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Jeremy Bentham’s gruesome head goes on public display

Philosopher wanted to maintain public profile after his death

06 October, 2017 — By The Xtra Diary

The severed head 

THE mummified body of philosopher and social reformer Jeremy Bentham, dressed in his own clothes, has been on display at University College London ever since it was donated to the university more than 150 years ago.

It is occasionally wheeled out for meetings, but not parties, as was his wish in his final will.

The eccentric, who described the teachings of the Church as “nonsense on stilts”, didn’t want a Christian burial when he died aged 84 in 1832 and instead requested that his body should be preserved.

His real head has for decades been deemed too gruesome to be on public display and has been kept in a safe.

But in an apparent change of heart about what the public can stomach, it will now feature in an art exhibition at college.

The display – called What Does It Mean To Be Human? Curating Heads – asks what does the scientific examination of our dead bodies tell us about our sense of self?

Bentham’s real head is checked on once a year to make sure it isn’t decomposing.

Bentham’s will be joined by another head, that of archaeologist and Egyptologist Sir William Flinders Petrie (1853-1942).

Legend has it that it was once stolen and ransomed back to UCL for a tenner. His waxwork head was also snatched by students from King’s College and taken on a night out in the student’s union.

Both heads can be viewed for free at The Octagon Gallery, Wilkins Building, UCL, until March next year.

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