The Prime Minister has been shot!
Spencer Perceval was assassinated in 1812
Whilst four American Presidents have died by assassination in 98 years (between 1865 and 1963), the job of British Prime Minister has always been considered a far safer option in this respect. The one exception is Spencer Perceval, who was shot dead in the lobby of the House of Commons on 11 May 1812. It has to be stated that he was not an outstanding politician and his name would be lost in obscurity were it not for the dramatic manner of his death. The man who killed him was named John Bellingham, a merchant broker who had been bankrupted in Russia.
Perceval became Tory Prime Minister in 1809, when the Duke of Portland resigned due to ill health. Perceval was born on 1 November 1762, the seventh son of John Perceval, 2nd Earl of Egmont by his second wife, Catherine. His father, a close advisor of Frederick, Prince of Wales and King George III, had served briefly in the cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty, but he died in 1772 when Spencer was aged ten.
Young Perceval followed the usual path of an English ‘toff’ in those days: attending Harrow public school and then Trinity College in Cambridge where he became an ardent follower of the evangelical Anglican movement, and later an expert on Biblical prophecy. After University, he became a barrister on the Midland circuit where he was able to prosper through his family connections. He acted for the Crown in the prosecutions of Thomas Paine in 1792 and John Horne Tooke (1794), and wrote several pamphlets supporting the impeachment of Warren Hastings.
Perceval’s brother Lord Arden served in the government of William Pitt the Younger, and Spencer accepted nomination as Member of Parliament for Northampton in 1796. As an MP, he made several bold speeches in the House of Commons attacking Charles James Fox and revolutionary politics which impressed Pitt who groomed him as a successor. Perceval became Solicitor General in 1801 and then Attorney General in 1802 and he retained office when Pitt returned as PM in 1804. While Perceval instigated prosecutions of radicals, he also reformed some of the draconian laws on transportation to the penal colony of Australia.
At Pitt’s funeral in January 1806, Perceval was one of the coffin bearers. He went into opposition when the new government included Fox, made many effective speeches against the ‘Ministry of All the Talents’, and was vehement in his opposition to Catholic emancipation.
When the Ministry fell, the ailing Duke of Portland put together a shaky coalition of senior Tories with Perceval as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons. With Portland not much more than a figurehead, this effectively made Perceval the British Prime Minister. He even lived at the famous number 10 Downing Street for most of the time, despite purchasing Elm Grove, a large house in Ealing, West London in 1808.
When Napoleon Bonaparte embargoed British trade under the Continental System, Perceval drafted Orders in Council to retaliate against foreign trade. The government was continuously blighted by splits, and when Portland suffered a stroke in August 1809 there was some intense political manoeuvring between Perceval and George Canning before Perceval eventually triumphed with the support of Viscount Castlereagh.
Unable to include Canning and his allies, Perceval’s administration was notable for its lack of most of the more important statesmen of the period. He even had to serve as his own Chancellor after obtaining six refusals of the office. The government sometimes struggled in the House of Commons, being defeated in motions critical of both foreign and economic policy; but Perceval remained adamantly opposed to reform of the electoral system.
Besides this, Perceval also had to cope with the final descent of King George III into madness, a matter of grave embarrassment to the government and British Royalty. Then in the winter of 1811 Luddite riots broke out in opposition to the Orders in Council against trade which Perceval had instituted in 1807, and the Prime Minister was forced to concede an official inquiry by the House.
On the fateful afternoon of Monday 11 May 1812, Perceval was hurrying to Parliament in London’s Westminster to attend the inquiry. But tragic fate intervened, and he never made it past the lobby.
John Bellingham (born in St Neots, Huntingdonshire in 1769) was brought up in London where he was apprenticed to a jeweler, Mr James Love, at the age of 14. Two years later he was serving as a midshipman on the maiden voyage of the frigate ‘HMS Hartwell’ from Gravesend to China. There was a mutiny aboard the vessel on 22 May 1787 as the ship ran aground. Bellingham was not involved in the mutiny and cleared of all charges at the subsequent official inquiry.
In 1794 Bellingham opened a tin factory on London’s Oxford Street, but the business failed and he was declared bankrupt that March. He then worked as a clerk in a counting house from 1797 until 1800 when he travelled to the port city of Archangel in Russia to act as an agent for importers and exporters. He returned to England in 1802, where he worked for a spell as a merchant broker in Liverpool and married Mary Neville in 1803. In the summer of 1804, with England still at war with France, Bellingham went back to Archangel to profitable work as an export representative.
In the autumn of 1803, a Russian ship named ‘Soleure’, which was insured at Lloyd’s of London for a considerable sum, sank during a storm in the Barents’ Sea. When the owners (the house of R Van Brienen) attempted to claim insurance on the lost vessel an anonymous letter informed Lloyd’s that the ship had been deliberately sabotaged as part of a claims scam. Soloman Van Brienen had reason to suspect Bellingham as the author of the letter, and took his revenge.
