Robert Pate Strikes Queen Victoria with His Cane, but Does Not Kill Her

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

A little over two years passed after William Hamilton’s attempt to assassinate Queen Victoria on 19 June 1849, before Robert Pate made his attempt on 27 June 1850.

Born in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, on Christmas Day 1819, Pate came from a relatively wealthy family. His father had worked his way, first in trade as a corn dealer, eventually to be Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire and High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire. Pate received his education in Norwich, and his father purchased him a Cornetcy in the 10th Light Dragoons. His Lieutenancy was purchased shortly afterward. Pate’s lunacy was suspected as early as 1844. He resigned his commission and moved to Piccadilly in 1846, living very much as an eccentric recluse. 

During his trial, his defense team asked for a lenient sentence based on the idea he simply had a lapse caused by a weak mind. Seven years of penal transportation was his punishment. Pate’s social class, thanks to his father, permitted him more kindness during his imprisonment than he might have received otherwise. He arrived in Van Diemen’s Land (now known as Tasmania) in November 1850. However, on arrival he was consigned to the Cascades penal settlement on the Tasman Peninsula, like a common criminal. He served less than a year under what for him must have been an especially hard regime, and was then transferred to more amenable work in the community until the end of his sentence. [Charles, Barrie (2012). Kill the Queen! The Eight Assassination Attempts on Queen Victoria, Amberley Publishing, pages 80-82]

“Pate’s father died in 1856, but most of his money passed to other relations and Pate only received an annuity of £300 and a share of his personal possessions. However, his money problems were solved the following year when Pate married Mary Elizabeth Brown, a rich heiress. They lived in Hobart for eight years before selling up and returning to London. Robert Pate lived a quiet life in the capital until his death in 1895. Under the terms of his will, he left £22,464 to his wife. He is buried in Beckenham Crematorium and Cemetery.” [Charles, Barrie (2012). Kill the Queen! The Eight Assassination Attempts on Queen Victoria, Amberley Publishing, pages 82-85] Wikipedia 

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

Now to the assassination attempt. There are several versions of the events. These are the facts with which each account of the event agree: 

Pate, an ex-soldier (retired lieutenant of the 10th Hussars), had descended into some form of lunacy. 

Pate had the habit of goose-stepping about Hyde Park 

Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales, Prince Alfred, Princess Alice and lady-in-waiting Fanny Jocelyn had visited the Queen’s dying uncle Prince Adolphus of Cambridge. 

The Queen’s carriage slowed to enter a gate. Her escorting equerry were pushed aside by the crowd, permitting Pate his chance.

Smithsonian.com tells us this of the event: “Only one attempt on Victoria’s life actually injured her, and it was the only one not made with a gun. In 1850 an ex-soldier named Robert Pate hit her over the head with an iron-tipped cane while she was in the courtyard of her home, [Paul Thomas] Murphy writes. “It left the Queen with a black eye, a welt and a scar that lasted for years,” he writes. She appeared two hours later in Covent Garden to prove that she was well and that her injury wouldn’t stop her from seeing her subjects.

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 Meanwhile, Sunday Express gives a bit more information. “Victoria’s fifth assailant, Robert Pate was the only one of the seven to harm the Queen. Well-known in London for his manic perambulations about Hyde Park, he interrupted one of these when he came upon the Queen’s carriage inside the gates of her uncle’s mansion on Piccadilly.

“He pushed himself to the front of the crowd, knowing that when the Queen’s carriage emerged he would find himself inches from her, and slashed his cane down upon the royal forehead, blackening Victoria’s eye and leaving a welt. Victoria had intended to go to the opera that night. When her ladies-in-waiting begged her to stay home, she replied “Certainly not: if I do not go, it will be thought I am seriously hurt and people will be distressed and alarmed.”

“But you are hurt, ma’am,” her lady replied.

“Then everyone shall see how little I mind it,” the Queen said.

Pate was sentenced to seven years’ transportation.”

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The Social Historian provides us even more detail of the event. “About twenty minutes past six o’clock on the evening of Thursday, 27 June 1850, Queen Victoria along with three of the royal children and Viscountess Jocelyn, lady-in-waiting, left Cambridge House in Piccadilly to return to Buckingham Palace. As the royal carriage passed through the gates, a respectably dressed man ran forward two or three paces and struck the Queen a sharp blow on the head with a small black cane. Several persons in the crowd rushed forward and seized the man and for a moment it seemed likely he might be lynched by the mob until the timely arrival of Sergeant Silver who took the prisoner to the Vine-street police station. The Royal Carriage proceeded onwards to Buckingham Palace.

“At the police station, the prisoner gave his name as Robert Pate, a retired lieutenant of the 10th Hussars and gave his address as 27, Duke-street in St. James. The stick with which he had struck the blow was not thicker than an ordinary goose quill and just over 2 feet in length. It weighed less than three ounces.

“After being examined several times by doctors to determine whether he was insane, Pate was committed to Newgate to await a hearing.

“On 8 July 1850, 30-year-old Robert Pate stood trial at the Old Bailey. He was indicted for unlawfully assaulting the Queen, with intent to injure her, a second count of assault with intent to alarm her and a third count of  intent to break the public peace. Many witnesses were called an all testified that Robert Pate was not of sound mind.

EDWARD THOMAS MONRO, ESQ ., M.D. I have had five interviews with Mr. Pate since this occurrence—I saw him first on the 2nd of the month at Clerkenwell, and again on the 3rd; and I saw him afterwards in Newgate on the 5th, 8th, and 10th—from my own observation, and from what I have heard to-day, I believe him to be of unsound mind.Old Bailey Trial of Robert Pate

MR. COCKBURN. Q. You gather that [he is well aware that he has done wrong in this matter], from what he has said to you on the subject? JOHN CONOLLY, ESQ ., M.D. A. I do—he seems quite unable to give any account why he did it, or any account of the act at all, any more than it was not done by another person—he does not deny having done it, but he expresses himself very sorry for it—I asked him a great many questions on the subject; he had no motive whatever in committing such an action, no premeditation, no powers of deliberation or reason at the time; but he acted under some strange morbid impulse, which he had no power apparently of resisting. Old Bailey Trial of Robert Pate

At the conclusion of the trial, it was found that although of unsound mind, Robert Pate was capable of distinguishing between right and wrong and he was accordingly found guilty and sentenced to be transported for seven years.

Check out Paul Thomas Murphy’s account HERE.

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About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
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