Tried on 9th of July, 1840, for High Treason, in shooting at Queen Victoria while riding along Constitution Hill with Prince Albert, and found insane
THE trial of Edward Oxford took place at the Central Criminal Court, on Thursday, the 9th of July, 1840, before Lord Denman, Mr Baron Alderson and Mr Justice Patteson.
The indictment was in the following terms:--
"Central Criminal Court, to wit.-- The jurors for our lady the Queen, upon their oath present, that Edward Oxford, late of Westminster, in the county of Middlesex, labourer, being a subject of our lady the Queen, heretofore, to wit, on the 10th of June, in the year of our Lord 1840, within the jurisdiction of the said court, as a false traitor to our lady the Queen, maliciously and traitorously, with force and arms, etc., did compass, imagine, and intend to bring and put our said lady the Queen to death. And to fulfil, perfect, and bring to effect his most evil and wicked treason, and treasonable compassing and imagination aforesaid, he the said Edward Oxford, as such false traitor as aforesaid, to wit, on the said 10th day of June, in the year of our Lord 1840, aforesaid, and within the jurisdiction of the said court, with force and arms, maliciously and traitorously did shoot off and discharge a certain pistol, the same then and there being loaded with gunpowder and a certain bullet, and which pistol he the said Edward Oxford then and there had and held in one of his hands at the person of our said lady the Queen, with intent thereby and therewith maliciously and traitorously to shoot, assassinate, kill, and put to death our said lady the Queen. And further, to fulfil, perfect, and bring to effect his most evil and wicked treason and treasonable compassing and imagination aforesaid, he the said Edward Oxford, as such false traitor as aforesaid, afterwards, to wit, on the said 10th day of June, in the year of our Lord 1840, aforesaid, and within the jurisdiction of the said court, with force and arms, maliciously and traitorously did shoot off and discharge a certain other pistol, the same then and there being loaded with gunpowder and a certain bullet, and which pistol he, the said Edward Oxford, then and there had and held in one of his hands, at the person of our said lady the Queen, with intent thereby and therewith maliciously and traitorously to shoot, assassinate, kill, and put to death our said lady the Queen, and thereby then and there traitorously made a direct attempt against the life of our said lady the Queen, against the duty of the allegiance of him the said Edward Oxford, against the form of the statute in that case made and provided, and against the peace of our said lady the Queen, her crown, and dignity."
To this indictment the prisoner pleaded not guilty.
The prosecution was conducted by the Attorney-General, the Solicitor-General, Sir F. Pollock, Mr Adolphus, Mr Wightman and Mr Gurney; and Mr Sidney Taylor and Mr Bodkin appeared for the defence.
The court was crowded to excess by persons of distinction during the two days occupied by the trial.
The Attorney-General opened the case to the jury, and in the course of his address he said:
"The prisoner at the bar is a young man, about eighteen or nineteen years of age. He was born, as I understand, at Birmingham. He came, when very young, to London, and was sent to school at Lambeth. He afterwards served in many public-houses, in the capacity of what is called a barman. Gentlemen, it would appear that he formed and matured a plan to make an attempt on the life of the Sovereign. On the 4th of May, in the present year, when he was at his lodgings, he bought a pair of pistols from a person named Hayes, living in Blackfriars Road, for the sum of two pounds. He bought at the same time a powder-flask. It will appear by the evidence that he practised shooting in shooting-galleries. He was at a shooting-gallery in Leicester Square, at a gallery in the Strand, and at another at the west end of the town. On Wednesday, the 3rd of June, a week before the day laid in the indictment, he went into the shop of a person named Gray, with whom he had been at school, in Bridge Road, Lambeth, and bought half a hundred copper caps to be used for firing. He asked Gray at the same time where he could buy some bullets and threepennyworth of gunpowder. He was told where the bullets could be had, and Gray sold him some gunpowder. On the evening of the 9th of June he showed a loaded pistol; and when asked what he meant to do with it, he refused to tell, but said he had been firing at a target. I now come, gentlemen, to the day in question, the 10th of June.
