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Item:  BSL - BELLINGHAM 3 DECEMBER 1806 - ST PETERSBURG

NAPOLEONIC & PENINSULAR WAR ARCHIVES

JOHN BELLINGHAM - RARE ASSASSIN'S LETTER (ALS)

WAR DATE LETTER FROM THE RUSSIA
DATELINE:
ST. PETERSBURG - 3 DECEMBER 1806
3 PAGE AUTOGRAPH LETTER SIGNED (ALS)

THE ASSASSIN OF PRIME MINISTER SPENCER PERCEVAL WRITES
FROM PRISON IN ST PETERSBERG AND PLEADS FOR BRITISH JUSTICE

A HANDWRITTEN & SIGNED LETTER FROM THE ONLY MAN TO SUCCESSFULLY ASSASSINATE A SITTING BRITISH PRIME MINISTER, SIR SPENCER PERCEVAL, IN MAY OF 1812. HERE IS HIS LETTER  WRITTEN WHILE UNJUSTLY IMPRISONED IN A RUSSIAN GAOL PLEADING WITH THE BRITISH AMBASSADOR IN ST PETERSBURG TO REDRESS THE INEQUITY OF HIS CONFINMENT

"I DEMAND WHAT IS THE BIRTHRIGHT AND PRIVILEGE OF EVERY ENGLISHMAN"

AN IMPORTANT ADDITION TO ANY HOLDING OF BRITISH PRIME MINSTER OR NAPOLEONIC ERA DOCUMENTS

THIS DOCUMENT IS COVERED BY OUR WRITTEN, SIGNED AND SEALED
LIFETIME GUARANTEE OF AUTHENTICITY

Transcription:


[St. Petersburg]
College of Commerce
3rd December 1806

Sir ,

Mr. Sharp has verbally informed me that the answer of the College is very evasive to the inquiry made by him at your Excellency’s desire, is a matter I regret at same time is not in my power to remedy. – however let that be as it may – I neither do, nor can know, any power but the Law to decide my affair - by that and that only I must either be condemned or justified – It is what my country guarantees and is the privilege of my birthright – in consequence of which entirely confide in your Excellency’s putting an end to this long and unpleasant Business by making the necessary application to the Emperor herewith have the honor of transmitting copy of ukase furnished by the College for the purpose and with their subsequent evasion I have nothing to do.

As is well known my only crime is having complained to the Senate of extreme ill usage at Archangel for which am fined and imprisoned in the most arbitrary manner –notwithstanding my complaints were not only established by document but moreover confirmed by the Procurator of said place, whose report the Consul himself read 18 months ago. - It being painful to me to trouble your Excellency with such frequent applications, and to put a total end to the matter having been already 176 days under arrest here in St Petersburg, and part of the time immersed in a dungeon with orders to be kept on Bread and Water. If your Excellency so judges and will favor me with your opinion, that I am mistaken in my fear and that I ought and must submit  to this usurped authority and taking the circumstances as they are it would be improper  to make an application to the Sovereign. In that case I will readily submit to the demands of this Court with the contingency of a safe transport over the borders.

And have the honor to be

 Your Excellency’s
Very obedient
Humble Servant

John Bellingham

College of Commerce
3rd Dec 1806

His Excellency Charles Stuart Esq.

[Note: Sharp was Stephen Sharp British Consul, Charles Stuart was Secretary to the British Legation in Russia]

Notes

A scarce and important letter from John Bellingham, who executed the only successful assassination of a sitting British Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, in 1812. Here is the genesis of his long road to that assassination: Wrongfully imprisoned in Archangel, Russia, in 1804, through the untoward influence of a corrupt British business, Bellingham sat in prison on bread and water, amidst the rats and beatings, watching his young wife and infant son beg at the prison's gates, on and off for six years. He variously applied to the British Consuls and Ambassadors in St. Petersburg during this time with a remarkably consistent lament. He simply wanted British Justice and the constitutional birthright guarantees of his country: the right to habeas corpus and trial. Stated in this letter as: "what my country guarantees and is the privilege of my birthright".

Bellingham was initially held in 1804 without charge or trial in the Archangel Prison under orders of the local Governor General, who had been "encouraged" to hold Bellingham, who was the key witness in an insurance fraud case back in England. The complicit shipping company, Van Breiden, then further trumped up a debt claim for 4890 roubles. Bellingham finally defeated the charges after having been in prison for over six months, with his 22 year old wife and infant son wandering the streets of Archangel. Upon his release he went directly to St. Petersburg to file suit against the corrupt Governor General of Archangel. This landed him back in prison. Several attempts to escape led to his further incarceration and a prohibition from leaving the country. As a consequence, his theretofore profitable business in Liverpool failed and real debtors began making claims against him which resulted in his further incarceration until 1809. He finally was thrown out of the country as a declared bankrupt in late 1809.

