Browndown Duel

Over a period beginning May 1845 The Times newspaper reported, fifteen times, on the duel fought at Browndown, Gosport. It has been stated elsewhere that it was the ‘Last Duel fought in England, but this is not strictly true. There was another duel fought in October 1852 at Priest Hill near Windsor, but this was between two French men. The duel at Browndown was the ‘Last Duel in England’ fought between Englishmen.

On the 20th May 1845, Henry Charles Moorhead HAWKEY shot and wounded James Alexander SETON in a duel. Seton’s second was Lieutenant Rowles.  The duel took place on the evening of the 20th May at 5pm and reported in the Times of Thursday 22 May:-

A duel was fought last night, near Gosport, under the following circumstances.-

The combatants were Mr. Seton, late of the 11th Hussars, and Second Lieutenant H.C.M. Hawkey, of the Royal Marines; the former residing at Queen’s Terrace and the latter at King’s Terrace, Southsea. From all we can glean, it appears that at a soiree held at the King’s rooms, on Southsea beach, on Monday evening last, Mr. Seton paid somewhat marked attention to the wife of Lieutenant Hawkey, and was afterwards, in the public room, most grossly insulted by Mr. Hawkey, who called him a blackguard and a villain, and told him that if he would not fight him, he would horsewhip him down the High Street of Portsmouth. At the time these words were used Mr. Seton was endeavouring to leave the ballroom, when Lieutenant Hawkey, who was sitting upon a sofa, rose, and attempted to kick him at he passed. The consequence may be anticipated. A meeting was arranged, and at 5 o’clock last evening the combatants met at Stokes Bay, near Fort Monckton, opposite Ryde, on the Gosport Shore. Lieutenant Brian G. Rowles, RN acted as second to Mr Seton; and Lieutenant Edward L. Pym, of the Royal Marines, acted as second to Lieutenant. Hawkey. The combatants having arrived, the ground (15 paces) was measured, and the principals having been placed, the word was given, when Mr. Seton fired and missed his antagonist. The pistol of Lieutenant Hawkey was placed in his hand by his second at half-cock, and consequently Lieutenant Hawkey did not have his shot. (Other pistols were, however, supplied to the combatants.) The word was again given, and both fired. Mr. Seton immediately fell. Lieutenant Hawkey, without waiting to see the result of his fire, or going to his antagonist, immediately fled with his second, saying “I’m off to France.” Mr. Seton was conveyed on a shutter on board a yacht in waiting, and brought about 9 o’clock last night to the Quebec Hotel, on the water’s edge. Surgical assistance was called in and it was discovered that Mr. Seton had been wounded dangerously on the right side of the abdomen, the ball passing through and coming out on the left side. Whether the wound is mortal or not, the surgeons (Messrs Mortimer and Jenkins, of Gosport) have not yet given an opinion, but the patient has had a night of agonising pain, accompanied by frequent vomiting. Mr. Seton is married, and has four children. 

It appeared that the seconds never interfered after the first fire to adjust the cause of the quarrel.

Mr. Seton is a very fine- looking man, aged 28. Lieutenant Hawkey is about 26. Mr Seton was retired from the 11th Hussars about eight years.
Lieutenant Hawkey and his second (Lieutenant Pym) are said to have practised about an hour before the duel, at Sherwood’s Shooting Gallery, in High Street, Portsmouth.

Mr. Hills, chemist, of Broad Street, Portsmouth, sat up with Mr. Seton the whole of last night. The flow of blood was very great. Mrs Seton has been with her husband the whole of the day. About 5 o’clock this evening Mr. Seton was pronounced rather easier, although but slight hopes are entertained of his recovery. He was at that time lying in a very dangerous state. The inquest into the death of Mr Seton recorded “We find that the immediate cause of Mr. Seton’s death was the result of a surgical operation, rendered imperatively necessary by the imminent danger in which he was placed by the infliction of a gunshot wound. He received the wound on 20th May last in a duel with Lieutenant Henry Charles Moorhead Hawkey, of the Royal Marines.

We therefore find that the said Lieutenant Hawkey and Edward Lawes Pym, as well as all the parties concerned in the said duel, guilty of Wilful Murder. The jury would further express their unanimous conviction that everything, which the best professional skill, the greatest attention, and the utmost kindness could suggest, was rendered to Mr. Seton by his respective medical attendants.

