A Fatal Duel


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At dawn on 1st March 1809 two men armed with pistols faced each other across a Gloucestershire field. One was Henry Smith, a Bristol attorney, while his adversary was a local businessman named Richard Priest. The cause of their duel was a trivial argument at the King’s Theatre two days before which had now got completely out of hand. Shots were exchanged. Priest was hit in the thigh and later that morning, despite the surgeons’ best efforts, died from loss of blood. Smith was unhurt but that afternoon, following a coroner’s inquiry, he was identified as a protagonist and indicted for wilful murder. Urged by friends he was persuaded to flee Bristol and so with the police in close pursuit he set off for London and within days posters appeared offering a reward of 100 guineas for his arrest. Now a fugitive, he remained on the run for more than a year. During this time he kept a diary of his travels and misadventures which took him to London, back to Bristol, to Scotland and the Iberian Peninsula where he eventually joined Wellington’s army. His sweetheart, Ann, travelling alone through the war zone of the Peninsula, attempted to find him and persuade him to return to England to accept whatever fate the law held in store for him. This remarkable book is based on this journal (long-lost but recently rediscovered), together with his defence brief from the archives of Burges Salmon Solicitors, their oldest surviving document. It ends dramatically with his trial.