A Canadian duel

BlueJo here. A while ago I shared information about a duel that didn't happen — the Paget/Wellesley affair. This time it's about one that happened and was tragically fatal.

Duels were a real part of the historical setting, up into the Regency and sometimes beyond. There were laws against them, and sometimes a principal who killed his opponent was executed for murder. Occasionally seconds were involved in the action, and even without they could be prosecuted. However, most cases slid by the legal system, in part because the duelers were upper class.

Here's a Wikipedia list of notable duels of the early 19th century in Britain which shows the variety of outcomes.

1803: Captain James Macnamara and Colonel Montgomery; over a dispute between their dogs fighting in Hyde Park. Both were wounded, Montgomery mortally. Macnamara was tried for manslaughter at the Old Bailey but was acquitted.
1804: Captain Best fatally wounded Thomas Pitt, 2nd Baron Camelford. He died three days later.
1804: A duel was fought on Kersal Moor, Salford in July 1804 between Mr. Jones and Mr. Shakspere Philips. Mr. Jones fired at Mr. Philips without effect and Mr. Philips then fired his pistol in the air, upon which the seconds interfered, the two man shook hands, and honour was satisfied.
1807: Sir Francis Burdett, 5th Baronet and James Pauli; both men were wounded.
1808: Major Campbell and Captain Boyd; Major Campbell was tried and executed for killing Captain Boyd.
1809: George Canning and Lord Castlereagh; Canning was slightly wounded.
1815: Daniel O'Connell and Captain John Norcot d'Esterre; d'Esterre was killed.

Of course there was a famous American one.

July 11, 1804: U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton; Hamilton was killed.

Duels in historical romances.

EatdaWe don't see many duels in historical romance these days, especially ones in which someone dies. Piers Verderan, hero of my Emily and the Dark Angel, has killed some men in duels, but that was in his earlier days before he quietened down a bit. In Devilish, the Marquess of Rothgar kills a man in a sword duel on the page. It's interesting to me that I was writing the "Dark Angel" and the "Eminence Noir", the dark power behind the throne. Clearly the duels were part of their character development for me.

DevcoverHave you come across notable duels in historical romance?

I did have another duel in a book — in one of my Company of Rogues books called The Rogue's Return. It starts off in Canada, where Simon St. Bride has been involved in various adventures, including the American invasion of Canada in 1812. He decides it's time to go home, but then he's entangled in a duel. He survives the duel with a wound, but I based some of the action of a real duel in York, Upper Canada (now Toronto), not long after Simon's story — the Ridout duel.Trrfront

The Ridout Duel.

In the acknowledgements at the front of The Rogue's Return I noted The Ridout Letters (available to read here), which provided me with a vivid sense of life in York, now Toronto, in the early 19th century. Those letters end before the tragic duel, though it is mentioned as an aside in the accompanying text.

John Ridout did well during the War of 1812, taking an active part in the defence of his country at only age 14. His brief life is laid out on his gravestone, which was erected in the graveyard of St. James’s Church. The memorial is now preserved in the porch of St. James’s Cathedral, which was built on the same site. Thomridout(The picture is of Thomas Ridout, 1754-1829, John's father.)

“In Memory of John Ridout. Son of Thomas Ridout, Surveyor General.

His filial affection, engaging manners, and nobleness of mind gave early promise of future excellence. This promise he gallantly fulfilled by his brave, active, and enterprising conduct which gained the praise of his superiors while serving as midshipman in the Provincial Navy during the late War. At the return of peace he commenced with ardour the study of law, and with the fairest prospects, but a Blight came, and he was consigned to an early grave on July 12 1817, aged 18.

The “blight” was Samuel Peter Jarvis, a York businessman in his twenties who had previously been on friendly terms with the Ridout family. Business led to some disagreements and somehow it ended up on July 12th, 1817 in a duel at dawn at Elmsley’s Farm.

All was conducted according to the code but for some reason on the count of “two” Ridout fired, missed, and began to walk away. One hypothesis is that Ridout, who had issued the challenge, thought a symbolic shot would show he regretted the affair and end the matter. It was, however, a shocking act that could have been meant to cheat and murder.

