Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Dueling on St. Helena - what happened at Chubbs Spring on March 20th 1809

Time to get back to the Judicial records. 1809 is proving more interesting than 1808.

Currently I am working on a murder charge - resulting from a duel at Chubbs Spring, in the upper Jamestown Valley on March 20th 1809.

In the duel Lieutenant Robert Wright killed Lieutenant Stephen Young. The affair was over the trivial matter of an exchange of duty. Lieutenant Wright claimed that he and Young were good friends.

Lieutenant Wright and the two seconds, Lieutenant Francis Seale and Lieutenant Onesiphorus Beale, were each charged with murder.

A witness, a plumber called Bowman/Boorman?, who observed the whole affair from the road above the Spring, went down to the banks of the run where Young lay dying, and in Court gave this account :
Mr Wright came near to the deceased Lieut Young, & said O Young I am sorry you did not know better, you knew what I was before. Mr Seale & Mr Beale during the time they were there raved about like Madmen & apparently much affected at what had happened

According to the same witness, Seale and Wright wanted to leave the body with him and go into The Talby? Not sure if I have transcribed that correctly. I have assumed it was a hostelry.

At the trial William Webber Doveton and Robert Leech were unable to act as Justices because they knew at least one defendant. The Coroner had to act for the Sheriff, because the latter was related to one of the defendants. The names of the Jury were drawn from a hat in which 33 slips of paper had been put, and a number of them were disqualified for affinity or other reasons.

Lieutenant John Barnes acted as the counsel for the defendants. He did a good job, with much quotation from law books. The defendants were acquitted. All three were still serving during the captivity, and by that time had been promoted to the rank of Captain. Robert Wright retired in 1818.

Deciphering the case is proving quite a challenge - by the time I have finished I may have to delve into Blackstone and maybe other legal books to help me unravel some of the illegible words! I will be asking Michel for double payment - in gold bars or Swiss Francs the way the world economy is going!

How prevalent was dueling on St. Helena?

According to the witness already mentioned, Lieutenant Wright said immediately after the shooting that dueling was made too trifling of in S. Helena.

In his evidence at the trial Wright indicated that as an army officer he had no choice but to respond to the challenge of the deceased; he would have lost the respect of his fellow officers:
particularly amongst Military Men would cast upon my conduct should I decline consenting to Lieut Youngs wish for a personal interview, I was unavoidably compelled to agree to it. Chubbs spring was the place we agreed

Lieutenant Beale gave the same view:
That I became a second in the affair, the principles of religion and moral obligation may impute blame to me for – but the customary laws of honor in these cases have so arbitrarily disposed of Men in my profession, that it is impossible for me to have refused acting as I did, my conscience satisfies me that I did all in my power to prevent extremities, & that fatal as the wound was, the particulars were without advantage on either side.

The past is indeed another country. Those who have studied the events at Longwood know that at one point relations became so tense that General Gourgaud challenged Count Montholon to a duel, which happily Napoleon managed to prevent. This affair is usually the subject of derision, particularly at Gourgaud's expense. It ought perhaps to be viewed through the eyes of an early nineteenth century officer and gentleman.

The end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth however was the golden age of the duel. - according to the following article, which has some useful general information on dueling, not just on pistols. The article suggests that an officer who refused a challenge would have no choice but to leave his regiment.
British Duelling Pistols

Below I have put details of some major contemporary duels, with some suprising combatants, most of whom were engaged in one way or another in the wars against Napoleon.

Famous Duels in Early Nineteenth Century

In 1898 William Pitt then Prime Minister, challenged an Irish MP, Tierney, to a duel after the latter had criticised Pitt's plans to increase the navy in the House of Commons. Henry Addington, the Speaker of the British Parliament, attended as a witness. Both men missed.

Aaron Burr, Vice president of the United States, killed Alexander Hamilton, former Secretary of the Treasury, in a duel in July 1804. Although indicted for murder Burr was never tried; he completed his term of office as Vice President.

September 1809, Lord Castlereagh Secretary for War, and later architect of the coalition which defeated Napoleon, fought duel with George Canning. Castlereagh lightly wounded his opponent in the left leg. Both resigned from the Cabinet; Spencer Perceval became next Prime Minister instead of Canning; Perceval was assassinated in 1812. Castlereagh committed suicide in 1822. Canning became Prime Minister briefly before his death in 1827.

Duke of Wellington, Prime Minister, aged 61 and the Earl of Winchelsea, met on Battersea Fields, March 21, 1829. Both fired wide. Wellington was mocked for this behaviour which was not considered appropriate for a Prime Minister.

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