When Bellingham attempted to leave Russia for Britain on 16 November 1804, he was arrested by authorities pending his payment of a debt of 4,890 roubles owed by a bankrupt for whom Bellingham was a signatory. Van Brienen also persuaded the Governor-General of the area to imprison the hapless Briton, and Bellingham was jailed for a year before he managed to secure his release and travel to St Petersburg, where he unwisely attempted to have the Governor-General impeached. This provoked the Russian authorities and Bellingham was charged with leaving Archangel without official permission, and again imprisoned.
He remained in jail until October 1808 when he was released, but refused permission to leave Russia. In desperation, Bellingham petitioned the Tsar, and was finally allowed to return to England in December that year; but by now he had lost both his business and his personal fortune.
Bellingham returned to London an angry and embittered man. He wrote and posted a blizzard of letters to politicians, including Perceval as Prime Minister, petitioning them to take legal action against Russian authorities to win compensation for his personal losses, and secure punitive damages for his illegal imprisonment. Bellingham was informed that as the United Kingdom had broken off diplomatic relations with Russia in November 1808 there was nothing that could be officially done to help him.
Perceval, a dyspeptic, vinegary man noted for his lack of humour, also replied with a curt note, informing Bellingham that his troubles were due to his not respecting Russian law and foolishly interfering in the insurance claim made by Van Brienen.
Nothing could have been guaranteed to infuriate John Bellingham any more than Perceval’s letter. Now clearly unhinged, he decided to settle the matter in another way. On 20 April 1812, Bellingham purchased two half-inch calibre (12.77mm) dueling pistols from W Beckwith, gunsmiths of 58 Skinner Street in London. He also had a local tailor sew a poacher’s hidden pocket inside his coat, and practiced walking about with one of the handguns stored there. In the next few days, he was often seen outside the lobby at the House of Commons, waiting to buttonhole unwary MP’s and urge them to take up his case for compensation.
After taking a family friend to view a water-colour painting in London’s Art Gallery on the morning of 11 May 1812, Bellingham casually remarked that he had some business to attend to, excused himself, and made his way to Westminster. In his secret poacher’s pocket was one of his pistols, carefully loaded and primed with ball, powder and wadding.
At around 1.30pm Bellingham was waiting behind a pillar as the Prime Minister hurried through the lobby to the chamber. As his victim approached, Bellingham stepped out from the pillar, calmly cocked his pistol and shot Perceval from perhaps five feet away. The pistol ball entered his chest and lodged by his spine as Perceval fell to the floor, uttering the words, “I am murdered!” He died seconds later before medical help could be summoned.
A man close by shouted, “The Prime Minister has been shot!”
As shock bystanders hastened to Perceval’s aid, and a crowd gathered in the lobby, Bellingham casually dropped his weapon and walked over to sit on a bench nearby.
“Where is the villain who fired?” someone demanded. Bellingham rose from the bench and replied, “I am that unfortunate man, sir.”
Isaac Gascoyne, MP for Liverpool then confirmed Bellingham’s identity before he was seized and marched away to the cells under the Palace of Westminster.
Bellingham is an old Anglo-Irish settlers’ name so conspiracy theories were hatched almost immediately that the Prime Minister had been the victim of an Irish plot. Bellingham quickly denied this theory before his trial. “It was a private injury”, he said, “I know what I have done. It was a denial of justice on the part of the government.”
There was certainly a rush to judgment regarding the trial of John Bellingham, which commenced at London’s Old Bailey on Wednesday 13 May; just two days after the crime had been committed. The defendant stated that he would have preferred to have killed the British Ambassador to Russia, but that he was entitled as a ‘wronged man’ to kill the representative of those he viewed as his oppressors. He also made a formal statement to the court, which read: ‘Recollect, gentlemen, that my family was ruined and myself destroyed, merely because it was Mr Perceval’s pleasure that justice should not be granted; sheltering himself behind the imagined security of his station, and trampling upon law and right in the belief that no retribution could reach him. I demand only my right, and not a favour. I demand what is the birthright and privilege of every Englishman.
‘Gentleman, when a minister sets himself above the law, as Mr Perceval did, he does it at his own personal risk. If this were not so, the mere will of the minister would become the law, and what would then become of your liberties? I trust that this serious lesson will operate as a warning to all future ministers, and that they will henceforth do the thing that is right, for if the upper ranks of society are permitted to act wrongly with impunity, the inferior ramifications will soon become wholly corrupted. Gentlemen, my life is in your hands. I rely confidently in your justice.’
During the trial, evidence that Bellingham was insane was put forward by witnesses, but not by Bellingham or his defence lawyer. The judge, Sir James Mansfield successfully argued that the criterion for criminal responsibility was this: did the defendant have, at the time of committing the offence, a sufficient degree of intellectual capacity to distinguish between good and evil?