He was brought back and after a conference it was decided that the duel must go on. At first the intention was to start from scratch by reloading Ridout’s pistol but Sam Jarvis claimed his shot, so Ridout took his stance to await it. Perhaps it was reasonable that Jarvis not expose himself to danger, but what possessed him to shoot to kill, no one ever knew. But in moments, young John Ridout was dead. Jervis

Jarvis was arrested and tried, but acquitted on the grounds that his action was within the duelling code. The seconds were also tried later, and also acquitted.

For the record, Sam Jarvis, shown right in middle age, ended up as Superintendent of Indian Affairs and died in 1857, despite the efforts of John Ridout's mother, who never forgave or forgot, and haunted him, calling for justice.

There's an interesting, and very negative, blog post about Jarvis here.

Duels can seem romantic, and are certainly a dramatic inclusion in fiction, but they sometimes were exceptionally tragic. In a humorous book I'll be talking about in the "What We're Reading" blog at the end of the month one young gentleman is all for duels, but only in the form of cricket matches. I can support that!

What's your opinion of dueling, in reality and in fiction?

Jo

40 thoughts on “A Canadian duel”

  1. Every now and then when I read about some of the more idiotic lawsuits people file these days, I think it might be simpler to just bring back dueling. But not with pistols, and few people can handle a sword these days. Maybe custard pies?

    Reply
  2. Every now and then when I read about some of the more idiotic lawsuits people file these days, I think it might be simpler to just bring back dueling. But not with pistols, and few people can handle a sword these days. Maybe custard pies?

    Reply
  3. Every now and then when I read about some of the more idiotic lawsuits people file these days, I think it might be simpler to just bring back dueling. But not with pistols, and few people can handle a sword these days. Maybe custard pies?

    Reply
  4. Every now and then when I read about some of the more idiotic lawsuits people file these days, I think it might be simpler to just bring back dueling. But not with pistols, and few people can handle a sword these days. Maybe custard pies?

    Reply
  5. Every now and then when I read about some of the more idiotic lawsuits people file these days, I think it might be simpler to just bring back dueling. But not with pistols, and few people can handle a sword these days. Maybe custard pies?

    Reply
  6. I believe the only duels I’ve come across are in your books, Jo! It made a great deal of difference for me to see Rothgar fight on the page, rather than it being part of his wild past. It felt more real, and forced me to appreciate the gravity of the act.
    I think duels are great in fiction, but in real life they were a ridiculous and terrible stage for men’s pride. I mean, really, dying because of a dog fight? It’s another instance of society maturing and putting value on the right thing (life) and restraining people’s stupidity and violence. There are better ways to solve a conflict.
    Bring on the paint ball!!!

    Reply
  7. I believe the only duels I’ve come across are in your books, Jo! It made a great deal of difference for me to see Rothgar fight on the page, rather than it being part of his wild past. It felt more real, and forced me to appreciate the gravity of the act.
    I think duels are great in fiction, but in real life they were a ridiculous and terrible stage for men’s pride. I mean, really, dying because of a dog fight? It’s another instance of society maturing and putting value on the right thing (life) and restraining people’s stupidity and violence. There are better ways to solve a conflict.
    Bring on the paint ball!!!

    Reply
  8. I believe the only duels I’ve come across are in your books, Jo! It made a great deal of difference for me to see Rothgar fight on the page, rather than it being part of his wild past. It felt more real, and forced me to appreciate the gravity of the act.
    I think duels are great in fiction, but in real life they were a ridiculous and terrible stage for men’s pride. I mean, really, dying because of a dog fight? It’s another instance of society maturing and putting value on the right thing (life) and restraining people’s stupidity and violence. There are better ways to solve a conflict.
    Bring on the paint ball!!!

    Reply
  9. I believe the only duels I’ve come across are in your books, Jo! It made a great deal of difference for me to see Rothgar fight on the page, rather than it being part of his wild past. It felt more real, and forced me to appreciate the gravity of the act.
    I think duels are great in fiction, but in real life they were a ridiculous and terrible stage for men’s pride. I mean, really, dying because of a dog fight? It’s another instance of society maturing and putting value on the right thing (life) and restraining people’s stupidity and violence. There are better ways to solve a conflict.
    Bring on the paint ball!!!

