My novel, A Scandalous Countess, will be out next February and I'm doing the final work on it. As sometimes happens, I'm rewriting a small section and I wanted to mention the inquest into the death of Georgia Maybury's husband. So I went looking for an inquest on a duel.
A great site for things like this is the London Lives site, which is wonderful collection of documents about the ordinary lives of Londoners from the 16th to the 19th century. I recommend a browse, but only if you have time to spare!
Here I found an inquest from 1764, only one year before my book, about a duel, but an odd one. I'm pasting it without editing other than to insert paragraph breaks for easier reading. I've put in some observations in red.
An Inquisition taken on View of the Body of Evan Jones lying Dead in the said Parish Liberty and County.
James Frith of May Fair (Son of James Frith Chandler ) on his Oath saith that he was taking a walk in Hyde Park in the Parish of St. George Hanover Square within the Liberty of Westmr. on Sunday last in the Afternoon between two and three O'Clock.
(Interesting time for a duel!)
Says that he heard a Noise which he took to be the report of a Pistol, and on looking round Deponent saw a Man drop down on his rightside and immediately after turned upon his Back on the Ground in the Wilderness in Hyde Park (at this point a large part of Hyde park was untamed countryside) aforesaid, at about twenty or thirty yards distance from Deponent.
Says that there was another Man standing at about twelve or fourteen yards distance from the Man that fell down at the time he dropt, Says that he immediately went to the Person thay lay on the Ground, and the other Man ran by Deponent, having three Pistols and two Swords in his Hands (This is a really odd image. Talk about being armed to the teeth!), and said that he was going for a Surgeon.
Says that another Person (whose Name Deponent knows not) came to Deced about the same time as he did, says that they lifted up the Deced on his Backside and the Deced then did spit much Blood. Says that he asked if he was Wounded (er, duh!), to which Deced replied that he was Wounded under the right Arm, but tha there had been no foul Play shown.
(Wounded under the right arm would presumably be because he was standing sideways, arm raised, prepared to fire.)
Deponent says that he believes the Wound was reced by a Bullet discharged from a Pistol by the other Man that want away, (whose Name Deponent knows not) but says that Deced did not mention his Name.
Deponent says that he afterwards found three Pistols and two Swords in a hollow tree in Hyde Park about one hundred and fifty yards distance from that Place, Says that the Person that came to the Deced first with him, took up another Pistol that lay on the Ground near the Deced, Says that two Gentleman come up to the Deced soon after and Deced desired one of them to send for Mr. Hawkins a Surgeon , says that the Gentleman immediately went.
Says that another Person brought a Post Chaise (which Deponent had seen before in Hyde Park ) into the
Wilderness and the Deced was put into it, and carried to St. George's Hospital near Hyde Park Corner , Says that he assisted the Deced into the House when he observed the Deced's Shirt to be very Bloody, Says that Deced was put into Bed, and Depont.left him there and went away, Deponent says that he saw no Person near the Deced when he fell, but the Man that ran away with the Swords & Pistols as above.
Richard Morris of the Navy Office Gentleman on his Oath saith that he has known the Deced several Years, that Deced sent for Deponent on Sunday Night last to come to him, says that he went to Deced who was in St. Georges Hospital on Monday Morning last, says that he found the Deced in Bed, very Bloody, Says that Deced was Sensible and that he informed Deponent that he had reced a Wound from Lieutenant Span in a Duel Says that Deced told him that there had been an old Quarrel between him and Lieutenant Span when they were on Board the Richmond Man of War, and that he (the Deced) had given the said Lieutenant Span some hard Words which occasioned this Duel.
