Sir Nathaniel Conant
"The Proceedings of the Old Bailey,
1674-1913" are available on line should you wish to read extracts from the
cases over which Sir Nathaniel and his son, J E Conant had charge.
60 years later, well into Victorian Times, it
seems there was interest in reading what well known people were doing, even if
it was some time previously.
A copy of "Anecdotes of the Upper Ten
Thousand: Their Legends and Their Lives" by Grantley F Berkeley, written in
1867, is available courtesy of the Cornell University Library.
Chapter 15 is concerned with:-
Camelford Mr. Devereux Mr. Best Captain Barrie - Lord Grenvtlle Lady Grenville
Mr. Cockburne - Mr. Heaviside" - Sir Nathaniel Conant gets a brief mention as a magistrate who
attempted to stop the duel.
It was in 1804 that the overbearing humour of
Lord Camelford came to its end, in a duel with one of the best pistol-shots of
the time. As far as I can discern the cause of quarrel originated with a woman,
said to have been previously for a time under his Lordship's protection, whom
Mr. Best met one Saturday night at the Opera. The story goes that this female
wished Mr. Best, whom she had known before, to accompany her home, but he
declined compliance. Now we all know that there is no living creature under the
sun I deeply regret to be obliged to say it more bitterly
revengeful and dangerous than a disappointed and personally rebuflfed and
piqued woman. Furious, therefore, at receiving this slight from Mr. Best, and
knowing that people generally were afraid of Lord Camelford, she threatened
that, if he refused to accompany her, " she would set Lord Camelford on his
back.'* In her own report of the circumstance, she said that Mr. Best had taken
great liberties with her at the Opera, and she therefore said, if he did not
desist, she would tell Lord Camelford ; and Mr. Best replied, *' that his
Lordship might be dead."
THE OPERA IN 1804
On the Sunday following Capt. Barrie, having found that
there was a row, as the mutual friend of both called on Best for information,
who most solemnly assured him that he had used no such expression as that
imputed to him; and on receiving this contradiction to the charge, Barrie said
he would see Camelford, endeavour to disabuse his mind, and make them friends
again. Whether he saw him again or not does not appear; but on Tuesday evening,
about half-past six o'clock. Best came into the Prince of Wales's Coffee-house,
in Conduit Street, to dine, with two friends, Mr. Nihel and Mr. Triest, when
Lord Camelford entered. He approached Best, and accosted him thus :
" Mr. Best, I understand you have been traducing my
character, and insulting my girl, Fanny, in a most ungentlemanlike manner. Such
conduct, sir, is infamous, and you must be a d d scoundrel."
Mr. Best replied, "My Lord, I do not under- stand what you
mean by the first remark, but the last no one can misunderstand."
High words followed. An apology from Mr. Best seems to
have been demanded by Lord Camelford, but it was refused in the following words
" I have done nothing, my Lord, nor said one word to the
prejudice of your Lordship, and assuredly I have nothing to apologise for."
Lord Camelford, however, not being satisfied, and
continuing to be very angry, Mr. Best turned on his heel and left the
cofiee-room, proceeding to dine with his friends in a private apartment.
The press of the day, in a somewhat exaggerated account of
this affair, stated that the two principals agreed on a hostile meeting for the
following morning on the spot, and while at the Prince of Wales's Coffee-house
in Conduit Street; but "the Upper Ten Thousand" will probably opine that they
agreed to refer the matter to their seconds. Camelford, when he went to his
lodgings in Bond Street, sent for Mr. Devereux, a son of Lord Hertford's; and
about nine the same evening Best went to his lodgings in Wimpole Street, to
consult with his friend.
A DUEL TALKED OF
Either some well-intentioned persons got wind of the
likelihood of the duel, or intelligence of it leaked out from among the
servants at the coffee house; for about eleven o'clock that night intelligence
of the apprehended meeting was sent to Mr. Conant,
the magistrate at Marlborough Police Office; and the same to Mr. Bond at Bow
Street. The letter to Mr. Bond failed to reach him in time; but
Mr. Conant at once apprised the police-officers,
and gave them power to arrest the parties. Although there seemed to have been
people very quick in giving the magistrates intelligence, those concerned in
bringing the duel to a conclusion were quicker still; for, on learning that
there was an intention to prevent the meeting, they devised their plans
accordingly. The "runners,'' as the police were then called, were all over the
street, now behind this corner, now behind that; stationary nowhere; and
looking as much like private and unconcerned people as they could; and thinking
how much nicer it would be to be taking their rest in bed, or hunting up
murderers or thieves, with a good chance of government or other reward. All at
once, about one in the morning, a chaise and four drove up to LordCamelford's
door, and stopped there; the same thing happening at the door of Mr. Best. "All
right!" said the runners to themselves; " we needn't go peering and peeping
about now: we'll just keep out of sight, and grab 'em at the carriage-door ....
