Hear about a duel, and you imagine glamorous Georgian gentlemen politely settling their differences. Whatever the cause, there’s no denying the romance of the idea. Since the 17th century, a fight between two men, conducted in a gentlemanly manner, was an acceptable way of settling a disagreement over debts, cheating at cards or stealing a lady’s affections.
In 19th century England, law and order was beginning to take hold: the Metropolitan police were established in London in 1829. By then, killing a man in a duel was murder. However, the police found it difficult to successfully prosecute.
A military affair
On 1 July 1843, one of the last duels in England took place between Colonel David Lynar Fawcett of the 55th Regiment and his brother in law, Lieutenant Alexander Thompson Munro, of the Royal Horse Guards, who was married to Colonel Fawcett’s sister.
The full reason for their dispute is unclear, but it appeared to be about family property or, possibly, an insult to Mrs Fawcett.
The separate trials of Lieutenants William Cuddy and Duncan Grant, for the murder of Colonel Fawcett, highlight the difficulties facing the police and courts in establishing guilt for the death of one of the duellists.
Early that morning, Police Constable John Jones saw two carriages, a phaeton and a brougham, collecting a total of five gentlemen and heading to the toll-gate near the Brecknock Arms in Camden.
Edward Davis, the toll-keeper, watched as the gentlemen walked away in separate small groups, into the fields. Ten minutes or so later, two returned and left the scene in a carriage. Mr Davis maintained he heard and saw nothing of note during the events that led to Colonel Faucett’s death, although after 15 minutes or so he went over to the scene and summoned PC Jones for help.
The crime scene
Jones found Colonel Fawcett on the ground in the field, accompanied by two other men. One was George Gulliver, a surgeon in the Royal Horse Guards. The other was unknown to Jones.
The colonel was taken to the Brecknock Arms, but was refused entry and the party had to travel on to the Camden Arms. A surgeon was sent for and attended him there, but a bullet had entered the colonel’s chest and he died two days later.
During the first trial in August that year, Lieutenant William Cuddy was accused of murder. He had accompanied the principals to the field and was believed to have supplied a brace of pistols. However, during his trial, the witnesses had great trouble identifying him.
The surgeon, George Gulliver, who had also originally been charged with the offence but released, identified Lieutenant Munro and Mr Grant, but was unwilling to identify Cuddy. He stated that, perhaps rather judiciously, he had momentarily turned away from the group of men when the shot was fired.
In evidence, Gulliver claimed Munro said “Fawcett, I thought you were levelling at me.” To which the colonel replied, “I was not levelling,” perhaps suggesting that Munro fired early.
Gulliver sent Cuddy away from the field, to fetch help. During the trial, he claimed not to be sure that the defendant, Cuddy, was in fact the man at the scene.
There was a brief attempt to suggest that Fawcett might have shot himself, but the surgeon, Liston, who attended him at the Camden Arms, explained that the man’s arm must have been ‘raised very much,’ perhaps as he levelled his pistol?
William Cuddy was acquitted of murder.
Lieutenants Grant and Munro had fled the scene and travelled abroad, but Grant surrendered himself in December 1843.
Early the next year, Lieutenant Duncan Grant was duly brought to trial for the murder. Once again, the exact details of the affair were difficult to establish. The livery stable keeper, Mr Holland, from whom Fawcett had ordered a carriage, was unable to identify Grant as the same gentleman he saw with Munro in the phaeton.
A private in the Royal Horse Guards, one Charles Longman, worked for Munro. He was unable to identify two of the other three men involved in the affair, although he recognised the surgeon, George Gulliver. One of the men ‘had moustaches.’
When asked whether the prisoner was the man with the moustaches, seen with Munro, Longman thought the prisoner’s hair was darker.
The toll collector maintained he saw five gentlemen, heard no shots and could not say whether the prisoner was one of the men at the scene.
George Gulliver was also unable to recall seeing Grant at the scene following the shooting, although he had named him as one of the five in the field.
Lieutenant Grant was acquitted of murder.
Lieutenant Munro was finally tried in 1847.
This time, the surgeon, Gulliver, recalled Munro saying he had no desire to take part in the ‘meeting’, but had been insulted in front of a servant.
Gulliver’s recollection of the words Munro used after the affair had changed a little. He described Munro as saying that Fawcett was, ‘covering me,’ meaning he was deliberately taking aim. Gulliver described Munro in warm terms, as a distinguished officer and the kindest of gentlemen.
Lieutenant Cuddy was called as a witness at Munro’s trial and, after being handed a pardon, ‘under the great seal of her Majesty,’ for his part in the affair, gave an account of the dual.
Cuddy had supplied pistols and Lieutenant Grant had given the agreed signal: “Gentlemen, are you ready, fire.” Munro fired instantly. Munro said, “Did you see him, he covered me as dead as possible; he intended to shoot me,” and tried to shake hands with Fawcett, but Cuddy’s view was that hands were not shaken. Munro then said he forgave Fawcett and left the field.
Cuddy, like so many other witnesses in the case, seemed to have difficulty in identifying the participants in the affair. He would not or could not positively identify the prisoner as Munro, saying he had seen him only once since the meeting.
Munro was found guilty and sentenced to death, with a strong recommendation to mercy. He was not hanged, but was sent to Newgate prison for a year.