Shooting Victoria



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Paul Thomas Murphy

Pegasus Books









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The Beginning and the End

On April 19, 1822: 

Edward Oxford is born in Birmingham, into an extended family of publicans and victuallers. Oxford would himself take up a number of jobs in London pubs as a potboy and barman, until in May 1840 he bought two pistols and on 10 June was the first to assault young Queen Victoria.

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And exactly sixty years later, on April 19, 1882:

Roderick Maclean is tried in Reading for shooting Victoria—then a great-grandmother—at Windsor railway station seven weeks before. He is aquitted on the grounds of insanity and sent to spend the rest of his life at Broadmoor Asylum. The verdict satisfied everyone—everyone, that is, except for Queen Victoria herself. The Queen raged that evening in her journal, her anger embracing both Maclean and her government: “It really is too bad…The bullet found—and yet he is only to be shut up. It is Oxford’s case over again and Oxford himself said—when the other attempts followed—that if they had hung him these others would not have taken place…And this always happens when a Liberal Government is in!” Her anger would eventually provoke her Liberal government to alter the insanity verdict: from “not guilty on the ground of insanity” to “guilty but insane.”

09:14 am, by shootingvictoria Comments

Horrible Murder and Mutilation of a Female

On this day 172 years ago—8 April 1842—the Times shocked the English public with its first report of the gruesome murder and mutilation of Jane Jones by Daniel Good. The police had discovered Jones’s body two days before in the Roehampton stable of Good’s employer. Within hours, the police had built up a solid case against Good—a case that the Times and other British newspapers reported in full gory detail. But Daniel Good himself was nowhere to be found, having escaped the scene of the crime at the moment the police found the body. (That moment is captured crudely in the broadside above.) Good remained at large for ten days, while the press excoriated the police for their incompetence. This was the first of three great embarrassments for the Metropolitan Police in 1842. The second was the murder on 5 May of police constable Timothy Daly by a would-be highwayman, Thomas Cooper. The third, occurring at the end of the same month, was John Francis’s two assaults upon Queen Victoria. By that point, the police and the Home Office realized that policing in London had to change, and quickly. Within three weeks of Francis’s assaults, and just over two months after the discovery of Jane Jones’s body, Scotland Yard came into being.

08:16 am, by shootingvictoria Comments

Edward Oxford among the celebrated criminals of Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors, drawn by Richard Doyle for Punch in 1849. Madame Tussaud had arranged that a cast of Oxford’s head be taken in Newgate prison in 1840, while Oxford awaited his trial for High Treason. His wax figure remained on display at Tussaud’s museum until well into the twentieth century. 

Edward Oxford among the celebrated criminals of Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors, drawn by Richard Doyle for Punch in 1849. Madame Tussaud had arranged that a cast of Oxford’s head be taken in Newgate prison in 1840, while Oxford awaited his trial for High Treason. His wax figure remained on display at Tussaud’s museum until well into the twentieth century. 

11:09 am, by shootingvictoria Comments

How to Pronounce the Name of Queen Victoria’s Final Assailant?

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How to pronounce the surname of Roderick Maclean? Either way, according to the several newspapers that published this ditty in the wake of Maclean’s 1882 trial, and acquittal on the grounds of insanity:

          Two Pronunciations

          Roderick Maclean
          He shot at the Queen.
          The jury took “reason”
          Out of his treason;
          So Rod’rick Maclean
          Was pronounced insane.

10:09 am, by shootingvictoria Comments

Roderick Maclean’s attempt, 2 March 1882: the Last First Report in the Times

132 years ago today, Queen Victoria was shot at for the very last time. This attempt, by Roderick Maclean, was the only attempt to take place outside of London—at Windsor. Distance from the metropolis, however, apparently had no effect upon the dissemination of the news: telegraph lines were so developed in 1882 that details of the shooting spread around the world within hours. The first Times report, on 3 March 1882, demonstrates, however, the same mixture of fact and rumors found in all its reports, since Edward Oxford’s attempt 42 years earlier. The report did note that Maclean used a revolver. But the reporter made the mistake of identifying it as an expensive American Colt—and noted that the high price of that revolver was certainly inconsistent with Maclean’s claims that he was poor and hungry. Actually, the revolver was a cheap Belgian knock-off that had cost Maclean 5s. 2d. (which he was barely able to afford). Also, the Times report did recognize the part played by an Eton boy in subduing Maclean (with their umbrellas), but did not note that two Eton boys actually attacked Maclean after he attacked the Queen. The most surprising observation in this report, however, has got to be that the man seized “is believed to be insane.” The idea that the Queen’s attacker might be insane certainly arose after every single attack upon her. But the newspapers staunchly resisted drawing that conclusion in print, knowing that a verdict of insanity in a court of law meant acquittal—and automatic commitment to an asylum. Many would have considered that verdict an unjust freeing of the Queen’s attacker. That the Times quickly drew this conclusion this time, after avoiding making it six times before, suggests that they saw—and the world would see—Maclean as different, as more obviously and profoundly mad than his predecessors. And in the end Maclean was indeed judged insane—and spent the rest of his long life in Broadmoor Asylum.