They're a long time making up their minds to go; some more negotiation about
it, perhaps, is taking place." Two o'clock three o'clock four
o'clock came; when, at about six o'clock, the shivering postboys and useless
horses were ordered to return whence they came.
THE " RUNNERS " DECEIVED.
" So ! " said the runners, " there's to be no fighting
They were mistaken in this; or, to use a vulgar phrase of
more modem origin, the runners "were done uncommonly brown :" for the
principals, with their seconds, had escaped by the back- doors, between four
and five in the morning, got into two hackney-coaches, and before seven o'clock
they were on the ground in a field behind Holland House.
Now, the reports of the day ran that here, at the
affianced spot, Mr. Best again repeated his assertions, that he had said and
done nothing to affront Lord Camelford; and once more expressed a desire for an
amicable arrangement. Lord Camelford replied that he had not come there to be
trifled with, and bade Mr. Best to take his ground.
ON THE GROUND
Now of course, "the Upper Ten Thousand" know that all this
must have passed through or between the seconds; as, when an appearance is made
pistol in hand, the principals never do anything else than fire or receive the
fire: they are in the hands of their seconds, and are no longer responsible for
No amicable arrangement being possible, the principals
faced each other, and were ordered to fire at the same time. The ball of
Camelford missed its object, but Best's took effect; and his lordship
immediately fell, shot through the right breast; the bullet lodging in the
On the fall of his antagonist Best ran up to him, and,
certainly very superfluously, expressed a " hope that he was not seriously
hurt:'' which, considering that he piqued himself on the excellence of his
pistol-shooting, and had addressed his aim at so fatal a spot, was rather the
vox et preterea nihil. Camelford replied : " I suspect I am ; but I forgive
you. I believe you are not to blame, and you had better now provide for your
Mr. Best and the seconds then left his lordship on the
ground, and hastening to a post-chaise, kept in waiting for such an emergency,
took their departure.
LORD CAMELFORD SHOT.
The man at the Hammersmith turnpike, who had witnessed the
duel, on the departure of the seconds hastened up and asked his lordship "if he
should obtain assistance and pursue them ?" But receiving a negative to the
offer, proceeded to assist his lordship to arise : but in vain. The spine and
legs were alike paralysed. The sufferer was ultimately conveyed to Mr. Ottey's
house, which stood in the lane hard by, where he was put to bed, and medical
advice sent for. In the meantime he became insensible, and in convulsions. When
his senses returned he desired Mr. Heaviside to be sent for; but he not being
at home, Messrs. Knight and Home were at once sent down by Lord Grenville in
his stead. Hopes of his life were entertained on the second day; pain had left
him, and he talked cheerfully and well: but, alas ! this transient gleam was
but as a sun-beam through a cloudy sky the forerunner of a darker storm.
Everybody save one had been refused admittance to the sick bed; and that one
was Mr. James Cockburne, well known and approved of in " the Upper Ten
Thousand," and celebrated for his diplomatic missions abroad. By twelve o'clock
that night the turn for the worse came, and it was known that his lordship
could not survive many hours. Still, a slight reaction did take place; and Lord
and Lady Grenville arrived from Dropmore at the house where Camelford was
dying, as it was Lady Grenville's wish to be admitted to her brothers bedside
a brother she had loved with every sentiment of affection. She stood on
the threshold of his chamber, the hand of Mr. Heaviside laid gently on the
handle of the door all was still: she had been prepared for the worst,
but at the same time entreated to restrain all outward expression of grief, on
account of the effect it might have on her brother. Mr. Heaviside did not open
the door, for Lady Grenville, overpowered by her feelings, had fainted away;
and when she was restored to animation, it was only to hear that all interview
with her brother was useless, and that, on account of the acuteness of her own
feelings, she could not be permitted to approach the bedside.
THE DUELIST'S DEATH.
Lord Grenville then took his lady to town, and on that
night Mr. Heaviside came to them to say that all hope was gone, and then
proceeded to wait on the Duke of St. Alban's.
LAMENT IN VAIN
Now, there are none of *'the Upper Ten Thousand" but who
will agree with me in thinking that this affair, like many others of those
days, was improperly conducted; and that Lord Camelford was permitted to
dictate, when he should have been silent, if resolved, still thoroughly
obedient to his second. By the quotations from his general conduct which I have
made it will be seen that a duel was really his pleasure; and the risk of his
own life, and the taking of the life of another, not to be for one moment
considered in his rash desire for personal quarrel.
Every generous mind can but lament the death of a brave
man: at the same time we all must allow, that if any man ever did his best to
seek death in private quarrels, that man was the late Lord Camelford.