On this day in history….11th May 1812

On this day in history : 11th May 1812 – Conservative Prime Minister Spencer Perceval is shot dead by John Bellingham in the House of Commons…. He is the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated….

Spencer Perceval – George Francis Joseph, Public domain

John Bellingham was a rather unsuccessful businessman in his forties – and had been wrongly imprisoned in Russia for unpaid debts…. He had appealed to the British Embassy for help – but none was forthcoming…. After languishing in a Russian jail for five years he returned to England in 1809 seeking compensation from the British government….but was to be disappointed…. The disgruntled Bellingham decided to take matters into his own hands….

Contemporary engraving of John Bellingham – Charles Squire, Printer – Public domain

Spencer Perceval, a trained lawyer who had been educated at Harrow and Cambridge became an MP in 1796 when in his thirties…. He rose through the ranks quickly, became Chancellor of the Exchequer under the Duke of Portland – and in 1807 Prime Minister after the death of William Pitt the Younger – whom he greatly admired….

The 11th of May had been a sunny Monday and at 5.15pm Perceval entered the lobby of the House of Commons, on his way to the chamber…. As he did so, a man who had been sitting by the fireplace got up, walked over to the Prime Minister, produced a pistol from out of his overcoat and fired….hitting Perceval square in the chest…. The Prime Minister fell, exclaiming “I am murdered!” – the gunman, who of course was Bellingham, calmly walked back to his chair and sat down….

C.19th illustration of Perceval’s assassination in the Newgate Calendar – Public domain

Perceval was carried to the Speaker’s apartment and a doctor called – but by the time he had arrived the Prime Minister was dead…. 49-year-old Perceval left behind a wife and 12 children….

Aftermath of Perceval’s assassination – a 1909 representation – Public domain

Bellingham was seized, his weapon – and another loaded gun concealed upon him – removed…. But it was nearly midnight before he could be safely taken from Parliament…. News had spread quickly about what had happened – there was a lot of unrest in the country at the time…. War with France had caused severe economic difficulties and there was much anger amongst the people – directed at the government…. A large crowd descended on Parliament with the intent of rescuing Bellingham – troops had to be used to hold them back….

Bellingham was taken to Newgate Gaol – when questioned he said….”I have been denied the redress of my grievances by government; I have been ill-treated. They all know who I am and what I am…. I am a most unfortunate man and feel here….sufficient justification for what I have done”….

Newgate Prison c.1810 – Public domain

On the 15th of May his trial was held at the Old Bailey….his plea of insanity was not accepted…. Three days later, on the 18th of May he was hanged outside Newgate Gaol….

On this day in history….10th May 1850

On this day in history : 10th May 1850 – The birth of Sir Thomas Johnstone Lipton, founder of Lipton’s grocery stores…. Starting as an errand boy he was a millionaire by the age of 30….

Sir Thomas Johnstone Lipton, Bt – Georges Devred – Public domain

Lipton was born in Glasgow to Irish parents who were forced to leave Ireland because of the potato famine of 1845…. In 1864 he became a cabin boy on a steamer operating between Glasgow and Belfast…. It was here he heard stories from old sailors of America and he longed to see it…. He saved up and bought a passage to the States and spent the next five years working and travelling around the country…. He did a variety of jobs, from farm work to door-to-door selling….his final work was as a grocery assistant in New York….

He returned to Glasgow in 1870 and initially helped his parents run their small shop…. The following year he opened his own store, Lipton’s Market, in Stobcross Street, Glasgow….and soon he had a chain of grocery stores, firstly across Glasgow, then Scotland and finally all across Britain….

By 1888 he had some 300 shops and branched out into the tea trade, establishing the Lipton tea brand….which is owned by Unilever today….

Image credit: WritRHET via flickr

Lipton’s grocery merged with several other companies in 1929 and a food retail group with more than 3,000 stores was formed…. Trading under various names on the high street they came together under one name on the Stock Exchange – Allied Suppliers…. The group was bought by Argyll Foods in 1982 and was relaunched as ‘Presto’….

