Killing Victoria

Killing Victoria

By BBC Sounds

During the 63-year-long reign of Queen Victoria, seven men took the fateful decision to try to kill her. The seven men were within seconds of changing history - each could have brought the Victorian era to a premature end, yet each has been forgotten to history. This new podcast series narrated by Dr Bob Nicholson will look to answer the question of what led these men to try to kill the most famous and influential woman on the planet.


Episode Seven: The Wanderer

In 1882, the threat of assassination was in the air. The year before, Tsar Alexander II was killed by an assassin’s bomb, then in July, American President James Garfield was also murdered. Queen Victoria, on the throne for 45 years seemed vulnerable. The final attempt on her life was from a young man named Roderick Maclean. His father Charles was the owner of a satirical magazine called Fun, but Roderick’s life was anything but that. Roderick grew up dreaming of a literary career, but the family lost its fortune and an accidental blow to the young MacLean’s head caused a marked change in personality. Roderick began to see enemies everywhere and became fascinated by the colour blue and the number four. Unable to hold down a job, Roderick tramped around England from one workhouse or asylum to another. Dr Bob Nicholson visits the Punch Tavern in central London and describes the Victorian love of satire and comedy in such publications as Punch and Charles Maclean’s Fun. As he finds out more about Roderick Maclean’s story, Bob throws a light on the life of the Victorian wanderer, and the asylum system and Victoria’s later life. He traces Roderick’s final journey as a free man, from Southsea where he had befriended a landlady named Mrs Sorrell, up through Hampshire and into Windsor, where he waited, armed with a pistol, for the Queen to arrive.
01/05/2334m 57s

Episode Six: The Intruder

In March 1868 Queen Victoria’s son Prince Alfred was at a charity event in Sydney, Australia when an Irishman named Henry O’Farrell walked up behind him and shot the young prince at point blank range in the back, just missing his spine. O’Farrell was captured, beaten, swiftly tried and found guilty of attempted murder, and then hanged. Alfred survived the attack, but the Victorian world was clearly becoming a more dangerous place for the Royal Family. Queen Victoria hadn’t encountered an assassin of her own for almost two decades, but many felt that her luck couldn’t last.In 1872 Queen Victoria was a grieving widow who was rarely seen in public, then in January Arthur read that a thanksgiving service would be held at St Paul’s Cathedral to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales from serious illness. The papers were full of the plans for the day and the news galvanised teenager Arthur O’Connor into action.Dr Bob Nicholson explores the backstory of Victoria’s sixth attacker - Arthur O’Connor, an aspiring poet from a family of Irish nationalists. Dreaming of following in his ancestor’s footsteps, the young O’Connor concocted an audacious plan: in front of thousands of the Queen’s subjects, he would put a gun to her head and force her to sign a document releasing a group of Irish republican prisoners who had been fighting for independence. Arthur looked forward to dying a hero’s death.
24/04/2335m 12s

Episode Five: The Soldier

In 1846 a soldier named Robert Pate moved to an expensive apartment off Piccadilly - one of the most exclusive areas of London.  Unlike the first four would-be assassins, Robert Pate came from a wealthy family, so for the first time in this series Dr Bob Nicholson is exploring the world of affluent London. Pate's wealth and class helped to smooth his path through life - his father's money bought him a gentleman's education, and a commission in the army, but Robert was not well and developed routines to cope with his mental illness – rituals involving baths, coins, daily carriage rides, and walks through London parks. It was in Hyde Park that Queen Victoria spotted Robert’s eccentric way of dressing and behaving. She wrote to a relative: ‘he makes the point of bowing more frequently and lower to me than anyone else’. By 1850, Queen Victoria was by now a mother of seven, having just given birth to Arthur, her third son. She was celebrating ‘the restoration of her liberty’ by entering public life once more. Prince Albert was immersed in the plans for the Great Exhibition opening the following year. After the tumultuous 1840s he believed the country was entering a new era. He wrote to his cousin: ‘we have no fear here either of an uprising or an assassination.’ So Pate’s attack on 27th June 1850 came out of the blue. As Queen Victoria’s carriage pulled out of the house where she had been visiting a dying relative, Pate stepped from the crowd and brought his metal-tipped stick down on her head, leaving her bleeding. The police intervened to stop a lynching.This was the most serious attack yet and Bob Nicholson’s quest to understand Robert Pate and find out what happened to him after he struck the Queen, takes him to the site of the attack, into the Home Office archives, and the world of Victorian wealth and poverty.
17/04/2340m 44s

