The scene was the Imperial Institute in London. It was the evening of JULY 1st, 1909, and a meeting of the National Indian Association was ending. As members rose to leave a young Indian stepped forward and spoke to Sir William Curzon-Wylie, the 61-year-old aide-de-camp to the Secretary of State for India. Then five shots rang out and Sir William dropped to the floor, killed by four bullets in his head.
The young Indian was the gunman, and Dr. Cawas Lalcaca, 48, moved forward to grab him, only to fall mortally wounded as two bullets ploughed into him. Then the gunman put his pistol to his own head and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. The gun had failed to fire, and he was overpowered and arrested.
Asking for the return of his spectacles which he had lost when he was manhandled to the floor, he told the police he was Madan Lal Dhingra, 25, lodging in Ledbury Road, Bayswater. He had come to England in 1906, was studying engineering at Londons University College, and he had decided to commit a political assassination to demonstrate his opposition to British rule in India.
There was ample evidence of premeditation. Six months earlier he had obtained a licence for a revolver, buying a Colt automatic the next day and later purchasing a six-chambered Belgian revolver. He was carrying both when he was arrested.
In March he had written to the National Indian Associations secretary inquiring about membership, and in April he had begun visiting a Tottenham Court Road pistol range several times a week. In the same month he was invited to attend the Associations next function, a concert to be given on the evening of July 1st.
He spent that afternoon at the pistol range, having a final practice. Then he went home to dress for the concert and took a cab to the Institute.
Refusing to be represented at his trial at the Old Bailey, he said he did not recognise the court or its right to try him. Sir Williams death was no crime. In killing him, Madan Lal Dhingra said, he simply disposed of an enemy of his people. He had not meant to kill Dr. Lalcaca, and had shot him only in self-defence, intending to save the last bullet for himself. At his request a long statement he had made was read out in court. It accused the British of being responsible for the deaths of millions of his countrymen, and of taking millions of pounds from India every year. The British, he said, were an occupying force, and he had as much right to kill them as the British would have to kill Germans if Germany occupied Britain.
On being convicted of murder and sentenced to death, Madan Lal Dhingra said he was proud to lay down his life for his country, which he did on August 31st when Henry and Thomas Pierrepoint hanged him at Pentonville Prison.