Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Star and Garter Pall Mall Fatal Duel


Pall Mall has long been noted for its taverns, as well as for its chocolate- and coffee-houses, and "houses for clubbing." They were resorted to by gay nobility and men of estate; and, in times when gaming and drinking were indulged in to frightful excess, these taverns often proved hot-beds of quarrel and fray. One of the most sanguinary duels on record—that between the Duke of Hamilton and Lord Mohun—was planned at the Queen's Arms, in Pall Mall, and the Rose in Covent Garden; at the former, Lord Mohun supped with his second on the two nights preceding the fatal conflict in Hyde Park.

Still more closely associated with Pall Mall was the fatal duel between Lord Byron and Mr. Chaworth, which was fought in a room of the Star and Garter, when the grand-uncle of the poet Lord killed in a duel, or rather scuffle, his relation and neighbour, "who was run through the body, and died next day." The duellists were neighbours in the country, and were members of the Nottinghamshire Club, which met at the Star and Garter once a month.

The meeting at which arose the unfortunate dispute that produced the duel, was on the 26th of January, 1765, when were present Mr. John Hewet, who sat as chairman; the Hon. Thomas Willoughby; Frederick Montagu, John Sherwin, Francis Molyneux, Esqrs., and Lord Byron; William Chaworth, George Donston, and Charles Mellish, junior, Esq.; and Sir Robert Burdett; who were all the company. The usual hour of dining was soon after four, and the rule of the Club was to have the bill and a bottle brought in at seven. Till this hour all was jollity and good-humour; but Mr. Hewet, happening to start some conversation about the best method of preserving game, setting the laws for that purpose out of the question, Mr. Chaworth and Lord Byron were of different opinions; Mr. Chaworth insisting on severity against poachers and unqualified persons; and Lord Byron declaring that the way to have most game was to take no care of it at all. Mr. Chaworth, in confirmation of what he had said, insisted that Sir Charles Sedley and himself had more game on five acres than Lord Byron had on all his manors. Lord Byron, in reply, proposed a bet of 100 guineas, but this was not laid. Mr. Chaworth then said, that were it not for Sir Charles Sedley's care, and his own, Lord Byron would not have a hare on his estate; and his Lordship asking with a smile, what Sir Charles Sedley's manors were, was answered by Mr. Chaworth,—Nuttall and Bulwell. Lord Byron did not dispute Nuttall, but added, Bulwell was his; on which Mr. Chaworth, with some heat, replied: "If you want information as to Sir Charles Sedley's manors, he lives at Mr. Cooper's, in Dean Street, and, I doubt not, will be ready to give you satisfaction; and, as to myself, your Lordship knows where to find me, in Berkeley Row."

The subject was now dropped; and little was said, when Mr. Chaworth called to settle the reckoning, in doing which the master of the tavern observed him to be flurried. In a few minutes, Mr. Chaworth having paid the bill, went out, and was followed by Mr. Donston, whom Mr. C. asked if he thought he had been short in what he had said; to which Mr. D. replied, "No; he had gone rather too far upon so trifling an occasion, but did not believe that Lord Byron or the company would think any more of it." Mr. Donston then returned to the club-room. Lord Byron now came out, and found Mr. Chaworth still on the stairs: it is doubtful whether his Lordship called upon Mr. Chaworth, or Mr. Chaworth called upon Lord Byron; but both went down to the first landing-place—having dined upon the second floor—and both called a waiter to show an empty room, which the waiter did, having first opened the door, and placed a small tallow-candle, which he had in his hand, on the table; he then retired, when the gentlemen entered, and shut the door after them.

In a few minutes the affair was decided: the bell was rung, but by whom is uncertain: the waiter went up, and perceiving what had happened, ran down very frightened, told his master of the catastrophe, when he ran up to the room, and found the two antagonists standing close together: Mr. Chaworth had his sword in his left hand, and Lord Byron his sword in his right; Lord Byron's left hand was round Mr. Chaworth, and Mr. Chaworth's right hand was round Lord Byron's neck, and over his shoulder. Mr. C. desired Mr. Fynmore, the landlord, to take his sword, and Lord B. delivered up his sword at the same moment: a surgeon was sent for, and came immediately. In the meantime, six of the company entered the room; when Mr. Chaworth said that "he could not live many hours; that he forgave Lord Byron, and hoped the world would; that the affair had passed in the dark, only a small tallow-candle burning in the room; that Lord Byron asked him, if he addressed the observation on the game to Sir Charles Sedley, or to him?—to which he replied, 'If you have anything to say, we had better shut the door;' that while he was doing this, Lord Byron bid him draw, and in turning he saw his Lordship's sword half-drawn, on which he whipped out his own sword and made the first pass; that the sword being through my Lord's waistcoat, he thought that he had killed him; and, asking whether he was not mortally wounded, Lord Byron, while he was speaking, shortened his sword, and stabbed him in the belly."

