One of the great challenges in writing Shooting Victoria was in resurrecting the dead: in digging up and presenting the sort of information about Queen Victoria’s seven assailants that would allow readers to understand them as living creatures. And among the most helpful tools in doing that, I found, were the English censuses, taken on the first year of every decade during the 19th century. From 1841 on, the census offered specific names, ages, family relationships, and occupations for every member of every household in England. Tracking down the entries for the seven and their contemporaries provided me with many eureka! moments. And no other source provided me, as quickly and effectively, with the sense that these people once breathed, and interacted with one another. They worked and played, gained and lost: they lived.
The image above, from the 1841 England Census, captures a moment in the life of Victoria’s second assailant, John Francis, about a year before he made his two attempts. He lived with his mother, a sister, and his father John, who is listed as a 45-year old carpenter: he was actually a stage carpenter at Covent Garden Theatre. Young John—19 at the time—was listed as an ap[prentice] carpenter; he assisted his father at the theatre, and by all accounts showed great promise. The four Francises lived on Tottenham Court Road, at the heart of the metropolis and not too far from the theatre, living among—the census makes clear—shopkeepers and craftsmen, living in apparent comfort.
Within a year, it all fell apart for John Francis, Jr. He quit his job at the theatre and ran away from home. He struggled to make his own way in the world—and he failed. And then he bought a pistol.
This was John Francis’s first and last appearance in an English census: a year later he was condemned to death, reprieved, and transported: by the time of the next English census, in 1851, he had served the bulk of his sentence, and lived half a world away, in Tasmania, Australia.