FRANCIS LIONEL ELIOT, EDWARD DELVES BROUGHTON, JOHN YOUNG AND HENRY WEBBER
Indicted for a Murder committed in a Duel on Wimbledon Common on 22nd of August, 1838
ON the evening of Wednesday, the 22nd of August, 1838, a duel took place on Wimbledon Common, which, unhappily, was attended with fatal consequences. The principal parties were Mr Francis Lionel Eliot and Mr Charles Flower Mirfin; and they were accompanied, the former by Messrs Young and Webber, the latter by Broughton and another person, whose name, we believe, was never ascertained with certainty, and also by Dr Scott, who attended to render that professional aid which it was deemed possible might be required of him.
The circumstances which led to this duel were as follows: During Epsom Races, 1838, both Mr Mirfin and Mr Eliot attended that far- famed sporting meeting. On Derby Day, as they were returning to town, Mr Eliot driving a phaeton and Mr Mirfin a gig, by some accident the two vehicles came in contact, and Mr Mirfin was overturned. In the fall some of his ribs were fractured. On his getting up, an altercation arose, and offensive language passed, which ended in Mr Eliot striking Mr Mirfin a blow on his already injured side, of which injury, however, it is due to say, Mr Eliot was ignorant. The pain at the moment was excessive, and Mr Mirfin had only a faint recollection that the name of the party with whom he had come in contact was Eliot. He had been unable to obtain his address, and therefore had no clue to his discovery, although he was extremely anxious to call him to account. Months rolled by, and on only one occasion, till Tuesday night, the 21st of August, had he obtained a transient view of Mr Eliot in a cigar- shop, but almost instantly lost sight of him. On Tuesday night, in company with two friends, he entered a saloon in Piccadilly, and while he was there he heard the name of Eliot mentioned. The name at once struck him, and on looking at the party by whom it was acknowledged he recognised him as the person whom he had so long sought, and from whom he had received a blow. He immediately requested one of his friends, Mr Broughton, to address Mr Eliot, and call the matter to his recollection. Mr Eliot admitted the fact, and offered to make an apology. It would seem, however, that neither party was in a situation to enter upon the subject then, and it was agreed that mutual friends should meet at the Opera Colonnade Hotel at twelve o'clock the next morning to discuss the matter. Mr Mirfin then proceeded to his residence, No. 2 Pleasant Place, West Square, Lambeth, where he retired to rest. At the time appointed the friends met, when an objection was made on the part of Mr Eliot to meet Mr Mirfin. A firm determination having been expressed, however, that such meeting must take place, on a second application to Mr Eliot he acceded to the proposition, and a hostile meeting was arranged for the same evening, on Wimbledon Common.
The individuals named accompanied the principals to the intended scene of action, A suitable spot having been selected, the parties proceeded to adjust the preliminaries. After some conversation between the parties, in which Mr Mirfin refused to consent to receive a verbal apology, the ground was measured -- twelve paces -- and the principals were placed in their positions, each provided with a pistol. At a concerted signal both fired, when the ball of Mr Eliot's pistol passed through Mr Mirfin's hat, whilst that of Mr Mirfin went harmlessly past his antagonist. Mr Mirfin then impatiently demanded another pistol, as he had previously declared he would face a dozen shots rather than submit to the insult he had received. The second fire quickly followed, when Mr Mirfin placed his hand on his side, and exclaimed, "He's hit me! " then staggered a few paces back and fell into the arms of Dr Scott and his second. The former soon ascertained that the wound was fatal, and in a moment the unfortunate man breathed his last. The ball had taken a transverse direction, and had passed through his heart.
On Saturday, the 25th of August, an inquest was held on the body of the deceased, which was continued by adjournment until the following Tuesday, when the jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against all the parties concerned as principal or seconds; the verdict as to the latter, however, only referred to them as being accessory to the offence.
At the ensuing session at the Central Criminal Court indictments were preferred against the various parties concerned: and it being understood that Mr Broughton would surrender to take his trial on Friday, the 21st of September, on that day the court was much crowded.
When Mr Broughton was called, however, he did not appear, and his absence was stated to be accounted for by the indisposition of Mr Clarkson, who had been retained as counsel on his behalf; but Messrs Webber and Young presented themselves, and declared themselves ready to take their trial. They were defended respectively by Mr Adolphus and Mr C. Phillips, while Mr Chambers conducted the case for the prosecution.
The whole of the facts were then again proved in evidence; and eloquent appeals having been made on behalf of the prisoners by their counsel, a great number of highly respectable witnesses were called, who gave them excellent characters for the general humanity of their disposition.
The jury, after some consideration, found the prisoners guilty, and at the same time declared their opinion that Dr Scott himself should have stood at the bar with them. Mr Justice Vaughan expressed himself to be of the same opinion, and sentence of death was then recorded against the prisoners.
They were instantly conveyed to the interior of Newgate, where they were placed, in obedience to the usual course, in the condemned cells. The application of their friends to the Crown, however, soon procured their liberation from this disagreeable confinement; but the sentence of death was only removed upon condition of their undergoing twelve months' imprisonment in the house of correction at Guildford, one month of which was to be passed in solitude.
On Friday, the 8th of February, 1839, Mr Broughton surrendered at the Old Bailey to take his trial, and pleaded guilty to the indictment. Sentence of death was recorded against him; but in this case, as in that of Webber and Young, the punishment was reduced to twelve months' imprisonment.