LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Autobiography of William Jerdan
Ch. 18: Mr. Perceval

Vol. I. Front Matter
Ch. 1: Introductory
Ch. 2: Childhood
Ch. 3: Boyhood
Ch. 4: London
Ch. 5: Companions
Ch. 6: The Cypher
Ch. 7: Edinburgh
Ch. 8: Edinburgh
Ch. 9: Excursion
Ch. 10: Naval Services
Ch. 11: Periodical Press
Ch. 12: Periodical Press
Ch. 13: Past Times
Ch. 14: Past Times
Ch. 15: Literary
Ch. 16: War & Jubilees
Ch. 17: The Criminal
‣ Ch. 18: Mr. Perceval
Ch. 19: Poets
Ch. 20: The Sun
Ch. 21: Sun Anecdotes
Ch. 22: Paris in 1814
Ch. 23: Paris in 1814
Ch. 24: Byron
Vol. I. Appendices
Scott Anecdote
Burns Anecdote
Life of Thomson
John Stuart Jerdan
Scottish Lawyers
Sleepless Woman
Canning Anecdote
Southey in The Sun
Hood’s Lamia
Murder of Perceval
Vol. II. Front Matter
Ch. 1: Literary
Ch. 2: Mr. Canning
Ch. 3: The Sun
Ch. 4: Amusements
Ch. 5: Misfortune
Ch. 6: Shreds & Patches
Ch. 7: A Character
Ch. 8: Varieties
Ch. 9: Ingratitude
Ch. 10: Robert Burns
Ch. 11: Canning
Ch. 12: Litigation
Ch. 13: The Sun
Ch. 14: Literary Gazette
Ch. 15: Literary Gazette
Ch. 16: John Trotter
Ch. 17: Contributors
Ch. 18: Poets
Ch 19: Peter Pindar
Ch 20: Lord Munster
Ch 21: My Writings
Vol. II. Appendices
The Satirist.
Authors and Artists.
The Treasury
Morning Chronicle
Chevalier Taylor
Foreign Journals
Vol. III. Front Matter
Ch. 1: Literary Pursuits
Ch. 2: Literary Labour
Ch. 3: Poetry
Ch. 4: Coleridge
Ch 5: Criticisms
Ch. 6: Wm Gifford
Ch. 7: W. H. Pyne
Ch. 8: Bernard Barton
Ch. 9: Insanity
Ch. 10: The R.S.L.
Ch. 11: The R.S.L.
Ch. 12: L.E.L.
Ch. 13: L.E.L.
Ch. 14: The Past
Ch. 15: Literati
Ch. 16: A. Conway
Ch. 17: Wellesleys
Ch. 18: Literary Gazette
Ch. 19: James Perry
Ch. 20: Personal Affairs
Vol. III. Appendices
Literary Poverty
Ismael Fitzadam
Mr. Tompkisson
Mrs. Hemans
A New Review
Debrett’s Peerage
Procter’s Poems
Poems by Others
Poems by Jerdan
Vol. IV. Front Matter
Ch. 1: Critical Glances
Ch. 2: Personal Notes
Ch. 3: Fresh Start
Ch. 4: Thomas Hunt
Ch. 5: On Life
Ch. 6: Periodical Press
Ch. 7: Quarterly Review
Ch. 8: My Own Life
Ch. 9: Mr. Canning
Ch. 10: Anecdotes
Ch. 11: Bulwer-Lytton
Ch. 12: G. P. R. James
Ch. 13: Finance
Ch. 14: Private Life
Ch. 15: Learned Societies
Ch. 16: British Association
Ch. 17: Literary Characters
Ch. 18: Literary List
Ch. 19: Club Law
Ch. 20: Conclusion
Vol. IV. Appendix
Gerald Griffin
W. H. Ainsworth
James Weddell
The Last Bottle
N. T. Carrington
The Literary Fund
Letter from L.E.L.
Geographical Society
Baby, a Memoir
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Murder most foul, as at the best it is,
But the most foul, strange, and unnatural.—Hamlet.
A meditated and contrived murder.—Henry V.
A murder which I thought a sacrifice.—Othello.