Returning to Liverpool, he found temporary employment and began a three year campaign of petitioning the British Government for recompense for his pecuniary and personal deprivations, arguing that the British factotums in Russia (Consul and Ambassador), exercised insufficient effort to get him released and the charges dropped. (This despite the fact that the Secretary to the Legation, Sir Charles Stuart, provided occasional sums to him and his wife). He felt that the British Government at large had failed to protect his British Rights while an Englishman Abroad. He made petitions to his local Liverpool MP, other MP's and directly to the Prime Minister Spencer Perceval, who told him nothing could be done. He made a final appeal to the Foreign Office in April of 1812, who also rejected his claim, with an apocryphal tale that a clerk there told him to do whatever he thought was right. So he went out, bought two pistols and shot the Prime Minister dead, later noting that he would have preferred to kill the Ambassador to Russia, but that the Prime Minister as the representative of the British Government had to ultimately take the blame.

A remarkable story and a unique original signed letter from the hand and mind of the assassin of the Prime Minister. See below for complete scans of the letter as well as an extended Historical note on this matter. It is interesting to observe that as he sets forth his belief in his British Constitutional Rights in this very letter, he continued to press this same ardent belief in his statement given at his trial, where he fervidly believed he would be exonerated:

"Gentlemen, I demand what is the birthright and privilege of every Englishman."


 First Page

Second Page

Third Page

Integral Address Panel

HISTORICAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

JOHN BELLINGHAM

THE ONLY SUCCESSFUL ATTEMPT ON THE LIFE OF A BRITISH PRIME MINISTER

"I DEMAND WHAT IS THE BIRTHRIGHT AND PRIVILEGE OF EVERY ENGLISHMAN"

This is indeed an interesting story. One John Bellingham was likely born in St. Neots, Huntingdonshire: That is about as far as it gets before the wildly various biographical accounts begin to diverge. His birth year is variously given as 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772 & 1776.

At some point he moved to London, where he was possibly apprenticed to a jeweler, James Love. He possibly served as a midshipmen on the Hartwell on the Gravesend-China run. Mixed in are reports of a mutiny and ship grounding. Bellingham is next reported as becoming a dealer of marine products, which developed into a successful concern. Alternatively he established a successful timber import-export business with Russia.

The 1790’s find several reports of a John Bellingham alternatively: opening a tin factory on London’s Oxford Street, being declared a bankrupt and clerking for a counting house. By 1800 he is thought to have gone to Archangel in Russia to act as an agent for a Russian merchant. He returned to Duke Street, Liverpool around 1802 working for a merchant broker, marrying Mary Neville, the daughter of a respectable merchant and shipbroker, who at that time resided at Newry. Sometime in late 1803 or early 1804 he was employed by some merchants in the Russian trade (possibly Dorbecker & Co.), by whom he was induced again to visit Russia. He returns to Archangel with his new and now expectant bride. And here is where it thickens:


In late 1803 or early 1804, a merchant ship, Soleure, insured by Lloyd's, went down with its cargo in the White Sea, having left Archangel with a load that included Bellingham's private cargo. Lloyd’s of London, the bottom, and likely the cargo insurer, received an anonymous letter which alerted them to possible fraud in the case. The ship owners (the house of R. Van Brienan) made claim on their insurance but Lloyd's baulked claiming that the ship had been sabotaged. Soloman Van Brienan suspected Bellingham of the letter and decided to retaliate by accusing him of a debt of 4,890 roubles to a bankrupt for which he was an alleged assignee.

Bellingham, denied the claim as unjust and, in light of the courts refusal to act because of Van Brienan's influence with the Governor General of Archangel, decided to return to England to contest the claim directly. He and his expectant wife set off by coach for the port and their return journey to England on November 16, 1804, but had their travelling pass withdrawn because of the debt accusation.
Bellingham was put into a rat infested cell in a Russian Prison. He reported being beaten and being fed on bread and water. During this time he began his appeals to the British Embassy in St. Petersburg for redress against the injustice, originally communicating primarily with the British Consul Stephen Sharp. Despite the fact that the original allegations against Bellingham had by then been dropped, he was kept in custody - this time as a bankrupt, which had been occasioned by his original loss of cargo and being held without charge for such a long time. In his absence and during his incarceration, his business had fallen into difficulties, and he soon had creditors demanding money. One Russian merchant instituted another suit and demanded 2,000 roubles owed to him.

