February, 1816: A Shooting at Drury Lane Theatre

Drury_lane_interior_1808In researching for my WIP, Summerfield sister Genna’s story, I looked into my copy of The Annual Register, Or a View of History, Politics, and Literature of the Year 1816 (Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 1817) and came across this entry in the Chronicles for February 17, 1816.

At Drury Lane Theatre, at the opening scene of the farce called Modern Antiques, or The Merry Mourners, in which Miss Kelly appeared in the character of Nan, a country girl; and Mr. Knight, as Joey, a country lad; while these two performer were, according to their parts, embracing, a pistol was discharged from about the centre of the pit. Great consternation was excited on the stage and among the audience and it was not ascertained whether any person was shot, or what mischief was done. It was not known then whether the deadly attack was intended to be against Miss Kelly or Mr. Knight; but a subsequent investigation proved that it was aimed at Miss Kelly….

The shooter was George Barnett, aged 21, a law stationer who lived at No. 22 Princess Street. He was stopped and apprehended by two members of the audience and taken to the managers’ office in the theatre, where he and the witnesses were questioned by Mr. Birnie, the magistrate. Barnett would not say anything at the time, though. He was then taken to Tothill Fields Bridewell by the constables. The recovered pistols were taken to Bow Street.

Pistolet_marine_1837-IMG_6935Mr. Birnie stated that from the wild and incoherent manner in which he (Barnett) conducted himself that there is “very little doubt of his insanity.”

The account goes on:

It was with some difficulty that Miss Kelly finished acting her character in the farce. On her being informed of the man’s name, she recollected that it was the same name which she had received, signed to several love-letters, some of which contained threats, if she did not accept his offer, etc–She, not knowing the person, treated the whole as a matter of indifference…The fright had such an effect upon her that she has been much indisposed since, and was confined yesterday…

When the pistol was fired, several shots perforated through the left back scene and struck the back of the orchestra. Had it been a musical farce, members of the orchestra might have been struck.

Don’t you feel this could have happened in today’s world? So much rings familiar–shootings in theaters, obsessed fans, even brave bystanders saving the day.

Reading through the Chronicles in the various Annual Registers (I have from 1810 to 1820), I am always struck by how little some things have changed in two hundred years.

Do you have any examples?

Later today, I will be choosing a winner of Lavinia Kent’s latest book, Ravishing Ruby. There’s still time to come by and comment for a chance to win!

 

 

About diane

Diane Gaston is the RITA award-winning author of Historical Romance for Harlequin Historical and Mills and Boon, with books that feature the darker side of the Regency. Formerly a mental health social worker, she is happiest now when deep in the psyches of soldiers, rakes and women who don’t always act like ladies.
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