Hawkey appointed his friend, Lieutenant Pym as his second. Strangely Lieutenant Rowles was never indicted, neither did he appear as a witness, but Pym was and he stood trial at Winchester on March 6th, 1846, before Justice Earle, charged with aiding and abetting and assisting Hawkey to commit murder. He pleaded not guilty and was acquitted. Pym’s trial was recorded in The Illustrated London News, March 14 1846:

In our late impression last week, we gave the result of the trial of Lieutenant Penn, for aiding and abetting the wilful murder of Captain Seton, and we now supply the most Important points of the evidence. The trial took place at Winchester, on Friday cast week), before Mr. Justice Erle, Mr. Rawlinson and Mr. M. Smith appeared on behalf of the prosecution; and Mr. Cockburn, Q.C., and Mr. Sergeant Kinglake, for the defence. The prisoner being called on to plead, pleaded not guilty in a firm voice. He appeared to be a young man of about 22 or 23, and was of prepossessing and gentlemanly appearance. Mr. Rawlinson stated the facts of the case to the Jury, but they are, doubtless, so fresh in the remembrance of our readers. and are so well set out in the evidence, that it is useless to give a report of the learned gentleman’s speech here.

The indictment charged the defendant with being present, aiding and abetting one Henry Charles Morehead Hawkey in the wilful murder of – – Seton, by shooting at him with a pistols loaded with gunpowder and a leaden bullet, and wounding him on the right side, near the hip.

The first witness called was Mr. Hollingsworth, who said he was an hotel-keeper, and that on the 19th of May last he had a soiree at his rooms, at which Lieutenant Hawkey, Mr. Seton, Lieutenant Pym, and several ladies with them, attended. They were subscribers to the Rooms, and had been so for about two or three weeks. After the soiree, Lieutenants Hawkey and Gym went into the card-room, and witness saw no more of them from ten to twelve o’clock. Mr. Sexton went out of the room soon afterwards, and, as he did so, witness heard Lieutenant Hawkey muttering something which he did not hear, and could not consequently understand.

Mr. R. Savage, one of the stewards of the ball deposed to nothing further, except that he heard Lieutenant Hawkey say, “that Seton is a blackguard and a scoundrel.” He then went away. John Lewis Towne was then called : Had heard Lieutenant Hawkey say that he would shoot Sexton as he would a partridge. (Sensation.) On the same day. after this, he saw the same persons together again, meaning the 20th of lay, 1845. They (Hawkey, Seton and Pym) were together, and about four on that day they appeared to be proceeding to the same spot. Saw them again at a later hour; they then appeared to be going towards Portsmouth. By Mr. Cockburn : Lieut. Hawkey turned half round, so that he knew him. The words used were, “ I will (or I would) shoot him as I would a partridge.”

Thomas Hammond Frisk. called and examined : He is a silversmith, living at Portsmouth. Between the hours of eleven and two, Mr. Hawkey called at his shop. He said. “Fisk. I want a pair of pistols. I behaved very foolish last night at the ball, and laid a wager with Mr. Pym that I would shoot with him for five pounds, but I did not then recollect that my pair were not at my lodgings.” These pistols were what is generally termed duelling pistols. He asked the price, and then purchased them. They were in a case about a foot long and seven inches wide. There were no bullets in them. Witness gave them to a boy to take down to Mr. Sherwood’s. Mr. Hawkey asked whether I had a place to try the pistols. Witness said he had not. Witness then said, “perhaps Mr. Shewood has a pair which will answer your purpose ;” and Mr. Hawkey replied, “He has none good enough.”

