Bentham's head

Jeremy Bentham's Preserved Head - ©UCL Creative Media Services

It is believed that Jeremy Bentham originally intended his 'real' head to be preserved and placed on top of the auto-icon, and in fact the mummified head does show evidence of having been attached. However very soon it was decided that the head was inappropriate for display and a new wax version was commissioned and made by a French artist, Jacques Talrich.

After this the head appears to have stayed with the auto-icon, as during an inspection in 1898 'The head was found, wrapped in cloth saturated with some bituminous or tarry substance (a sort of tarpaulin) and then in paper, making a parcel, in the cavity of the trunk-skeleton, being fastened by strong wire running from the ribs to the vertebral column'.

Although records relating to the head are vague it seems that it was displayed between the feet of the auto-icon for some time, until worries about its condition, security and the ethics of display of human remains caused it to be removed from public view.

In 2002 the head was moved to safe storage at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, where it is stored in a climate controlled storeroom and continually monitored by conservation staff.

Due to the sensitivities surrounding the care and display of human remains those wishing to view Jeremy Bentham’s head should contact nicholas.booth@ucl.ac.uk to discuss research objectives.