Three decades later, this definition became part of English Law when it was included in the McNaughten Rules on criminal insanity. The jury quickly decided that Bellingham certainly was aware that what he had done was wrong, and subsequently found him guilty of murder. He was duly hanged at Newgate Prison on 18 May 1812, just a week after the assassination.
According to Rene Martin Pillet, a distinguished French writer who was among the large crowd that gathered to witness the execution, the public sentiment was generally in favour of Bellingham. He wrote: ‘Farewell poor man! You owe satisfaction to the offended laws of your country, but God bless you! You have rendered an important service to your country, teaching ministers that they should dispense justice, and grant audience when it is asked of them.’
An appeal for money to help Bellingham’s widow and children raised a considerable sum of cash, though his family later changed its name to ‘Bellingall’ to avoid association with the historical significance of the only assassination of a British Prime Minister.
Perceval’s body lay in state at 10 Downing Street for five days before burial at St Luke’s Church in Charlton, south-east London.
One odd fact to emerge from this public murder was that it was decided that though it is NOT illegal to die in the Palace of Westminster, it IS illegal to die in the House of Lords.
This means that if you have the effrontery to die in the House of Lords, you will be charged with that offence.
NEXT MONTH - THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF SUPERMAN IN 195
True Crimes Listing
True Crime stories published in the Observer:
April –The Green Bicycle case; May – The Craig/Bentley Case; June – The A6 Murder Case; July – Murder of the Earl of Errol; August – The O J Simpson Murder Trial; September – Aileen Wuornos, female serial killer; October – Ronald Opus; November – Madame X; December – The Spree Killer (Chris Wilder)
January – Shootout at Smiths’ Club; February – The Christine Dryland Case; March – Poisoned Pie in Essex; April – Massacre at Lidice; May – The Diana Davidson Murder Case; June – The death of Alkibiades; July – The Headsman of Colmar; August – Ruth Ellis; September – The Mel Jones Murder Case; October – George Smith, the bath murderer; November – Murder in a combat zone - Vietnam 1966; December – The Barn Restaurant Case
January – The assassination of JFK; February – Judge Falcone and the Mafia; March – Gilles de Rais/Bluebeard; April – The hand in the sand case (New Zealand); May – The Hong Kong drugs murder Case; June and July – Jack the Ripper parts 1 & 2; August – Murder at Farleigh Court; September – London’s Bonnie & Clyde; October – Ruth Snyder Case; November – Death of a rock star (Jim Morrison); December – Torso in the Thames
January – Murder in the Red Barn; February – Gangland double cross; March – Fatal Attraction in Ulster; April – Guernica; May – Bonnie & Clyde (USA); June – Murder of Jill Dando; July – Pedro Lopez, Monster of the Andes; August – Deadly Aperitif; September – Henry VIII & his wives; October – Sid & Nancy; November – The real Dracula; December – Poolan Devi, India’s Bandit Queen
January and February – Charles Sobhraj parts 1& 2; March – Marilyn Monroe; April – The Yorkshire Ripper (Peter Sutcliffe); May – Mass murderer Ted Bundy; June – 10 Rillington Place (Reg Christie); July – Son of Sam (David Berkowitz); August – Tasmania’s Aborigines; September – The Nuremberg Trials; October – Watergate; November – Charlie Manson & his Angels; December – Assassination of Heydrich
January – Betty Broderick Case; February – Fred & Rosemary West; March – Billy The Kid; April – Ned Kelly; May – Assassination of Anwar Sadat; June – Assassination of Robert Kennedy; July – Assassination of Gandhi; August - Halabja; September - Amritsar; October – Trials of Oscar Wilde; November – The Dreyfus Affair; December – Trial of Stephen Ward
January – John Stonehouse; February – Rinkagate; March – Sir Walter Raleigh; April – Assassination of Abraham Lincoln; May – Execution of King Charles I; June – Wild Bill Hickok; July – Gary Powers; August – Terror at the 1972 Munich Olympics; September – The Borgias; October – Ted Kennedy & Mary Jo Kopechne; November – Guy Fawkes; December – Massacre at Wounded Knee;
January – Charles Starkweather & Caril Fugate, natural born killers; February – Dick Turpin; World’s most famous highwayman; March – King Farouk of Egypt, ‘The Thief of Cairo’; April – Elizabeth Bathory, ‘The Blood Countess’; May – Colin Ireland, ‘The Fairy Liquidator’ ; June – The Rachel Nickell murder case; July – Jeffrey Dahmer, ‘The American Cannibal’
I would like to introduce the idea of Hua Hin’s own ‘Soho’ to both its long term residents and regular tourists. I settled here with my wife and family five years ago and witnessed the transformation of Hua Hin from a small fishing village to a ‘mini city’ with new shops, restaurants, cultural activities and nearly 200-plus property developments in a very short period.