Bellingham was ultimately acquitted of the original debt assignee charge; but before the termination of the other suit he again attempted to quit Archangel, and being stopped by the police, whom he resisted, he was taken to prison, but was soon after liberated, through the influence of the British consul, Sir Stephen Sharp, to whom he had made application, requesting to be protected from what he considered the injustice of the Russian authorities. He thus remained and argued his case against the debt claim which after a long delay was eventually thrown out. However, in the interim Van Breinan continued his pressure on Bellingham “contriving to encourage” the Russian Governor General in Archangel to hold Bellingham on an allegedly trumped up charge (shipowners, fearing they would incur the total costs, initiated legal proceedings against the carriers, not wanting to foot the bill for all the items lost at sea they litigiously turned to the cargo owners – of whom Bellingham was one) and this is where John Bellingham began his own quest for English Justice.

In his absence, his Liverpool business had fallen into difficulties, and he soon had creditors demanding money. One Russian merchant demanded 2,000 roubles owed to him. Bellingham indicated he was unable to pay. This case was heard by the College of Commerce, a tribunal established, and acknowledged by treaty, for taking cognizance of commercial matters relating to British subjects. He was to remain in custody till he discharged the new debt charges. Lord Granville Leveson Gower became the British Ambassador to Russia in late 1804 and Bellingham made several applications to him; at various times receiving from his secretary, Sir Charles Stuart, later Lord Rothesay, small sums of money to support him and his wife during his confinement. One night, in particular, he escaped and rushed into Lord Granville's house in St Petersburg, requesting asylum to avoid being secured by the police. This was granted, although the ambassador had no authority to protect him from a legal arrest; but it appears he was afterwards retaken, and again confined by the authorities of the country. Lord Granville did, however, in a conversation with the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs, express a personal wish that the Russian Government, seeing no prospect of recovering the money from Bellingham, would liberate him on condition of his immediately returning to England.

Despite Lord Granville's efforts, Bellingham remained in prison until October 1808 when he was put out onto the streets, but without permission to leave. In his desperation he personally petitioned the Tsar. He was finally permitted to leave in 1809 and arrived back in England in December. Overall John Bellingham remained in detention on and off for six years and wandered the streets penniless for much of the rest of the time. Earlier he had managed to get his wife and son at least returned to England. He was finally deported from Russia in 1809, a bitter man, intent on compensation for the perceived injustice. As he said at his trial, "Recollect that my family was ruined and myself destroyed".

On his return to England Bellingham set about making representations to the Government, stating he had been abandoned in Russia and now demanded fair remuneration. He petitioned the Government for compensation for his imprisonment, but was refused (the United Kingdom had broken off diplomatic relations with Russia in November 1808). His wife tried to persuade him to drop the issue and Bellingham went back into work in Liverpool with an insurance merchant. In 1812 Bellingham again went to work in London, where he renewed his attempts to win compensation, specifically appealing to Prime Minster Spencer Perceval for English Justice. Perceval reportedly commented that there was now nothing to be done.

During February 1812, Bellingham took up lodgings in 9 New Millman Street, London. Over the next few months he became a frequent visitor to the gallery of the House of Commons, and soon knew most MPs by name. He showed particular interest whenever the Prime Minister spoke. Around this time, he was also often seen in the lobby of the House of Commons. He was a regular visitor to the Houses of Parliament where he attempted to lobby MPs to make representations on his behalf. Many were sympathetic, including his own MP from Liverpool, but none would help. On April 18th he went in person to the offices of the Foreign Office where a civil servant called Hill told him again that there was nothing for the government to do and he was at liberty to take whatever measures he thought proper.

