This article relies largely or entirely on a single source. (September 2016)
Pate was born on Christmas Day, 1819, in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, the son of a wealthy corn dealer. His father came from humble origins, but through trade became a gentleman and eventually Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire and High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire.
Pate was educated in Norwich. In 1841, his father purchased for him a Cornetcy in the 10th Light Dragoons. He purchased a Lieutenancy the following year. In 1844 while on a tour of duty in Ireland, his favourite horse and dog were put down because of rabies, and Pate began to show signs of lunacy. He resigned his commission in 1846 and took up residence in Piccadilly, London, where he lived the life of a recluse. He took frequent walks in the royal parks, where his dandy clothing and strange behaviour drew attention.
The Queen was visiting Cambridge House in Piccadilly on 27 June 1850, in order to see her dying uncle, Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge. At about 6:20 that evening, her carriage was leaving the courtyard when Pate hit her on the head with the short cane with brass ferule that he was carrying. The blow was heavy enough to crush her bonnet and draw a little blood. The attack was the only one that caused Victoria actual harm and the mark on her forehead remained for a decade.
Pate was immediately arrested and was quickly put on trial. His defence team did not plead insanity, but instead asked for a lenient sentence on the grounds of a momentary lapse caused by a weak mind. Pate was sentenced to seven years of penal transportation, which his father thought a better result than the ignominy of imprisonment in the UK accompanied by a birching, even though that was a nominally lesser sentence.
Pate's class ensured that he received lenient treatment in prison and on the subsequent journey to Van Diemen's Land (now known as Tasmania) where he arrived in November 1850. However, on arrival he was consigned to the Cascades penal settlement on the Tasman Peninsula like a common criminal. He served less than a year under what for him must have been an especially hard regime, and was then transferred to more amenable work in the community until the end of his sentence.
Pate's father died in 1856, but most of his money passed to other relations and Pate only received an annuity of £300 and a share of his personal possessions. However, his money problems were solved the following year when Pate married Mary Elizabeth Brown, a rich heiress. They lived in Hobart for eight years before selling up and returning to London. Robert Pate lived a quiet life in the capital until his death in 1895. Under the terms of his will, he left £22,464 to his wife. He is buried in Beckenham Crematorium and Cemetery.
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