Convicted of High Treason, in throwing a Stone at King William IV. at Ascot Races, 19th of June, 1832
THIS extraordinary attack on the person of his Majesty took place at Ascot Races. The assault originated in nothing more than an insane desire on the part of the person who was guilty of it to vent his anger on the King for a supposed injury inflicted on him in the forfeiture of a pension which had been granted to him for past services in the navy.
It was on Thursday, the 19th of June, 1832, that this attack was made. His Majesty, accompanied by his consort, had just reached the grand stand on the race-course, and had advanced to the front window to acknowledge the respectful greetings of his people, when two stones, thrown in quick succession after each other, were seen to fly in the direction of the window at which the Royal party was stationed. The first stone rebounded from the building to the ground below, but the second entered the open window and struck his Majesty a somewhat severe blow on the front of the head. An instant alarm was raised, and a thousand arms were extended to seize the individual by whom the attack was made, whose act was attributed to an intention far more dangerous than it eventually appeared the unfortunate man had had. His Majesty was much agitated, and retired to the inner part of the room, apparently in alarm lest any further violence should be attempted, and was observed to express considerable fear lest her Majesty, or any of the ladies of the suite, might receive injury; but in a few moments he regained his self-possession and presented himself at the window, to assure the public of his safety. His Majesty had received only a slight injury, owing to the stone having fallen upon his hat; and the Royal party appeared perfectly reassured long before the alarm created in the minds of those present had subsided, and they had become convinced that the attack was not the subject of some deep-laid and villainous plot.
The wretched author of the mischief had been immediately secured, and he was now carried before Sir F. A. Roe, the chief magistrate of Westminster, who was always in attendance upon his Majesty upon such occasions, and who held a species of court in a room under the grand stand. Gardiner, the Bow Street officer, had the prisoner in charge, and conducted him to the presence of the magistrate. In a few moments the room where the examination was held was crowded with persons in attendance on his Majesty, or attached to the Royal suite, who were anxious to learn the particulars of this extraordinary act, as well as to ascertain the station and occupation of the assailant of the King.
The prisoner was found to be old and decrepit; he had a wooden leg, and was wearing the tattered garb of a sailor. He gave his name as Dennis Collins, and surveyed the assembled throng with a calm composure, while, however, there appeared to be considerable incoherence in the expressions which he occasionally let fall, produced apparently by the confusion in which he was involved, consequential upon the somewhat rough treatment which he had received from the mob before he had reached the custody of the police officers. The circumstances which have been already detailed were now proved in evidence; and witnesses were examined who had seen the prisoner on the race-course during the morning and had remarked his demeanour. The old man was considerably below middle height, and the general aspect which he presented was the reverse of pleasing, on account of the want of cleanliness of his person. His countenance was by no means ill-favoured, and a bright sparkling eye appeared to lend to it an expression of considerable intelligence. He made no statement before the magistrates, and was eventually committed to Reading jail for re-examination on the following Wednesday.
On that day the necessary witnesses to his crime were called, and their depositions formally taken, and the prisoner was then called upon for his defence. His address to the magistrates was highly characteristic of the old sailor, a station to which it appeared the prisoner was entitled. He said: "I own myself in a great fault for throwing these stones at his Majesty. I was in Greenwich Hospital on the 16th of December last, as an in-pensioner. I had been there eighteen months. The ward-keeper was sweeping the place, and I told him he had no business to sweep it more than once a day; the boatswain's mate abused me, and I returned it. A complaint was then made to Sir Richard Keats (the governor), and I was expelled for life. I petitioned to the Lords of the Admiralty to have the pension which I had before I went into the hospital restored to me. I am entitled to that pension by an Act passed in the reign of George IV. which entitles a pensioner to have the same pension which he had before he became an in-pensioner, unless he struck an officer, or committed felony, or did anything of the kind, which I did no such thing. On the 19th of last April I petitioned the King to have my pension restored. He answered by sending the petition to the Lords of the Admiralty, and Mr Barrow, the secretary, sent a letter to me at a public-house, the Admiral Duncan, with the same answer the King gave. The answer was that his Majesty could do nothing for me. This was partly in writing and partly in print. I had neither workhouse nor overseer to apply to, and had not broke my fast for three days; mere distress drove me to it. His Majesty never did me an injury, and I am exceedingly sorry I threw a stone or anything else at his Majesty. On the 17th of the present month I went to Admiral Rowley's; he swore at me and kicked me. I can only say I am very sorry for what I have done, and must suffer the law. They had no right to take my pension from me, to which I was entitled by Act of Parliament."
This was all the wretched man said, and he was then fully committed for trial in the customary form, upon the charge of high treason.
His trial took place at Abingdon, on Wednesday, the 22nd of August, when he was arraigned upon an indictment which charged him with assaulting his Majesty, with intent to kill and murder him, with intent to maim and disable him, and with intent to do him some grievous bodily harm. A verdict of guilty upon the last count was returned.
The sentence awarded by the law to the offence of high treason was immediately passed, and the prisoner was ordered to be drawn and quartered, in obedience to the ancient and long-existing practice.
It was directly known that a sentence so severe would not be carried into full effect upon a man whose only crime appeared to have been insanity, although there was no distinct evidence by which this supposition could be proved; and on the following Friday a respite was received at Abingdon Jail, by which the punishment of death was removed in the case of the old convict.
Collins, at the time of his trial, was upwards of seventy years of age, and he had served in the navy for many years. His gallant conduct in an action was the cause of his losing his leg, and he was compelled to quit the service. He subsequently exerted himself to procure his admission to Greenwich Hospital, and eventually succeeded; but he was expelled for the misconduct previously related. From that time he appears to have supported himself by begging, and he was well known at the various fairs and race-courses, which he had previously been in the habit of frequenting in a similar character.
His sentence was eventually commuted to transportation for life, and he was sent from this country to Van Diemen's Land. A short residence in that colony ended his days. He died at Port Philip in the spring of the year 1834.