Saturday, 1 December 2012

The Last Duel

Without revealing too much detail, there is a duel in Degrees of Hope and I thought that you might like to see my inspiration for the outcome of that case, which loosely is based on events which are widely called England's Last Duel.

 It wasn't actually the last duel, that occurred in 1852 at Old Windsor, but both participants in that duel were French, not English, which is probably why the 1845 Gosport duel is considered to be the last (between English men, at least).

The 1845 duel occurred between Captain Alexander Seton and Lieutenant Henry Hawkey.

Although both men were married, Seton had something of a roving eye and found Mrs Hawkey to be rather charming. He showered her with gifts which, although Mrs Hakey refused them, caused a lot of gossip among their peers, until finally Lieutenant Hawkey forbid Seton and his wife from seeing each other.

All was well until one musical evening, when Mrs Hawkey agreed to dance a set of quadrilles with Seton.

Incensed, Lieutenant Hawkey confronted Seton and they had a heated argument. It took a great deal of insults, threats to horsewhip Seton and finally a kick from Hawkey, until finally Seton accepted the challenge of a duel.

Browndown, where the duel took place
On the 2th of May 1945 they met up at Browndown, a secluded common in Gosport, to duel with pistols.

Seton fired but missed and Hawkey's gun refused to fire. Hawkey demanded second shot. Seton again missed but Hawkey didn't and the bullet entered at right hip bone, and exited at the left groin.

Seton bled profusely and two surgeons were called to try and stop the bleeding but they weren't very successful.A third surgeon as called and finally it was decided that they would have to operate on Seton to tie off the Illiac Artery.

Mr. Liston, a respected London surgeon, was then sent for and he succeeded in stopping the bleeding, though Seton's stout form was said to have made the operation difficult.

All was well until Seton developed what was thought to be blood poisoning and died. An inquest was held and the Jury's verdict was...

"We find that the immediate cause of the death of the deceased James Alexander Seton was the result of a surgical operation, rendered imperatively necessary by the imminent danger in which he was placed, by the infliction of a gun shot wound which he received on the 20th of May last, in a duel with Lieut. Henry Charles Moorhead Hawkey, of the Royal Marines.

"We therefore find a verdict of wilful murder against the said Lieut. Henry Charles Moorhead Hawkey and Lieut. Pym, as well as all the parties concerned in the duel."
Arrest warrants were duly written out but Hawkey had fled to France following the duel, and didn't return until 1846.

At his trial the defence counsel, Mr. Cockburn, hit upon an ingenious defence. 
He argued that the wound produced by the pistol bullet was not the cause of death, that the efforts of the medical man who first attended the deceased, and who had stayed the bleeding with ice,
pressure, and compresses, would have saved the life of the deceased, had not the operation for tying the iliac been resorted to.

Consequently, Cockburn argued, death was the result rather the result of a meddlesome operation than of the wound inflicted by the pistol bullet in the first place.

The powerful appeal of the counsel, and the knowledge that Hawkey had received much provocation, evidently had its weight with the jury, who returned a verdict of: "Not guilty."
So that is the story of Britain's "Last Duel" and the inspiration for the defence used in Degrees of Hope.

I hasten to add that I did not use the same defence as Hawkey, but the trial did give me a framework to work with

 Quotes are taken from the Now Portsmouth website, where you can also find more detail on this duel.

Images come from A Matter of Honour website, book about this duel.