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Art. II.--DUELLING DAYS IN OLD CALCUTTA.*
single combat dates back to remote antiquity. It is not, however, till the Teutons begin to incorporate the custom as a part of their judicial scheme, that the " ordeal of combat" grows into an institution recognised by law. The duel of chivalry centering, as it often does, in Shakespeare and the Elizabethan dramatist, around treason charges and political wrangles generally, appears to be but a modification of the early German idea and passes away before the more liberal conceptions of the early seventeenth century. The ethics of the duel reduces itself once again to the standard of personal grievance, and the Europe of the trophied lists gives place to the Europe of pistol and rapier. Even in England such men as Pitt and Fox follow the "code of honour," and later no less a worthy than Daniel O'Connel eludes two successive challenges from Peel and Disraeli.
On Indian soil the earliest duel of which history takes any note is one recorded by Plutarch. On the occasion of Alexander's invasion of this country, the private animosities which existed between his two friends, Hephæstion and Craterus, broke out one day in a bitter quarrel. Says the Chronicle:
They drew their swords, and came to blows. The friends of each were joining in the quarrel when Alexander interposed." He told Hephæstion publicly "he was a fool and a madman not to be sensible
For some of the information embodied here I am indebted to an exhaustive article .The Duel (in India " by Mr. E. W. Madge, which appeared in the English man in 1906.
that without his master's favour he would be nothing.” He gave Craterus also
a severe reprimand in private, and after having brought them together again, and reconciled them, he swore by Jupiter, Ammon and all the other gods " that he loved them more than all the men in the world, but if he perceived them at variance again, he would put them both to death, or him at least who began the quarrel." This is said to have had such an effect upon them, that they never expressed any dislike to each other, even in jest afterwards.
No less attractive than the foregoing account is the story of Clive and the young bully whom he accused of cheating at cards. The anecdote forms the subject of Browning's poem "Clive” (Dramatic Idylls, and series), but the original version is as follows :-As a result of the accusation, a duel ensued, and Clive's shot went wide. His opponent, who had reserved his own fire. now walked up and putting his pistol to the head of the defenceless youth, called upon him to beg for life. This Clive did, but when the other demanded an apology and a retraction of the charge of cheating Clive refused to give either. “Fire and be damned to you,” he answered, “I said you cheated, I say so still, and I will never pay you.” The matter ended by the surprised bully throwing down his weapon with the remark that Clive was mad.
In the days of John Company duelling appears to have been a pastime, quite as fashionable with the “ nababs” of Madras and Calcutta as with the blades of London and Paris. Carey in his “Good Old Days tells us how a Major Brown challenged to single combat Sir John Macpherson, Governor-General of India. The cause of the quarrel may be partially
gleaned from a despatch of the Court of Directors dated the 12th March 1788: “Having read and deliberately considered a publication, which appeared in the newspapers entiled “Narrative relative of the duel between Sir John Macpherson and Major James Brown, etc.,' we came to the following resolution.” Here follows a long-winded censure on Brown for having demanded an apology for a statement which Sir John had caused to be made, while acting not in the capacity of a private gentleman, but in that of a high public official. The paragraph which roused the fiery Major's wrath appeared in the Calcutta Gazette and was made by authority of Government at the head of which Sir John as Governor-General then was.
In Calcutta the growth of the duel was fostered by a social atmosphere peculiarly adapted to its exotic nature. Immorality was rampant and European society with but few honourable exceptions, little short of depraved. The purifying influence of cultured
was a thing unknown, and the few Anglo-Indian ladies who played the ghastly rôle of leaders of society, turned out the most veritable of firebrands. The young men who were eager competitors for their smiles had no healthy occupation in which to exercise mind and body during their hours of leisure, consequently drinking and gambling were widely prevalent among the male section of the white community, and the chances on which huge
were often absurdly staked—the turn up of a particular card, or the number of people that would pass a street window in a given time-serve in themselves to indicate the readiness with which excitement in any form was always welcomed.
Brawls were frequent and jealousy of the bitterest a constant source of enmity. A young man could hardly pass through
the period of his 'service without being subjected to a challenge, and even the mildest of seniors were on occasion the most pointed of insulters. The following may serve as an illustration of the typical procedure. Major T. detects that Captain J. is cheating at cards, or, shall we say, that Captain J. has relieved the gallant major of his beautiful wife ? Anyhow the combat is inevitable. There is a dispute over the card table or a pointed insult by the injured man to the disturber of his peace, perhaps a blow. Than the parties withdraw and the seconds meet to settle preliminaries. In the early hours of the following morning a party of four accompanied maybe by a surgeon alights under “ the two trees of destruction,” at Kidderpore, shots are exchanged, and the Captain pays the penalties of his misdemeanour with his life. Cholera is given out by his brother officers as the cause of death and his mortal remains are interred with military honours. The survivor spends the rest of his days with the cheering consciousness of having sent a fellow-creature to a premature grave, or perchance a few more “successful affairs," turns him into a callous bully.
In the far greater majority of duels fought in Calcutta, pistols were the weapons used ; nor is an authentic exception wanting to prove what seems the rule. The Calcutta Chronicle of the 21st May 1793 notices an affair which came off with small swords within an apartment. With this exception, however, the duellists of Old Calcutta were, like their European prototypes, lovers of the open air, and the site referred to above as that commanded by “ the two trees of destruction " appears to have been the fashionable venue for most “affairs of honour" within the city. Duels were also fought at Chandernagore and Chinsura, and
an incident is recorded in which the Dutch Governor of the latter place was once concerned.
Though military men all over India were excessively addicted to the practice, duelling was by no means a monopoly of the warrior caste. Civilians were often involved and Calcutta records teem with notices of affairs in which officers had little to do. Under “ Deaths" in the Calcutta Gazette of the 2nd September 1790 appears
the following :-"On Monday Mr. Webb, who was unfortunately wounded in a duel a few days ago.” Almost half a century later in the Asiatic Journal of 1835 there is a notice which runs : “ A duel between Messrs Prinsep and Osborne was terminated by the accidental discharge of the former's pistol which wounded him severely in the leg.
. The cause of the difference is not stated.” A third account would appear to be a little out of the ordinary “ At the Sessions of 1791, Mr. C. Fenwick was found guilty of a misdemeanour in sending a challenge to W. Larkins, Esq. Besides being fined Rs. 2,000, he was imprisoned for one month, and had to furnish security for his good behaviour himself in the sum of Rs. 10,000, and two sureties of Rs. 5,000 each. This exemplary punishment did not deter others. But as a matter of fact a victorious duellist when tried for manslaughter managed, in nine cases out of ten, to get off scot free."
J. H. Stocqueler, Editor of the Englishman, and J. Silk Buckingham of the Calcutta Journal, were in their time concerned in duels. In 1837 a discussion had arisen between the former and Captain Sewell as regards the quality of the food supplied to the residents at Kidderpore House, and the editor refusing to retract his criticism was challenged by the officer.