Martial Bourdin - The Anarchist Bomber


Martial Bourdin was a French anarchist who died in an explosion on the north-west slope of Observatory Hill in 1894. 

At about 5:00 pm on 15 February 1894, a loud explosion was heard throughout Greenwich, and a plume of smoke was spotted close to the Observatory. A young Frenchman named Martial Bourdin had blown himself up while walking up an old winding path to the Observatory. 

A park keeper was first on the scene and called for help, but Bourdin’s wounds were so severe that he died shortly after being taken to hospital. For the next few days, police kept back crowds of sightseers from the scene of the explosion. 

Investigations revealed that Martial Bourdin had been carrying a homemade bomb that was especially unstable, and it was believed that it must have been set off accidentally by him stumbling. Bourdin was a frequent visitor to an anarchist club in Soho: such venues were common at that time when anarchy was a popular anti-establishment movement. He was also found to have an extremely large amount of money on his person. 

The police were unable to establish conclusively what his plans were, but since he was carrying a bomb and walking a route that went nowhere of significance other than the Observatory, they concluded that he had intended to blow up the Observatory, a high-profile government institution. Such places were typically selected as targets. 

Conspiracy theories thrived at the time, and the author Joseph Conrad even wrote a popular short story called ‘The Secret Agent’ based on these events in Greenwich Park. In the fictional version, the victim was duped into carrying the bomb by a government agent in an attempt to discredit the anarchist movement.