My narrative of this catastrophe, which I hope may not be without its moral,—teaching the best-intentioned to take heed how they stand lest they fall,—has occupied so much space that I must open a new chapter for the second, and far more important event, which I announced as having befallen within the sphere of my personal action. I allude to the murder of Mr. Perceval, on the 11th of May, 1812, the full and exact particulars of which have never yet been laid before the public; though the broad facts have been truly stated, and even the details, generally, communicated with so near an approach to accuracy, that were it not desirable to have so momentous a piece of History free from all error, I should hardly deem it necessary to re-write, with some additions, the narrative published from my pen, in Fisher’s National Portrait Gallery.*

About 5 o’clock of the tragical day referred to, I had

* See Life of the Rt. Hon. Spencer Perceval, vol. i. 1830.

walked down to the House to listen, in my turn, to the interminable debates in Committee on the Orders in Council, which were very briefly reported in the newspapers. On ascending the broad flight of steps which led to the folding door of the lobby, I perceived the minister, with whom I had the honour of a slight acquaintance, immediately behind me, with his light and lithesome step following in the same direction. I saluted him, and was saluted in return, with that benevolent smile which I was so instantly destined to see effaced for ever, and pushing open and holding back the half door, to allow the precedence of entering, I of course made way for him to go in.

He did enter, and there was an instant noise, but as a physical fact it is very remarkable to state that, though I was all but touching him, and if the ball had passed through his body it must have lodged in mine, I did not hear the report of the pistol. It is true it was fired in the inside of the lobby, and I was just out of it; but, considering our close proximity, I have always found it difficult to account for the phenomenon I have noticed. I saw a small curling wreath of smoke rise above his head, as if the breath of a cigar; I saw him reel back against the ledge on the inside of the door; I heard him exclaim, “Oh God!” or “Oh my God!” and nothing more or longer (as reported by several witnesses), for even that exclamation was faint; and then making an impulsive rush, as it were, to reach the entrance to the house on the opposite side for safety, I saw him totter forward, not half way, and drop dead between the four pillars which stood there in the centre of the space, with a slight trace of blood issuing from his lips. All this took place ere with moderate speed you could count five! Great confusion, and almost as immediately great alarm ensued. Loud cries were uttered, and rapidly
conflicting orders and remarks on every hand made a perfect Babel of the scene; for there were above a score of people in the lobby, and on the instant no one seemed to know what had been done, or by whom. The corse of
Mr. Perceval was lifted up by Mr. William Smith, the member for Norwich, assisted by Lord Francis Osborne, a Mr. Phillips, and several others, and borne into the office of the Speaker’s Secretary, by the small passage on the left hand, beyond and near the fire-place.—It must have been, pallid and deadly, close by the murderer; for in a moment after Mr. Eastaff, one of the clerks of the Vote Office, at the last door on that side, pointed him out, and called “That is the murderer!” Bellingham moved slowly to a bench on the hither side of the fire-place, near at hand, and sat down. I had in the first instance run forward to render assistance to Mr. Perceval, but only witnessed the lifting of his body, followed the direction of Mr. Eastaff’s hand, and seized the assassin by the collar, but without violence on one side, or resistance on the other. Comparatively speaking, a crowd now came up, and among the earliest Mr. Vincent Dowling, Mr. John Norris, Sir Charles Long, Sir Charles Burrell, Mr. Henry Burgess, and, in a minute or two, General Gascoigne from a committee room up stairs, and Mr. Hume, Mr. Whitbread, Mr. Pole, and twelve or fifteen members from the House. Meanwhile Bellingham’s neckcloth had been stripped off, his vest unbuttoned, and his chest laid bare. The discharged pistol was found beside him, and its companion was taken, loaded and primed, from his pocket. An opera-glass, papers, and other articles were also pulled forth, principally by Mr. Dowling, who was on his left, whilst I stood on his right hand; and except for his frightful agitation, he was as passive as a child. Little was said to him. General
Gascoigne on coming up and getting a glance through the surrounding spectators observed that he knew him at Liverpool, and asked if his name was Bellingham, to which he returned no answer, but the papers rendered farther question on this point unnecessary. Mr. Lynn, a surgeon in Great George Street, adjacent, had been hastily sent for, and found life quite extinct, the ball having entered in a slanting direction from the hand of the tall assassin, and passed into his victim’s heart. Some one came out of the room with this intelligence, and said to Bellingham, “Mr. Perceval is dead! Villain, how could you destroy so good a man, and make a family of twelve children orphans?” To which he almost mournfully replied, “I am sorry for it.” Other observations and questions were addressed to him by by-standers; in answer to which he spoke incoherently, mentioning the wrongs he had suffered from government, and justifying his revenge on similar grounds to those he used, at length, in his defence at the Old Bailey.

