ALEXANDER CAMPBELL, ESQ.
Brevet-Major in the Army, and a Captain in the 21st Regiment of Foot. Executed 24th of August, 1808, at Armagh, in Ireland, for murdering a Brother Official, whom he killed in a Duel
ALEXANDER CAMPBELL was tried at the Armagh Assizes, 13th of August, 1808, for the wilful and felonious murder of Alexander Boyd, captain in the same regiment, by shooting him with a pistol bullet, on the 23rd of June, 1808, in the county of Armagh, in the kingdom of Ireland. This murder was committed in a duel.
The first witness called was George Adams, who deposed that about nine in the evening of the 23rd of June he was sent for in great haste to the deceased, Captain Boyd, who had since died of a wound he had received by a pistol bullet, which had penetrated the extremity of the four false ribs and lodged in the cavity of the belly. This wound, he could take upon himself to say, was the cause of his death. He was sitting on a chair vomiting blood when witness was sent for; he lived about eighteen hours afterwards. Witness stayed with him till he died. He was in great pain, and tumbled and tossed about in the most extreme agitation. Witness conceived his wound to be mortal from the first moment he examined it. The witness then stated the circumstances which led to the duel.
John Hoey, mess-waiter to the 21st Regiment, swore that he went with a message from Major Campbell to Captain Boyd, by means of which they met.
Lieutenant Macpherson, surgeon, Nice, and others, proved the dying words of Captain Boyd.
John Greenhill was produced to prove that Major Campbell had had time to cool after the altercation had taken place, inasmuch as he went home, drank tea with his family, and gave him a box to leave with Lieutenant Hall before the affair took place.
The defence set up was merely as to the character of the prisoner for humanity, peaceful conduct and proper behaviour: to this several officers of the highest rank were produced, who vouched for it to the fullest extent -- namely, Colonel Paterson, of the 21st Regiment, General Campbell, General Graham Stirling, Captain Macpherson, Captain Menzies, Colonel Gray, and many others. The learned judge, in his charge, briefly summed up the main points, and thus concluded: "If you are of opinion either that the provocation, which I have mentioned to you, was too slight to excite that violence of passion which the law requires for manslaughter, or that, be the passion and the provocation what it might, still that the prisoner had time to cool, and return to his reason -- in either of these cases you are bound upon your oaths to find the prisoner guilty of murder. There is still another point for your serious consideration. It has been correctly stated to you by the counsel that there is a thing called the point of honour -- a principle totally false in itself, and unrecognised both by law and morality, but which, from its practical importance and the mischief attending any disregard of it to the individual concerned, and particularly to a military individual, has usually been taken into consideration by juries, and admitted as a kind of extenuation. But in all such cases, gentlemen of the jury, there have been, and there must be, certain grounds for such indulgent consideration -- such departure from the letter and spirit of the law. In the first place, the provocation must be great; in the second place, there must be a perfectly fair dealing -- the contract, to oppose life to life, must be perfect on both sides, the consent of both must be full; neither of them must be forced into the field; and thirdly, there must be something of a necessity, a compulsion, to give and take the meeting; the consequence of refusing it being the loss of reputation, and there being no means of honourable reconciliation left. Let me not be mistaken on this serious point. I am not justifying duelling; I am only stating those circumstances of extenuation which are the only grounds that can justify a jury in dispensing with the letter of the law. You have to consider, therefore, gentlemen of the jury, whether this case has these circumstances of extenuation. You must here recall to your minds the words of the deceased Captain Boyd: 'You have hurried me: I wanted you to wait and have friends. Campbell, you are a bad man.' These words are very important, and if you deem them sufficiently proved they certainly do away with all extenuation. If you think them proved, the prisoner is most clearly guilty of murder."
The jury then retired, and, after remaining about half-an-hour out of court, returned with their verdict -- guilty of murder; but recommended him to mercy on the score of character only. Sentence of death was immediately passed on the unfortunate gentleman, and he was ordered for execution on the Monday; but, in consequence of the recommendation of the jury, was respited till the Wednesday se'nnight. In the meantime every effort was made by the friends of the unfortunate man to procure the Royal mercy. The respite expired on the 23rd of August, and an order was sent from Dublin Castle to Armagh for the execution of the unfortunate gentleman on the 24th. His deportment during the whole of the melancholy interval between his condemnation and the day of his execution was manly but penitent, and such as became a Christian towards his approaching dissolution. When he was informed that all efforts to procure a pardon had failed he was only anxious for the immediate execution of the sentence. He had repeatedly implored that he might be shot; but as this was not suitable to the forms of the common law his entreaties were of course without success.
He was led out for execution on Wednesday, the 24th of August, just as the clock struck twelve. A vast crowd had collected around the scene of the catastrophe. He surveyed them a moment, then turned his head towards heaven with a look of prayer. As soon as he appeared, the whole of the attending guards, and such of the soldiery as were spectators, took off their caps; upon which the Major saluted them in turn. This spectacle was truly distressing, and tears and shrieks burst from several parts of the crowd. When the executioner approached to fix the cord, Major Campbell again looked up to heaven. There was now the most profound silence. The executioner seemed paralysed whilst performing this last act of his duty. There was scarcely a dry eye out of so many thousands assembled. The crowd seemed thunderstruck when the unfortunate gentleman was at length turned off. After hanging the usual time the body was put into a hearse which was waiting.