A 19th century pub argument, late-night drinking and a shooting: The tale of one of the last duels in Britain

By Hannah Griffiths | 19 January 2016

Curator's Choice: Hannah Griffiths on the foliage-covered Isle of Wight gravestone of a man shot in a 19th century duel

A photo of a gravestone
200 years have taken their toll on the masonry of John Sutton's gravestone© Sudni Heritage, seirtsudni.co.uk
“I thought duelling was just for the upper classes and involved being slapped in the face with a glove, but this is a story of a disagreement in a bar which ended in the death of a young man, shot dead in an illegal duel on December the 10th 1817.

The duel took place in the grounds of Northwood House, Cowes – home to the Ward family. This was the last duel on the Isle of Wight and one of the last duels in Britain. For those who are interested, that took place between two French Exiles near Windsor in 1852.

The victim was 22-year-old John Sutton. He was a passenger on the ship Grace, docked in Cowes and awaiting clearance by customs officials.

The following account from the Hampshire Telegraph tells the story of the tragic events:

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.

Major Lockyer, a Plymouth man, was a seasoned soldier. In 1801 he had joined the 2nd Exmouth Company of Volunteers and in 1805 he had been appointed as ensign. Now, aged 31, he was seeking new adventures. He was travelling on the Grace to South America to join the Spanish Patriots in the fight for Independence from Spain.

Described as being well-educated and genteel, John Sutton was a nephew of the illustrious seaman and adventurer Lord Thomas Cochrane. It appears he had joined the ship for a life of adventure, perhaps emulating his famous uncle who had fought in campaigns in the Napoleonic wars and across South America.

The Cambridge Chronicle and Journal of Friday 13 1818 also carried an account of the proceedings. It appears this was the rough series of events which lead to the Duel.

At about nine o’clock that evening, Lt John Cochrane Sutton and Ensign Robert Hand entered the inn. Earlier that evening John Sutton and his party had been playing billiards, the stake prize money being paid in wine.

By the time they arrived at the Dolphin it was clear that Sutton was drunk. The loud, arrogant commentary of a young man was probably irritating but for a couple of hours they all remained in the inn.

When the conversation got round to why the assembled men were leaving for South America, Sutton suggested they were escaping debts. This hit a raw nerve with Orlando Lockyer, who immediately took exception and retorted that he was no debtor.

Seeking to win a point, John replied that they were all in debt to god. Lockyer, no doubt quite drunk himself, demanded an apology which he did not get.

Leaving the inn, he hired a boat and went to the Grace to collect his pistols. Meanwhile, Captain Redesdale returned to the Dolphin and passed a note to Sutton, calling him out.

Lockyer then retired to sleep. Sutton, seemingly unaffected by the contretemps, continued to drink, “perambulating” the town until four o’clock the next morning.

In the cold light of day, one might have expected them both to have second thoughts. But although Sutton admitted that he hadn’t intended to insult Lockyer, he drew the line at offering an apology. The two men, their seconds and a surgeon met in a neighbouring field near Northwood House.

Both men took a pistol but Sutton declared that he had no intention of shooting. The distance was measured out, they turned to face each other and a handkerchief was dropped.

Lockyer fired. Sutton hesitated for a second before stepping forward to shake hands. But he then dropped to the ground.

He had been shot through the heart. Lockyer, Redesdale and Hand, knowing that they faced a charge of murder, fled.

Being on the coast, the three men easily departed. But two days later Robert Hand was arrested in Portsmouth and returned to the island.

It was several weeks before Lockyer was spotted in a pub, the Waterman’s Arms in Portsmouth. He was arrested and sent to await trial at the next Winchester Assizes. By the time the case came to court, Captain Redesdale had still not been located.

John Holding, the surgeon who had been present at the duel, confirmed that every persuasion had been offered to the dead man to make an apology. Mr Fitzgerald, brother of the captain of the Grace, confirmed his account alongside others.

Both Lockyer and Hand also presented very persuasive statements. In summing up, the judge warned the jury against relying on the prisoner's version and also to dismiss any stories or rumours they had heard before.

It took them very little time to return a verdict of Manslaughter. His Honour passed a sentence of three months’ imprisonment.

What became of Hand and Redesdale is not known. However, a short item in the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette of Thursday October 1819 talks of the missing Major Lockyear:

The Tarantula, which arrived at Plymouth on Tuesday from St Domingo, brings advice that out of all the 28 officers which left this country to join the Standard of the South America under McGregor and who escaped with him to the West Indies after his defeat, 20 fell victim to the climate; amongst these was Plymouth man Major Orlando Lockyer.

John Sutton was laid to rest in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church at Cowes. The Ward family, owners of Northwood House, were benefactors of St Mary’s Church. George Ward was reported to be horrified that the duel had taken place in his parkland.”

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Three places to see on the Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight Shipwreck Centre and Maritime Museum
The Shipwreck and Maritime Museum was founded in 1978, and had been an ambition of the owner, Martin Woodward, since he first started diving on shipwrecks in the 1960s. Martin, a professional diver by trade, has amassed a huge collection of artefacts personally recovered by him from under the sea, and he is still actively diving on wrecks and archaeological projects worldwide.

Dimbola Museum and Galleries
The first Isle of Wight Festival, in 1968, was held at Ford Farm near Godshill, featuring such bands as Tyrannosaurus Rex and Fairport Convention. It was organised to raise funds for a swimming pool locally in Freshwater, but since then it has become an international feature - and was the setting for Jimi Hendrix's final UK performance. Find out more in the permanent display at Dimbola.

The Needles Old Battery and New Battery
The Old Battery, built in 1862 following the threat of a French invasion, is a spectacularly sited fort perched on the extreme westerly edge of the Island. It contains exhibitions about its involvement in both World Wars, plus two original gun barrels displayed in the parade ground.
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