John William Bean

John William Bean was an unfortunate youth of 17 years who, due to a spinal deformity, only stood 4-feet tall.  His attack was not a serious threat, but more a cry for help.  He lived in Clerkenwell with his family, his parents and four younger brothers, the latter merciless in  mocking  his condition.  His father was a gold chaser and jeweller, but worked for others in the business and only earned a low wage.

John had some education and liked to read, but could only find part-time employment, plus a regular job working for a newsagent on a Sunday.  As he realised that he had reached his full height and was unlikely to find meaningful work, he began to despair.  He sold some of his books to gain enough money to buy an old gun from a pawnbroker, and aimed to repeat the exploits of Edward Oxford.  He could not get the pistol to work properly, but nevertheless went along to The Mall one Sunday at the time that Queen Victoria usually went to divine service.  It was less than 24 hours since the Queen had granted a reprieve to John Francis.

As the Queen's carriage passed, John aimed the gun and pulled the trigger, but there was only a click.  Many people, including Victoria, failed to notice him and others thought it was a harmless joke by some child or clown.  But one man took it seriously and grabbed hold of him, taking him along to a nearby constable.  The policeman too dismissed the affair as unimportant, and John managed to slip away.

However, when other officers became aware of what had happened, they put out wanted notices to all the metropolitan police stations.  Unfortunately the description of John was only sketchy, and numerous disabled people suffering from any kind of deformity were taken into custody.  Soon John too was apprehended and then identified as the perpetrator.  Following his trial, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Millbank Prison were John Bean served his sentence

After his release John remained in London, an exception amongst those charged with threatening or attacking the Queen.  He did not come to the attention of the authorities again, and managed to earn a meagre living as a newsvendor.  He married twice, once to the daughter of a Thames lighterman and once to the daughter of a Cornish fisherman, and fathered two children.  But he continued to suffer from depression and in 1882 took his own life through an overdose of laudanum.  He left behind a sad farewell note to his loving wife regretting his troubled life and hoping that she would fare better without him.

Sources used in the full account in the book

Metropolitan Police File on John William Bean, The National Archives MEPO3/19
South London Chronicle, July 1882
South London Observer, Camberwell and Peckham Times, July 1882
South London Press, July 1882

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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