    Reply
  10. I believe the only duels I’ve come across are in your books, Jo! It made a great deal of difference for me to see Rothgar fight on the page, rather than it being part of his wild past. It felt more real, and forced me to appreciate the gravity of the act.
    I think duels are great in fiction, but in real life they were a ridiculous and terrible stage for men’s pride. I mean, really, dying because of a dog fight? It’s another instance of society maturing and putting value on the right thing (life) and restraining people’s stupidity and violence. There are better ways to solve a conflict.
    Bring on the paint ball!!!

    Reply
  11. There’s a memorable duel scene in Heyer’s “Regency Buck” where Perry is set up by Farnaby and ends up on the green facing him. His best friend tells him he shouldn’t have worn the coat with the big silver buttons on it … but luckily that duel is interrupted by the law. I always wondered why men would fight over such stupid causes.

    Reply
  12. There’s a memorable duel scene in Heyer’s “Regency Buck” where Perry is set up by Farnaby and ends up on the green facing him. His best friend tells him he shouldn’t have worn the coat with the big silver buttons on it … but luckily that duel is interrupted by the law. I always wondered why men would fight over such stupid causes.

    Reply
  13. There’s a memorable duel scene in Heyer’s “Regency Buck” where Perry is set up by Farnaby and ends up on the green facing him. His best friend tells him he shouldn’t have worn the coat with the big silver buttons on it … but luckily that duel is interrupted by the law. I always wondered why men would fight over such stupid causes.

    Reply
  14. There’s a memorable duel scene in Heyer’s “Regency Buck” where Perry is set up by Farnaby and ends up on the green facing him. His best friend tells him he shouldn’t have worn the coat with the big silver buttons on it … but luckily that duel is interrupted by the law. I always wondered why men would fight over such stupid causes.

    Reply
  15. There’s a memorable duel scene in Heyer’s “Regency Buck” where Perry is set up by Farnaby and ends up on the green facing him. His best friend tells him he shouldn’t have worn the coat with the big silver buttons on it … but luckily that duel is interrupted by the law. I always wondered why men would fight over such stupid causes.

    Reply
  16. I wonder if the real sword duels were ever as exciting as Hollywood choreographs them. Pistol duels seem almost passive-aggressive by comparison. “Grass for breakfast,” indeed!

    Reply
  17. I wonder if the real sword duels were ever as exciting as Hollywood choreographs them. Pistol duels seem almost passive-aggressive by comparison. “Grass for breakfast,” indeed!

    Reply
  18. I wonder if the real sword duels were ever as exciting as Hollywood choreographs them. Pistol duels seem almost passive-aggressive by comparison. “Grass for breakfast,” indeed!

    Reply
  19. I wonder if the real sword duels were ever as exciting as Hollywood choreographs them. Pistol duels seem almost passive-aggressive by comparison. “Grass for breakfast,” indeed!

    Reply
  20. I wonder if the real sword duels were ever as exciting as Hollywood choreographs them. Pistol duels seem almost passive-aggressive by comparison. “Grass for breakfast,” indeed!

    Reply
  21. When the duel in a novel is a part of the plot, I do find it interesting; but in general I don’t care much for them. I never think that they are romantic.
    In real life, I am SO glad they’re no longer even semi-legal. Dueling in the St. Louis Area, where I grew up, was mostly done on an island in the Mississippi river. I think those duels continued into the 1820s or 1830s but my memory is not accurate and I can’t think where I should go to look it up.
    Remember that St. Louis was, in part, very much a souther city and the code duello was a strong element in the American south.
    Sue McCormick

    Reply
  22. When the duel in a novel is a part of the plot, I do find it interesting; but in general I don’t care much for them. I never think that they are romantic.
    In real life, I am SO glad they’re no longer even semi-legal. Dueling in the St. Louis Area, where I grew up, was mostly done on an island in the Mississippi river. I think those duels continued into the 1820s or 1830s but my memory is not accurate and I can’t think where I should go to look it up.
    Remember that St. Louis was, in part, very much a souther city and the code duello was a strong element in the American south.
    Sue McCormick

    Reply
  23. When the duel in a novel is a part of the plot, I do find it interesting; but in general I don’t care much for them. I never think that they are romantic.
    In real life, I am SO glad they’re no longer even semi-legal. Dueling in the St. Louis Area, where I grew up, was mostly done on an island in the Mississippi river. I think those duels continued into the 1820s or 1830s but my memory is not accurate and I can’t think where I should go to look it up.
    Remember that St. Louis was, in part, very much a souther city and the code duello was a strong element in the American south.
    Sue McCormick