Episode Four: The Bricklayer

The 1840s were a revolutionary decade. France and Italy had been rocked by revolution; Queen Victoria and Prince Albert feared that Britain might be next. In April 1848, a movement demanding universal male suffrage known as the Chartists announced they would march on Parliament.  Lamps outside Buckingham Palace had been smashed by a crowd shouting republican slogans - the Royal Family fled, fearing for their lives. To the relief of the Royal Family, the revolution never happened; Victoria said her people loved order and security too much to allow the ‘promoters of pillage and confusion any chance of success in their wicked designs.’ But the Queen spoke too soon - just 6 months later, in amongst the crowds celebrating her 30th birthday was an out of work bricklayer named William Hamilton. And he was armed. As the Queen’s carriage approached, Hamilton pulled a pistol from the pocket of his tattered corduroy trousers, pointed at his target and fired. Dr Bob Nicholson digs deep into the historical records and contemporary newspaper accounts to find out why William Hamilton became the fourth man in less than a decade to attack Queen Victoria. Bob’s journey takes him into the world of the Irish community in London, the political unrest of the 1840s, and the infamous floating prisons – the ‘hulks’.
10/04/2333m 8s

Episode Three: The Runaway

Seventeen year-old John Bean worked as a newsvendor in London. His disability - an acute case of curvature of the spine – meant that throughout his life he had been the target of cruel discrimination. In mid-June 1842, just before his 18th birthday, and days after John Francis’s attempt on the Queen, Bean ran away from home. Presenter Bob Nicholson finds a letter John wrote to his parents telling them he’d run away but promising to stay on the straight and narrow – no matter how bad things got. ‘It will be useless to seek for me as I am determined never to be at home again.’ We discover that he then bought a flintlock pistol that was later described by the shopkeeper as ‘very old, rather rusty, but it could be discharged’ – it might be falling apart but it could fire a lethal shot. John Bean lived rough on the streets and hung around Buckingham Palace waiting for Victoria to appear. Dr Bob Nicholson traces John’s story, by scouring police archives, newspaper accounts and trial transcripts. He uncovers a tragic and gripping tale.
03/04/2337m 29s

Episode Two: The Bankrupt

Dr Bob Nicholson explores police archives and rarely seen documents to uncover the story of the second assassin - 19-year-old John Francis, who gave up a successful career as a carpenter in the West End of London to become a tobacconist. The business soon failed and after his landlord caught him stealing money, Francis bought a pistol and on the 29th May 1842, he fired at the Queen outside Buckingham Palace. Prince Albert spotted him from their carriage, but none of the guards saw Francis, and so he escaped. When informed of the attempt, the Prime Minister Robert Peel urged Victoria to remain in the palace until the mysterious assassin had been caught, but she had no intention of agreeing to the plan. The Queen wanted to ride out as usual the following day - and would let herself be the bait. Bob Nicholson finds out what happens next, and to determine a motive, delves into John Francis’ past.
27/03/2335m 45s

Episode One: The Monster

During Queen Victoria’s 63-year reign, seven young men, many of them teenagers, made the fateful decision to attack her. After each attempt the news shot through Britain like lightning – journalists, politicians, police and the public all clamoured for information.  Why on earth did they do it?  Dr Bob Nicholson is an expert in Victorian journalism and popular culture, but the seven assailants were unknown to him – even though their lives intertwined with the most famous woman on the planet. Bob sifts through the police archives, census returns, court reports and the grubby world of Victorian newspapers to piece together their stories, and try and establish the motives of the seven. The first to attack the Queen was 18 year-old Edward Oxford, who worked clearing glasses in a London pub. One day in June 1840 he walked to Buckingham Palace, took a duelling pistol from his pocket and fired at Victoria as she passed by in her carriage. Oxford’s target was just 21 years old and pregnant with her first child. Victoria was unhurt, but shocked. Oxford is caught and put on trial for high treason; within hours, journalists and detectives try to uncover the young assassin’s story. Bob carries out detective work of his own and discovers a traumatic family history that may hold the key to Edward Oxford’s infamous crime.
20/03/2340m 19s

Introducing Killing Victoria

During the 63 year long reign of Queen Victoria, seven men took the fateful decision to try to kill her. The seven men were within seconds of changing history - each could have brought the Victorian era to a premature end, yet each has been forgotten to history. This new podcast series narrated by Dr Bob Nicholson will look to answer the question of what led these men to try to kill the most famous and influential woman on the planet.
12/03/233m 40s
Heart UK