On the 21st May 1886 Alderman and deputy leader of the Poole Liberal Party, Horatio Hamilton, was shot at point blank range as he left a committee meeting at the Guildhall.
On 22nd May 1886 the Times reported:
“Yesterday at Poole, Alderman Hamilton aged 75, was shot dead by John Gerrard King, 26. The latter was recently licensed as a pilot to be stationed at Swanage. The sub-commissioners, of whom Alderman Hamilton was one, informed King that he would be required to obtain a boat or get a mate to sail with him, otherwise his licence papers would be withdrawn. King was unable to obtain £60 for the boat, and yesterday morning, after purchasing a six-chambered revolver, went to the Guildhall. Alderman Hamilton was leaving the council meeting; King stepped up to him, and after some remark drew the revolver and fired three shots into his head and neck. Mr Hamilton was picked up insensible, and died within the hour. King, on being charged with murder, exclaimed “Dead? Is he dead; oh my God!” The inquest will be held later today.”
Although this dramatic event took place outside the Guildhall on Market Street, the story does have a significant number of links to the High Street. To begin with, John Gerrard King purchased the six-chambered revolver from Councillor Henry Farmer’s shop in the High Street- today this is recognisable as Boones.
Horatio Hamilton also had close links to the High Street. Trade Directories show us that the Hamilton family were established on Poole High Street from as early as the 1820s. The image below shows an extract from the 1842 Pigot’s Directory where Horatio’s father, James Burgess Hamilton, is listed under Chemists and Druggists at 101 High Street. His son, Horatio, is also working there.
Census returns from 1841- 1891 show us that the Hamilton family occupied a number of premises on the High Street. In 1851 Horatio has left his father’s shop and is living on the High Street with his wife Mary. He is a dentist. Next door to him is his younger brother, Augustus Hamilton who is listed as a GP. By 1871 James Hamilton is retired and living in Horatio’s former dental practice, while Horatio is listed again at 101 High Street as a chemist and dentist. This shows that the Hamilton family would often swap between different High Street premises.
In 1872 Horatio Hamilton was made Mayor of Poole and by 1881 had retired to Brampton Villas, Longfleet where he is listed as an Alderman. However 101 High Street is still occupied by Julius, his youngest brother and also a chemist.
The murder of this professional and community minded man caused a great deal of uproar and debate in the town. John Gerrard King was tried and sentenced to death by hanging. After the sentence was made public the Poole and Dorset Herald reported:
“Public opinion hitherto has been very strong against him: now that the poor misguided young man is really condemned to death, public symapthy may perhaps take a turn, and an effort be made to secure mitigation of his punishment.”
This is exactly what happened, the people of Poole were sympathetic towards John King, they petitioned the Home Secretary and his sentence was eventually commuted.
To find out more about the story of Horatio Hamilton and the murder at Poole visit Poole History Centre or read the account in Victorian Poole published by the Poole Historical Trust. Another source used was the Times digital archive- available in all Poole Libraries and Poole History Centre.