W. Marsh : I am in the Marines, and was servant to Mr. Pym. On the 20th of May I saw my master about half-past four in the afternoon, in his room. He told me to take off my belt and go along with him. I followed him towards Point. Lieutenant Hawkey was with Mr. Pym at Point. They met at the Sally-port. We all got into a boat. I had a brown paper parcel, which Mr. Pym gave me; it was a little more than a foot long; it felt hard, as if it was wood. We crossed over to the Gosport side, and Mr. Hawkey and Mr. Pym landed on the beach. I followed about fifty yards behind them. They went through the town of Gosport by Stoke’s Bay. We came to the preventive station, and to some railings. Mr. Pym then took the parcel from me, and ordered me to remain there till he wanted me. The shingle was then higher than my head, and I could not see what was going on on the rough down. In about three quarters of an hour Mr. Pym came and called tome. I went, and followed him to where there was a gentleman lying on the ground, and two others standing up. The gentleman on the ground appeared to be bleeding. I did not know that gentleman. One of the other gentlemen I had never seen before. He ordered me to go ford a surgeon. The other gentleman’s back wads towards me, and therefore I can’t tell who that gentleman was. Mr. Pym said nothing to me. I went off in haste for a surgeon. I found Mr. Jenkins, and then returned to the spot, but the gentlemen were not there, and I have never seen my master since. On the next day, in consequence of orders given me, I crossed over to the Fountain Inn. I asked for a parcel that two gentlemen had left. I received a similar parcel to the one I had carried the day before. I took that parcel and left it on a table in Mr. Hawkey’s room.

George Daniels stated that on the evening of the 23d of May, he heard, while Walking on Brown Down, the report of a pistol, and about two minutes after he heard another report. Witness would swear that Marsh, the servant to Mr. Pym, was the same person who came up to him, when he inquired for a surgeon. Witness could not say that the prisoner at the bar was there on that occasion. He did not remember having seen him at the “scene of action.” About two minutes after the servant spoke to witness he saw two gentlemen going down the green lane towards Portsmouth.

Mr. William Ellis, master of the Victoria and Albert yacht, residing at Hope Cottage, Stoke-road : Was not very well acquainted with Mr. Hawkey, but particularly so with Mr. Pym. Mr. Pym, upon the morning of the 20th of May last, said, “A most unfortunate affair has happened, and Mr. Seton is wounded.” Mr. Hawkey did not say anything about the affair in Mr. Pym’s presence. Witness did not recollect having said before the Coroner, that Mr. Pym said anything about being “friends.” Mr. Pym was very intimate with me and my family. I was kind to him; but he deserves all the kindness I have ever shown to him. Colonel Jones, of the Royal Marines, stationed at Portsmouth, deposed that Mr. Pym was, on the morning of the 21st May last, reported absent without leave. The gallant Colonel gave the prisoner a good general character. He (the gallant Colonel) did not remember having heard any observations pass, with reference to any females, between the prisoner and any one else.

Mrs. Stanmore, wife of a lodging-house-keeper, King’s-road, Portsmouth : Remembered the prisoner, who then lodged with her, returning from a duel on the morning of the 20th of May last. He was then dressed in plain clothes. Mrs. Hawkey lived in her lodgings about a week. The evening above-named Mrs. Hawkey was sent for out, and Mr. Pym went with her. She did not return until the next day. On the 19th of May, Mr. Hawkey gave witness some direction, to take care that Mr. Seton and Mrs. Hawkey were not left alone. Mr. Hawkey did not assign any reason, but said that he had told Mr. Seton of it, and he had heard from Mrs. Hawkey that Mr. Seton had hurt her feelings, and alarmed her. He therefore said Mrs. Hawkey had given orders that Mr. Seton should be denied to her. The prisoner at the bar witness knew. He was always treated as a brother. Mr. Seton came often, but witness only saw him once, although she was informed that that gentleman had come several times. He generally came about eleven or twelve, when Lieutenant Hawkey was away at drill.

Surgical evidence was then called as to the nature of the wounds and the cause of death. Mr. Cockburn cross-examined some of the surgeons, with a view to show that there had been improper treatment of the deceased. It was then contended at some length by Mr. Cockburn, that it was the opinion that the wound, although of a serious character, was not the cause of death, but that dissolution arose from the inflammation arising from the operation. His Lordship was of the contrary opinion. Ultimately, the learned Judge conferred with his brother Rolfe, who was sitting in the Nisi Prius Court. When he returned, he said his opinion remained unchanged.

