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  • Writer's pictureVictoria Regina

Queen Victoria’s Journal - Assassination attempt on Queen Victoria, 29th February 1872, Arthur O’Connor

Updated: Mar 2

On the 29th February 1872, seventeen-year-old Arthur O’Connor drew his flintlock pistol at Queen Victoria as she entered the courtyard of Buckingham Palace after a Leap Day drive around Hyde and Regent’s Park. But just before he reached the Queen, her personal assistant John Brown grabbed O’Connor by the neck and disarmed him.

Arthur O’Connor approaching Queen Victoria’s carriage, Source: Public Domain

O’connor was a self-proclaimed Irish nationalist. Though he had lived all his life in London, he was “passionately Irish” and had hypothesised about his own Irish heritage. He was indignant that “his own family had sunk into obscurity and squalor” thus he decided that by shooting the Queen he would “restore the reputation of the O’Connors, and join the pantheon of great Irish heroes” O’Connor claimed that his intentions weren’t to kill Queen Victoria, but instead to frighten her into signing a document that would release Irish political prisoners being held in British jails.

It was found that the pistol O’Connor carried was broken and would not have worked. Despite this, he was sentenced to a year in prison, 20 strokes of a birch rod and by the queens wishes, deportation to Australia.

Queen Victoria recalls the alarming event in her journal -

"A wet morning, it cleared however by ½ p. 11 & I drove with Beatrice & Jane C. to Argyll to Lodge, where I got out & saw Elizabeth, then went to see the Duke, who was in bed, & sat some time talking to him. He looked very ill. — Resting on the sofa, when I came back. — Lunched rather earlier & dressed for the Court going into the Throne Room at 3. There was the usual attendance of all the Corps Diplomatique, the people belonging to the Govt with their wives, &c. It only lasted ½ an hour.

Resting & at ½ p. 4 drove in the open landau & with Arthur, Leopold & Jane C., the Equerries riding. We drove round Hyde & Regent's Parks, returning by Constitution Hill, & when at the Garden Entrance a dreadful thing happened, which God in His mercy averted having any evil consequences. It is difficult for me to describe, as my impression was a great fright, & all was over in a minute. How it all happened I knew nothing of. The Equerries had dismounted, Brown had got down, to let down the steps & Jane C. was just getting out, when suddenly someone appeared at my side, whom I at first imagined was a footman, going to lift off the wrapper. Then I perceived that it was someone unknown, peering above the carriage door, with an uplifted hand & a strange voice, at the same time the Boys calling out & moving forward. Involuntarily, in a terribly fright, I threw myself over Jane C., calling out, "save me", & heard a scuffle & voices! I soon recovered myself sufficiently to stand up & turn round, when I saw Brown holding a young man tightly, who was struggling, Arthur, the Equerries &c, also near him. They laid the man on the ground & Brown kept hold of him till several of the Police came in.

All turned & asked if I was hurt & I said "not at all". Then Ld Charles Gen: Hardinge, & Arthur came up saying they thought the man had dropped something. We looked, but could find nothing, when Cannon, the Postillion called out "there it is" & looking down I then did see shining on the ground a small pistol!! This filled us with horror. All were as white as sheets, Jane C. almost crying & Leopold looked as if he were going to faint. It is to good Brown & to his wonderful presence of mind, that I greatly owe my safety, for he alone saw the boy rush round & followed him! I remained a little while standing in the carriage, whilst the grooms, the 2 footmen & Flemming, the Page, all rushed out, enraged & horrified, but no one thought of shutting the inner gates. Old Fuller also was there. When I was standing in the Hall Gen: Hardinge came in, bringing an extraordinary document which this boy had intended making me sign! It was in connection with the Fenian Prisoners! Sir T. Biddulph came running, greatly horrified. Then the boy was taken a way by the Police & made no attempt to escape.

Dear Alix, who had come to take tea with me, had been told what had happened by Flemming & she came most affectionately to meet me in my dressing room. She was so horrified & distressed. I was trembling very much & a sort of shiver ran through me. Alix said she was glad she had not been in the carriage & that it was no pleasure being a Queen, to which I most readily agreed. Arthur soon came in, who, as well as Leopold, did all they could. Arthur said he had jumped over the side of the carriage, but that Brown had been too quick, for him to catch the boy. He had tried to push his hand aside, for both Arthur & Leopold had seen the pistol pointed at me, close to my face, which neither I nor anyone else did. The pistol had not been loaded, but it easily might have been! I sent Arthur off at once to Bertie, so that he should not hear an exaggerated account. Gen: Hardinge went to Mr Gladstone, Sir T. Biddulph to the Home Office & Ld Charles Fitzroy to the Police Station. Dear Alix would not remain long, out of discretion but was so dear & kind. Saw Sir T. Biddulph later, who was greatly distressed, as everyone was, & at this happening just now to most admirable effect of yesterday's wonderful scenes. —

Sent for dear Jane C., who was in a great state & said it had proved to be quite true that as we drove into the enclosure, she thought she had seen a man slide down from the top of the railing, but thought no more about it. He evidently must have run into the garden past the Lodge & got in amongst the grooms & people without being observed. Ld C. Fitzroy told us at dinner that he had noticed a boy just at the steps, but had merely thought he was a forward gardener & had given him a push. Then the boy, looking at Jane C. & seeing it was not me, had run round to the other side like lightening. His name is O'Connor & Arthur remembers having heard him say to me "Take that from a Fenian." But it seems he never presented the paper. — Dear Arthur took leave, still much shaken, & so was poor dear Leopold, who was afraid I might be ill. — Saw Gen: Hardinge, after he returned. Exaggerated reports had already been flying about everywhere. — Saw Sir Wm Jenner both before & after dinner. — Jane C., Augusta Stanley, LdC. Fitzroy & his daughter & Gen: Hardinge dined. We talked of nothing else but today's alarming experience. How I thought of my beloved Albert & of 32 30 & 22 years ago! — Saw George C., who kindly came at once from Christ's Hospital, saying he had heard that something had happened. He had seen LdC. Fitzroy, also Brown & thought it the most inconceivable thing he had ever heard of. He could not imagine how it could have occurred. — Jane C. & Augusta S. stayed a little while with me. — I went earlier than usual to bed, feeling very tired & shaken. How with all my heart I thank God for His great mercy, & for preserving me once again!"

© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2012

© Bodleian Libraries © ProQuest

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