John Bellingham was raised in a London counting house, and from there went to work for a Russian merchant in Archangel for three years. He returned to England, married a Miss Mary Nevill, the daughter of a merchant and shipbroker, and together they returned to Archangel in 1804.
He dealt principally with the firm of Dorbecker & Co, but within a year, the relationship had soured and they were making financial claims against each other. The matter was referred to the Governor General and Bellingham was judged to owe two thousand roubles to Dorbecker & Co. He refused to pay.
Then, a criminal suit was brought against him for allegedly having interfered with the insurance claims made about a ship lost in the White Sea. This was dismissed. But Bellingham was handed over to the College of Commerce and it was decided that until he paid the 2000 roubles to Dorbecker, he must remain under a kind of house arrest.
His frequent (or incessant) petitioning of the British ambassador, Lord Granville Leveson Gower, finally got him some kind of a deal whereby he could forego paying the debt if he would leave the country and not return. He returned to England in 1809 and set up shop as an insurance-broker.
However, by this point, he’d begun to blame Leveson Gower for the mess in Russia, and so started demanding redress from the Government for Leveson Gower’s behaviour. He wrote to the Marquis of Wellesley who referred the case to the Privy Council, and by them, to the Treasury.
But back to the history lesson: When Bellingham didn’t receive the justice he, er, craved, he brought the matter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Spencer Perceval, who declined to interfere. Then he petitioned General Gascoyne, member for Liverpool, and when he also declined to interfere, he wrote to the Prince Regent.
Three years passed–he’d had no satisfactory response to the hundreds of letters he’d sent to the Chancellor and everybody else he could importune–so on 23 March 1812, he wrote to the police magistrates at Bow Street, informing them that having failed to receive justice he was now prepared to take matters into his own hands. They believed it to be nothing more than a threat, and did nothing.
He wrote once again to the Treasury and when they failed to respond as he wished, he decided that gave him carte blanche to take matters into his own hands.
At which point, he began taking a seat each night in the gallery of the House of Commons –doing a recce, really. Having worked out who everyone was, and how the place worked, he bought a pair of pistols, powder and balls, made an additional pocket in his coat for carrying them, and on 11 May 1812…he waited in the lobby, and when the Prime Minister and Chancellor, Sir Spencer Perceval came out following a debate, he shot him. Sir Spencer died almost instantly.
Bellingham was tried on 15th May 1812 in a packed courtroom. Following his guilty verdict, (he was also declared insane) he was fed on bread and water, and not allowed to shave for fear he’d attempt suicide…He was executed on the 18th May at 8.00 in the morning, just outside the gate of Newgate Prison.
Anyway, that’s the gist. If you want more lurid details about the assassination, you’ll have to read my novel, May 1812…
Here’s a picture of him; he’s dashed ugly.
I quite like Spencer Perceval, though. King George said that he was, “the most straightforward man I have ever known”. And he also used to control the House of Commons rather well too–through his wit. It was he who once said in debate, “I have nothing to add to the nothing which has been said.”