08:28 am, by shootingvictoria Comments

Arthur O’Connor: First Report

Of the eight assaults upon Queen Victoria, only Arthur O’Connor’s, on 29 February 1872, was committed out of sight of the public: O’Connor scaled the fence of Buckingham Palace and it was in an inner drive that he thrust his flintlock into the face of the Queen. In digging up details of the attack, then, the press was limited for eyewitnesses to those in Victoria’s household. It is perhaps surprising, then, that the Times’s first report on the attack is perhaps the most accurate report the newspaper made of any of the assaults. There’s a clear and accurate description of O’Connor himself, as well as one of the petition he was carrying: O’Connor hoped to force the Queen to free all Fenian prisoners. The public thus learned of O’Connor’s absurd motivation the morning after the attack. There are only two major errors in the Times’s report. The first is the statement that O’Connor was the grandson of the great Chartist leader, Feargus O’Connor. The Times was close, here—too close: Arthur was actually Feargus O’Connor’s great-nephew. The second error is both understandable, and revealing. The newspaper, in describing the Queen’s  reaction to the assault, claimed “The Queen showed no sign whatsoever of fear.” Actually, when O’Connor threatened her, Victoria panicked, throwing herself upon her Lady of the Bedchamber, Jane Churchill, and crying out “Save me!” And afterwards, when she saw O’Connor’s pistol on the ground, she was “filled…with horror.” Of all the attacks upon her, she actually found this one the most frightening. But for once, her household could safely spin their accounts to the press to the Queen’s best advantage. And so, understandably, they all recounted that she was utterly undaunted by her crack-brained attacker.

11:56 am, by shootingvictoria Comments

Balmoral may host live rock concerts to raise funds for Queen

Prince Albert’s Scottish haven, Queen Victoria’s “paradise in the Highlands,” is Queen Elizabeth’s latest moneymaking venture…

11:14 am, by shootingvictoria Comments

Robert Pate: First Report

Of the seven first reports that appeared in the Times after the assaults upon Queen Victoria, the report for Robert Pate, Victoria’s fifth assailant, is perhaps the most accurate of all. The details of the attack are nearly all correct. Perhaps for the sake of accuracy, however, the report left out the names of the three of her children in her carriage when she was attacked—Bertie, Alice, and Affie. (The reporter or editor here perhaps remembered the Times's failed attempt to name the three children in Victoria's carriage when, a year before, she was attacked by William Hamilton.) More than this, reporters this time did a remarkable job of quickly digging up accurate biographical details about Pate himself. In fact, the report is inaccurate in only one respect—in underestimating the seriousness of the injury Pate inflicted upon Victoria.

The partridge cane with which Pate struck his Queen was much thicker than a goose quill; it had an iron ferrule on its end; it hurt. It left the Queen with a black eye, a welt, and a scar that lasted for years. The Queen’s appearance within two hours at Covent Garden proved not that she hadn’t been greatly injured, but that she bravely refused to let her injury prevent her from going among her subjects. 

11:28 am, by shootingvictoria Comments

Queen down to her last million due to courtiers' overspending, report finds - Telegraph

For those who happen to live near the Mausoleum at Frogmore: that muted knocking sound you hear has got to be Prince Albert thrashing in his grave. Albert more than anyone else pulled Victoria out of debt, and converted British royalty into a profitable 19th- and 20th-century concern.

11:56 am, by shootingvictoria3 notes Comments

First Report in the Times: William Hamilton

The London Times article first reporting Victoria’s fourth assailant’s—William Hamilton’s—attack on her was far from the first to appear. Hamilton pointed his pistol at Victoria on a Saturday, and that meant that both the Saturday evening papers and the Sunday papers reported on the attack before the Times did on Monday 21 May 1849. One might think that this would have allowed the Times to filter out errors and rumors about Hamilton’s attempt. Actually, the Times’s account is perhaps the most error-ridden of all its reports concerning Victoria’s assailants. The Times reported that Hamilton’s first name was John; it was William. It reported that Victoria’s children in her carriage when she was shot at were her eldest two, Vicky and Bertie, and Princess Helena; actually, according to Victoria’s journal, Alice, Alfred and Helena witnessed her mother being shot at. The Times reported rumors that Hamilton regularly attended a Chartist club in Pimlico and that the previous summer he had taken part in the July Revolution in Paris: neither rumor was verified, and both are almost certainly untrue.

The great question in the newspaper’s report—as it had been in previous reports about Oxford, Francis, and Bean—was whether Hamilton’s pistol was loaded with a slug. And in its speculative answer—probably not—the Times got it right, although the paper’s reasoning is questionable: “Had the weapon been charged with lead or any substitute, the whistle of it past the carriage would have been at once noticed, and the report of firearms properly loaded is quite different from the discharge of gunpowder only.” Both of these premises had been tested and found wanting at Oxford’s and Francis’s trials. The Times also correctly assumed that Hamilton would be tried under Peel’s law—not for High Treason but for the High Misdemeanour of assaulting the Queen—and would if found guilty be given a degrading punishment. If Hamilton had sought a “comfortable retirement on state pay”—which is what all England thought was Edward Oxford’s happy fate in Bethlem Hospital—he was to be rudely undeceived “at the cart tail”—speculation that Hamilton would be whipped, a punishment possible in Peel’s law. In this, too, the Times was wrong. Hamilton was sentenced to seven years’ transportation—broke rocks in Gibraltar, and ended up in Western Australia. But he was never whipped.

12:08 pm, by shootingvictoria Comments