Having often visited and lived in two such locations, one area of Hua Hin may qualify as a future Soho as it shares similar qualities and characteristics that anyone can find in other Soho districts located in Hong Kong, New York and London.
If you have never been to a Soho district and wondering what it is, here is a brief description. The original ‘So-Ho’ abbreviation stands for ‘Small office, Home office’ but has come to mean a lot more than just that. However each popular Soho district (London, Hong Kong and New York) seems to have a different story as to how each area got its’ abbreviation; So-Ho in New York is a blend of ‘South’ and ‘Houston’ from ‘south of Houston Street’. This is similar to how the SoHo area in Hong Kong also got its name. The name is derived from its location: South of Hollywood Road, which extends up to and including Robinson Road. In London, the area which is now Soho was grazing farmland until 1536, when it was taken by King Henry VIII as a Royal Park for the Palace of Whitehall. The name ‘Soho’ first appears in the 17th century. Most authorities believe that the name derives from the old ‘Soho!’ hunting call (“Soho! There goes the fox!”) The Duke of Monmouth used “Soho!” as a rallying call for his men at the Battle of Sedgemoor, half a century after the name was first used for this area of London.
Soho used to be an adult entertainment district in London with some nightlife and something of a plodding film industry. However London’s Soho today no longer represents a seedy area but rather has undergone a complete transformation; becoming a trendy district for fashion designers, writers, musicians, media houses, restaurants, night clubs, cultural events and festivals. This is the kind of Soho that I think is possible right here is Hua Hin!
Hua Hin’s Soho begins on Naebkehard Road, between soi 41 to 57. This, I reckon, is going to be the new trendy area of Hua Hin with great boutique hotels and lively restaurants with entertainment and art galleries. It’s an excellent alternative for spending time with friends or family compared to the centre of town where traffic is heavy and parking difficult. Naebkehard road is wide with lots of parking and safe sidewalks (pavements) along the whole street.
The vision is an area for travellers, long stayers and expats to gather; celebrate cultural differences and share similarities in a multi-cultural blended atmosphere that all can enjoy. My office is on the corner of soi 51 and Naebkehard Road and each day I see more new art galleries, media and furniture design shops and refreshing new restaurants with live jazz on site. This is definitely an up-and-coming area and I will soon be presenting the idea to the Mayor of Hua Hin to see if it can become an official reality - as it has already begun.
One new trendy accommodation is called the Green Gallery Bed & Breakfast next to Coco 51 Restaurant (the restaurant also offers live Jazz in the evenings) at the corner soi 51 and Naebkehard Road. They have four types of rooms: The Silhouette, The Chandelier, The Light House, and The Green Room to offer guests. During the day, on the same soi, a delicious papaya salad and fried chicken restaurant is set-up and is very popular among the locals. If you are into Thai food, here’s a tip - in a new environment, always explore and eat where the locals eat in large numbers – the places they choose always feature good food at value for money.
This is not just an area for trendy student Thais. Farangs are also welcome to enjoy the night scene in Hua Hin’s Soho. I expect the whole area will expand with more bars, eating places, music venues and art galleries in due time. Here is a good spot for couples to enjoy a meal or a drink away from the hassle and noise of the heavily-touristed sois by Naresdamri Road.
Other attractions nearby are The Golden Palace Shop (where all the King’s favourite foods are sold), The Palace, The King’s Running Track, and The Music Room.
Geoff Beaulieu can be contacted at Hua Hin Finder, Property Rental & Condo Sales Specialist
12/9 Naebkhehard Road, Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan 77110
(Corner of Soi 51 & Naebkhehard Rd.) Geoff@huahinfinder.com
Profile: Irena Sendler
There recently was a death of a 98 year-old lady named Irena Sendler. During WWII, Irena, got permission to work in the Warsaw Ghetto, as a plumbing/sewer specialist. She had an ulterior motive. She knew what the Hitler’s plans were for the Jews, being German. Irena smuggled infants out in the bottom of the tool box and she carried in the back of her truck a burlap sack, (for larger kids.) She also had a dog in the back that she trained to bark when the Nazi soldiers let her in and out of the ghetto. The soldiers of course wanted nothing to do with the dog and the barking covered the infants’ noises.
During her mission of mercy, she managed to smuggle out and save 2,500 infants. She was caught and the Nazis’ broke both her legs, arms and beat her severely. Irena kept a record of the names of all the children she smuggled out and kept them in a glass jar, buried under a tree in her back yard. After the war, she tried to locate any parents that may have survived it and reunited the family. Most of the parents had sadly died in gas chambers. Those children she helped were placed into foster family homes or adopted.
Last year Irena was up for the Nobel Peace Prize ... She was not selected.
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