I have alluded to Bellingham’s “frightful agitation” as he sat on the bench, and all this dreadful work was going on; and I return to it to describe it as far as words can convey an idea of the shocking spectacle. I could only imagine something like it in the overwrought painting of a powerful romance writer, but never before could conceive the physical suffering of a strong muscular man, under the tortures of a distracted mind. Whilst his language was cool, the agonies which shook his frame were actually terrible. His countenance wore the hue of the grave, blue and cadaverous; huge drops of sweat ran down from his forehead, like rain on the window-pane in a heavy storm, and, coursing his pallid cheeks, fell upon his person where their moisture was distinctly visible; and from the
bottom of his chest to his gorge, rose and receded, with almost every breath, a spasmodic action, as if a body, as large or larger than a billiard-ball, were choking him. The miserable wretch repeatedly struck his chest with the palm of his hand to abate this sensation, but it refused to be repressed.

All the doors had by this time been locked and bolted, and all the avenues examined and scoured. Nothing of accomplices was discovered, as, in fact, there were none, and the deed was a solitary act of blood and vengeance. The disorder, however, began to be resolved into form, though the consternation and anxieties of the parties engaged in these movements seemed rather to augment than to diminish. In a few minutes when the nature of the calamity was ascertained, the murderer was conveyed to the bar of the House, escorted by messengers, and with my hold never relaxed from his collar till he stood there; and the speaker having taken the chair the proceedings were initiated and carried through. It was found that the Commons could not take cognizance of the matter, and the House was accordingly adjourned in order that the magistrates present, Mr. M. Angelo Taylor, Mr. Alderman Combe and others, might investigate the circumstances and pronounce on the course to be adopted. Before them, in a room up stairs, Bellingham was arraigned, witnesses examined, and the prisoner, who hardly spoke, committed, with due precautions, to Newgate to take his trial for the murder. It is my hope that the depositions and examinations on this preliminary inquiry may be preserved, in extenso, as they will furnish a more accurate account of the whole transaction for future history, than can be extracted from the meagre and law-shaped statements which were found to be sufficient for conviction on the trial, but by no means
satisfy the plain, simple truth as it relates to the appalling tragedy I have described. And I am the more desirous of this in order to have justice done to my own individual share in the sad affair; for though there is little to boast of in having seized an unresisting man, yet as others chose to plume themselves on the courageous act (which required no courage, but which they did not perform), and to speak mysteriously of the dangers to be eschewed from the loaded pistol, I consider it due to myself to assert that no hand was laid upon the assassin in the lobby, except my own, and
Mr. Dowling’s for a few moments, till he relinquished it to go in front, and empty the pockets of the criminal, handing the papers to Mr. Hume, who identified them by his initials, J. H., to be produced in evidence when wanted.

