Sunday 2 May 2021

The Greenock duel

In February of 1751 a duel took place in Greenock.  It created quite a stir locally and beyond as it resulted in the death of one of the protagonists.

According to newspaper accounts, the duel took place between Lieutenant Legge of Colonel Rich's Regiment and John Russell, Overseer of Works of the Office of Ordnance of North Britain.  In another report of the affair, Russell is described as Engineer in the Train of Artillery.  Russell was
killed and Legge handed himself in the the local magistrates, only to abscond thereafter.

I was intrigued by these events and surprised to discover a letter published in the local paper dated March 1881 from Henry Erskine, a local merchant giving more details of the affair.  Erskine claimed that Russell had been a relative of his father and he had heard a little more of the story.

From Erskine's account it appears that John Russell was a Captain in the Royal Artillery and was on sick leave at his parents' home in Port Glasgow.  All naval and military officers locally were invited to a grand Assembly (a dance) to be held in the Star Hall in Broad Close.  

Of course, seeking distraction, he attended and asked a young lady to dance.  At this point he was "accosted in a rude and boisterous manner" by a naval officer who told him that the lady was engaged to dance with him.  Russell said that they should leave it to the young lady to decide who she wanted to dance with - she choose Russell.  At the end of the dance, Russell received a note from Legge challenging him to a duel.  However in his account, Erskine states that it was a Captain Burke who was the challenger and that Lieutenant Legge was his second.

The duel took place in the "Rue End wood" -  slightly west of  Virginia Street (north of  Rue End Street).  (Find it on a map here leading off from the East Harbour .)  According to newspaper reports Lieutenant Legge handed himself in to the local authorities, but later made his escape.  Obviously being in a port with ships leaving for all parts of the world that would have been quite an easy thing to do.  Nothing more was heard of him.  Captain Russell's body was transported to the home of his parents in Port Glasgow.  

I just wonder about the young woman at the centre of this unfortunate affair.  She could never have known that her choice of dance partner would lead to his untimely death.  

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