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We Are Not Amused VII

Guest blogger Dr Nick Hervey continues his series of posts on ‘…Insane Persons and others who have come under the cognizance of the Police Force for offences against H.M. Queen Victoria…’

Several of those mentioned in the police file were in fact tailed by plain clothes detectives for extensive periods. In 1842 ‘PC 20’ spent some time in Margate watching William John Grant, who had written to Victoria, Wellington and Sir J Graham about the condition of convicts. Grant's complaints about the convict service, allied to the fact that he had once shot a man, evidently justified this use of police time.1 Another man thought to constitute a threat was Lieutenant Frederick Mundell, a former officer of the 69th Regiment, who believed his promotion had been deliberately blocked. Mundell spent most of his time wandering London seeking redress for his wrongs, and among those he approached were Victoria and Wellington. In November 1846 the Lord Steward, who was responsible for safety inside the royal palaces, wrote to the Police Commissioner, Colonel Rowan, saying that Mundell was ‘probably mad, or a fool, or both, but there is something in the tone of his letter, especially the latter part of it, which further betokens his belonging to the genus dangerous’.2 This was certainly an overreaction, and a Home Office reply was more realistic when it stated that ‘There is an approach, but no menace, to the Queen and there is not enough for the Home Office or for a magistrate to interfere. All that can be done is that the hundred eyed police should watch, and keep all safe’. Between 1846 and 1853 Mundell was tailed almost continuously, except for a few brief periods when he was gaoled for unacceptable public behaviour. Among those who followed him were PC 182 ‘C’ Division, James Johncock; PC 10 ‘C’ Division, John Gray; PC 140 ‘B’ Division, Thomas Collard and PC 118 ‘D’ Division, John Marshall. Other officers also involved were PC Partridge (for 96 days), PC Handley (for 133 days) and the former Bow Street Runner, Mr Ballard. This surveillance extended all over London, and to Manchester, Brighton, Walmer, and Ramsgate. On the few occasions Mundell eluded his shadows and moved lodgings, the police employed a specialist, Inspector Whall, to find him. The police didn't only content themselves with following Mundell though. His room was searched on a daily basis at one lodgings, and those around him were constantly questioned as to his behaviour and intentions. The Police Commissioners evidently thought him dangerous, especially after he was found with loaded pistols on two occasions.3

Mundell's case is not only interesting in its illustration of police surveillance, but also because it highlights their role in the legislative process. Between 1848 and 1852 the Police Commissioners were in regular contact with the Lunacy Commission and Home Office in an attempt to draft effective legislation to deal with a loophole in the 1845 Lunacy Acts. These had repealed the 1828 Lunatic Care and Treatment Act which allowed the police to pick up a wandering lunatic and take him before a magistrate, and only allowed them to apprehend those who were paupers. The Police Commissioners were concerned at the mounting cost of keeping surveillance on various lunatics whom they could not arrest as the law stood.4

In addition to surveillance, the police had a role investigating the background to any situation which involved the Queen's safety. In the case of John Francis, for example, they were asked to conduct a search for him after he had been observed presenting a pistol at Victoria's carriage the day before actually firing at her. On the day of the incident plain clothes detectives had flooded Green Park to try and spot Francis before he could act again.5 Similarly police were involved in investigating the possibility of assailants being part of a wider conspiracy to bring down the monarch.

To be continued…