The last of the surgeons examined was Robert Liston, Esq.: He is a surgeon, practising in London. On the evening of the 30th he went to Portsmouth, and attended upon Mr. Seton. It was evident that Mr. Seton was suffering from the effect of a gunshot wound. From the effusion of blood, it was clear that one of the large vessels was injured. This gentleman gave a most elaborate statement of the nature and effect of the wound, and the formation of aneurysm, with the progress of disease in the body of the wounded man. Violent bleeding, or haemorrhage, was the result, and death must have been the consequence, for, in the position in which Mr. Seton was, the loss of the smallest quantity of blood was attended with danger.

By the Court : In my judgment there was no other remedy so applicable to the circumstances in which Mr. Seton was placed as the operation which was performed. It was the only plan which could be resorted to under the circumstances. Mr. G. Sampson, surgeon, of London: He entirely concurred in the performance of the operation as performed in his presence by Mr. Liston. It was most cleverly done. Mr. John Potter, demonstrator of anatomy at the University College of London, corroborated the previous medical testimony.

Mr. Cockburn then took exception to the wording of the indictment, contending that the cause of death was not clearly specified in that document; and, in proof of the soundness of his objection, the learned gentleman quoted several cases where the objection was held by the highest authorities.
The argument between the learned Counsel and the Judge was then continued at some length; but, eventually, the objection was overruled by his Lordship, and the trial was permitted to proceed.

Before, however, going further into the evidence, it was ordered, at the instance of the learned Judge, that the trial should proceed at six o’clock. Some other evidence was gone into at that hour, and the Judge having charged the Jury, they returned a verdict of “Not Guilty.” This verdict was received in a most crowded Court with a burst of applause, which was with difficulty repressed; and Mr. Gym left the Court, surrounded with his friends. 

We have engraved the Court House at Winchester, during the Trial; and we are indebted to the courtesy of the High Sheriff of Hants, in affording facilities to our Artist to make the requisite sketch of the impressive scene.


Trial of Pym illustrated London News March 14 1846
Trial of Pym illustrated London News March 14 1846

The trial of Lieutenant Hawkey took place at the Summer Assizes of the Western Circuit, Winchester on Thursday, July 16th 1846, before Mr Baron Platt. Mr. Rawlinson and Mr. Smith were counsel for the prosecution. Mr. Rawlinson told the jury, that he believed there could be no doubt, and their own moral sense and religious feelings would tell them, that the law was this – that if a man went out deliberately to fight a fellow man, and killed that man, he was guilty of murder.

An outline of the facts was presented: On the 20th May, 1845, Pym went with his brother officer, Lieutenant Hawkey of the Marines, as second in a duel, in which the deceased, Mr. Seton, the principal of the other side, fell, on Brown Down, leading to Alverstoke and Titchfield, three or four miles from Gosport.

old Bay House customs house
old Bay House customs house

The defence agreed that the law was clear on the subject of duelling. The fact that the deceased person was equally willing to take part in the duel and would attempt to kill his assailant did not detract from the fact that he was wilfully murdered. However the jury were asked to ‘modify it, so as to reconcile it with the existing state of society; that the law of society would still recognize for some acts the vindication of a persons honour by the arbitrament of arms; therefore to come to the consideration of this case, not to prevent duelling, but to look at the circumstances under which the parties met and, if possible, to pronounce a verdict that would exonerate the prisoner from the charge of wilful murder’.

The Judge’s summary included the question: Did the prisoner at the bar deliberately, by shooting Mr. Seton, with a pistol loaded with gunpowder and bullet, inflict upon Mr. Seton a wound, and was that the cause of his death? The Jury delivered a verdict of Not Guilty.

Hawkey was ‘Court Martialled’ on May 22 1852 at the Woolwich Division of the Royal Marines, for ‘For conduct unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentleman, in having, on26th April, 1852, in the public road between Woolwich and Charlton, in the county of Kent, violently assaulted and struck, First Lieutenant Henry Thomas Swain, of the Woolwich division of the Royal Marines, such conduct being in breach of the articles of war.‘ Swain was at the time having an affair with Hawkey’s wife, who was, it seems, a willing participant. Hawkey was found guilty of part of the charge preferred against him and was reprimanded. He was later removed from his post and on half pay he fell in to debt. His marriage failed. He died in 1859, of tuberculosis in Clerkenwell, London seven years after his court martial, aged 39.

More details here:
The Gosport Duel
Genealogy Reviews: Last Duel

Bryce’s map of ordnance lands at Stokes Bay 1820