Bellingham thus started preparations for resolving the matter in another way, and on April 20th he bought two half-inch calibre (12.7 mm) pistols from W. Beckwith, Gunsmith of 58 Skinner Street. He also visited North Place, Grays Inn Lane, where he engaged James Taylor to make alterations to an overcoat. He instructed Taylor to make a secret nine inch deep breast pocket on the left inside of the coat. The work was completed the following day, and Taylor delivered the garment to Bellingham at New Millman Street.
After taking the family of a friend to see a water-colour painting exhibition on May 11, 1812, Bellingham casually remarked that he had some business to attend to, and made his way to Parliament. Just after 5pm on Monday 11th May, 1812, John Bellingham entered the lobby leading to the House, and sat near an open fire. At 5.15pm there was the sound of footsteps as the Prime Minister and his assistants walked down the corridor towards the lobby entrance to the House. As the group entered the lobby, Bellingham stood up and approached Mr Perceval. Nothing was said as Bellingham produced a pistol from the concealed pocket of his coat. Now only a few feet from the Prime Minister, he aimed and fired, shooting him through the heart.  Bellingham then calmly sat on a bench. He was immediately detained by those present and identified by Isaac Gascoyne, his MP for Liverpool.

Bellingham was arraigned on Wednesday May 13 at the Old Bailey where he argued that he would have preferred to kill the British Ambassador to Russia, but that he was entitled as a wronged man to kill the representative of those he saw as his oppressors. He gave a formal statement to the court, saying:  "Recollect, Gentlemen, what was my situation. Recollect that my family was ruined and myself destroyed, merely because it was Mr Perceval's pleasure that justice should not be granted; sheltering himself behind the imagined security of his station, and trampling upon law and right in the belief that no retribution could reach him. I demand only my right, and not a favour; I demand what is the birthright and privilege of every Englishman. Gentlemen, when a minister sets himself above the laws, as Mr Perceval did, he does it as his own personal risk. If this were not so, the mere will of the minister would become the law, and what would then become of your liberties? I trust that this serious lesson will operate as a warning to all future ministers, and that they will henceforth do the thing that is right, for if the upper ranks of society are permitted to act wrong with impunity, the inferior ramifications will soon become wholly corrupted. Gentlemen, my life is in your hands, I rely confidently in your justice."

    At 10.00am on Friday 15th May 1812, Bellingham appeared before the Duke of Clarence, Baron Graham, Sir Nash Grose and the Lord Chief Justice Mansfield of the Common Pleas. Evidence was heard from those who had witnessed the event. There was little dispute over what had occurred. The jury withdrew for about ten minutes before returning with a verdict of 'guilty.' The Judge then addressed the prisoner: "John Bellingham, you have been convicted, by a most attentive and merciful jury, of one of the most malicious crimes that human nature can perpetrate. It now only remains to pass the sentence of the law, which is, that you be taken on Monday next to a place of execution, there to be hung by the neck till you are dead; and your body delivered over to be anatomized; and may God have mercy on your soul."
     A tortured story of one man's belief in his British Constitutional Rights, to the extent that he decided to enforce them individually. The true story is likely still hidden, but here is an indisputable element of the case. His personal handwritten plea for justice and deliverance from a Russian Prison. The remarkable, if twisted, tale of the Constitutional Assassin.

Document Specifications:  A rare Russian Prison letter handwritten and signed by John Bellingham (Autograph Letter Signed or ALS), the only successful assassin of a British Prime Minister, dated December 3rd 1806. Folded letter - single page measures 12⅜" tall x 7¾" wide (315mm x 198mm). On one folded sheet, bifolio, forming four pages, of heavy cream stock, batonne laid paper, beautifully watermarked "H Wolven" the "Pro Patria" series with Britannica seated overlooking lion rampant harvesting arrows in a fenced field. The letter is in very fine condition with very light edge and corner toning and wear with a small crease upper right third page. There is a light wax seal stain bleed through on page one, with normal letter folds. Writing on three pages and address panel to "His Excellency Charles Stuart Esq." on the fourth page (as shown). This is rare handwritten prison letter by the assassin of Prime Minister Perceval Spencer as he pleads his case for "what my country guarantees and is the privilege of my birthright". The addressee, Sir Charles Stuart, was at the time the Secretary to the British Legation in St. Petersburg, serving under the Ambassador, Lord Granville Leveson Gower).

From the Sir Charles Stuart, Lord Rothesay, Correspondence. Stuart was His Britannic Majesty's Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Portugal during the greater part of the Peninsular War (10 January 1810 to 26 May 1814). He was a personal friend and confidante of Wellington and Nelson, member of the Portuguese Regency (the only British Subject in the war ever permitted to hold an official position in a foreign government while also representing Britain), and later ambassador to Netherlands & France. The most important foreign diplomat of the Peninsular War, his archive of diplomatic, military and intelligence dispatches are second only to Wellington's Dispatches.

 Offered by Berryhill & Sturgeon, Ltd

End of Item -  BSL - BELLINGHAM 3 DECEMBER 1806 - ST PETERSBURG
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