Details of a shocking attempt on the life of the Duke of Edinburgh, Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and the second son of Queen Victoria had reached the News Letter office in May 1868.
The attempt on the life of the duke had been made by a deranged Irish émigré named Henry James O’Farrell during a picnic for the Sydney Sailors’ Home in Sydney on March 12.
In the shooting incident the Duke of Edinburgh had been hit by a shot from O’Farrell’s revolver, to the right of his spine.
The News Letter reported: “Melbourne and Adelaide papers have been received, which contain telegrams from Sydney of a later date than the news published in our impression of yesterday. On Sunday, the 29th March, thanksgivings for the speedy recovery of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh were offered up in all the churches of Sydney. On the same day His Royal Highness attended Divine service on board the Galatea. His Excellency the Earl of Belmore was also present.”
On the assassination attempt one Australian observer wrote at the time: “The one diabolical act of O’Farrell will not be allowed for a moment to blast the great loyalty of the colonists of Australia and to blot out the recollection of their enthusiastic welcome to the Prince and their lavish expenditure in showing it. Prince Alfred will, I am sure, not hear a word said, except in language of praise, of the people of Australia
An address of condolence was sent to the duke’s mother, Queen Victoria. By March 30 the address had been signed by more than 45,000 and had measured 700 yards in length.
It was noted of the signatories: “Amongst those who have signed are all our leading men and their wives.”
On that same day the trial of O’Farrell was held at Sydney. It was noted that at the trial that the prosecution had “merely recapitulated the evidence” which had been heard at the preliminary inquiry.
But it was also noted that a number of defence witnesses had been called. The evidence detailed how O’Farrell had left Ireland “when quite a youth” and that he had studied for some time for the bar but that he had afterwards “turned his attention to theological subjects”.
This, however, O’Farrell had also abandoned and on his return to the colonies from a visit to England he had opened a store at Ballarat in the state of Victoria.
The Australian newspapers noted that after living there for some time he had become “irascible and incoherent in discourse, apparently through pecuniary losses and delirium tremens”.
O’Farrell’s attempted assassination of the Duke of Edinburgh was attributed to his involvement and sympathy for Fenianism.
The Australian newspapers had reported: ““He had not, except on one occasion, ever been heard to speak of Fenianism. After this evidence the Crown called numerous witnesses who deposed to frequent conversations had by them with O’Farrell, in which he expressed himself in a perfectly rational manner.”
The newspapers added: “They stated further, that he defended the Clerkenwell outrage and Fenianism generally.”
At this stage the hearing was adjourned until the following day. It was also noted that during the first day of his trial that O’Farrell had remained “perfectly self-possessed throughout”.
The following day at eleven o’clock Mr Butler Cole Aspinall spoke on behalf of O’Farrell and urged that the prisoner was insane. To this argument Mr Martin had replied that the Crown had proved that there was no case for insanity existed.
Summing up the judge urged the jury to dismiss extraneous matters, such as the prince’s rank, from their minds.
The judge told the jury: “The three considerations for you are – first, the wounding; of that no doubt whatever exists; second, whose hand inflicted the wound.”
His Honour at this stage in his summing up read over the notes of the evidence which he added had clearly proven that it had been committed by the hand of O’Farrell.
The judge continued: “Third, the intent, which is the gravamen of the case.” He also made reference to the arguments in respect to O’Farrell’s insanity and stated that it had been shown that O’Farrell.
His Honour said: “He knew the difference between right and wrong when the offence was committed and also knew the consequence, he is responsible.”
His Honour then read over the evidence for the defence and advised the jury to consider the difficulty the prisoner’s counsel had felt in the medical witnesses from Ballarat not coming to the trial to give evidence with regards to O’Farrell’s mental state.
He also called the jury’s attention to the rebutting evidence showing O’Farrell’s state during his residence in Sydney.
The judge also advised the jury to pay particular attention to the law on the subject, which he read. He stated “If you believe the accused insane, you should acquit him; if not, the Crown expects a verdict.”
In conclusion His Honour complimented Mr Aspinal’’s ability in defending O’Farrell.
The jury retired before returning into the court after an hour of deliberation and gave a verdict of guilty.
His Honour turned to O’Farrell and asked him if he had anything to say why sentence should not be pronounced.
Replying “in a firm tone” O’Farrell had said: “No, sir; nothing,”
His Honour then passed sentence of death and the prisoner was removed.
The Duke of Edinburgh tried his utmost to intercede to save the life of his would-be assassin but O’Farrell was hung on April 21, 1868, less than two months after the shooting.