March 12th, 1868 – Prince Alfred Shot!


Henry James O’Farrell was the first person to attempt a political assassination in Australia. On March 12th, 1868, he shot and wounded HRH The Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, the second son and fourth child of Queen Victoria.

Henry James O'Farrell

O’Farrell was born in Arran Quay, Dublin, Ireland, the youngest child of William O’Farrell, a butcher. The family moved to Liverpool, then later migrated to Victoria. Henry O’Farrell was an alcoholic, and had been released from a lunatic asylum immediately before the attempted assassination. O’Farrell had briefly been employed by his brother, a Melbourne solicitor, who had offices in Ballarat, and is therefore sometimes described as a law clerk. But O’Farrell’s most recent occupation was selling fruit and vegetables in Ballarat’s Haymarket.


Henry James O’Farrell (1833 – April 21st, 1868)

In 1868, Prince Alfred, then 23 years old, went on a world tour, which included the first royal visit to Australia. There were planned stops in Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and many other places. On March 12th, the Prince attended the Sailor’s Picnic in the harborside suburb of Clontarf, New South Wales in Sydney.

O’Farrell, aged 35 at the time, came up behind the Prince and fired a revolver into his back. This outraged the attending crowd, and O’Farrell was nearly lynched on the spot before police arrested him. The Prince was shot in the back just to the right of the spine. The wound was serious, but not fatal. The Prince was hospitalized for two weeks, and cared for by six nurses trained by Florence Nightingale, who had arrived in Australia that February under Matron Lucy Osburn.

The attack caused great embarrassment in the colony, and led to a wave of anti-Irish sentiment, directed at all Irish people, including Protestant Loyalists. The next day, 20,000 people attended an “indignation meeting” to protest “yesterday’s outrage”. O’Farrell first claimed, falsely, to be under orders from the Fenian Brotherhood. Although anti-British and anti-Royalist, he later denied being a Fenian.

Prince Alfred

Prince Alfred (August 6th, 1844 – July 30th, 1900)

O’Farrell was tried at Sydney on March 30th, 1868. The barrister with the thankless task of defending him was Butler Cole Aspinall, who had previously defended the rebel leaders of the Eureka Stockade. Aspinall sought to have O’Farrell found not guilty by reason of insanity. He cited O’Farrell’s history of mental illness and recent release from an asylum. O’Farrell was convicted and sentenced to death by judge Alfred Cheeke. Prince Alfred himself tried unsuccessfully to intercede and save his would-be killer’s life. O’Farrell was hanged on April 21st, 1868 in the Darlinghurst Gaol at the age of 35.

Prince Alfred soon recovered, and returned home in early April 1868. On March 24th, the New South Wales Legislative Assembly voted to erect a memorial building. In order “to raise a permanent and substantial monument in testimony of the heartfelt gratitude of the community at the recovery of HRH”, it was to be the Prince Alfred Hospital. Queen Victoria permitted the use of the term “Royal”, so the memorial building was the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. It was built using funds raised by public subscription, and is today an important hospital in New South Wales.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


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