CAPTAIN CLARKE, R.N.

Convicted and condemned to be hanged for the Murder of Captain Innis, in a Duel, and pardoned, 12th of June, 1750

THE Captains Innis and Clarke were commanders under Admiral Knowles -- the first of the Warwick, and the latter of the Canterbury, line-of-battle-ships, of sixty-four guns each -- when he obtained a victory over a Spanish fleet of equal force, and took from them the Conquistadore, and ran their Vice-Admiral on shore, where she blew up, the rest escaping under favour of the night. It was the opinion that had the Admiral availed himself of an opportunity which at one time presented of bringing up his fleet to bear at once upon the enemy the whole might have been taken.

The issue of this battle was therefore unsatisfactory to the nation, and the Admiral was called to account for his conduct before a court martial, held on board the royal yacht, the Charlotte, at Deptford, which sat during nine days.

The opinion of the Court being unfavourable to the Admiral caused a divided opinion among the officers. It did not, however, affect the personal bravery of that commander, but, on the contrary, as appeared in evidence, he displayed the greatest intrepidity, exposing his person to imminent danger, after his ship was disabled; but it appears that in manoeuvering, previous to the engagement, he had not availed himself of an advantage, by which neglect it was begun by four of his, when six might have been brought up. The Court therefore determined that he fell under the 14th and 23rd Articles of War -- namely, the word "negligence"; for which they sentenced him to be reprimanded. This sentence caused much ill blood among the officers. The Admiral had already been called out twice in duels with his captains, and had received more challenges of the same kind; but Government, being apprised of the outrages, put a stop to them by taking the challengers into custody.

Captain Clarke, it appears, had given evidence on the trial of the Admiral which displeased Captain Innis to so great a degree that he called him "a perjured rascal," and charged him with giving false evidence. This was certainly language worse to be borne by an officer than rankling wounds, or even death. Captain Clarke, being apprised that Innis in this way traduced and vilified him in all companies, gave him a verbal challenge, which the other accepted.

On the 12th of August, 1749, early in the morning, these gentlemen, attended by their seconds, met in Hyde Park. The pistols of Captain Clarke were screw-barrelled and about seven inches long; those of Captain Innis were common pocket-pistols, three inches and a half in the barrel. They were not more than five yards distant from each other when they turned about, and Captain Clarke fired before Captain Innis had levelled his pistol. The ball took effect in the breast, of which wound Captain Innis expired at twelve o'clock the same night. The coroner's jury found a verdict, of wilful murder against Captain Clarke, on which he was apprehended, brought to trial at the Old Bailey, found guilty, and sentenced to death. The King, in consideration of his services, and the bravery he displayed in fighting his ship under Admiral Knowles, was pleased to grant him a free pardon.

There were other circumstances in this unfortunate rencounter which were favourable to Captain Clarke, for his firing on turning round, and his pistol being larger than that of Captain Innis, was not deemed unfair by the sanguinary rules of duelling; for Captain Innis might have provided, himself with a large pair had he pleased. But what pleaded powerfully on his behalf was the expressions of the dying man, who acquitted and forgave him. When a soldier seized Captain Clarke, the former asked the wounded man what he should do with him, to which he faintly answered: "Set him at liberty, for what he has done was my own seeking."

On the 1st of June, 1750, being the last day of the sessions of the Old Bailey, Captain Clarke, among the other convicts, was brought up to receive sentence of death, when he pleaded his Majesty's pardon, which had been then lately sent him, and which being recorded, he was discharged.

 

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