    Reply
  24. When the duel in a novel is a part of the plot, I do find it interesting; but in general I don’t care much for them. I never think that they are romantic.
    In real life, I am SO glad they’re no longer even semi-legal. Dueling in the St. Louis Area, where I grew up, was mostly done on an island in the Mississippi river. I think those duels continued into the 1820s or 1830s but my memory is not accurate and I can’t think where I should go to look it up.
    Remember that St. Louis was, in part, very much a souther city and the code duello was a strong element in the American south.
    Sue McCormick

    Reply
  25. When the duel in a novel is a part of the plot, I do find it interesting; but in general I don’t care much for them. I never think that they are romantic.
    In real life, I am SO glad they’re no longer even semi-legal. Dueling in the St. Louis Area, where I grew up, was mostly done on an island in the Mississippi river. I think those duels continued into the 1820s or 1830s but my memory is not accurate and I can’t think where I should go to look it up.
    Remember that St. Louis was, in part, very much a souther city and the code duello was a strong element in the American south.
    Sue McCormick

    Reply
  26. The basis of the duel was the belief ( or supposed belief) of people that God would protect the righteous. ONe would think that after so many victims died at the hands of the bully that every one would see that God took no part in such affairs.
    The trouble is that even after police were established, duels continued among some groups because the causes were those the law didn’t cover.
    There is something exciting in watching a duel with swords– or a plain sword fight when that was the primary weapon. Pistols took the last vestige of romanticism away from duels. Stupid , foolish, things, duels.

    Reply
  27. The basis of the duel was the belief ( or supposed belief) of people that God would protect the righteous. ONe would think that after so many victims died at the hands of the bully that every one would see that God took no part in such affairs.
    The trouble is that even after police were established, duels continued among some groups because the causes were those the law didn’t cover.
    There is something exciting in watching a duel with swords– or a plain sword fight when that was the primary weapon. Pistols took the last vestige of romanticism away from duels. Stupid , foolish, things, duels.

    Reply
  28. The basis of the duel was the belief ( or supposed belief) of people that God would protect the righteous. ONe would think that after so many victims died at the hands of the bully that every one would see that God took no part in such affairs.
    The trouble is that even after police were established, duels continued among some groups because the causes were those the law didn’t cover.
    There is something exciting in watching a duel with swords– or a plain sword fight when that was the primary weapon. Pistols took the last vestige of romanticism away from duels. Stupid , foolish, things, duels.

    Reply
  29. The basis of the duel was the belief ( or supposed belief) of people that God would protect the righteous. ONe would think that after so many victims died at the hands of the bully that every one would see that God took no part in such affairs.
    The trouble is that even after police were established, duels continued among some groups because the causes were those the law didn’t cover.
    There is something exciting in watching a duel with swords– or a plain sword fight when that was the primary weapon. Pistols took the last vestige of romanticism away from duels. Stupid , foolish, things, duels.

    Reply
  30. The basis of the duel was the belief ( or supposed belief) of people that God would protect the righteous. ONe would think that after so many victims died at the hands of the bully that every one would see that God took no part in such affairs.
    The trouble is that even after police were established, duels continued among some groups because the causes were those the law didn’t cover.
    There is something exciting in watching a duel with swords– or a plain sword fight when that was the primary weapon. Pistols took the last vestige of romanticism away from duels. Stupid , foolish, things, duels.

    Reply
  31. It’s interesting in fiction, but I’ve always thought it such a shame that Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel. He was so productive, and such a polymath. I wonder what he could have accomplished if his life had not been cut short.

    Reply
  32. It’s interesting in fiction, but I’ve always thought it such a shame that Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel. He was so productive, and such a polymath. I wonder what he could have accomplished if his life had not been cut short.

    Reply
  33. It’s interesting in fiction, but I’ve always thought it such a shame that Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel. He was so productive, and such a polymath. I wonder what he could have accomplished if his life had not been cut short.

    Reply
  34. It’s interesting in fiction, but I’ve always thought it such a shame that Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel. He was so productive, and such a polymath. I wonder what he could have accomplished if his life had not been cut short.

    Reply
  35. It’s interesting in fiction, but I’ve always thought it such a shame that Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel. He was so productive, and such a polymath. I wonder what he could have accomplished if his life had not been cut short.

    Reply

Leave a Comment