor Philip Schofield (Principal Investigator), Dr Tim Causer (Co-Investigator), and Dr Chris Riley (Research Fellow). Work will begin on the project, which will last for 30 months, on 1 July 2023. The critical edition of ‘A Picture of the Treasury’ will be published in open-access by UCL Press. Other outputs of the project will include a conference which will explore the implications of the new text, which will be brought together in an edited collection of essays, also published by UCL Press.