The old Liptons, Galbraith, Templeton and Presto logo – GA(Fantaboy) – Public domain

Unilever bought Lipton Tea in several stages beginning in 1938 and completing in 1972…. in 1991 it went in a joint venture with PepsiCo – producing ready to drink teas….especially iced fruit teas….

Lipton Logo – Fair use

On this day in history….9th May 1671

On this day in history : 9th May 1671 – Irishman Colonel Thomas Blood attempts to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London…. Although caught red-handed he receives a Royal Pardon….

Thomas Blood by G. Scott – Public domain

Blood was born in County Meath in 1618 into a respectful family; his father was a blacksmith and his grandfather a Member of Parliament….

In 1642, when the English Civil War broke out, he travelled to England to fight for King Charles I…. However, when it became obvious Cromwell was going to win he switched sides and joined the Roundheads…. After Cromwell came to power Blood was given a large estate and made a Justice of the Peace….

Charles I standing beside Henry VIII’s crown and a gold orb and sceptre, 1631 – Daniel Mytens – Public domain

When Charles II was restored to the throne Blood fled back to Ireland, taking with him his wife and son…. Back on Irish soil he joined a group of Cromwell supporters and a plan was hatched to seize Dublin Castle and kidnap Lord Ormonde…. Only the plan failed and Blood was to flee once again, this time to Holland….

In 1670, under the name of Thomas Ayloffe, he returned to London and set up as a ‘doctor’ in Romford…. Later that same year another plot to capture Lord Ormonde once more failed – and so Blood came up with the idea of stealing the Crown Jewels….which had a reputed value of £100,000 – a colossal amount of money in the day….

One April day in 1671 he visited the Tower of London dressed as a parson and was accompanied by a female companion, possibly his wife…. For a small fee it was possible to request to view the Crown Jewels…. The Keeper of the Jewels was one Talbot Edwards, who lived with his family on the two floors above the basement where the Jewels were kept….

Blood’s ‘wife’ feigned feeling unwell, complaining of a violent stomach-ache…. She was taken upstairs to the Edwards’ apartments to rest…. A few days later Blood returned with four pairs of white gloves for Mrs Edwards to say ‘thank you’…. A friendship developed between Blood and the family….and it was suggested that a meeting between Blood’s wealthy ‘nephew’ and the Edwards’ daughter, Elizabeth, should take place…. So, a breakfast date was arranged….

At 7am, on the morning of the 9th of May, Blood arrived with his ‘nephew’ and two other men – one of which was his brother-in-law, Hunt…. Whilst his ‘nephew’ was getting acquainted with Elizabeth the others asked to see the Jewels….

Once in the basement room Edwards was struck unconscious with a mallet – and stabbed…. The men then ripped away the iron grill in place to protect the Jewels and removed the crown, orb and sceptre…. The crown was flattened with the mallet and concealed within a bag, the orb went down Blood’s breeches and they attempted to saw the sceptre in two – as it was too large to hide….

At this point Edwards regained consciousness and began to shout for help…. Blood and the other men ran….dropping the sceptre in the process…. After unsuccessfully attempting to shoot a guard Blood was detained whilst trying to escape through one of the Tower gates…. Once imprisoned he refused to answer questions – saying he would only speak to the King himself….

Charles II holding the orb in 1661 – John Michael Wright – Public domain

Blood was brought before King Charles II and other members of the Royal Family, including Prince Rupert, the Duke of York…. Blood turned on his Irish charm and the King found him rather amusing…. The scoundrel even had the nerve to tell the King that in his opinion the Crown Jewels were not worth £100,000 – more like £6,000….

The King asked of Blood “What if I should give you your life?”…. to which Blood replied “I would endeavour to deserve it, Sire!”…. In return for his bare-faced cheek he received a pardon, land in Ireland worth £500 per year and became a frequent visitor to Court…. As for Edwards, he made a full recovery – was rewarded well by the King – and dined out on his story for a long while afterwards….

Gryffindar CC BY-SA 3.0

On this day in history….8th May 1701

On this day in history : 8th May 1701 – The controversial trial of Captain Kidd begins at the Old Bailey…. He is to be found guilty of piracy and the murder of a member of his crew….

