5 – William Hamilton, June 19, 1849
The fifth attempt would come some eight years later, but like our first four failed assassins, would take place within mere yards of the Queen’s residence. On her official birthday – British royals celebrate their real birthday and an “official birthday” that is held in the summer months – Victoria was again shot at as she drove in an open carriage through central London.
The shooter this time was an unemployed Irishman, William Hamilton, and again, he was motivated by a desire to get himself arrested and find himself in prison. Life on the streets in 1840s London was hard and many would starve. Knowing the pain of hunger – Hamilton had moved to the capital from Famine-ravaged Ireland two years previously, one of more than a million to emigrate as a result of the Potato Blight – he wished to be arrested and saw that shooting at the Queen could achieve that goal. If it worked for a four foot tall hunchback, it could work for a jobless Irishman.
His assassination attempt was fairly poor: he unleashed his shot as the carriage drove through Green Park, missed and was tackled to the floor by the park’s greenkeeper. There was no bullet in the gun, as he had no intention of killing the Queen. He got his wish, however: he was sent to Gibraltar for seven years’ hard labour.
Hamilton was just one of over a million Irishmen who had moved from Ireland to Britain as a result of the Great Hunger of the late 1840s. A million died on the island and a further million emigrated, many to the United States but the majority to the British mainland. Of those who left, plenty felt a serious resentment towards the British establishment, who had continued to export food from Ireland while the native population starved to death.
As the head of that establishment, Queen Victoria came in for severe personal criticism. She was known as “the Famine Queen” and despite her donating £2,000 to famine relief at the time, she later turned down a £10,000 donation from the Ottoman Sultan (lest she be shamed that she had not given more) and subsequently spent £5,000 on just one dinner on her 1849 trip to Ireland.