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24 September 2014

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Cambridgeshire crimes
The St Neots assassin
Gunfire of the assassin
"Take that, you swine!" Bellingham murders Perceval

A single shot rings out as Prime Minister Spencer Perceval enters the lobby of the House of Commons.

He falls to the floor, with a lead ball through his heart. But who killed him?


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At the time of his assassination, the Prime Minister was aged 50. He left a wife and 12 children.

When executed, John Bellingham was 35, and left a wife and three children.

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John Bellingham was born in 1776 in St Neots. These are the events that led him to murder the Prime Minister on 11th May, 1812.

In his teens John Bellingham became a dealer specialising in marine products which, by all accounts, was profitable and he soon built up a successful company.

In 1803 Bellingham visited Russia on business, and set off by coach a port for the return journey to England. Around that same time, a ship called the Soluere had sunk in the White Sea.

Fraud on board?

The vessel was insured by Lloyds of London, who were refusing to pay the owners of the ship, suspecting fraud.

quoteBellingham spent the next two years in a rat infested cell, being fed on bread and water quote

John Bellingham was one of the many who had cargo on the Soluere, and the shipowners, fearing they would incur the total costs, initiated legal proceedings against the carriers.

Bellingham was arrested at the frontier, and placed in a Russian prison. Pleading his innocence, he immediately sought help from the British Ambassador in Russia, Lord Granville Leverson Gower.

Lord, help me!

Lord Gower, on behalf of the British Government, declined to interfere, and Bellingham spent the next two years in a rat infested cell, being fed on bread and water.

In his absence, his business fell into difficulties, and he soon had creditors demanding money. One Russian merchant demanded 2,000 rubles owed to him. Bellingham indicated he was unable to pay.

Despite the fact that the original allegations against Bellingham had by then been dropped, he was kept in custody - this time as a bankrupt.

John Bellingham remained in detention for six years, and when he was finally released in 1809, he was a bitter man, intent on compensation or revenge.

Demanding remuneration

On his return to England he set about making representations to the Government, stating he had been abandoned in Russia and now demanded fair remuneration.

In desperation he applied to the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, who replied saying he had no just ground of claim.

quote When he was finally released in 1809, Bellingham was a bitter man quote

During February 1812, Bellingham took up lodgings in 9 New Millman Street, London.

Over the next two months he was a regular visitor to the Houses of Parliament where he attempted to lobby MPs to make representations on his behalf. Many were sympathetic but none would help.

On 20th April 1812, Bellingham visited North Place, Grays Inn Lane, where he engaged a James Taylor to make alterations to an overcoat.

He instructed Taylor to make a nine inch deep breast pocket on the left inside of the coat. The work was completed the following day, and Taylor delivered the garrment to Bellingham at New Millman Street.

Bellingham continued to be a frequent visitor to the gallery of the House of Commons, and soon new most MPs by name. He showed particular interest whenever the Prime Minister spoke.

Meanwhile, in the House

Just after 5.00pm on Monday 11th May, 1812 John Bellingham entered the lobby leading to the House, and sat near an open fire.

At 5.15pm there was the sound of footsteps as the Prime Minister and his assistants walked down the corridor towards the lobby entrance to the House...

More about the St Neot's assassin »

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