The Mad Assassin who killed the wrong man.

4 min readDec 9, 2021
Daniel McNAughten, Insane Murderer (In Illustrated London News, Wellcome Collection)

Sir Robert Peel, who was twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and leader of the Tory party in parliament, was targeted for assassination by one Daniel McNaughten.

At least, that’s what people thought.

Daniel grew up in Glasgow and worked for his father before setting up his own business as a woodturner. It was a successful business and he, a frugal, self-contained type, saved enough money to stop his work at the age of 40. He was also studious, borrowing books from the Mechanics Institute and attending lectures on anatomy, though he never sat examinations.

After selling his business he took a boat to Liverpool and then travelled to London where he took lodgings. Once or twice he went away for short periods but otherwise he was regular in his habits and caused no difficulties in his lodgings, other than another lodger in the next room who heard him moaning and groaning some nights. But each morning he got dressed and went out all day. Each evening he returned. Seven days a week.

Some days he was seen loitering near Downing Street, observing the comings and goings of the Prime Minister and various of the civil service brass. When he was asked why he was standing around he said he was waiting for someone. A military man invited him to sign up for the army if he was bored. But no, he declined all meaningful contacts and conversations.

Sir Robert Peel (From Wikimedia Commons)

Then, on January 20th 1843 a personal secretary to Peel, one Edward Drummond, left 10 Downing Street and strode off down Whitehall. Drummond bore a close resemblance to Peel and in fact had been mistaken for the Prime Minister on more than one occasion. McNaughten followed Drummond and then, catching up to him, pulled out a pistol and shot him in the back. Drummond staggered on a short way looking for help while McNaughten carefully put his pistol away, got out another one and began preparing it to shoot again. He was pulled to the ground by a policeman and disarmed, arrested and put into custody. There were many witnesses to the shooting, so no doubt who had done it.