Says that he asked Deced if he had any Second to which Deced replied that he had not, but that Lieutenant Span had one, and said that he (the Deced) had a Post Chaire ready to carry him off if he had killed the said Lieutenant Span, Deponent says that he asked Deced where he would have gone to which Deced Answered he could not tell, Deponent says that Deced was of a Quarrel some Disposition, and Deced informed Deponent that he has fought a Duel at Nova Scotia with a Lieutenant belonging to the Richmond Man of War, on Board of which Ship Deced had been Surgeon
William Walker House Surgeon at St. George's Hospital on his Oath saith that about three O'Clock in the Afternoon on Sunday last the Deced was brought in a Post Chaise to said Hospital, Says that he observed the Deced was Wounded under the right Arm, Says that he immediately sent for Mr. Hawkins one of the Surgeons belonging to said Hospital, says that Mr. Hawkins soon after came there and Examined the Deced's Wound and laid it open, Says that Mr. Hawkins declared that one or more of the Deced's Ribs were broke
and took out several pieces of Bones, Says that proper care we taken of the Deced in said Hospital, says that Deced grew worse, and that Deced died in said Hospital on Monday Night last about Eleven O Clock,
Deponent says that he believes the Wound was reced by a Bullet entering in there, and is of Opinion that the Wound was the Occasion of the Death of the Deced.
The jury concluded "And so the Jurors aforesaid upon their Oath aforesaid do say, that the said Lieutenant Span him the said Evan Jones in manner and form aforesaid , feloniously did Kill and Slay, against the Peace of our said Lord the King his Crown and Dignity."
Richard Morris then prosecuted Span for the death. At this time, nearly all criminal cases needed to be brought by individuals.
As part of the evidence, a note was produced from Evans to Span "calling him out." The actual note can be seen here.
Feb. 4. 1764
I shall expect that you will meet me tomorrow, at any horn (hour) that you shall
appoint, with a brace of Pistols, either in Hyde Park , Green wick , or
mentioning two other places which I cannot recollect.
So Evans called him out, and specified weapons, so we aren't quite in the duelling code that came in later. I couldn't find anything at all about the trial, so I suspect it didn't happen. Duellists could be liable to prosecution, as could the seconds, but it rarely happened unless murderous intent could be proved. A quick search failed to find any criminal prosecution for a dueling death, though I've come across them.
In this case, Evans was the aggressor and he'd also had a chaise stand by in case he killed Span, so he'd had murderous intent. Also, he died. He also absolved Span of misdoing. "Deced replied that he was Wounded under the right Arm, but tha there had been no foul Play shown."There probably wouldn't have been much point in pursuing a case against Span.
A famous duel was fought in 1712 Lord Mohun and the Duke of Hamilton where both died. Hamilton mortally wounded Mohun, but was then killed by one of Mohun's seconds. Even wilder times.
There's an account of a duel on the lovely Number One London site.
I did turn up a little extra on Span in "Some Selected Reports from Berrow's Worcester Journal, Thursday, February 16th, 1764"
Yesterday died, in St.George's Hospital, Mr. Evan Jones, late Surgeon of the Richmond Man of War, who was wounded on Sunday last in a Duel in Hyde Park, with Lieutenant Span of the Marines, who also received a Wound in each Thigh, though not dangerously.
From that I deduce that Evans had fired twice — remember they were to have a brace of pistols. The swords would have been in case they wanted to continue with blades after firing both. Duels at this time could me pretty wild.
I'm not sure if at this time they would have fired pistols simultaneously, or taken turns, going first by the toss of a coin. This wasn't quite as alarming as it seems as pistols were very unreliable then. Also, according to the evidence, Span was "about twelve or fourteen yards distance from the Man that fell down" which is a fair distance with an old pistol.
But one way or another, Evans shot Span twice, and Span only made one pistol ball count, but fatally. I'b just speculating, but Span may have tried to avoid killing Evans, but having been injured in both legs, and with the possibility of sword play, decided to take serious aim. Interesting that Span could run away, though!
I love these little windows into the past, and they set up all kinds of speculation in my mind, not to mention story ideas!
What do you think of duels in romance novels? Do you see the participants as brave, even heroic, or stupid?
Can you think of any memorable duels in romances, ones that really served a story purpose?