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The Norfolk Island Penal Station, the Panopticon, and Alexander Maconochie’s and Jeremy Bentham’s Theories of Punishment

Published onSep 02, 2021
The Norfolk Island Penal Station, the Panopticon, and Alexander Maconochie’s and Jeremy Bentham’s Theories of Punishment
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The Norfolk Island Penal Station, the Panopticon, and Alexander Maconochie’s and Jeremy Bentham’s Theories of Punishment
Description

Alexander Maconochie (1787–1860), the originator of the “Mark System”, is a major figure in the history of penal discipline and is best known for his attempt to implement it at the Norfolk Island penal station from 1840 to 1844. Among Maconochie’s many works is the eight-page “Comparison Between Mr. Bentham’s Views on Punishment, and Those Advocated in Connexion with the Mark System”, in which Maconochie rejected Bentham’s critique of transportation, as well as fundamental elements of his theory of punishment. Maconochie concluded that mainstream thinking on penal discipline was dominated by “mistakes” that either “in great measure originat[ed] with Mr. Bentham”, or had been “at least sanctioned by his high authority”.This paper questions whether Maconochie’s rejection of Bentham’s views is entirely convincing, since his penal practices, as well as an earlier and lesser-cited work, indicate that Maconochie was, at times, considerably closer to Bentham’s position on punishment than “Comparison” suggests. Section I will provide some brief biographical background. Section II will explore Maconochie’s attempt to implement his reformative system at Norfolk Island, at the heart of which was surveillance and extensive record-keeping to monitor individual behaviour and progress, and in which there are echoes of Bentham’s panopticon scheme. Section III will examine Maconochie’s changing views on criminal transportation, from his adherence to the Benthamite anti-transportation line in 1818, to his qualified support for transportation from 1838 onwards. Finally, Section IV will examine the Mark System and Maconochie’s criticism of Bentham in more detail.

 

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