Bentham (Samuel) Memoirs

Scope and Content

A book of memoirs of Sir Samuel Bentham, told in a series of letters from himself and others during his ten-year absence from England, 1779-1789. The notebook states it is 'the compilation of a friend', probably Jeremiah Bentham.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir Samuel Bentham: born, 1757; youngest son of Jeremiah Bentham, an attorney, and brother of the philosopher Jeremy Bentham; educated at Westminster; aged fourteen, apprenticed to the master-shipwright of Woolwich Dockyard; lived in France, 1775; invited to accompany the Bienfaisanhim on the summer cruise of the Channel fleet, 1778; witnessed the battle of Ushant; suggested improvements in steering gear and gun fittings; travelled in order to study the shipbuilding and naval economy of foreign powers, arriving in St Petersburg, Russia, 1780; travelled over much of Russia, from Archangel to the Crimea, and through Siberia to the frontier of China, examining mines and methods of working metals; on his return to St Petersburg presented a report to the Empress, 1782; declined a commissionership in the British navy, because his prospects in Russia seemed more advantageous, 1783; accepted Potemkin's offer to send him to Cherson as lieutenant-colonel; settled at Kritchev, where the prince hoped to establish a shipbuilding yard; his military rank was made substantive and he was appointed commander of a battalion, 1784; owing to the limited number of officers at his disposal, introduced the plan of central observation, with workshops radiating from his own office, a scheme of which his brother Jeremy's 'Panopticon' was a modification; ordered to Cherson to direct the equipment of a flotilla against the Turks, 1787; Bentham's innovations allowed the fittings of recoilless guns of larger calibre than was previously thought possible for small craft, and were instrumental in defeating the Turks, 1788; was rewarded with the military cross of St George and the rank of brigadier-general; appointed to a command in Siberia, where he developed navigation of the rivers and promoted further exploration and trade with China; revisited England, 1791; on his return, spent the remainder of his career as Inspector-General of Navy Works, and later as one of the Commissioners of the Navy, urging and introducing improvements in machinery, equipment and administration of navy dockyards; pensioned off, 1812; moved to France, 1814; returned to England, 1827; during his retirement, prepared papers on professional subjects and continued correspondence with several navy departments until his death, 1831.

Access Information


The papers are available subject to the usual conditions of access to Archives and Manuscripts material, after the completion of a Reader's Undertaking.

Other Finding Aids

Collection level description.

Conditions Governing Use

Normal copyright restrictions apply.