18 May 1812 – John Bellingham

John BellinghamA spell in a Russian prison left our next prolific killer an embittered man. John Bellingham was so set on revenge after he’d been left to fester in a foreign jail that he took it out on a key head of state. Who did he target?

He only had eyes for the Prime Minister who had so singularly let him down. And that’s how the only successful assassination of a British PM came about.

Bellingham’s life started off well enough. He was a successful businessman, although some sources put his living down to more modest means. He was involved with imports and exports, which sent him over to Russia on occasion. On one such trip, a ship carrying some of his cargo sank in the White Sea.

Underwriter, Lloyds of London smelled a rat and refused to cough up, so the hauliers panicked not wanting to foot the bill for all the items lost at sea. Instead they litigiously turned to the cargo owners – of whom Bellingham was one. As a result Bellingham found himself banged up in a foreign prison…for…well no-one was 100% sure, not least our man Bellingham.

Brit abroad

So he did what any Brit abroad would do – he appealed to the British Embassy. But his plea fell on deaf ears – Lord Gower failed to lift a finger to help his fellow comrade and Bellingham was therefore left to the mercy of bread and water for two long years, with only rats for company.

In the meantime, his business fell apart and he was reduced to bankruptcy. When he was released from prison he had creditors knocking down the door.

Embattled, it seemed only fair and proper that he be compensated for his catastrophic slump from grace. And, to this end he sat in on parliament sessions from the viewing gallery and wrote to the PM – Spencer Percival, who replied flatly refusing as there appeared to be no basis for recompense.


Well Bellingham just lost it. Completely incensed, he accosted the PM in the Houses of Parliament lobby, drew out his firearm and shot him point blank.

A bloodied Percival, stating the bleeding obvious, of course, shouted ‘I am murdered, I am murdered’ and sure enough, for once, a politician gave a fair and honest appraisal of the situation.

Percival went on to die of his wounds, but get this…when Bellingham was led away, crowds had got wind of the situation and had rallied – they even tried to help him escape. For it turns out that Bellingham had done them all a favour. But their attempts failed and he was taken to Newgate while the coroner adjourned in the pub to work out what to do. A trial at the Old Bailey was the outcome of that particular session and a jury took just 10 minutes to send the beleaguered Bellingham down.

The sentence was death followed by dissection. In the run-up to his hanging while on the scaffold, he asked not to be blindfolded, but the condemned man was denied his dying wish. So he was strung up by Debtors’ Door, aged 35.

Also on this day

18 May 2004 – Kelsey Patterson
18 May 1990 – Dalton Prejean

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