Edward Oxford

Edward Oxford was only a 'pot boy' of 18 years working in a public house, but he had serious delusions of grandeur.  He invented a secret society called 'Young England', but when this failed to bring him the glory that he felt he deserved, he hit on another way to gain notoriety.  In 1840 he was the first to take a shot at Queen Victoria on one of her regular outings from Buckingham Palace in an open carriage.  He fired twice using the two flintlock pistols that he had bought specially for the deed, but Victoria was uninjured.

Both his father and grandfather had shown signs of madness.  His father was a 'gold chaser' earning good money, until his eccentric activities brought him low.  His grandfather was a sailor in the Royal Navy who finally ended up in the Royal Hospital for Seaman in Greenwich where he was treated for a 'complaint in the head'.  Both men had a darker hue to their skin, which I discovered came from Edward's great great grandfather, a slave from Antigua brought to rural Hertfordshire by the wife of his owner.

The defence team at Edward's trial fielded some of the best experts in lunacy of the day and highlighted the strange exploits of his ancestors.  It convinced the jury, and he was acquitted and sent instead to the criminal wing of Bethlem Hospital (the origin of the word 'bedlam').  His first years there were awful, but the system ameliorated during the middle years of the century and Edward was allowed access to the library and to useful activity.  He became a painter and decorator and demonstrated his intelligence by learning six languages, three of them fluently.  In fact it is doubtful that he was ever mad, just a boy from a broken home with youthful delusions.

In 1864 he was moved to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum and three years later released on condition that he emigrated to the colonies.  He was put aboard a boat for Melbourne, Australia, where he changed his name to John Freeman and found work as a decorator.  In 1881 he married a widow and moved to the smart suburb of Emerald Hill.  He rose in society, becoming a churchwarden at the Cathedral, a friend of the Dean, and an invitee to the Governor General's parties.  He wrote a book called the 'Lights and Shadows of Melbourne life', which was well received.  He finally died in 1900, aged 78, and went to his grave without anybody in the colony knowing his real identity, not even his wife.

The chapter in the book describes in much more detail the drama of the attack and how Edward later prospered in Australia, yet managed to keep his identity secret.

Sources used in the full account in the book


Patricia H. Allderidge, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine: Criminal Insanity: Bethlem to Broadmoor, 1974 67(9), 897-904
Jonathan Andrews et al, The History of Bethlem, Routledge, London, 1997
The Convict Probation System: Van Diemen’s Land, 1839-1854, Ian Brand, Blubberhead Press, Hobart, 1990
J. J. Colledge, Ships of the Royal Navy, Greenhill, London, 1987
John Freeman, Lights and Shadows of Melbourne Life, Simpson Low, London, 1888
Vere Langford Oliver, The History of the Island of Antigua, one of the Leeward Caribbees in the West Indies, from the First Settlement in 1635 to the Present Time, Mitchell & Hughes, London, 1894
Henry Rollin, Forensic Psychology in England, 150 Years of British Psychiatry vol. 2: The Aftermath, edited by Hugh Freeman and German Berrios, p247, Athlone, London, 1996
F. B. Smith, Lights and Shadows in the Life of John Freeman, Victorian Studies vol. 30 no. 4 pp459-73, 1987
Broadmoor Revealed: Some Patient Stories – Edward Oxford, Berkshire Record Office, 2009
Edward Oxford Bethlem Hospital Medical Record, Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives
Edward Oxford Broadmoor Hospital Case File, Berkshire Record Office D/H14/D2/1/96
Greenwich Hospital Admission Registers, The National Archives ADM 73/58, ADM 73/67
Hertfordshire Burial Index 1801-50, Hertfordshire Archives
Home Secretary’s Papers Relating to Edward Oxford, The National Archives HO44/36, 1840
HMS Medusa Muster Book, The National Archives ADM 36/15155 and 16779, 1801 and 1804-5
Index to Unassisted Inward Passenger Lists to Victoria, Victoria PRO, 1868
James Bowen Death Certificate, General Register Office of Victoria, Australia, 1874
James Gordon of Moor Hall, The House of Commons volume 1 p36, 1790-1820
John McKinley and James Bowen Death Register Index Entry, Registry of Births, Marriages and Deaths, Western Australia
John Freeman Marriage and Death Certificate, General Register Office of Victoria, Australia, 1881 and 1900
Melbourne Citizen List, Victoria Public Record Office, 1877/78
Metropolitan Police File on Edward Oxford, The National Archives MEPO3/17
Moor Hall, Country Life, 3 September 2009
Much Hadham List of Men available for the Militia, Hertfordshire Archives, 1758-86
Much Hadham Parish Rate Book, Hertfordshire Archives D/P44/4/4, 1755-1761
Much Hadham Parish Register, Hertfordshire Archives
Papers of John Freeman 1862-1889, Australian National Library MS 243, 1889
Lloyd’s List and Register of Shipping, Guildhall Library, 1867-68
Requests for Rewards Related to the Edward Oxford Case, The National Archives HO144/290/B974, 1879-1907
South Melbourne Rate Books, Victoria Public Record Office, 1881-1899
Stanford’s Library Map of London and Its Suburbs, London, 1862
The Age, Melbourne, 1874-1900
Victorian Electoral Roll for the Federal Referendum, State Library of Victoria, 1899
Will of John Oxford, The National Archives, 1804

Sources used in this and other chapters

Arthur Christopher Benson and Viscount Esher (eds), The Letters of Queen Victoria, John Murray, London, 1908
George Earle Buckle (ed.), The Letters of Queen Victoria: Second Series 1862-1885, J. Murray, 1926-28
Christopher Hibbert, Queen Victoria: A Personal History, Harper Collins, London, 2000
James, D.; Kerrigan, T.; Forfar, R.; Farnham, F.; Preston, L., The Fixated Threat Assessment Centre: Preventing Harm and Facilitating Care, Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology 21 (4): 1, 2010
Norman Lowe, Mastering Modern British History, Third Edition, Palgrave, Basingstoke, 1998
Helen Rappaport, Queen Victoria: A Biographical Companion, ABC-CLIO, Oxford, 2001
Lee Jackson, www.victorianlondon.org
Dr Kurt Jagow (ed.), Letters of the Prince Consort 1831-1861, J. Murray, London, 1938
Lytton Strachey, Queen Victoria, Chatto and Windus, 1921
Stanley Weintraub, Victoria: Biography of a Queen, Unwin Hyman, London, 1987
Censuses of England 1841-1911, The National Archives
London and National Newspapers, especially The Era, The Morning Chronicle, The Morning Post, The Observer, The Standard and The Times
The General Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, General Register Office
The International Genealogical Index, www.familysearch.org
The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, www.oldbaileyonline.org
The Treasury Solicitor’s Transcript of the Trials of Edward Oxford, John Francis, John William Bean and Roderick Maclean, The National Archives TS36/25, 1840-82

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