The Last Duellist

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One of the last fatal duels in Britain and its connection to Tain.

At 5 am on Saturday 1st of July 1843 Lieutenant Alexander Munro from Tain and his brother in law Lieutenant Colonel David Fawcett faced off in one of the last fatal duels ever fought in Britain. The incident created a huge public outcry over duelling and led to an increase in support for the newly founded Anti-Duelling Association, as the story ran for years.

The two men had fallen out over dinner the night before, Fawcett accusing Munro of mishandling his affairs whilst on service in China. A serious argument broke out between the two men before Fawcett threw Munro out of his house. Munro demanded satisfaction and by the following morning, arrangements had been made between the two men for the duel.

Outside of the Brecknock Arms in Camden Town London, Munro fatally shot his brother-in-law with a duelling pistol. The mortally wounded Fawcett was taken to the nearby Camden Arms Inn and despite medical help died of his wounds two days later, still in the public house. Munro escaped abroad to Belgium, whilst the other men indirectly involved in the duel (the seconds) were arrested and stood trial for murder but were all found not guilty. 

Munro after four years abroad eventually stood trial for the murder of Colonel Fawcett, in September of 1847, where he was found guilty. Normally this would have meant a death sentence for Munro, but despite him having fled the country, the jury asked the judge to show leniency. The newspapers reported that over thirty people from the Tain turned up at the trial to testify Munro’s good character and later petitions from Inverness and Tain were sent to the Queen pleading for the sentence to be reduced. The sentence was eventually reduced by the Home Secretary and Munro would spend only one year in prison in relative comfort, “spending his time reading and writing letters.”       

The drawing of Lieutenant Munro is from an article in the Illustrated London News, at the time of his trial in 1847. The article contains many details about Alexander’s background and his father John Munro’s distinguished military career in India and was written by Munro for his defence during his trial. Munro in the article also suggests the incident was driving his poor father to an early grave;

 “My father was struck with paralysis when he heard that I had lost my commission; and the fine old soldiers grey hairs were driven to the grave with sorrow, by the misfortunes of his son; and my poor wife and mother have been nearly at times out of their senses by the misfortunes and ruin that have overtaken us.”

There was huge sympathy for Munro within his friends in the military and money was raised at the time of trial, in the hope that when he was released he could re-purchase his position in the army. Munro never returned to his regiment the Horse Guards but in January 1849 that Munro was given the job of Barrack master at Sligo in Ireland.

The Camden Arms is still a public house but is now named the ‘Colonel Fawcett’ and is said to be visited by the ghost of poor Colonel Fawcett.