There was much shock in May 1849 across the United Kingdom and the British Empire at the news that there had been an attempt made on the life of Queen Victoria as her carriage passed along Constitution Hill in London by an unemployed and disgruntled Irishman named as William Hamilton.
Details of the attack on Queen Victoria were published in the News Letter in the paper’s edition of May 25, 1849 and declared in its opening lines: “We regret exceedingly being called on to announce that an idle miscreant raised his hand against the person of the Sovereign on Saturday evening as Her Majesty was returning from an afternoon through the parks.”
It was reported how Queen Victoria had left Buckingham Palace shortly after five o’clock in “an open carriage and four” to take a drive through the parks of the British capital. Her Majesty was accompanied in the carriage by their Royal Highnesses Prince Alfred and Princess Alice and Helena, and attended by the Honourable Miss McDonald. His Royal Highness Prince Albert, who was attended by his equerry, accompanied Her Majesty on horseback and General Wemyss was the equerry in attendance upon the Queen.
After accompanying Her Majesty round Regent’s Park His Royal Highness Prince Albert took leave of the Queen and, attended by his equerry, returned to Buckingham Palace. But it was shortly after His Royal Highness Prince Albert had left the side of his Queen and their children that the would-be assassin Hamilton struck.
The News Letter related how the Queen’s carriage had passed through Hyde Park and had gone no more than 300 yards Constitution Hill in the direction of Buckingham Palace when “a man in the garb of a bricklayer’s labourer, who was standing on the green sward within the iron railings” had “levelled a pistol” at the Royal carriage and “fired it at the moment the Queen was passing”.
The News Letter’s report continued: “Her Majesty heard the report [the pistol being fired] and looked round, but manifested no symptoms of alarm. The Royal carriage passed on, almost without the postillions being aware of the occurrence; but General Wemyss instantly pulled up, and rode towards the spot whence the report came.”
But before the general could reach the rails the miscreant Hamilton was “in safety custody” having been seized by first the park keeper named George Maulden, who was formerly an employee of Lord Palmerston, the then British foreign secretary, and then subsequently by a police constable, “to neither of whom did he make the slightest resistance,” noted the correspondent from London.
Indeed the correspondent went on to remark: “The villain was seized by one of the park keepers the instant after his was raised and the pistol that which he had just discharged having been taken from him, he was dragged off to the police station amidst the execrations of the crowd, who, not for the activity of the police officers and others, would have executed Lynch law upon the miscreant.”
Hamilton was removed immediately to police custody. The correspondent wrote: “The fellow was taken by the police to Buckingham Gate where a hackney cab was procured and [he] was then conveyed to the police station at Gardiner’s-lane, King-street, Westminster whither he was followed by General Wemyss, the park keeper (George Maulden) and other person who had witnessed the transaction which gave rise to his apprehension.”
During further police investigations into the attempt on Queen Victoria’s life that day the pistol that Hamilton was reported to have fired at Her Majesty was produced as evidence. The London correspondent described the pistol as “a small old-fashioned pocket pistol, which screws off and has a flint. It has the words ‘Clarke, London’ on it”.
The correspondent went on to give further interesting details in the weapon used in the assassination attempt. They wrote: “The weapon was examined by a gunsmith, and he was decidedly of the opinion that, when fired at Her Majesty, it was not loaded with [a] ball. The presumption that the pistol was not loaded with a ball is confirmed by what subsequently transpired, for, upon inquiry at the prisoner’s lodgings, 4 Eccleston-place, it was ascertained that he borrowed the pistol from his landlord that afternoon, saying that he was going into the fields to shoot some birds; and it further appeared that a little boy, who lives in the same house, furnished him with a halfpenny worth of powder.”
As news of the assassination attempt on Queen Victoria spread throughout London there was great relief when it was learned that the Queen and the Royal children had not in any way been injured.
At Her Majesty’s Theatre where a crowded audience attended a performance of Il Barbiere de Siviglia the opera was halted by Mr Lee, the official speaker of the theatre, who came forward and declared: “Ladies and gentlemen, under the impression that a portion of the audience may be labouring under the anxiety, and as a loyalty is here paramount to all other thoughts, I am commissioned by Mr Lumley to inform you, that, although Her Gracious Majesty and the Royal children were shot at whilst returning to the palace, they have (thank Heaven!) escaped unhurt.”
And what of “idle miscreant” Hamilton? What happened to him? He was charged under the 1842 Treason Act and he pleaded guilty and received the maximum sentence of seven years of penal transportation.
Hamilton’s attempt on the Queen’s life was not the last. In June 1850 Queen Victoria did sustain injury when she was assaulted by ex-Army officer, Robert Pate, who was believed to be insane. On that occasion Victoria had been riding in a carriage during a visit to Cambridge House in Piccadilly when Pate struck her with his cane, crushing her bonnet and bruising her. Pate was later tried; he failed to prove his insanity, and received the same sentence as Hamilton, and was sent to Van Diemen’s Land, which we know today as Tasmania.
- Death sentence for would-be assasin of the Duke of Edinburgh (throughthearchives.wordpress.com)
- Stalking Queen Victoria (drvitelli.typepad.com)
- AMAZING MOTHERS AROUND THE WORLD – a great classroom activity for Mother’s Day (amazingpeopleeducation.com)