11 November 2012

'Affair of Honour': A Second Duelling Letter Identified

[Apologies for the long silence. I was away attending a conference towards the end of October and the last fortnight has been pretty hectic!]

On 26 January 2012, I published a post about the gentleman George Payne's touching final letter to his wife, written on the eve of his ill-fated duel with one Mr. Clarke on 6 September 1810. For a time, this was thought to be the only letter concerning a duel held in the Reed collection, Dunedin City Library. A second letter, however, has recently been identified.

The letter reads:

My dear Sir William

I have been so unwell in consequence of the wound I received I could not write to you previously.

I write this to state to you I am much better. I came here to obtain the benefit of good advice. Carmichael is attending me and says I am doing well.

James Browne of Brown Hall and I met near Chester. We exchanged two shots each. On the second his ball passed through my thigh.

Yours most sincerely

R. Dillon Browne
January 29 1838


The scene of Browne propped up in bed, his wounded leg raised and supported, with a small writing table resting on his lap, can be readily imagined. It is fair to say Browne's shaky handwriting can be blamed on his condition, the medication administered to dull the pain, or a combination of the two.

The duel between the two Brownes did not go unnoticed. The following appeared in the 27 January 1838 issue of the Times:

'AFFAIR OF HONOUR.-(From a Correspondent.)-A meeting took place near Chester on Wednesday last, in consequence of a political misunderstanding, between Mr. [Robert] Dillon Browne, M. P. for Mayo, and Mr. James Arthur Browne, of Browne-Hall, in the same county; the former attended by Mr. Somers, M. P. for Sligo; the latter by Mr. Fitzmaurice, of Lagaturn, county of Mayo. At the second exchange of shots, Mr. James A. Browne's ball passing though his antagonist's thigh, the matter was amicably arranged. We are happy to say that the wound is not dangerous, although it may confine Mr. Browne for some time'.

Confine Browne it did. So much so, that he did not know there had been a warrant issued against him by a gentleman named Sievers. According to the Times for 6 February 1838, Sievers applied to the magistrates of Marlborough Street police office for a warrant against Browne charging him with assault. The officer, however, was unable to meet the accused and execute the warrant. 'Since that time', the article continues, 'a statement has been made that Mr. Browne was wounded in a duel in Chester ... and [Browne] states that he will not be able ... to attend before the magistrates to meet the charge [of assault] for some time'. The magistrates later sided with Sievers and fined Browne £5.

It is probably clear by this point that Browne was of a hot-tempered disposition. His meeting with J. A. Browne was not his only duel either. The Landed Estates Database (part of the National University of Ireland, Galway website) notes that Browne was a well known duellist. He carried a pistol at all times, though his choice of firearm was not to everyone's liking. In the Personal Recollections of the Late Daniel O'Connell, M. P. (London, 1848), William John O'Connell, who requested of Daniel a 'friend and case of pistols' for a duel, wrote, 'If Dillon Browne was in Dublin ... [he] would come down here if you called him. I do not like his pistols, they are saw-handled  I like the round-handled best' (298).

A search on Google and in The Times Digital Archive turned up three other duelling challenges involving Browne, though all were settled without violence. One year after his meeting with J. A. Browne, his name appeared in the Times for 24 January 1839 in connection with a challenge issued by a Col. Gallois in Paris. Browne had apparently 'made use of certain dastardly calumnies relative to [Gallois]', which were published. Gallois demanded satisfaction. Browne accepted, and Gallois sailed for Ireland and their appointed meeting. Browne's associates, however, convinced him to retract the statements, and the matter was dropped.

Towards the end of 1840, the 12 December issue of The Spectator reported two incidents involving Browne. In the first, he reportedly sent a 'hostile message' to the Honourable Mr. Cavendish over a matter of monies owed by Browne, who had a weakness for alcohol and was often in debt as a result. The disagreement had been addressed days earlier in the 5 December issue of the Times, in which Cavendish, when confronted by one of Browne's friends regarding the arrangement of a duel, sensibly replied, 'it is not my inclination to hazard my life by meeting that gentleman, and it would militate too much against my own interest to shoot him, in as much as I hold his bond for the sum exceeding 250l. including interest'.

The second event which appeared in The Spectator, just below the note on Browne and Cavendish, was first recorded in the Mayo Constitution. The paper briefly mentioned a report that 'Mr. R. Dillon Browne and Colonel Fitzgerald had gone out to fight a duel'. The cause was an offensive letter written by Browne that appeared in the Mayo Mercury. On 15 December 1840 it was reported that Browne was killed by Fitzgerald, but this was proven to be only a rumour. In truth, Browne withdrew the offending part of the letter and expressed regret at having written it. Fitzgerald also expressed his regret for 'having given an opinion which may have been cause of annoyance to Mr Browne'.

Browne lived for another ten years, dying in bankruptcy in 1850. He was remembered in An Irish Gentleman: George Henry Moore; His Travels, His Racing, His Politics (London, 1913) as 'one of the ablest and most polished speakers in the House of Commons, but ... also one of the most dishonest of politicians, always ready at the nod of a minister to defend any cause, however contrary to the pledges he had given or the interests of his country' (150-151). No doubt Browne would have asked Moore to find himself a second and name the time and place in response to such a remark.

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