Friday, 11 May 2012

11th May 1812: The assassination of the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval

The Assassination as depicted in an etching by Henry Warren
On Monday 11th May 1812, John Bellingham finally got a Minister to take his grievances seriously when he shot the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, at the House of Commons. Perceval is the only Prime Minister, so far, to suffer this fate. The following is the report that appeared in the Times on the following day, 12th May:


About a quarter past five Mr. PERCEVAL was entering the Lobby of the House of Commons, where a number of persons were standing, when a man, who had a short time previously placed himself in the recess the door-way within the Lobby, drew out a small pistol, and shot Mr. PERCEVAL in the lower part of the left breast. The ball is supposed to have entered the heart. Mr. PERCEVAL moved forwards a few faltering steps, nearly half way up the lobby, and was in the act of falling, when some persons stept forward and caught him. He was immediately carried to the room of the SPEAKER’S Secretary, to the left of the lobby, by Mr. W. SMITH, Mr. BRADSHAW, and another Gentleman. Mr. LYNN, the Surgeon, in Parliament-street, was immediately sent for; but on examining the wound, he considered the case utterly hopeless. All that escaped Mr. PERCEVAL'S lips previously to falling in the lobby, was “murder,” or “murdered.” He said no more afterwards. He expired in about ten or twelve minutes after receiving the fatal wound. Several Members of both Houses of Parliament went into the room while he was dying: among others, his brother, Lord ARDEN: all of them appeared greatly agitated. There was very little effusion of blood from the wound, externally. His body was subsequently removed into the SPEAKER’S House. Lord FRANCES OSBORNE, Lord OSSULSTON, and some others, were crossing the lobby at the moment of the assassination, and were very near to Mr. PERCEVAL. The deed was perpetrated so suddenly, that the man who fired the pistol was not instantly recognized by those in the lobby; but a person passing at the moment behind Mr. PERCEVAL, seized the pistol, (which was a very small one) from the hand of the assassin, who retired towards a bench to the left; he surrendered it without any resistance. Mr. GOODIF, an Officer of the House, took hold of him, and asked if he were the villain who shot the Minister. He replied, “I am the unhappy man:” but appeared quite undisturbed. It is said, that he added something about the want of redress of grievances from Ministers; but if he did say so, it was heard by very few. On searching him, a few pounds were found in his pockets, and some printed papers, copies of which he is said to have previously distributed among Members. He was taken to the bar of the House of Commons, and identified as the assassin. Another pistol, similar to that which he had fired, was taken from his pocket in the House. All the doors of the House were then locked, and he was conveyed by the private passages up stairs to one of the apartments called the prison rooms, in the upper story, over the Committee-rooms. Here he underwent an examination for some time, which is attended by Aldermen COMBE and CURTIS, and by Mr. READ, Mr. COLQUHOUN, Mr. FIELDING, and other Magistrates; and several Members of the House of Commons, Mr. WHITBREAD, Mr. WYNNE, Mr. STEPHEN, Lord CASTLEREAGH, Mr. Secretary RYDER, &c. After an examination of various witnesses, among whom were Lords OSBULSTON, and FRANCIS OSBORNE, General GASCOYNE, Mr. H. SUMNER, the Officers of the House, and several strangers, the man was fully committed to Newgate for trial. A hackney-coach was brought to the iron gates in Lower Palace-yard; but the crowd, which was at first composed of decent people, being gradually swelled by concourse of pick-pockets and the lower orders, who mounted the coach, and were so exceedingly troublesome and even dangerous, that it was not deemed advisable to send him to Newgate in the manner intended. We heard with pain, repeated shouts of applause from the ignorant or depraved part of the crowd, as if they were hailing some oppressed but innocent victim; some of whom even mixed with their shouts, the cry of “Burdett for ever!” and attempted to open the opposite door of the coach, as if to give the murderer an opportunity of escape. A party of Life Guards arrived about this time, and formed a semicircle Lower Palace-yard, by which the mob were kept at a distance. It was, however, thought more prudent to send him away by another outlet, and so avoid confusion. He was therefore taken out by the Speaker’s entrance, and conveyed to Newgate. His name is Bellingham. He has been engaged in mercantile concerns at Liverpool, and was recognised by Generals TARLETON and GASCOYNE, the Members for that place. He is about 5 feet 9 or 10 inches in height, with a rather thin visage, a nose somewhat aquiline, and of genteel appearance. He has been a good deal about the House of Commons during these few weeks, and dined several times in the coffee-room. He preserved, during the most part of the proceedings, an air perfectly calm, and the appearance of one under no sort of agitation, but who had deliberately and fully made up his mind to the atrocious act he has committed, and the awful consequences that would ensue to himself. He observed to a Police Officer, after his commitment, that he knew what his crime was, and what its result would be. He had lodgings in New Millman-street, near the Foundling Hospital. His landlady, who is a young widow, with a family, stated, that he had been very serviceable to her in the recovery of a child of her’s, which had been missing, and that he had taken her yesterday morning to see the European Museum. He used to complain to her of money due to him, which he was wronged of, without getting which, he must be ruined man. It is said that he has a wife and three children. Several circumstances are stated relative to expressions used by recently: among others, one, respecting some allusions lately made by Mr. PERCEVAL of secret assassinations, on which is said to have observed, that Mr. PERCEVAL should not have that to say for nothing. Various stories are retailed, of his having been given frequent proofs of temporary derangement. He was, we understand, engaged some years ago in commercial speculations in Russia; and made certain demands, for compensation, on Government, which were not acceded to. He is said to have complained of the conduct of Government, and of our then Ambassador at St. Petersburgh; and have recently reiterated his complaints, without being able to impress the conviction of their justice. These are the prominent particulars of what we have learned of this wretched person; respecting whom, there are of course numerous floating reports.

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