Convicted of Manslaughter on 18th of May, 1711, for killing Sir Cholmondeley Deering in a Duel
SIR CHOLMONDELEY DEERING and Mr Richard Thornhill had dined together on the 7th of April, 1711, in company with several other gentlemen, at the Toy, at Hampton Court, when a quarrel arose, which occasioned the unhappy catastrophe that afterwards happened. During the quarrel Sir Cholmondeley struck Mr Thornhill, and a scuffle ensuing, the wainscot of the room broke down, and Thornhill falling, the other stamped on him, and beat out some of his teeth. The company now interposing, Sir Cholmondeley, convinced that he had acted improperly, declared that he was willing to ask pardon; but Mr Thornhill said that asking pardon was not a proper retaliation for the injury he had received; adding: "Sir Cholmondeley, you know where to find me." Soon after this the company broke up, and the two men went home in different coaches, without any further steps being taken toward their reconciliation.
On the 9th of April Sir Cholmondeley went to the coffee-house at Kensington and asked for Mr Thornhill. He not being there, he went to his lodgings, and the servant showed him into the dining-room, to which he ascended with a brace of pistols in his hands; and soon afterwards Mr Thornhill, coming to him, asked him if he would drink tea, which he declined, but drank a glass of small-beer. After this the gentlemen ordered a hackney-coach, in which they went to Tothill Fields, and there advanced towards each other, in a resolute manner, and fired their pistols almost in the same moment.
Sir Cholmondeley, being mortally wounded, fell to the ground; and Mr Thornhill, after lamenting the unhappy catastrophe, was going away when a person stopped him, told him he had been guilty of murder, and took him before a Justice of the Peace, who committed him to prison. On the 18th of May, 1711, Richard Thornhill, Esq. was indicted at the Old Bailey sessions for this murder In the course of this trial the above-recited facts were proved, and a letter was produced, of which the following is a copy:-
8th April, 1711
SIR,-I shall be able to go abroad to-morrow morning, and desire you will give me a meeting with your sword and pistols, which I insist on. The worthy gentleman who brings you this will concert with you the time and place. I think Tothill Fields will do well; Hyde Park will not, at this time of year being full of company. I am, your humble servant,
Mr Thornhill's servant swore that he believed this letter to be his master's handwriting; but Mr Thornhill hoped the jury would not pay any regard to this testimony, as the boy had acknowledged in court that he never saw him write. Several persons of distinction testified that Mr Thornhill was of a peaceable disposition, and that, on the contrary, the deceased was of a remarkably quarrelsome temper. On behalf of Mr Thornhill it was further deposed that on Sir Cholmondeley being asked if he came by his hurt through unfair usage, he replied: "No: poor Thornhill! I am sorry for him, this misfortune was my own fault, and of my own seeking; I heartily forgive him, and desire you all to take notice of it, that it may be of some service to him, and that one misfortune may not occasion another." The jury acquitted Mr Thornhill of the murder, but found him guilty of manslaughter; in consequence of which he was burned in the hand.
Of all the vices which disgrace our age and nation that of duelling is one of the most ridiculous, absurd, and criminal. Ridiculous, as it is a compliance with a custom that would plead fashion in violation of the laws of our country: Absurd, as it produces no test by which to determine on the merits of the point in dispute; for the aggrieved is equally liable to fall with the aggressor; and Criminal (criminal indeed in the highest degree!) as it arises from pre-determined murder on each side. Gentlemen talk of the dignity of honour, and the sacredness of character, without reflecting that there can be no honour in deliberate murder, no purity of character in a murderer!
The man who sends a challenge to another, does but say, in other words, 'I am a professed murderer. I mean to send you into the other world, with all your imperfections on your head. —- But I am a man of honour —- though I will not take a purse, I will cut a throat. I will do every thing in my power to deprive you of life, and to make your friends and relations wretched for life. If I fall by your hands, my friends will be equally miserahle: —- but no matter —- the laws of honour demand that we should be murderers, and we are both too wise to obey the laws of our God.'
Horrid practice! disgraceful to our country, and equally contrary to all Divine and human institutions! —- It is to be hoped the time will come when the legislature shall decree that every man who is base enough to send a challenge shall be doomed to suffer death as a murderer. Let no fear be entertained that this can derogate from our national character of genuine courage. Nothing is more true than the observation of the poet, that
Cowards are cruel, but the brave
Love mercy, and delight to save.