Charlton history: The man who took a bullet for the PM

Inside St Luke’s Church, Charlton Village, lies the unintended victim of an assassination attempt on a British prime minister. Charlton Champion historian Boneyboy tells the story of Edward Drummond…

St Luke’s Church is the burial place of the only British prime minister to be assasinated, Spencer Perceval. But less well known is that the unlucky victim of a later attempt to assassinate a British prime minister died in Charlton, and is also buried and commemorated in St Luke’s. The subsequent trial of the culprit, and a parliamentary inquiry, established an important principle of British law which lasted for over 120 years.

In 1843, 31 years after Perceval’s death, Daniel McNaughton attempted to shoot the Prime Minister Robert Peel outside Peel’s home in Whitehall. In what seems to be a case of mistaken identity, McNaughton walked up to Peel’s personal secretary, Edward Drummond, and shot him in the back.

Drummond was treated by doctors, and his wounds were not thought to be life-threatening. But five days later Edward Drummond died at Charlton and was buried in the Drummond family vault in St Luke’s. It’s possible that his medical treatment – including blood-letting and leeches – contributed more to his death than the wound or his brief stay in Charlton.

Edward Drummond was a wealthy man from a family who owned Drummond’s Bank. He lived in Whitehall, so the reason that he died and is buried in Charlton wasn’t initially clear to me. However the 1841 census, records that the Rector of Charlton was the Reverend Arthur Drummond, and I think it’s likely that Arthur was Edward’s brother, and that after the shooting, Edward went to Charlton to convalesce.

Arthur Drummond was also a wealthy man. The 1841 census list nine servants living at the rectory labouring to support Arthur and six member of the Drummond family.

The man who shot Edward Drummond was immediately overpowered and arrested by constables. He was Daniel McNaughton ( also known as M’Naughten and various other spellings) a wood turner from Glasgow. McNaughton seems to have links with a number of radical political groups including the Chartists. In 1842, a year before the assassination, McNaughton sold his business in Glasgow and embarked on a tour of Europe.

When he returned to Glasgow in 1843, he developed an obsession that he was being persecuted by the Tory Party and that he was being followed by their spies.

At his trial, McNaughton admitted shooting Drummond but said that the Tories in his native city had compelled him to do it. The defence called witnesses about his delusions and doctors who testified that he wasn’t responsible for his actions due to his insanity. He was found not guilty but sentenced to spend the rest of his life in the State Criminal Lunatic Asylum at Bethlem Hospital (formerly Bedlam) and was later moved to Broadmoor where he died.

The trial and verdict caused an outcry in the press and parliament. A House of Lords inquiry led the development of the M’Naughten rule which defined in British law the principle of defence on grounds of insanity.

7 thoughts on “Charlton history: The man who took a bullet for the PM

  1. stonemuse August 16, 2011 / 13:56

    Didn’t know about this … thanks

  2. Geoff August 16, 2011 / 20:46

    Fascinating. Must have a look round St Lukes.

  3. BoneyBoy August 16, 2011 / 21:29

    Edward Donnaldson was burried in the Donaldson vault inside the church.. I haven’t been able to get there when the church is open, so can’t say how much there is to see.
    Spencer Percivcal is burried and commemorated in the Percial vault in St Luke’s. His family had a long association with Charlton and Charlton House. A member of the Percival family was the Rector of st Lukes prior to Donaldson.

  4. Chris August 18, 2011 / 09:18

    I knew about Perceval, but certainly not about this fascinating twist to the tale!

    Thanks for researching it.

  5. Annabella August 27, 2014 / 12:54

    Arthur Drummond and was Edward Drummond’s brother and had married Margarette Maryon-Wilson in 1830, which I think is a name linked to Charlton. Arthur and Edward were both sons of Charles Henry Drummond, who was the 4th son of Robert Drummond who was a nephew of Andrew Drummond who started Drummond’s Bank, Charing Cross. Robert Drummond’s eldest son, Andrew Berkeley Drummond (Arthur and Edward’s uncle), married Mary Perceval whose nephew was Spencer Perceval. So the family had two politically motivated murders within the first half of the 19th Century.
    I would be interested to know if you are correct in saying that there is a Drummond vault at St. Luke’s Church.

  6. Boneyboy September 5, 2014 / 20:17

    Hi Annabella,
    I haven’t been able to verify the Drummond family vault at St Luke’s. While both were murders of political figures, I’m not convinced that either were carried out for political reasons. McNaughton was found not guilty by reason of his insanity, Reading the transcript of his trial, its clear he suffered from severe delusions , or “monomania ” as it was diagnosed at the time.

    The defence barrister for Spencer Percival’s murderer, John Bellingham, also tried to prove that Bellingham was insane. Bellingham himself denide that he was insane, and claimed that the shooting Percival was a simple matter of justice. Bellingham felt that he had been let down by the government when he had been imprisoned in Russia as a result of a business dispute. He was probably delusional, but was found guilty of murder and executed.
    Although there’s no evidence that Belllingahm was politically motivated, there are unproven theories that he may have had secret backers who had political or commercial motives for wanting Percival killed. Percival took strong measures to promote abolition of slavery, and this had major economic consequences for merchants for a group of merchants in Liverpool whose propsperity depended on slave ttrade between Africa and America..( see Why Specer Percival had to Die by Andro Linklater)

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