The “Hunchback’s” Attempt to Kill Queen Victoria


Kill the Queen!: The Eight Assassination Attempts on Queen Victoria by Barrie Charles

Two weeks after John Francis’s second attack on Queen Victoria, the 16-year-old John William Bean made an attempt to assassinate the Queen. “In 19th century Britain, treason had its own special rules of evidence and procedure, which made it difficult to prosecute traitors successfully, such as the requirement that the prosecution produce two witnesses to the same overt act, or that three judges preside at the trial. The Treason Act 1800 relaxed these rules in relation to attempts on the King’s life, bringing the rules in such cases in line with the less restrictive rules which then existed in ordinary murder cases. Section 1 of the 1842 Act went further, removing the special rules in all cases of treason involving any attempt to wound or maim the Queen.” (Treason Act 1842) Section 2 of this act is still in place. It created a new offense (less serious than treason) of assaulting the Queen, or of having a firearm or offensive weapon in her presence with intent to injure or alarm her or to cause a breach of the peace. 

John William Bean’s attack came on Sunday, July 3, 1842.  Queen Victoria was in a carriage with King Leopold I of Belgium. They were traveling along the Mall from the Chapel Royal. Bean had waited for the procession to leave Buckingham Palace. When the Queen’s carriage neared, Bean pushed his way to front of the crowd lining the Mall before pulling his gun from beneath his coat. Someone in the crowd knocked the weapon from Bean’s hand, grabbing Bean’s wrist. The gun failed to fire because it contained a mixture of paper, tobacco, and gunpowder. Even so, Bean managed to escape into the crowd. 


Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy by Paul Thomas Murphy

Unfortunately for him, he was readily identified because he suffered from a spinal deformity and was said to be barely four feet tall. “Unhappy with his existence, the depressed Bean wanted a change—any kind of change—and hoped that threatening the queen would be a chance for a new life, even one in prison. When he pulled the trigger, however, the gun failed to fire. A bystander grabbed Bean’s wrist, but he managed to escape into the crowd. That night, London police rounded up the city’s hunchbacks before discovering Bean at his family home. Bean said the queen’s life was never endangered as his pistol was loaded with more tobacco than gunpowder and pointed to the ground.” (

Neither Edward Oxford, John Francis, nor John William Bean had been political assassins. Rather, they were what we would likely now term as “publicity seekers.” The Treason Act of 1842, support by Robert Peel, provided for “the further protection and security of Her Majesty’s person.’ It was no longer considered high treason to attack the monarch. Instead, the crime was considered as a “high misdemeanor.” The punishment was up to 7 years’ transportation or imprisonment. Addition time could be added or the person sentenced to hard labor or even a birching.

John William Bean  was sentenced to 18 months of hard labor.

The Social Historian fills in other information on the event: “… a humpbacked boy dressed in a long brown coat pushed his way to the front of the standing crowd and pulled out a pistol. Standing near him, sixteen-year-old Charles Edward Dassett seized his wrist. Seeing two policemen walking on the opposite side of the mall, Dassett took the boy over, showed them the pistol and told them that he had been trying to shoot the Queen. They laughed and told Dassett that there was no charge to be made and he was forced to let the boy go.

“Not long after, Dassett was apprehended in Green Park for having a pistol in his hand. He was taken to the station house where he told his story about the humpbacked boy who had tried to shoot the Queen. Witnesses were called and the story was collaborated upon which point the two police constables, Hearn and Calxton were called in and reprimanded for not taking the accusation seriously. They were suspended from further duty for the present time.

“From Dassett’s description, it was determined that the accused boy was William Bean, the son of a jeweler in Clerkenwell. The police proceeded to the Bean house and took the lad into custody.

“Bean declared that he had not intended to hurt the Queen but that he had committed the act only to be taken up. He said he had put nothing in the pistol but powder and paper and had been in the park for three days waiting for his opportunity. He said that he was tired of his life and wanted to be transported and added that he had pointed the pistol at the ground and not at the Queen.

“On Thursday, 25 August 1842, John William Bean was indicted for a misdemeanour in assaulting the Queen. After witnesses were called and testimony was heard as to the boy’s good character, the jury did not even leave the box, but quickly returned a verdict of guilty. Lord Abinger told the court that he would be passing sentence upon the prisoner.

“Lord Abinger said, he should be doing a violence to his own feelings, and to the feelings all who heard him, if he did not pass upon him the heaviest sentence the common law of the land allows, and that sentence was, that you, John William Bean, imprisoned in her Majesty’s gaol of Newgate for the term of 18 calendar months. The prisoner was then removed from the bar, and the vast crowd which had been in court during the day, shortly afterwards left. The trial occupied six hours.The Suffolk Chronicle; or Weekly General Advertiser & County Express. – Saturday 27 August 1842″

Paul Thomas Murphy, author of Shooting Victoria, tells us, “Of the seven, John William Bean—the only one who was born, lived, and died in London—might have seemed the easiest to trace to his death. But John William Bean, too, faded into obscurity, clearly preferring that the world forget him and his 3 July 1842 assault upon the Queen. English censuses every ten years from 1841 on give us glimpses of him—giving up his employment as a gold-chaser and taking up as a newsvendor, marrying twice, raising his son Samuel in the family business. Bean last appeared in the 1881 census. I could find no death record after that. And so I spent hours—days—scouring British newspapers for any reference to Bean’s death. Finally, thankfully, I found it: not as I expected in a local or metropolitan daily newspaper, but rather in a national weekly journal. Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 30 July 1882, presents a vivid portrait of Bean’s sad mental state in 1882—and obviously for some time before. Clearly, the depression that the nervous 17-year-old felt as he pointed a pistol at his Queen lived on in him for forty more years, until John William Bean, always tired of life, finally swallowed enough opium to end it all.” (Shooting Victoria)



About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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