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Could a Gentleman Hang for Murder after a Duel?
Men dueled in Great Britain long into the 19th century. It was not legal and a charge of murder could be brought if someone laid down information. Juries understood the concept of honor, however, and did not often tender convictions when gentlemen killed in duels. On the other hand, sometimes they did. Below is a long quote from The Newgate Calendar about a gentleman who not only was tried for murder after a duel, but who ultimately hanged.
If you read the entire (unedited) account you will find evidence that an acquittal was assumed to be likely by the court and the onlookers. The judge's instructions to the jury guided them in what was required to find the necessary extra-legal, extenuating circumstances that would excuse the duel if it was over "a point of honor." The judge specifically lectured on how the accused violated one of those requirements. The narrator's opinion that the execution was unjust comes through in his sympathetic description. Even the accused, poor Major Campbell, seems to have been stunned to have it all turn out so badly.
The Complete Newgate Calendar
ALEXANDER CAMPBELL, ESQ.
Brevet-Major in the Army, and a Captain in the 21st
Regiment of Foot. Executed 24th of August, 1808,
at Armagh, in Ireland, for murdering a Brother
Official, whom he killed in a Duel
ALEXANDER CAMPBELL was tried at the Armagh
Assizes, 13th of August, 1808, for the wilful and
felonious murder of Alexander Boyd, captain in the same
regiment, by shooting him with a pistol bullet, on the 23rd
of June, 1808, in the county of Armagh, in the kingdom of
Ireland. This murder was committed in a duel.
The first witness called was George Adams, who deposed
that about nine in the evening of the 23rd of June he was
sent for in great haste to the deceased, Captain Boyd, who
had since died of a wound he had received by a pistol bullet,
which had penetrated the extremity of the four false ribs and
lodged in the cavity of the belly. This wound, he could take
upon himself to say, was the cause of his death. He was
sitting on a chair vomiting blood when witness was sent for ;
he lived about eighteen hours afterwards. Witness stayed
with him till he died. He was in great pain, and tumbled
and tossed about in the most extreme agitation. Witness
conceived his wound to be mortal from the first moment
he examined it. The witness then stated the circumstances
which led to the duel.
John Hoey, mess-waiter to the 21st Regiment, swore
that he went with a message from Major Campbell to
Captain Boyd, by means of which they met.
Lieutenant Macpherson, surgeon, Nice, and others,
proved the dying words of Captain Boyd.
John Greenhill was produced to prove that Major
Campbell had had time to cool after the altercation had
taken place, inasmuch as he went home, drank tea with
his family, and gave him a box to leave with Lieutenant
Hall before the affair took place.
The defence set up was merely as to the character of
the prisoner for humanity, peaceful conduct and proper be-
haviour : to this several officers of the highest rank were
produced, who vouched for it to the fullest extent-namely,
Colonel Paterson, of the 21st Regiment, General Campbell,
General Graham Stirling, Captain Macpherson, Captain
Menzies, Colonel Gray, and many others.
The learned judge, in his charge, briefly summed up the
main points, and thus concluded: " If you are of opinion
either that the provocation, which I have mentioned to you,
was too slight to excite that violence of passion which
the law requires for manslaughter, or that, be the passion
and the provocation what it might, still that the prisoner
had time to cool, and return to his reason -- in either of
these cases you are bound upon your oaths to find the
prisoner guilty of murder. There is still another point for
your serious consideration. It has been correctly stated
to you by the counsel that there is a thing called the
point of honour -- a principle totally false in itself, and un-
recognised both by law and morality, but which, from its
practical importance and the mischief attending any dis-
regard of it to the individual concerned, and particularly to
a military individual, has usually been taken into considera-
tion by juries, and admitted as a kind of extenuation. But
in all such cases, gentlemen of the jury, there have been, and
there must be, certain grounds for such indulgent considera-
tion -- such departure from the letter and spirit of the law.
In the first place, the provocation must be great; in the
second place, there must be a perfectly fair dealing -- the
contract, to oppose life to life, must be perfect on both sides,
the consent of both must be full ; neither of them must be
forced into the field; and thirdly, there must be something
of a necessity, a compulsion, to give and take the meeting;
the consequence of refusing it being the loss of reputation,
ind there being no means of honourable reconciliation left.
Let me not be mistaken on this serious point. I am not
justifying duelling ; I am only stating those circumstances
of extenuation which are the only grounds that can justify
a jury in dispensing with the letter of the law. You have
to consider, therefore, gentlemen of the jury, whether this
case has these circumstances of extenuation. You must
here recall to your minds the words of the deceased Captain
Boyd: " You have hurried me: I wanted you to wait and
have friends. Campbell, you are a bad man." These words
are very important, and if you deem them sufficiently proved
they certainly do away with all extenuation. If you think
them proved, the prisoner is most clearly guilty of murder."
The jury then retired, and, after remaining about half-
an-hour out of court, returned with their verdict -- guilty of
murder; but recommended him to mercy on the score of
character only. Sentence of death was immediately passed
on the unfortunate gentleman, and he was ordered for
execution on the Monday; but, in consequence of the re-
commendation of the jury, was respited till the Wednesday
se'nnight. In the meantime every effort was made by the
friends of the unfortunate man to procure the Royal mercy.
The respite expired on the 23rd of August, and an order
was sent from Dublin Castle to Armagh for the execution
of the unfortunate gentleman on the 24th. His deportment
during the whole of the melancholy interval between his
condemnation and the day of his execution was manly but
penitent, and such as became a Christian towards his ap-
proaching dissolution. When he was informed that all efforts
to procure a pardon had failed he was only anxious for the
immediate execution of the sentence. He had repeatedly
implored that he might be shot; but as this was not suitable
to the forms of the common law his entreaties were of
course without success.
He was led out for execution on Wednesday, the 24th
of August, just as the clock struck twelve. A vast crowd
had collected around the scene of the catastrophe. He
surveyed them a moment, then turned his head towards
heaven with a look of prayer. As soon as he appeared, the
whole of the attending guards, and such of the soldiery as
were spectators, took off their caps ; upon which the Major
saluted them in turn. This spectacle was truly distressing,
and tears and shrieks burst from several parts of the crowd.
When the executioner approached to fix the cord, Major
Campbell again looked up to heaven. There was now the
most profound silence. The executioner seemed paralysed
whilst performing this last act of his duty. There was
scarcely a dry eye out of so many thousands assembled. The
crowd seemed thunderstruck when the unfortunate gentle-
man was at length turned off. After hanging the usual time
the body was put into a hearse which was waiting.
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