You might not have heard of John Bellingham but you can think of him as the British equivalent to John Wilkes Booth, the man who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. Bellingham is the only person to have assassinated a British Prime Minister (PM) – a crime he was hung and then anatomized for, as was standard practice at the time. Now, thanks to the efforts of forensic artist Hew Morrison, he has been given a second lease of life.
Unlike Wilkes Booth, a Confederate-sympathizer opposed to the abolition of slavery, Bellingham’s grievance against the PM was personal. Born in 1776 to a family in St Neots, Huntingdon (now Cambridgeshire), Bellingham went on to become a not-so-successful businessman.
Events took a turn for the worse when he was arrested Russia in 1803 for failing to repay his debts, allegations that were later dropped. During his 6-year spell in custody, his business went belly-up, he was left bankrupt, and his anger turned toward the British government who he claimed had abandoned him.
Returning to Britain, Bellingham began an arduous campaign lobbying politicians in Westminster and demanding remuneration. He was repeatedly told he had no just ground of claim. And so, increasingly bitter, he made one last trip to the Houses of Parliament. On May 11, 1812, he sat and waited for then Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, in the lobby. He shot him in the chest with a gun hidden inside a secret coat pocket.
Bellingham was hung and his body sent to The Royal College of Surgeons for anatomization. Now, his skull is held in the Queen Mary Pathology Museum in London.
To recreate his face, Morrison (also responsible for the facial reconstruction of a 3,700-year-old Highlander called Ava) used Bellingham’s skull and a database containing high-res images of middle-aged men of European descent. The underlying anatomy of the skull and facial muscles offer a blueprint for each facial feature. Morrison then used computer software to blend it all together.
“I found the skull to be rather unusual looking, with quite a bulbous cranium and noticeable asymmetry of the chin,” Morrison said in a statement.
“John Bellingham would have had a long, narrow, slightly downturned nose. This was apparent when I saw the skull as the nasal aperture was indeed quite significant in length with a downward nasal spine.”
Hair, skin, and eye color could not be determined from the skull alone and so Morrison used courtroom sketches to ensure his coloring and hairstyle as accurate as possible. As far as facial expression is concerned, Morrison settled for something neutral, saying: “Despite committing the crime that he was found guilty of and subsequently executed for, I did not feel the need to make him look bad or mean in any way.”
Perhaps somewhat ironically given Bellingham’s notorious reputation, one of his descendants went on to pursue a career in politics. Can you spot the familial resemblance?
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