William Kidd – 18th Century portrait by Sir James Thornhill – Public domain

Born in Dundee, Scotland in 1645 William Kidd, the son of a seaman, went to sea himself at an early age…. On becoming a captain his first ship was the ‘Antigua’….

In the 1680s Kidd settled in New York, where he married wealthy widow Sarah Bradley Cox Oort….

During the war between France and England of the 1690s he became recognised as a successful privateer…. At the time, approved by the government, privately owned warships could attack enemy vessels…. In charge of the ‘Blessed William’ Kidd was responsible for protecting the trade routes of the West Indies for British and American trade….

He was commissioned by the British government to rid the Indian Ocean of pirates….it is likely he would also have been expected to capture any enemy ships he encountered suspected of carrying valuable cargo….a sort of ‘legalised’ piracy…. On the 6th of September 1696 Kidd left New York aboard ‘Adventure Galley’ – a 32-gun ship with a crew of 150, bound for the Indian Ocean…. One particular pirate he was after was Robert Culliford and his side-kick, surgeon Jon Death….

Culliford proved too difficult to track down – as indeed did any pirates for that matter…. The morale of Kidd’s men declined rapidly – until they were on the verge of mutiny…. In one explosive incident a furious Kidd struck ship’s gunner, William Moore, with an iron-bound bucket….fracturing his skull…. Moore died within 24 hours….

Internet Archive Book Images via Flickr

Finally being worn down by his mutinous crew Kidd himself turned to piracy…. Conditions onboard ‘Adventure Galley’ had deteriorated and the ship itself was leaking badly…. In January 1698 they attacked the ‘Quedah Merchant’ – a ship carrying a cargo of sugar, opium, iron, silk and other valuable commodities…. It is thought the cargo had a value of around £70,000…. Kidd took the ship, renamed it ‘Adventure Prize’ – and sank his own leaking ship….

By now the men had been at sea for the best part of two years…. Laws around piracy had changed – English law now deemed it a criminal act…. Kidd arrived in the West Indies in 1699 to find himself a wanted man….the American colonies were on a mammoth pirate hunt…. He managed to secure a pardon with the English authorities but on arriving in Boston the New England governor, Lord Richard Bellomont – who had actually invested in Kidd’s voyage – had him arrested…. For the next few months Kidd was kept in prison in such appalling conditions that it nearly sent him insane….

In February 1700 he was sent back to England on the frigate ‘Advice’ to face trial….which took place starting on the 8th of May 1701 and lasted for two days…. He was found guilty on several accounts of piracy and the murder of William Moore…. All other members of his crew charged with piracy were cleared, with the exception of Irishman Darby Mullins…. Some of Kidd’s men testified against him in regards to Moore’s ‘murder’ to save themselves….

Whilst held at Newgate Gaol awaiting his execution, which had been set for the 23rd of May, Kidd wrote numerous letters to King William, pleading for clemency…. He was to be disappointed….

On the afternoon of the 23rd Kidd, Mullins and two condemned Frenchmen were taken to Execution Dock, Wapping – where a permanent gallows for pirates was kept…. It is said the authorities were rather surprised when Kidd arrived apparently the worse for wear with drink…. At the first attempt to hang him the rope snapped and he fell to the ground….so he had to be strung up again….

Afterwards his body was left to rot hanging at the mouth of the River Thames – a deterrent to other would-be pirates….

Captain Kidd hanging in chains – National Maritime Museum, London CC BY-SA 3.0

It has long since been debated as to whether Kidd had a fair trial…. He became a legend….a large part of which centres around speculation as to where he buried his treasure….if indeed he had hidden any in the first place….

‘Buried Treasure’ – Captain Kidd overseeing a treasure burial – from Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates – Public domain

On this day in history….7th May 1860

On this day in history : 7th May 1860 – The birth of Tom Norman (born Thomas Noakes) – freak showman and the last exhibitor of Joseph Merrick, also known as the ‘Elephant Man’….

