John Bellingham at the Old Bailey

A print of John Bellingham, a merchant who spent part of his childhood in St Neots, and later in life murdered the British Prime Minister, Spencer Percival. The print depicts Bellingham standing in the dock of the Old Bailey in London whilst giving evidence at his trial. 

On the evening of 11th May 1812 British people were horrified to discover that their Prime Minister, Spencer Percival, had been shot dead in the Houses of Parliament in London, by a man with close links to St Neots.

John Bellingham is thought to have been born in London but spent a large part of his childhood in St Neots because his mother came from the town. The Scarbrow family were a wealthy and well-to-do family who lived at Old Hall Place, the substantial house on Cambridge Street, St Neots. Elizabeth Scarbrow married John Bellingham, a London artist and miniature portrait painter in the late 1760s, and their only child, a son named John after his father, was born about 1771. Sadly, John Bellingham, senior seems to have had some mental health problems and by 1780 he was unable to continue working or to support his family, and Elizabeth returned to St Neots with her son.

John Bellingham, junior, grew up and became an accountant and then a merchant. hoping to make his fortune through trading timber and iron with Russia. Unfortunately things didn’t go well for John Bellingham, and on only his second trip to Russia he fell out with his business partner, was accused of being in debt and later imprisoned in Russia for five years.

When he was finally released from prison in December 1809, John Bellingham returned to London determined to claim compensation from the British government for his losses in Russia. He estimated that his losses amounted to £100,000 and he began to petition the Foreign Office for compensation. When this proved unsuccessful he turned to the Prime Minister and asked to be allowed to petition Parliament about his claim. When this request was also refused, Bellingham returned to Liverpool to live with his wife and children, but was obviously unable to accept defeat.

We don’t know exactly how Bellingham hatched his plan to murder the Prime minister, but at his trial he was adamant that he had only wanted to obtain justice for his sufferings in Russia. He seemed unable to grasp that assassinating the British Prime Minister was out of proportion to his misfortune. Bellingham was tried before a jury at the Old Bailey in London on 15th May, 1812. He was found guilty and hanged at Newgate Prison on 18th May 1812.

His body was afterwards dissected at St Bartholomew’s hospital and his skull can still be seen at Queen Mary’s Pathology Museum, London.