"You are probably aware that it is the custom of her Majesty Queen Victoria, since she has been united with Prince Albert, frequently to take an airing in the afternoon or evening in the parks without any military escort, and with the simplicity of private life. This custom was well known to all her loyal subjects, and indeed to the whole community. It will appear that on this day, Wednesday, about four o'clock, the prisoner went into the Park. He saw Prince Albert returning from Woolwich, and going to the Palace. The prisoner then went to Constitution Hill, and there remained, expecting the appearance of the Queen. About six o'clock the Queen, accompanied by her Royal Consort, left the Palace in a low open carriage, drawn by four horses, and with two outriders, who went before, but with no other attendants. Her Majesty was seated on the left side of the carriage, and Prince Albert on the right. The carriage was driven up Constitution Hill. About one hundred and twenty yards from the Palace -- that is, about one-third of the distance between the Palace and the Triumphal Arch -- there was the prisoner, Edward Oxford, watching their progress. He was on the right-hand side, near the iron railings which divide Constitution Hill from the Green Park. When he saw the carriage he turned round towards it; he drew a pistol from his breast, and then, as the carriage went on, discharged it. The providence of God averted the blow from her Majesty. The ball was heard to whiz by on the opposite side. In all probability her Majesty was quite unconscious at that moment that any attempt had been made upon her life. The carriage proceeded. The prisoner then looked back to see if anyone was near to perceive him; he drew another pistol from his breast, whether with his right hand or his left is uncertain, and aimed at her Majesty. It would appear that her Majesty saw him fire, because she stooped down. Again the providence of God interfered. The prisoner fired, the ball was heard to whiz on the other side -- her Majesty escaped. The Queen immediately drove on, to allay the alarm which might be caused by news brought to her august parent with respect to an event so momentous. There was a considerable number of persons on the side of the Park between the road and the gardens of Buckingham Palace. Curiosity and loyalty had led many persons to that spot, in the expectation of her Majesty showing herself to her subjects. There was a man named Lowe, whom I shall call as a witness, who immediately rushed across, seized Oxford, and took the pistols from him. That person at first was believed to be the offender by the parties around, who said: 'You confounded rascal! how dare you shoot at our Queen? ' On which Oxford said: 'It was I.' He was immediately taken into custody, and taken to the station-house, where he voluntarily put the question: 'Is the Queen hurt?' and on being told the Queen was not hurt, he was asked whether there were not bullets in the pistols, and he admitted at once that there were bullets.
"When he had been secured, and when it had been ascertained that his lodgings were, as he said, in West Place, West Square, a policeman was immediately dispatched to search them. The prisoner occupied a room on the first-pair back. The door of the room was open. The policeman found a box which undoubtedly belonged to the prisoner. That box was locked; but I shall show that he had in his pocket a key that fitted it, and that he acknowledged that it was his box, as were also the contents. The box was opened, and in it were found the following articles: -- a sword and scabbard, two pistol-bags, some black crape, a powder- flask, three ounces of powder, a bullet-mould, five leaden bullets and some percussion caps marked, and which had been bought by the prisoner from Gray, his schoolfellow. There was also found a pocket-book containing some papers. The box and its contents were brought to the station-house and shown to the prisoner, who stated that the papers belonged to him, and that he had meant to destroy them in the morning before he went out. These papers I will now read. The first bears no date: it is headed 'Young England,' and the rules and regulations are eleven in number." The learned gentleman then read the following paper:- YOUNG ENGLAND Rules and Regulations
I. That every member shall be provided with a brace of pistols, a sword, a rifle, and a dagger. The two latter to be kept at the committee-room.
2. That every member must, on entering, take the oath of allegiance to be true to the cause he has joined.
3. That every member must, on entering the house, give a signal to the sentry.
4. That every officer shall have a fictitious name. His right name and address to be kept with the secretary.
5. That every member shall, when he is ordered to meet, be armed with a brace of pistols (loaded) and a sword to repel any attack; and also be provided with a black crape cap, to cover his face with his marks of distinction outside.
6. That whenever any member wishes to introduce any new member, he must give satisfactory accounts of him to their superiors, and from thence to the council.
7. Any member who can procure a hundred men shall be promoted to the rank of captain.
8. Any member holding communications with any country agents must instantly forward the intelligence to the secretary.
9. That whenever any member is ordered down the country or abroad, he must take various disguises with him (as the labourer, the mechanic, and the gentleman), all of which he can obtain at the committee-room.
10. That any member wishing to absent himself for more than one month must obtain leave from the commander-in-chief.
11. That no member will be allowed to speak during any debate, nor allowed to ask more than two questions. All the printed rules to be kept at the committee-room.
LIST OF PRINCIPAL MEMBERS Fictitious Names
PRESIDENT Gowrie Justinian Aloman Coloman Kenneth Godfrey
COUNCIL Hanibal Ernest Augustin Ethelred Ferdinand Nicholas Gregory
GENERALS Frederic Augustus Othoe Anthony
CAPTAINS Oxonian Mildon Amadeus Louis
LIEUTENANTS Hercules Neptune Mars Albert
Marks of Distinction
Council -- A large white cockade. President -- A black bow. General -- Three red bows. Captain -- Two red bows. Lieutenant -- One red bow. A. W. SMITH, Secretary.