Tom Norman – Fair use

Norman was born in Dallington, Sussex – the eldest of 17 children…. At the age of 12 he left school to go and work for his father, a butcher….

A couple of years later he decided to travel and look for work as a performer….but having no success ended up in London, taking a job as a butcher’s assistant….

Norman liked to gamble – and so thought he would try his luck as a professional gambler…. He moved to Berkshire and spent his days at Ascot Racecourse…. However, before long he was back in London, penniless, looking for a job….

He found employment at a butcher’s shop….and it was at this time he developed an interest in freak shows…. Next door to his workplace was a penny gaff – a popular form of entertainment in Victorian society for the lower classes…. Often held in the back rooms of public houses, performances of a theatrical nature with singing, dancing and clowning around would be held…. Sometimes accompanying acts of a more curious nature would be included – as was the case in the establishment next to Norman’s place of employment…. Mlle Electra was billed as ‘The Only Electric Lady – A Lady Born Full of Electricity’…. Whoever in the audience was brave enough to shake hands with the Mademoiselle would receive an electric shock….

Eventually Norman found out the act was a fake; Mlle Electra was plugged into the electricity supply…. Realising how much money could be made from such performances Norman quit his job and went into business with her manager…. It was around this time he changed his name, possibly not wanting to bring disrepute to the family name with his new shady career….

It wasn’t long before Norman realised he would be better off if he went it alone…. He found an ‘Electric Lady’ of his own and set up a penny gaff in Hammersmith – with a good deal of success….

His new business grew and in time he had a series of travelling shows and several shops in Nottingham and London…. The acts varied from giants, dwarves and fat ladies to performing fleas…. As well as the more ‘typical’ acts of a freak show he had his special attractions…. Eliza Jenkins – the ‘Skeleton Woman’ – a ‘Balloon Headed Baby’ and a rather gruesome act where a woman bit the heads off of live rats…. He had a group of retired white seamen who were painted black and spoke a made-up language, calling themselves the ‘Savage Zulus’ and a family of midgets – who were really two men and a borrowed baby….

Norman wasn’t beyond telling the audience a few fibs to bolster his show…. One of his favourites was that the show had been booked by Barnum….the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’…. Unbeknown to him, on one occasion the great P.T. Barnum himself was in the audience…. Luckily Barnum found it all rather amusing and on noticing the silver necklace Norman always wore nicknamed him the ‘Silver King’….

It was in 1884 that Norman encountered Joseph Merrick…. The young man from Leicester had such severe deformities that he was unable to find employment…. For four years he was in the workhouse – before getting himself out and presenting himself to ‘Little George’ Hitchcock, a showman – and who with two music hall proprietors, Sam Tor and J. Ellis, ran a penny gaff…. They exhibited Merrick as ‘The Elephant Man….Half-a-Man and Half-an-Elephant’…. Aware that his novelty would soon wear off they contacted Norman, who with his many travelling shows and shops could offer Merrick more work…. Norman took over Merrick’s management….

Joseph Merrick – Public domain

On meeting Merrick for the first time Norman was so shocked at his appearance that he was at first hesitant of showing him…. In the end he exhibited him at a penny gaff in Whitechapel – which happened to be opposite the London Hospital – and so was often frequented by doctors and medical students…. One such was a surgeon by the name of Frederick Treves, who took much interest in Merrick and his condition…. Wanting to examine him closer it was arranged for Merrick to visit the hospital…. He went two of three times but after that refused, saying he felt as if he were being treated like some kind of animal….

Sir Frederick Treves, Bt – Public domain

The Merrick ‘Elephant Man’ exhibition was reasonably successful – but at this time public opinion of freak shows was beginning to change….many finding them distasteful…. As it was, after only a few weeks , the police forced the show to close down…. Treves arranged for Joseph Merrick to live at London Hospital until his death in 1890….

Norman remained in the showman business for ten more years or so…. In 1896 he married theatre performer Amy Radnor and they had ten children…. After moving to Croydon Norman took semi-retirement, selling off part of his business…. On the 24th of August 1930 he died of throat cancer…. Five of his children followed in his footsteps with circus and fairground careers….