Where To See Jeremy Bentham's Body At UCL

By Alex Corey Last edited 12 months ago

Last Updated 24 May 2023

Where To See Jeremy Bentham's Body At UCL

In February 2020, the preserved body of philosopher Jeremy Bentham was moved to the Student Centre at UCL, to mark the building's one year anniversary. Here's what you need to know about Bentham and the move.

Who was Jeremy Bentham?

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was a philosopher and political radical, who formulated the theory of utilitarianism, which argues that an action is right if it creates happiness in the greatest number of people, and wrong is if it produces the opposite effect.

Why is Bentham's body on show?  

In his will, Bentham requested that his body be preserved and fashioned into what he called an "auto-icon", a task which was carried out by his friend, surgeon Thomas Southwood Smith.

What is his connection to UCL?

Although not directly responsible for the foundation of UCL in 1826 — as is often stated — Bentham was nevertheless very supportive. He believed in equal education for all, one of the university's founding principles. His body was given to the university by Smith in 1850, 18 years after his death.

Where was Bentham originally placed on display?

For decades, Jeremy Bentham's body was on display in a corridor of the Wilkins Building at UCL, housed inside a wooden cabinet. The head is made of wax (see below), but the rest of his real skeleton lurks beneath his clothes.

Former display of Jeremy Bentham in Wilkins Building

What about his head?

While the skeletal remains and wax head of Bentham remain in the Student Centre, his actual head remains out of public view elsewhere at UCL. The head was once stolen in a prank by students from the rival King's College, and has ever since been kept under lock and key.

Bentham's real head, on one of its rare public outings, in 2017.

Where is Jeremy Bentham now?

The philosopher is now in a much more visible location in the atrium of UCL's Student Centre. In place of the wooden box, he now resides in a fully transparent case.

Why was he moved?

Christina McGregor, Head of Collections Management at UCL Culture, said in a statement: "Bentham’s new home provides greatly enhanced preservation conditions, better visitor access and a place at the centre of the student community."

What was the response?

While many on social media appear to be pleased with the move, others miss his former home. LSE philosophy professor Michael Otsuka started a Twitter thread about the Bentham relocation, in which commenters raise a number of objections and opinions. The new display has been described as 'undignified', like a 'department store mannequin', and potentially in conflict with specifications in Bentham's will.

Anything else to know?

The UCL Student Centre is expected to be Bentham's permanent resting spot. The atrium is open to visitors from 7am-7pm each day.

For more information check out UCL.