Sir Nathaniel Conant Kt.

"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.

Criminal Court

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:-
"Lord 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."


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.


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.


" So ! " said the runners, " there's to be no fighting after all!''

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.


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 anything.

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 spine.

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 own safety."

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.


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.


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.


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.