Stroud - the venue for England’s last pistol duel Mankind has always been fascinated by the lure of the firearm, always in the pretence of self-protection. It was a firearm that gave the Cotswold town of Stroud the infamous claim to have been the venue of the last pistol duel on English soil.

The year was 1807; it was a period where England was engaged in war with France,which finally terminated only after the battle of Waterloo in 1815. To aid the war, recruiting parties were dispensed around the country with their respective commissioned and non-commissioned officers. The large numbers recruited in Stroud helped to swell the number of 700,000 serving in the military forces at that time.

Among the recruiting officers based in the town were: Captain William Barry of the Plymouth Division of the Royal Marines; Lieutenant Benjamin Heazle of the 3rd Regiment or Old Buffs, a native of Brandon near Cork, Ireland, the twenty-eight year old officer was a tall strongly built man of swarthy looks; the handsome Joseph Francis Delmont of His Majesty's 82nd Regiment, who was twenty two years of age and Lieutenant John Sargeaunt of the 61 st Regiment, a native of this county born in Newnham.

While resident in Stroud, Delmont lodged in King Street and Heazle in the Old George Inn, High Street. The two men were regarded as being on good terms with each other. To the extent that following dinner on Friday, August 14, 1807, they took a walk together into the local countryside.

It was during their walk that jocular remarks by Delmont offended Heazle. Remarks that demanded an instant apology. Delmont insisted it was unbecoming of an officer to apologise. Heazle demanded satisfaction and the two agreed to a duel that evening.

Delmont immediately sent for Lieutenant Sargeaunt who was attending a dinner party hosted by Mr George Wathen, at the nearby Lower Grange in Folly Lane. Both men informed Sargeaunt of their intent. He was asked to act as second. If he refused, they would go alone to a nearby field. Lieutenant Sargeaunt attempted to reconcile both parties to no avail. He then unwisely agreed to their request.

Along with Heazle, Sargeaunt then walked into Stroud in search of weapons, while Delmont remained near the Grange awaiting their return. However, there was a delay in obtaining the pistols. At 6 o'clock Heazle had called upon Jenner a bookseller, wishing to borrow a pair of duelling pistols but he had none. Meanwhile, Sargeaunt called on Thomas Howell landlord of the Green Dragon, King Street who was a blacksmith, making the same request. Howell had one in his possession. It was a horse pistol which Sargeaunt declared was too large.

It was now 7 o'clock in the evening. Sargeaunt also called on Jenner, who gave the same reply he had given Heazle. Sargeaunt returned to see Howell and said the pistol he had been shown would suffice for the purpose. He misled Howell into thinking it was for a wager. The pistol was to be used to shoot a mark with the winner being treated for dinner and wine at Howell's Inn.

This prompted Howell to send William Hewlett his journeyman, to procure another pistol. Hewlett obtained this from a confectioner named Partridge, who lived in a lane now named Bedford Street. Sargeaunt asked the landlord if he had any bullets. Thomas Howell's son then handed the Lieutenant his father's pistol, while the landlord's wife despatched the daughter to an upstairs room to fetch bullets.

The now curious Hewlett, decided to follow Sargeaunt but lost sight of him. The Lieutenant had rejoined Delmont and Heazle in Folly Lane. Sargeaunt was dressed in regimentals, the other two in plain clothes. They retired to a nearby field. Whilst working in an adjoining field George Bryant, a labourer, was set to watch the proceedings. He was quickly sent upon his way after the threat of being shot by the participants.

Within ten minutes of the trio entering the field the echo of pistol shot reverberated and was heard by both Bryant and Hewlett. Heazle and Sargeaunt were seen running from the field in a state of panic. Heazle toward Stroud where he encountered a surgeon named Sweeting. The trio had earlier requested the attendance of the surgeon but he had declined. On Heazle's request Sweeting now hurried to the scene. Heazle was seen no more in Stroud, for he immediately set out on foot up the towpath of the Thames and Severn canal, on his way to Cirencester and eventually London.

