3 – John Francis, May 30, 1842
As you might expect, the authorities were swift to begin the manhunt for John Francis. With a potential royal assassin running free on the streets of London, a plan was devised that was designed to flush out Francis.
George Pearson, the man who had spotted the initial attempt, tried to get in touch with the Queen directly to warn her of Francis’ intentions. Pearson and his brother went to the Palace and asked after the Charles Augustus Murray, the head of the royal household, but he was unable to meet with them. They resolved to return the next day, but it was to be too late.
Meanwhile, Robert Peel, the Prime Minister, and the head of the London police, Colonel Charles Rowan, met to discuss the safety of the monarch. Unaware of the Pearsons’ accounts, they had only the word of Prince Albert to go on for a description of the shooter, but they were sure that he would attempt to strike again.
Queen Victoria, showing some staunch British stiff upper lip, refused to change her arrangements and wanted to keep up her public appearances. With that in mind, the scheme to find John Francis involved using the Queen herself as bait, travelling slowly around central London in her open carriage in an attempt to draw a second attack and hopefully get the assassin to reveal himself.
“You may imagine that our minds were not very easy,” wrote Albert after the incident in a letter to his father, Ernest III of Saxe-Coburg. “We looked behind every tree, and I cast my eyes round in search of the rascal’s face.”
The plan worked. John Francis did appear again – just five paces from the Queen’s carriage. Again he fired and this time the gun worked, but the bullet missed the monarch. The legions of plain clothes coppers that surrounded the royal vehicle had managed to totally miss their mark and indeed, very highly fortunate that the assailant did too.
In the defence of the police, for reasons of secrecy they had not been given any inklings as to what the man they were looking for had done and thus when John Francis struck, they did not know that they were supposed to be foiling an assassination attempt. John Francis was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered for his crime, but his punishment was lessened and instead he found himself swiftly en route to Van Diemen’s Land for life.