A week before he died, well into his eighties, Jeremy Bentham wrote his Last Will and Testament:
“My body I give to my dear friend Doctor Southwood Smith to be disposed of in a manner hereinafter mentioned, and I direct (that) he will take my body under his charge and take the requisite and appropriate measures for the disposal and preservation of the several parts of my bodily frame in the manner expressed in the paper annexed to this my Last Will and Testament and at the top of which I have written Auto Icon.”
The terms of his Last Will and Testament were followed and Bentham’s body was completely dissected.
The bones were reassembled into a skeleton topped by a wax mask and dressed in his clothes.
His likeness was then placed in a glass and mahogany case, sitting upright in an armchair.
For 92 years he was present at board meetings although duly noted as “not voting.”
Last Wills – Jeremy Bentham – Bio
Born February 15, 1748 – Died June 6, 1832
English Jurist, Philosopher, Legal and Social Reformer
Last Wills – Jeremy Bentham – Auto-Icon
As requested in his Last Will and Testament, Bentham’s body was dissected as part of a public anatomy lecture.
Afterward, the skeleton and head were preserved and stored in a wooden cabinet called the “Auto-Icon“, with the skeleton stuffed out with hay and dressed in Bentham’s clothes.
Originally kept by his disciple Thomas Southwood Smith, it was acquired by University College London in 1850.
It is normally kept on public display at the end of the South Cloisters in the main building of the college, but for the 100th and 150th anniversaries of the college, it was brought to the meeting of the College Council, where it was listed as “present but not voting”.