Duelling was still happening in 1816. It was practised among a much broader social class than a century earlier, had no fixed rules and was not really regarded as a honourable thing to do, except by those doing it, and sometimes not even then. It was never legal in Scotland, and became a felony in 1803 in England when the Malicious Shootings or Stabbings Act ( Lord Ellenborough’s Law) made a large number of violent acts a criminal offence, even if they the did not result in death, or even if there was no intention of bodily injury. Duelling was one of these activities.
The” duel of the year” was that between Mr Alley and Mr John Adolphus, high level members of the Inns of Court, and a perfect example of how the habit of trying to get satisfaction had slipped down the social pecking order over the centuries. Alley and Adolphus were not aristocrats but were notable London gentlemen. Adolphus had previously accused Alley of spreading lies and falsehoods, in a cowardly manner around the Old Bailey.They had already been bound over to keep the peace, but Adolphus wanted satisfaction in the form of a duel
On 14 November, Alley was carousing in his house in Northumberland Street when a message arrived from Aldolphus. The letter accused Alley of cowardly mendacity and suggested that, should Alley not go forthwith to Dover and meet him in Calais, the world would assume that his comments were true. The letter was also leaked to the press, although Alley did not know this for sure at the time.
Alley rode overnight to Dover, hired a private packet boat, and, with favourable winds, managed to arrive in Calais the next morning. He brought his cousin as his second. Adolphus even suggested the name of a good hotel that he could check into.
He took a day to locate Adolphus; it seemed that he may have left for France after the letter was dispatched. Alley was disgusted to find that his opponent had no second. At last it was decided to met at 2pm. They agreed to stand at a fixed distance with simultaneous shots on the call of “Present, and Fire!”
Alley missed; his single shot falling at his opponent’s feet. Alley himself was shot in the upper arm and shoulder and fell to the ground. Adolphus declared the quarrel to be amicably adjusted and that satisfaction had been received.
The surgeon, employed by both men, had failed to turn up. Alley went to the White Hart Inn to be patched up; he left for England immediately, once again being lucky with the prevailing winds. He arrived back in London, after a few dangerous days when the infection had to be fought, was declared “out of danger”
The Duels of 1816 were varied in their character but it quite easy to find patterns. One clear pattern is the number that took place among English gentlemen in Ireland. In Galway Mr Dillon killed Mr Kane, his close friend of many years and his second in earlier duels. In Kilmackone, John Hills was killed by Thomas Fenton over a dispute about the salvage of a ship. Fenton was taken to court, found not guilty, because, although Hills had indeed been murdered, it had been a fair fight and Fenton had not taken an unfair advantage. There were fatal duelling incidents in Sligo and Tipperary with no convictions. If nobody died, there was no question of any trial at all.
Often Duels were held abroad- the Alley/Adolphus fight being an example. Captain Charles West was based in Gibraltar when caught duelling and telling lies to cover his tracks. The lies were as poorly regarded as the duel. The vast majority of the foreign based duellers were military men; it is hard to work out which of these two characteristics were the most important, although very often duels in England usually contained one army officer.
A British Officer in France, after consuming two bottles of wine “apart from a single glass” took umbrage at something said to him by a Frenchmen, organised a duel a room in a pub. Two pistols had been put in a hat for each man to choose; the Englishmen asked for and hour to prepare himself and then decided to blow his own brains out instead. An unnamed British Officer killed a Mr Price in New York and then absconded from his regiment. Other duels took place wherever there were British Officers, foreigners and drink.
It was also clear that the authorities took a dim view of duelling. They would scour the local “Field of Honour” if a duel was rumoured. For example, in Phoenix Park Dublin, the authorities would often search the park if they heard the rumour of a duel. The magistrates would visit the houses of aristocrats to warn them; gentlemen would be bailed with sureties of up to 100 pounds. The tone of the newspapers made it clear that this was not regarded as a good thing. “Duel prevented” was a common headline used in this respect, and those who had prevented it were praised, even if they were of a lower social class than the person who intervened.
If the lower classes tried to duel it was regarded as a bit of a joke. Students were prone to demanded satisfaction of a duel; but in all reported cases they friends interfered (a word that seemed to have more positive connotations than it does now) and reported them to the police. In a jokey report, two minor gentlemen in London had turned up for a duel and neither had brought a weapon or a second. The paper reported that instead they both employed the firm of” JEM, BELCHER and CO”; to solve their differences. However, these were not lawyers but renowned Prize fighters. These gentlemen resorted to a bare knuckle fight for a few drunken moments. The paper added laconically that “both were pronounced out of danger “
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