Portrait of John Bellingham.
(c. 1769 – May 18, 1812) was the
of British Prime Minister
. This murder was the
only successful attempt on the life of a British Prime
It is believed after this the family changed its
name to Bellingall as he brought shame to the family.
The details of Bellingham's early life are unclear, as few sources
survive, and most post-assassination biographies of him included
speculation as fact. Recollections of family and friends allow some
details to be stated with confidence. Bellingham was
certainly born in St
Neots, Huntingdonshire, and later brought up in London, where he
was apprenticed to a jeweller, James Love, at the age of
fourteen. Two years later, he was sent as a midshipman on the maiden voyage of the
Hartwell from Gravesend to China.
There was a mutiny
on board on May 22, 1787,
which led to the ship running aground and sinking.
In 1794, a
John Bellingham opened a tin factory on London's Oxford Street, but the business failed and he was declared
bankrupt that March.
It has not been definitely established
that this is the same person. Bellingham certainly worked as a clerk in a
counting house in the late 1790s, and
around 1800 he went to Archangel in Russia as an agent
for importers and exporters. He returned to England in 1802, and worked
in Liverpool as a merchant broker.
He married Mary
Neville in 1803. In the summer of 1804, Bellingham again went to
Archangel to work for a short time as an export
1803, a Russian ship Soleure insured at Lloyd's of
London was lost in the White Sea.
The owners (the house of R. Van Brienen)
attempted to claim on their insurance but an anonymous letter
informed Lloyd's that the ship had been sabotaged. Soloman Van
Brienen suspected Bellingham was the author, and decided to
retaliate by accusing him of a debt of 4,890 roubles to a bankrupt
for which he was an assignee. Bellingham, on the verge of leaving
for Britain on November 16, 1804, had his travelling pass withdrawn
because of the debt.
Van Brienen also persuaded the Governor-General of the area to
imprison Bellingham. A year later Bellingham secured his release
and managed to get to St. Petersburg, where he attempted to impeach the
This provoked the Russian authorities and
he was charged with leaving Archangel in a clandestine manner, and
again imprisoned. He was in prison until October 1808 when he was
put out onto the streets, but without permission to leave. In his
desperation he personally petitioned the Tsar. He was permitted to
leave in 1809 and arrived back in England in December.
Assassination of the Prime Minister
Back in England Bellingham began to petition the United Kingdom
Government for compensation for his imprisonment, but was refused
(the United Kingdom had broken off diplomatic relations with Russia
in November 1808
). His wife tried to
persuade him to drop the issue and Bellingham went back into
Bellingham again went to work in
London, where he renewed his attempts to win compensation.
April 18 he went in person to the offices
of the Foreign
Office where a civil servant
called Hill told him he was at liberty to take whatever measures he
Bellingham had already started preparations
for resolving the matter in another way, and on April 20
he bought two half-inch calibre
(12.7 mm) pistols
W. Beckwith, gunsmith
of 58 Skinner Street
. He also arranged with a
to have a secret inside pocket put on
his coat. Around this time, he was often seen in the
lobby of the House of
After taking the family of a friend to see a water-colour painting
exhibition on May 11
, 1812, Bellingham
casually remarked that he had some business to attend to, and made
his way to Parliament
. He waited in the
lobby until the Prime Minister
stepped forward and shot him through the heart
. Bellingham then calmly sat on a bench.
immediately detained by those present and identified by Isaac Gascoyne, MP for Liverpool.
Bellingham was tried on Wednesday, May 13 at the Old Bailey where he argued that he would have preferred to
kill the British Ambassador to Russia,
but that he was entitled as a wronged man to kill the
representative of those he saw as his oppressors.
He gave a
formal statement to the court, saying:
"Recollect, Gentlemen, what was my situation.Recollect
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.Gentlemen,
when a minister sets himself above the laws, as Mr Perceval did, he
does it as 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 wrong with impunity, the inferior
ramifications will soon become wholly corrupted.Gentlemen, my life
is in your hands, I rely confidently in your justice."
Evidence that Bellingham was insane was put forward by witnesses,
but not by Bellingham himself, and was discounted by the trial
judge, Sir James Mansfield
Bellingham was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging
. This was carried out in public on Monday,
According to René Martin Pillet, a Frenchman who wrote an account
of his ten years in England, the sentiment of the very large crowd
that gathered at Bellingham's execution
"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, you have taught ministers
that they should do justice, and grant audience when it is asked of
A subscription was raised for the widow and children of Bellingham,
and "their fortune was ten times greater than they could ever have
expected in any other circumstances".
In 1984, Patrick Magee made a serious attempt on the life of Margaret Thatcher in the Brighton Bombing. There were also serious attempts on the lives of King George III and Queen Victoria, and the Gunpowder Plot to bomb the Palace of Westminster.