Thursday, 19 May 1849, William Hamilton, a 22-years-old, orphaned, unemployed Irish bricklayer, fired a pistol at the Queen Victoria, as she drove, yet again, down Constitution hill toward Buckingham Palace. This was shortly after the birth of her seventh child. Hamilton had stationed himself in Green Park. On the evening of the official commemoration of her birthday, Queen Victoria rode through Hyde and Regent’s Park with three of her children, including the future King Edward VII.
The head keeper of Green Park subdued the shooter. Hamilton was turned over to Police-Constable Topley. Topley escort Hamilton to the Palace, where he was turned over to Inspector Walker. Later, Hamilton was taken to the King Street station house and placed in the custody of an Inspector Darkin. According to History.com, Hamilton had immigrate from Ireland to London in the 1840s at the onset of the Irish Famine/Great Hunger. He told the police he had fired the gun loaded only with powder “for the purpose of getting into prison, as he was tired of being out of work.”
“The prisoner was about twenty-two years of age and was only about five feet six or seven inches tall. He had a fair complexion and hair and was dressed in a flannel jacket, corduroy trousers, black waist coat and cap. His name, he finally admitted, was William Hamilton. He was a bricklayer by trade and an Irishman and an orphan. He was raised in the poor school of the Protestant Orphan Society at Cork in Ireland.” (The Social Historian)
It is said Hamilton was briefly imprisoned for taking part in the Parisian arm of the 1848 European uprisings while he was in France. Hamilton returned to London and, frustrated with Britain’s lack of assistance during the years of the Irish famine, set about killing the Queen. Considered “insane,” Hamilton claimed his intention had been “to frighten the English Queen with a home-made pistol.” Reportedly, realizing the foolishness of such an action, he borrowed an actual pistol from his landlady. Unlike the news report below, Raymond Lamont-Brown in How Fat Was Henry VIII (The History Press, ©2008, page 148) says that the gun had no bullet in it at the time.
“Upon the learned judges taking their seats upon the bench, the prisoner William Hamilton was placed at the bar, to plead to the indictment charging him with a misdemeanour, having unlawfully discharged a pistol at her Majesty. The indictment alleged that the prisoner, on the 19th day of May, at the parish of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, having in his possession a certain pistol loaded with an explosive substance—to wit, gunpowder—unlawfully, wilfully, and maliciously discharged the said pistol at her Majesty, with intent thereby to injury to her person. In other counts of the indictment the intent the prisoner was laid to be to alarm her Majesty, and to cause a breach of the peace. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser – Saturday 16 June 1849 Hamilton pleaded guilty.” (The Social Historian)
The Chief Justice transported Hamilton “for the term of seven years” as a warning to others. Hamilton sent to a prison colony in Gibraltar to perform hard labor for five years, before disappearing into obscurity in Freemantle, Western Australia.
Barrie Charles, author of The Lucky Queen, gives a bit more information on Hamilton’s last days. “Afterwards, to much merriment, his erstwhile landlord asked the court for his gun back as he had been offered £40 for it, more than a labourer’s annual pay. William was taking to Pentonville and then, with a small group of other convicts, by warship to Gibraltar, where he spent 5 years living on a prison hulk and employed with the hard labour gangs on government works. Just when he must have been counting the days until his release, he was consigned to another convict ship and taken round the world to Fremantle in Western Australia. Little is known for certain of his subsequent life, but it appears that he went north and probably worked in one of the lead mines. Finally, his health broken, he died at the age of 58 in Perth.”
Barrie Charles, Historical Researcher and Author
Helen Rappaport, Queen Victoria, a Biographical Companion
I knew that there were attempts on the queen’s life, but not many of the specifics. I’m looking forward to the next season on Masterpiece. Thanks, Jen