"There were in the same pocket-book three letters, purporting to be orders addressed to the same secretary, Smith, to Oxford; the first was as follows: --
YOUNG ENGLAND, May 16, 1839. SIR, -- Our commander-in-chief was very glad to find that you answered his questions in such a straightforward manner; you will be wanted to attend on the 21st of this month, as we expect one of the country agents in town on business of importance. Be sure and attend. A. W. Smith, Secretary. P.S. -- You must not take any notice to the boy, nor ask him any questions. "Addressed -- "Mr Oxford, at Mr Minton's, High Street, Marylebone."
"The next letter ran thus: -- -
YOUNG ENGLAND, Nov. 14, 1839. SIR, -- I am very glad to hear that you improve so much in your speeches. Your speech the last time you were here was beautiful. There was another one introduced last night by Lieutenant Mars, a fine, tall, gentlemanly-looking fellow, and it is said that he is a military officer, but his name has not yet transpired. Soon after he was introduced we were alarmed by a violent knocking at the door; in an instant our faces were covered, we cocked our pistols, and with drawn swords stood waiting to receive the enemy. While one stood over the fire with the papers, another stood with lighted torch to fire the house. We then sent the old woman to open the door, and it proved to be some little boys who knocked at the door and ran away. A. W. SMITH, Secretary. You must attend on Wednesday next. "Addressed -- 'Mr Oxford, at Mr Farr's, Hat and Feathers, Goswell Street.'
"The last was in the following terms: -- -
YOUNG ENGLAND, April 3, 1840 SIR, -- You are requested to attend to-night, as there is an extraordinary meeting to be holden, in consequence of having received some communications of an important nature from Hanover. You must attend, and if your master will not give you leave, you must come in defiance of him. A. W. SMITH, Secretary. "Addressed -- -'To Mr Oxford, at Mr Robinson's Hog-in- the-Pound, Oxford Street.'
"Under these circumstances, gentlemen, if the prisoner is accountable for his acts, will you say whether there is any reasonable doubt of his guilt? It appears to me that if the prisoner was at the time accountable for his actions, there can be no doubt of his guilt. I now come to the question whether the prisoner was accountable for his actions at the time when the offence was committed. And I will at once admit, under the law of England, that if he was then of unsound mind -- if he was incapable of judging between right and wrong -- if he was labouring under any delusion or insanity, so as not to be sensible of his crime, or conscious of the act which he committed -- if at the time when that act was committed he was afflicted with insanity, he will be entitled to be acquitted on that ground, I have a duty to discharge to the Crown and to the public, and I must say that, so far as I have yet learned, there is no reason to believe that the prisoner at the time he committed this crime was in a state of mind which takes away his criminal responsibility for the deed."
The evidence for the prosecution was then gone through in corroboration of the statements of the learned Attorney-General, and Mr Sidney Taylor addressed the jury for the defence. Having argued upon the facts of the case proved by the witnesses for the prosecution, upon which he contended, first, that it was quite consistent that the pistols were not fired at the Queen, but with a view only to excite alarm; and secondly, that the pistols might not have been loaded with ball, both of which were necessary elements of the crime; he proceeded, thirdly, to the equally important issue of insanity. It was not the first time, unhappily, that the life of the Sovereign of this country had been attempted to be taken away; but he rejoiced to say, for the sake of our national character, that in no one instance had such an act been done by a person possessing a sane mind.
A vast body of evidence was then adduced with a view to supporting the defence of insanity which was set up. From it, it appeared that the grandfather of the prisoner was a person of colour, and that he was frequently, when intoxicated, guilty of acts of the wildest and most wanton description. Expressions were proved to have been occasionally used by him which indicated a mind bereft of reason, and he was stated to have suffered severely at one period of his life from a fever. With regard to the father of the prisoner, evidence of a similar tendency was adduced. His wife, the mother of the prisoner, was called, and she gave a dreadful detail of the injuries which he had inflicted upon her subsequently to her marriage with him, and of the brutal treatment to which he had subjected her. He had several times taken poison in her presence, and had otherwise been guilty of the most extraordinary and outrageous conduct. The prisoner, she proved, had been born in the year 1822, and throughout his life had exhibited symptoms of imbecility. He would frequently burst into tears, or into fits of laughing, without any assignable cause, and was in the habit of talking in a strain which exhibited a most anxious desire on his part to obtain celebrity in the world. He was always fond of the use of fire-arms, and frequently presented pistols at the head of his sister or his mother. Medical witnesses were also examined, who gave their decided opinion that the prisoner was in an unsound state of mind.
Lord Denman summed up the evidence, and at the end of the second day's trial the jury returned a verdict acquitting the prisoner, upon the ground of insanity. He was ordered to be detained during her Majesty's pleasure, and was subsequently conveyed to Bedlam.