Shot in the dark

He dreamt of the premier’s death in advance

John Williams, a mining engineer and a banker, had a strange dream one night. On the night of May 2 or 3, 1812, he had one of the most unforgettable and remarkable precognitions ever recorded. What he had seen in his dreams, were full details of the heinous assassination of a British Prime Minister.

In 1834, John Abercrombie, a writer, published details that Williams had earlier told him regarding his dream. It was written as follows:

“Mr. Williams was in the House of Commons where he saw a small man in a blue coat and white waistcoat. Then, as he watched, a man in a brown coat with yellow buttons drew a pistol from his coat. He fired at the small man who fell, blood pouring from a wound a little below the left breast. Mr. Williams heard clearly the report of the pistol, saw blood fly out and stain the waistcoat, saw the color of the man’s face change.”

According to Williams, the ruthless assassin was seized and upon Williams asking who had been shot, in his dream, he was told ‘The Chancellor’.

At the time when William had this dream, the Prime Minister was Spencer Perceval. It is also worth noting that Perceval was also the Chancellor of Exchequer during that time.

Spencer Perceval

Williams dreamt the same sequence twice more before the night died.

During the next week, he told several people of his weird experience-among them were his brother, his partner and two of the leading men in his home town of Falmouth, Cornwall.

On May 11, Perceval was shot dead in the lobby of the House of Commons by another John. John Bellingham. He was a merchant who strongly believed that he was unjustly incarcerated in Russia, and was deserving of compensation from the government only to have his petitions rejected.

Every detail of Williams’ dream was verified by those who had witnessed the crime, right down to the very appearance of the murderer and victim.


At the request of his wife, a private funeral for Perceval took place. The previous day, Bellingham had been tried, and, refusing to enter a plea of insanity, was found guilty. He was hanged on 18 May.

Five days after the tragic incident, The Times picked up the story of John Williams’ experience.

Since Williams had dreamt pretty accurately the details surrounding the murder and that too more than once, the question remains as to whether the occurrence could have been averted.

Well, Perceval himself had a series of dreams culminating on 10 May with one of his own death, which he had while spending the night at the house of the Earl of Harrowby. He told the Earl of his dream, and the Earl tried to persuade Perceval not to attend Parliament that day, but Perceval refused to be scared off by “a mere dream” and headed for Westminster on the afternoon of 11 May, completely unaware of what was to come.

Perceval dies moments after the shooting; Image source: Daily Mail

Featured header image source: The Guardian


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