When Mr. Mawkins, the surgeon, arrived, he found Mr. Chaworth sitting by the fire, with the lower part of his waistcoat open, his shirt bloody, and his hand upon his belly. He inquired if he was in immediate danger, and being answered in the affirmative, he desired his uncle, Mr. Levinz, might be sent for. In the meantime, he stated to Mr. Hawkins, that Lord Byron and he (Mr. Chaworth) entered the room together; that his Lordship said something of the dispute, on which he, Mr. C., fastened the door, and turning round, perceived his Lordship with his sword either drawn or nearly so; on which he instantly drew his own and made a thrust at him, which he thought had wounded or killed him; that then perceiving his Lordship shorten his sword to return the thrust, he thought to have parried it with his left hand, at which he looked twice, imagining that he had cut it in the attempt; that he felt the sword enter his body, and go deep through his back; that he struggled, and being the stronger man, disarmed his Lordship, and expressed his apprehension that he had mortally wounded him; that Lord Byron replied by saying something to the like effect; adding that he hoped now he would allow him to be as brave a man as any in the kingdom.

After a little while, Mr. Chaworth seemed to grow stronger, and was removed to his own house: additional medical advice arrived, but no relief could be given him: he continued sensible till his death. Mr. Levinz, his uncle, now arrived with an attorney, to whom Mr. Chaworth gave very sensible and distinct instructions for making his will. The will was then executed, and the attorney, Mr. Partington, committed to writing the last words Mr. Chaworth was heard to say. This writing was handed to Mr. Levinz, and gave rise to a report that a paper was written by the deceased, and sealed up, not to be opened till the time that Lord Byron should be tried; but no paper was written by Mr. Chaworth, and that written by Mr. Partington was as follows: "Sunday morning, the 27th of January, about three of the clock, Mr. Chaworth said, that my Lord's sword was half-drawn, and that he, knowing the man, immediately, or as quick as he could, whipped out his sword, and had the first thrust; that then my Lord wounded him, and he disarmed my Lord, who then said, 'By G—, I have as much courage as any man in England.'"

Lord Byron was committed to the Tower, and was tried before the House of Peers, in Westminster Hall, on the 16th and 17th of April, 1765. Lord Byron's defence was reduced by him into writing, and read by the clerk. The Peers present, including the High Steward, declared Lord Byron, on their honour, to be not guilty of murder, but of manslaughter; with the exception of four Peers, who found him not guilty generally. On this verdict being given, Lord Byron was called upon to say why judgment of manslaughter should not be pronounced upon him. His Lordship immediately claimed the benefit of the 1st Edward VI. cap. 12, a statute, by which, whenever a Peer was convicted of any felony for which a commoner might have Benefit of Clergy, such Peer, on praying the benefit of that Act, was always to be discharged without burning in the hand, or any penal consequence whatever. The claim of Lord Byron being accordingly allowed, he was forthwith discharged on payment of his fees. This singular privilege was supposed to be abrogated by the 7 & 8 Geo. IV. cap. 28, s. 6, which abolished Benefit of Clergy; but some doubt arising on the subject, it was positively put an end to by the 4 & 5 Vict. cap. 22. (See Celebrated Trials connected with the Aristocracy, by Mr. Serjeant Burke.)

Mr. Chaworth was the descendant of one of the oldest houses in England, a branch of which obtained an Irish peerage. His grand-niece, the eventual heiress of the family, was Mary Chaworth, the object of the early unrequited love of Lord Byron, the poet. Singularly enough, there was the same degree of relationship between that nobleman and the Lord Byron who killed Mr. Chaworth, as existed between the latter unfortunate gentleman and Mr. Chaworth.[43]

Several stories are told of the high charges of the Star and Garter Tavern, even in the reign of Queen Anne. The Duke of Ormond, who gave here a dinner to a few friends, was charged twenty-one pounds, six shillings, and eight pence, for four, that is, first and second course, without wine or dessert.

From the Connoisseur of 1754, we learn that the fools of quality of that day "drove to the Star and Garter to regale on macaroni, or piddle with an ortolan at White's or Pontac's."

At the Star and Garter, in 1774, was formed the first Cricket Club. Sir Horace Mann, who had promoted cricket in Kent, and the Duke of Dorset and Lord Tankerville, leaders of the Surrey and Hants Eleven, conjointly with other noblemen and gentlemen, formed a committee under the presidency of Sir William Draper. They met at the Star and Garter, and laid down the first rules of cricket, which very rules form the basis of the laws of cricket of this day.

[43] Abridged from the Romance of London, vol. i. pp. 225-232.

John Timbs
Club Life of London Vol. II
London, 1866