By the 1840s pistols were the weapon of choice for duels in Britain. Learning to properly defend oneself with a sabre took far more practise and skill. It also required physical conditioning, as strength, stamina, and agility, improved one’s swordplay. To take up a pistol, aim straight and pull a trigger, could be reasonably accomplished by anyone. There was an attitude flouted about that swords were for frivolous matters, when “first blood” was adequate to decide a quarrel, and a true gentleman would only engage in a duel when it was worth his life; therefore pistols at close range, a bullet burying itself anywhere in a body generally proving instantly fatal, or from infection. It was probably also a convenient excuse not to stay in shape and spend hours training with a sword master.
This sad tale of the last duel that was fought in Cowes in 1817, in an area of Northwood Park known as the Riding School, which adjoined the churchyard. The quarrel between two men from a passenger ship, a Major Lockear and John Sutton, a young volunteer officer in the South American army. Which arose out of a card game at the local Dolphin Inn, was forced upon the unwilling John by his older adversary.
Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post – 18 December 1817
Thursday the ship Grace of London, Davey, master, with 80 officers on board bound to St Thomas’s on the South American Expedition, was seized in Cowes roadstead, by John Ward, Esq., Collector of Customs at that Port for having received on board many of said officers in a clandestine manner, contrary to the Passengers’ Act: and also for having no papers on board to prove the ship’s identity and character. The Grace is reported to be owned by a Mr. Fitzgerald, who for some time was examined before the Lord Mayo, for engaging to convey passengers out of the kingdom in a ship called the Caledonia. On the day preceding the seizure of the above vessel, Mr Sutton, a volunteer officer for South America, was shot in a duel, at West Cowes, by Major Lockyer, a British officer, about to depart on the same enterprise.- Evening Paper
The following account gives a further account of this transaction:-
Isle of Wight, Dec. 13.
FATAL DUEL – On Wednesday last an inquest was taken at the Dolphin Inn, before Thomas Sewell, Esq., Coroner of the Isle of Wight, to view of the body of a gentleman of the name of John Sutton, who was killed in a duel, in Northwood Park, that morning. It appears in evidence, that the deceased was one of the passengers about to proceed to St. Thomas’s in the ship Grace, now lying in Cowes-roads; that on the preceding the deceased, a Major Lockyer, a Mr. Thomas Redesdale, and a Mr. Hand, and other passengers were in company together at the Dolphin; that Major Lockyer took offence at some expression made use of by the deceased, and, in consequence, challenged him. The parties met next morning. Mr Redesdale attending to Major Lockyer, and Mr Hand as second to the deceased. Major Lockyer only fired at the appointed signal, the ball entered the deceased’s body between the third and fourth ribs on the right side, passed through the ventricle of the heart, and occasioned, of course, instant death. The principal and seconds immediately fled. The jury, without hesitation, returned a verdict of wilful murder against Major Lockyer and Messrs. Redesdale and Hand, and the Coroner issued his warrant for their apprehension.- Mr Hand was apprehended (by Allen, the Newport Constable) at Portsmouth, on Thursday: the others are still at large.
When you visit St Mary’s Churchyard, and cross the graveyard look for a headstone near the western wall which reads:
Sacred to the memory of John Sutton who fell in a duel near this town on 16th December 1917 aged 22 years