1812: I Awoke in the Greatest Agitation


On May 11, 1812, John Bellingham, a disgruntled Liverpool merchant, assassinated British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval in the lobby of the House of Commons in London. In his autobiography, the civil engineer Sir John Rennie (whose company built the London Bridge) tells the following story related to the crime:

In 1815 Mr. John Fox, a Quaker, having come to town on business, breakfasted with my father and several others, including myself. The conversation happened to turn on the death of Mr. Perceval. Mr. Fox said in a simple, unaffected manner, “I remember it very well; it is a curious story, and now I will tell it you. I was then visiting my friend Williams at Redruth. I went to bed as usual, and awoke in a most restless state, having had an extraordinary dream. I dreamed that I went to the House of Commons, where I had never been before, and having no admission into the interior of the House, I sat down quietly on one of the benches in the lobby, expecting a Cornish member who had promised when I came to London to give me a ticket of admission to hear the debates. Beside me on the bench sat a tall, muscular man (describing Bellingham most exactly), who appeared to be very restless, and continually asking whether Mr. Perceval had come to the House, and every now and then putting his right hand into his left breast pocket. At length, after waiting some minutes, there was a bustle, and several persons near me said that Mr. Perceval was coming ; and shortly after Mr. Perceval made his appearance (Mr. Fox describing the exact dress he wore, namely, a blue coat with gilt metal buttons, white cravat and waistcoat, with nankeen shorts, white stockings, and shoes, according to his usual attire in the summer). Immediately after Mr. Perceval made his appearance, the man who sat next to me got up, and, advancing close to Mr. Perceval, drew a pistol from his left breast pocket, fired, and Mr. Perceval fell at his feet. This occasioned great commotion. The man who fired the pistol was at once seized, and I rushed out and asked what had happened, and the bystanders told me that Mr. Perceval had been shot by a man named Bellingham, who was the identical individual who had been a few minutes before sitting by my side. When my dream had come to this point I awoke in the greatest agitation. I could not account for it. I had never seen Mr. Perceval, nor his murderer, Bellingham ; I had never been in the lobby of the House, and I had been in no way connected with Mr. Perceval, either by correspondence or otherwise, still I was so much affected by the dream that I felt convinced that Mr. Perceval had been murdered. I passed the remainder of the night in great restlessness. I could not sleep, but was always thinking of the dream, being thoroughly convinced that it was true. I came down to breakfast at the usual hour, in the most anxious and nervous state, which I in vain endeavoured to conceal as much as possible ; but my friend and partner Williams and his whole family observed it, and said that I looked very ill, and kindly asked me to explain the cause. After much pressing, I told my story. Friend Williams and the whole of his amiable family said that it was nonsense ; that I had been unwell, and still was so, and said that they would send for their family doctor. I said no ; I felt perfectly convinced that my dream would, unfortunately, prove but too true, and that the mail, which would arrive in the evening, would bring a confirmation of it. They tried to laugh me out of it, but nothing would do; I therefore went about with my friend Williams, transacting our mining business, being convinced that the arrival of the mail in the evening would confirm the truth of my dream in all particulars. We returned to -dinner at five o’clock; at nine the mail arrived, and confirmed every particular of my dream. I was afterwards taken to the House of Commons, where I had never been before, and I correctly pointed out the whole particulars of the melancholy transaction exactly as they occurred, to the astonishment of my friends and the bystanders. The whole story seems so strange that I cannot account for it. I relate it to you just as it occurred to me.”

This is certainly one of those marvellous instances of foresight which baffles all comprehension. John Fox was generally considered by his numerous friends and acquaintance to be a most honest, plain, straight-forward, business man, and incapable of stating anything but what he believed to be true. I heard him relate the dream, and my father and all present believed it. The curious part of the story is how he should have dreamed such a thing, being in no way connected with it.

Image source: Wikipedia

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