The Curious Case of Jeremy Bentham

The other day, I was completing some reading for my Modern Britain course when I came across this sentence:

His preserved body, fully clothed, may be seen in a box at University College London, to which he donated it.*

As I finished this sentence, I immediately questioned if I had read it wrong.

So, I reread it.

Nope, I had definitely read it right the first time.

As you might imagine, upon realizing that my eyesight was not, in fact, in jeopardy, I had a number of questions swarming around in my head. You might say I was a bit confused.

Um. What? Excuse me? 

But really…

The preserved body in question belongs to Jeremy Bentham, an eighteenth century British philosopher.

I turned to Kelsey, whom I was doing homework with at the time, and shared this odd bit of information with her.

“What!” She exclaimed. “Who does that?”

Neither of us could quite figure out the appeal of preserving one’s fully clothed body to be put on display for the world to see. What could have possibly prompted Mr. Bentham’s urge to do this? Was he just incredibly vain?

Well, you might imagine that I was curious as to what this preserved, fully clothed body looked like. So, knowing the wealth of information available on the internet, I typed his name into Google and very soon found what I was looking for.

I give you the auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham (yes, his actual skeleton is beneath all that clothing):

Upon further research, Kelsey and I learned that the head on display is wax. They tried to preserve his actual head back when he died in 1832, but it didn’t turn out right. His actual head used to be on display at the feet of his preserved body, but has since been removed. If you really want to see what his actual preserved head looks like, you’re welcome to. There are pictures of it on the internet. It’s somewhat disturbing though, so peruse at your own risk.

You know, this is the kind of stuff I’ll really miss about college. This was a weird discovery that Kelsey and I were able to laugh about together. It’s a small, but memorable moment. What better way to bond than over the shared knowledge of a dead man’s preserved, fully clothed body?

Okay, okay, there are probably better ways. It was still a fun moment, though.

*quoted from Sources and Debates in Modern British History: 1714-Present, ed. Ellis Wasson (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 50.

8 Replies to “The Curious Case of Jeremy Bentham”

  1. I didn’t realise that! University College London also has all of his papers and had a programme going where people could help transcribe it a page at a time. I’m not sure if they’ve finished or not but I took part and it was really interesting…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a former UCL student I used to walk past the fellow a lot. I heard a story about students from our fierce rivals, Kings College London, stealing Mr Bentham’s head and playing football with it (as revenge some UCL students castrated one of Kings’ stone lions and threw it in the Thames)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my goodness, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to play football with a dead man’s head! I did read they had to take his head off of exhibit since people were messing with it, though, so there might be some truth to that story.

      Seems like students take that rivalry pretty seriously. 🙂


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