Meanwhile, Sargeaunt had run to the Grange where the pistol fire had been heard. Sargeaunt informed the owner George Wather of the duel, he then hastened back to the scene of the impending fatality. It was there that Sweeting found Sargeaunt supporting the wounded Delmont, who was on the ground bleeding heavily from his left side. A scallet was fetched from nearby Badbrook Dyehouse. The handbarrow was then pushed with Delmont laid upon it to his lodgings in King Street.

Sargeaunt, who now realised his precarious position, returned to the Grange, took off his regimentals, donned plain clothes and at nightfall departed on horseback to Cirencester. He eventually reached London by the following Sunday, calling upon Lieutenant Delmont's parents in Duke Street, Westminster. Sargeaunt told them of his part in the proceedings and of their son's predicament. Totally unaware that they had lost an older son in the same circumstances in Malta. He left promising to return but he never did.

Meanwhile Lieutenant Delmont as he lay dying, revealed that he and Heazle had been placed back to back and directed to advance six paces by Sargeaunt, then turn and fire. Delmont claimed he was shot before he had completed the sixth pace. This revelation accounted for how the shot had entered his left side and passed through his body coming out at the chest and wounding his left arm.

He reiterated the same account to Captain Barry the same evening. "Barry, I was shot in the act of turning round, I forgive him and may God also forgive him."

On the next morning, Saturday 15, he gave the same account. Captain Barry asked him if he was left-handed. He told Barry he was not. "Barry I'll tell you how it was, we were placed back to back and told to take six paces each and then to fire. The word 'fire' was not given, I was shot in the back, or at least I think so."

Lieutenant Delmont added that he did not wish Sargeaunt to be punished.

In the chamber where he lay dying, Delmont noticed a print of General Wolfe, of Quebec fame, on the wall. Wolfe had previously stayed in Stroud; Wolfe had served in the area as the battalion commander sent to quell riots instigated by local weavers. Delmont was well acquainted with the history and character of the famed officer.

On seeing his nurse Elizabeth Merrie looking at it he said, "Ah, I shall not die on a bed of honour as he did. I was not prepared to receive the shot of my adversary. I had not turned round."

Delmont lingered to the following Tuesday. It was suggested that the nurse had given him a lotion in the throes of death. It was intended for bathing wounds. The remedies administered to get rid of its effects had produced a new internal haemorrhage which brought his death closer by a few hours. Delmont’s father arrived in Stroud too late to see him alive.

Heazle's pistol was at the time forfeited as a deodand to Thomas Crombe, who was Lord of the Manor of Painswick. The fatal field was situated in the Manor grounds.

A deodand was classed as a forfeiture of chattel by which homicide was committed. The firearm, originally belonged to the Crown but came into the ownership of the Lord of the Manor in which the homicide occurred. This was later abolished by Act in 1846.

On the next day, Wednesday, August 19, a jury gave a verdict of wilful murder against Heazle and Sargeaunt. Parish officers put an advertisement into the Hue and Cry and in provincial newspapers, describing the appearance of Heazle and Sargeaunt and a reward of £20 for the apprehension of either. Both had escaped their intended fate, although Heazle died in the West Indies soon after. Sargeaunt fled to America. He returned in secret, once to visit his father but eventually died in exile.

The funeral of Lieutenant Delmont took place on Friday, August 21, attended by his brother and a military friend as chief mourners. The pall was carried by six military officers, his accoutrements being laid upon his coffin. He was laid to rest in St.Laurence Parish Churchyard, Stroud.

Today, the flat stoned grave can be found in the south west comer of the graveyard, minus its inscription – "Here lie the remains of Lieutenant Joseph Francis Delmont, of His Majesty's 82nd Regiment, born November 25, 1785, died August 18, 1807."

The inscription is no longer attached to the memorial but is now in the possession of the curate.

The site of the duel can be found in the grounds of Mr and Mrs Collingwood's home in Folly Lane aptly named Dueller's Rest. Mr Collingwood kindly allowed me to view the site. The once nearby Grange is now demolished and replaced by four dwelling houses. Not far from the Collingwood's home is a modem estate called Delmont Grove and just below a cul-de-sac named Heazles Place.

What had begun, as an amicable walk in the Gloucestershire countryside became a display of cold-blooded ruthlessness in a field on the outskirts of Stroud. A secluded area of open countryside in the Stroud hills had become a venue of death.