Roderick Maclean

On 2 March 1882, an attempt on the life of Queen Victoria took place at Windsor’s Royal Station. The Queen had arrived back from London and was departing in her carriage. Boys from Eton College cheered as the Queen set out for Windsor Castle. 

Queen Victoria wrote later “there was a sound of what I thought was an explosion from the engine, but in another moment, I saw people rushing about and a man being violently hustled, rushing down the street”. That man was Roderick Edward MacClean who had fired an errant shot at the queen. He was hustled to the ground by two Eton Scholars named Wilson and Robinson who were ‘brave, stalwart boys’, who without doubt saved the life of the queen. They were met with a tremendous ovation of applause from their college chums when they returned to Eton later that day. MacClean was found not quilty but insane, and spent the rest of his life in an asylum. 

This attempt in 1882 was the last of eight attempts by separate people to kill or assault Victoria over a period of four decades.

1.    Edward Oxford, 10 June 1840. He fired at the queen just 100 yards outside the gates of Buckingham Palace. The crowd took the shooter to the ground and he was found guilty but insane.  He spent 24 years in an asylum before being deported to Australia.

2.    John Francis, 29 May 1842. A failed attempt by John Francis on this occasion as his gun failed to fire and he disappeared into Green Park. 

3.    John Francis, 30 May 1842. A second attempt at a range of five paces from the carriage also failed. John Francis was sentenced to be hanged and quartered before the queen commuted his sentence to banishment for life.

4.    John William Bean, 3 July 1842. Bean was a hunchback who was depressed and wanted a change, any change. His gun failed to fire and he disappeared into the crowd on the Mall watching the queen’s procession from the palace to church at the Chapel Royal. He was later rounded up by the police and sentenced to 18 months of hard labour. 

5.    William Hamilton, 19 June 1849. Queen Victoria plus three of her children were on a carriage ride through Hyde and Regent’s Parks when Hamilton fired a shot at the carriage. He was an unemployed bricklayer who had been forced to emigrate from Ireland to London in the 1840’s and he was tired of being out of work. Being in prison seemed like a better option! He was found guilty and was banished to the prison colony of Gibraltar for seven years. 

6.    Robert Pate, 27 June 1850. Pate descended into lunacy after leaving the British army and was well known to many Londoners, including the queen, for his manic behaviour. Queen Victoria and three of her children had been visiting a dying relative when Pate was attracted by a large crowd watching for the royal carriage. Pate approached the queen and smacked her on the forehead with his lightweight cane, whereupon he was manhandled to the ground by the crowd. The queen stood up and proclaimed ‘I am not hurt’ but she was left with a large bruise and black eye. Pate was sentenced to seven years in the penal colony of Tasmania. 

7.    Arthur O’Connor, 29 February, 1872. After a carriage ride, the queen was returning to the palace entrance. O’Connor, a descendant of Irish revolutionaries,  had entered the palace grounds undetected and raised his pistol just a foot away from the queen. He was seized by John Brown, the queen’s personal servant, and Victoria was rushed away to safety. O’Connor’s pistol was broken and he just wanted to frighten the queen into signing a document that would release Irish political prisoners being held in British jails. Brown received a medal for his heroism and O’Connor was eventually exiled to Australia. 

8.    MacClean, 2 March 1882 in Windsor. 

There have been various attempts to assassinate members of Britain’s royal family over the years, some successful like that in 1979 on Mountbatten and some unsuccesful on our present queen. The best known is that attempt on her life in 1981 at the Trooping the Colour ceremony where Marcus Sargeant fired six blank cartridges at the queen before being overwhelmed by police and a guardsman. The queen and her horse Burmese were startled but the queen continued the parade in her usual serene and imperturbable fashion. 




  1. Hiett
    The 'heroic boys' were NOT from Eton - They were from Beaumont College, a Jesuit boy's school in Old Windsor. I know this because Queen Victoria thanked the school with a royal portrait and Queen Elizabeth II celebrated the 75th anniversary of the event by visiting the school in 1958, when I was a student there. Eton is the more "prestigious" institution actually near the station, but it was a Beaumont Boy who saved the Queen.
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