Sir Samuel Bentham (11
January 1757 in England - 31 May
1831 in London, England) was a noted
engineer and naval architect
credited with numerous innovations, particularly related to naval
architecture, including weapons.
He was the only surviving
sibling of philosopher Jeremy Bentham
, with whom he had a close
Samuel Bentham was the only surviving sibling of Jeremy Bentham,
five other siblings having died in infancy or early childhood, and
their mother dying in 1759. At the age of 14, Bentham was apprenticed to
a shipwright at Woolwich
there for 7 years.
In 1780 he
moved to Russia, where he
was employed in the service of Prince Potemkin, who had an
establishment designed to promote the introduction of various arts
Initially hired as a shipbuilder, he soon
discovered other opportunities to use his talents as an engineer
and inventor, constructing industrial machinery and experimenting
with steel production. He also designed and constructed many novel
inventions, including an amphibious vessel and an articulated barge
built for Catherine the
also decorated for his part in a decisive victory in the war
against the Turks, and commanded a
battalion of 1,000 men in Siberia.
eventually came to have complete responsibility for Potemkin's
factories and workshops, and it was while considering the
difficulties of supervising the large workforce that he devised the
principle of central inspection, and designed the Panopticon
building which would embody that
principle and was later popularized by his brother Jeremy.
Bentham travelled along the Siberian
route to China, visiting
Kyakhta and its Chinese pendant Naimatchin, and then
spending over a month at the border fluvial city of Nerchinsk, where he was able to study Chinese ship designs,
particularly those of junks.
Back in Europe, he campaigned for the introduction of watertight
compartments, an idea which he acknowledged he had got from seeing
large Chinese vessels in Siberia.
Samuel returned to England in 1791, and for the next few years was
involved with his brother Jeremy in trying to promote the
Panopticon scheme and he designed machinery for use in it. It was
during this period that he met his future wife, Mary Sophia
Fordyce, the daughter of Scottish doctor and scientist George Fordyce
, a friend of Jeremy Bentham.
The two were married in October 1796.
In 1795 the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty asked him to
design six new sailing ships with "partitions contributing to
strength, and securing the ship against foundering, as practiced by
the Chinese of the present day". These were built at a ship-yard at
Redbridge, Hampshire, and incorporated a number of other novel
features such as interchangeable parts for masts and spars,
allowing easy maintenance while at sea.
Inspector General of Naval Works
In March 1796 Bentham was appointed Inspector General of Naval
Works, responsible for the maintaining and improving the Royal
dockyards, a post which involved a lot of travel. He produced a
great many suggestions for improvements, which included the
introduction of steam power to the dockyards and the mechanisation
of many production processes. However, his superiors at the
were resistant to change and
many of his suggestions were not implemented.
Bentham is credited with helping to revolutionise the production of
the wooden pulley blocks
ships' rigging, devising woodworking machinery to improve
production efficiency. His efforts were augmented by those of
Marc Isambard Brunel
, and marked the
arrival of mass production
techniques in British manufacturing at the Portsmouth Block Mills
Return to Russia
In 1805 Bentham returned to Russia, this time on government
business, and remained there for two years with his family,
chartering an entire ship to take his establishment, his servants,
and his companions. Samuel's mission for the British government in
Russia was blocked by constant obstacles, and he returned home in
1807 without having achieved any of his official objectives. During
this time he supervised the construction of a Panopticon.
also designed a full cast-iron nine-arch bridge for the Butterly
company, for the Vauxhall
Bridge in London, which was
to become the first iron-built bridge over the Thames.
The choice of cast iron was said to be
because it was "cheaper than masonry", but some of the inspiration
for the bridge has also been traced to Bentham's experience of
China, where numerous such arched iron-cast bridges existed. The
design was eventually abandoned after doubts about its quality, in
favour of a "cast iron arches on masonry piers" design by James Walker
. The bridge was
completed in May 1813.
Bentham discovered upon his return to England that his post as
Inspector General had been abolished while he was absent, and
indeed came to believe that he had been sent to Russia solely to
get him out of the way while the post was abolished. In 1814, he
and his family relocated to the south of France, where they lived
Bentham family travelled a great deal in France before settling in
1820 at the Château de Restinclières, in the région of Languedoc-Roussillon.
Their new house was large, with extensive
grounds, and Bentham planned to cultivate the land for profit, with
his son George managing most of the operation. Bentham also
imported agricultural machinery as yet unknown in France, and
installed a complex system of irrigation on his land. They were
reasonably prosperous, but eventually returned to England in 1826,
one factor in their decision being a threatened lawsuit from
neighbouring farmers, who claimed that Bentham's irrigation system
was diverting the local water supply.
In England, Bentham spent most of his time writing about naval
matters, and conducting experiments on hull shapes. His son
, (born 1800), became a