Object of the month – August

The only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated, Spencer Perceval was shot at 5.15pm on 11 May 1812 as he was making his way to Parliament. He was shot through the heart at point blank range by John Bellingham in the lobby of the House of Commons.

 

Immediate fears of a revolutionary attack as a signal for a general uprising proved unfounded. The assassin merely believed he was owed compensation from the government over a temporary imprisonment in Russia, but all his petitions had been dismissed. His pleas of insanity were dismissed, and Bellingham was convicted of murder and hanged on 18 May.

 

Serving simultaneously as Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer from October 1809 until his death, Perceval was responsible for providing the Duke of Wellington with the means to continue the struggle against France during the Peninsular War in Portugal and Spain. Without increasing the tax burden on ordinary people, he continued to find the funds Wellington needed to keep his armies in the field and the French forces of Napoleon at bay.

 

The most celebrated British sculptor of the day, Joseph Nollekens was called to Perceval’s rooms at 10 Downing Street to make a death-mask of the slain Prime Minister. Using the mask as a base, the sculptor went on to create this bust, of which many copies exist.