Roderick Maclean attempted to take the life of Queen Victoria in 1882. This was one of several attempts of its kind made throughout her sixty-three year reign. It remained merely an attempt, in part due to the swift actions of two Eton boys: Gordon Wilson and Leslie Murray Robertson.
In Queen Victoria’s own words, “there was a sound, of what I thought, was an explosion from the engine, but in another moment, I saw people rushing about”.1 Pistol in hand, Maclean had taken a shot at the Queen’s carriage as she arrived at Windsor Station on 2 March 1882. Wilson, armed only with an umbrella, struck Maclean’s weapon whilst Murray Robertson sought to restrain the man in his arms. The Queen appeared almost unphased by the incident – “I then realised that it was a shot, which must have been meant for me” – but the valiant and heroic efforts of both boys did not go unnoticed.2
The Queen expressed her gratitude just days later. The school was invited to Windsor Castle where an exchange of addresses took place in the quadrangle. Arranged in a circle, the school surrounded Smith and Winthrop, captains of the school, while Her Majesty situated herself in the porch before them. Smith gave the address:
“We…express our indignation and abhorrence at the late dastardly and treasonable attempt against your Majesty’s sacred person, – our sincere congratulations on the merciful preservation of your Majesty’s life…” 3
Wilson and Murray-Robertson by her side, Queen Victoria then addressed the school in response:
“…I trust that the feelings of loyalty and devotion which you have shown to me and to my family will never diminish, and that you will hereafter uphold, as your predecessors have ever done, the honour and glory of this ancient kingdom.” 4
Maclean was acquitted as a result of his unstable mind but the Eton boys still went down in history as heroes of the day.
By Grace Bottomley, Archives Assistant
1 Royal Archives, Queen Victoria’s Journals (4 March 1882 entry, sourced from http://www.queenvictoriasjournals.org).
3 The Eton College Chronicle, 16 March 1882 (https://archives.etoncollege.com).