7 – Arthur O’Connor, February 29, 1872
February 29, 1872, was an unusual day, and not just because it was a leap day. Again in the central London vicinity of Buckingham Palace, Victoria was attacked by Arthur O’Connor, a teenage revolutionary.
O’Connor was a man who was almost an amalgam of Victoria’s previous attackers. Like Edward Oxford, he was a teenager, just 17 years old. Like Francis, he was armed with a flintlock pistol, which failed to discharge correctly. Like William Hamilton, he was an Irishman who resented the role that the Queen had played in the devastating famine in his homeland. Like Bean, he claimed not to actually want to kill the Queen, but instead to scare her into releasing political prisoners. Like Pate, he would be tackled and stopped, in this case by the Queen’s batman John Brown, who received a medal for his efforts. And like most of them, he found himself on a one-way trip to Australia, not before he’d had a few lashes for his troubles.
Arthur O’Connor’s case, however, was almost stranger than any of the other would-be assassins. He was mentally ill, as many were, but his illness manifested itself in a markedly different form. He was from a long line of famous Irish radicals: his great-grandfather, also Arthur O’Connor, was a leader of the United Irishmen rebellion of 1798 and an ally of Napoleon, while his great uncle, Francis Burnett O’Connor, had fought with Simon Bolivar in his campaigns to liberate South America from the Spanish. Another great uncle, Feargus O’Connor, was a leading Chartist reformer known as the “Lion of Freedom”. It was in these shadows that the young Arthur walked.
O’Connor was afflicted by serious delusions of grandeur. He seemed convinced that, when he made contact with the Queen, that she would be taken by him and accede to his demands. Even after his whipping and transportation, he continued to try to contact Queen Victoria, writing long letters to her explaining his actions and goals – including that she would make him Poet Laureate ahead of the incumbent of the time, Alfred Tennyson.
Unsurprisingly, O’Connor’s travails did not end once he was released in Australia. He was continually institutionalized in Sydney and would spend most of his remaining days in insane asylums, usually under the symptom of what the Victorians called “self-abuse” – that is to say, masturbation.