The minutes of the Grand Jury, if such are fully kept, might also throw a light on some particular parts; and I the rather allude to this possibility, to have an opportunity of expressing my strong opinion upon the evils of the system supported by this branch of our criminal jurisprudence. The precognition in Scotland, as it is conducted by the public prosecutor, contributes admirably to the pure and satisfactory administration of justice, between the country and the accused; but as the business is transacted within the province of the Grand Jury, nothing can tend more distinctly to the perversion of facts and the poisoning of the stream at the fountain-head. As in this momentous case, the witnesses are assembled in the Grand Jury waiting-room, comparing notes, and talking of what they said or did. Unconsciously, or through vanity, there is a too common aptitude in many persons to appropriate to themselves the doings or merits of which fellow-witnesses have informed them, and generally speaking there is (especially
in difficult questions, of which this was not an example) a disposition to fill up, and, as it were dove-tail the circumstances, in order to make them all consistent and without flaw for the opposite side to employ in defeating the process. Although not at variance with the main and obvious features of this murder, there was a good deal of odd transposition and concoction between the 11th of May and the 15th, when the criminal was tried and doomed to die. Upon this inconsistency, at the time, I consulted
Sir Charles Long, one of the earliest witnesses in the lobby; and I may note that it was one of the first things which recommended me to his cordial friendship (lasting to the day of his death, as will appear in some, I trust, publicly interesting documents in a future volume) that I forbore to publish a plain and truthful statement of the whole catastrophe, for which he could vouch; because in the alarm and agitation which pervaded the country, it might produce a dangerous effect to call in question any of these erroneous impressions, seeing that, though false as regarded persons and smaller acts, they were substantially true as regarded the perpetration of the crime and its condign punishment.

The judicial ordeal in the committee-room up-stairs was attended by some accessions of eminent statesmen and members of Parliament, some of them intimate friends of the deceased, who were deeply affected by the solemn and painful proceedings. For myself I was so shaken by the awfulness of the event, that I was leaning on the stair-balluster for support, and believe I should have fainted but for the kindness of Mr. (now Sir Charles) Burrell, who procured a draught of water for me, and himself administered it to my parched lips. I have a grateful remembrance of this relief of forty years ago! Without
being so revived I could not have had power to give my evidence. Mr. Boys, a solicitor from Margate, who was in the lobby with several witnesses from that place, in support of a bill for improving the pier, played a conspicuous part on the occasion, but was not called on the trial; where, indeed, other witnesses answered for him as they did for me.

The committal was formally made out about nine o’clock, and the prisoner sent, securely guarded, to Newgate. The wonderful speed with which the intelligence spread over London and the suburbs is almost incredible—one might have supposed there were electric telegraphs, so unaccountable was the rapid diffusion of the information, and the alarm it occasioned throughout the populous circle, as if a revolution had broken out, and been commenced with a foul murder, unparalleled for national concern since Felton’s assassination of the Duke of Buckingham.

On my weary return home to Old Brompton, I found that the news had penetrated that retirement, and excited great uneasiness, which was only dissipated by my arrival with the striking proofs of Bellingham’s pre-determined resolution, and the mortal means by which he executed it. I had with me a manuscript copy of his petition to government, to “remunerate his losses, and give compensation for his personal sufferings:” it is written and signed “John Bellingham,” in a bold mercantile hand, and marked, as I have noticed, with the initials of Mr. Hume. This document I had afterwards bound, and with a plan of the lobby and its occupants, and a facsimile of the fatal pistol, presented to my much-valued friend Sir Francis Freeling.* I had also the pair of pistols, and kept them till the day of the trial; when there was a prodigious struggle for their possession among the official persons engaged in the prose-

* See Appendix.

cution and the lawyers; and to whose lot they fell after I gave them up, I am ignorant. I, however, laid them down on a sheet of paper, and traced their size—not three inches in the barrel, hut a rather wide bore, and very strong in every part. The only other remarkable article, which, however, I still retain, was a plain but powerful opera-glass in a red case; and it was important, as it had frequently been seen, during the fortnight before, in the assassin’s hands in the gallery of the House of Commons, whence he surveyed the members below, and ascertained surely by asking the reporters which was
Mr. Perceval. There can, therefore, be no doubt but that he had long fixed upon his victim; and given up the idea, if he ever entertained it, of murdering Lord Leveson Gower, whom he accused of traversing his commercial course in Russia.

I received my subpoena on Thursday, the 14th, attended at the Grand Jury and the Old Bailey on Friday, the 15th, but was not examined; and the wretched being expiated, as far humanly as such guilt can be expiated, his atrocious crime, in front of Newgate on Monday, the 18th; one week having sufficed to fulfil this memorable tragedy.