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Convict transportation

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Bentham was a fervent opponent of transporting convicts to New South Wales, and his arguments are well rehearsed in two of his works: Panopticon versus New South Wales (1802), and A Plea for the Constitution (written 1803, but suppressed until 1812).

Panopticon versus New South Wales sees Bentham at his angriest, as he believed that the practice of transportation thwarted his panopticon penitentiary scheme. In this work, he denounces transportation, government, colonial society, and compares them all (unfavourably) with the panopticon. It is a rather tendentious work, and should be read with some caution. Though it had no influence on policy in his lifetime, the arguments made in Panopticon versus New South Wales were at the centre of the case made by anti-transportation campaigners during the mid-to-late 1830s.

A Plea for the Constitution saw Bentham argue that the Governors of New Wales had no legal powers to make binding local regulations (or punish people for violating them), as they had been granted no such power by Parliament. Bentham himself recognised that this argument was rather dangerous in a colony where the European population were mostly convicts and ex-convicts, and it was published privately in 1803.

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