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[Trial of James Christie].
The Examiner  No. 693  (15 April 1821)  239.
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No. 693. SUNDAY, APRIL 15, 1821.

Friday, April 13.


At ten o'clock Chief Justice Abbot and Mr. Justice Park took their seats on the Bench, which was crowded by a number of persons of distinction. The Court was also crowded to hear the trial of Messrs. Christie, Trail, and Patmore, the gentlemen unfortunately implicated in the late duel in which Mr. Scott fell. As soon as the Judges had taken their seats, Mr. Christie and Mr. Trail appeared on the steps of the witness-box; and Mr. Gurney, who was their counsel, announced that these gentlemen attended to surrender and take their trials upon an indictment found by the Grand Jury against them for murder. Messrs. Christie and Trail, who seem to be about 25 years of age, and were dressed in deep mourning, then surrendered in form to Mr. Shelton, the clerk of arraigns. They were immediately placed at the bar.—Mr. Patmore did not make his appearance.

The case for the prosecution was stated by Mr. Walford, who observed, that if the Jury felt any doubts as to the identity of the prisoners, or thought the whole affair was gone through in heat, then they would acquit the gentlemen at the bar.

The first witness was Mr. T. J. Pettigrew, who stated the particulars of the duel, and the declaration of Mr. Scott, after being wounded, that all was fair and honourable; and he described the agony of Mr. Christie, who exclaimed—“Good God! why was I permitted to fire a second time? I fired first down the field.” Witness described the extreme agony and anxiety of Mr. Christie for Mr. Scott's situation.

The other evidence presented no novelty whatever. The arrival of the parties at Chalk-farm, and their situation on the ground after the fatal shot, were proved as on the inquest.

The Lord Chief Justice then informed Mr. Christie that the period for his defence had arrived.

Mr. Christie, in a voice almost inaudible from emotion, said that he should merely call witnesses to his general character and habits of life.

Mr. Trail, to a similar intimation from the Bench, replied in the same terms used by Mr. Christie.

A great number of very respectable persons, among them Mr. Balfour, M. P. and several gentlemen of the bar, spoke to the characters of the prisoners.

The Chief Justice instructed the Jury as to the law of the case. The accusation charged three persons as aiding and concurring in the death of Mr. Scott: two individuals only appeared; but if the Jury believed that the individuals at the bar were really two of those who had aided in the commission of the crime, it mattered not by whose particular hand the pistol had been discharged. The distinction, in cases of duels, between manslaughter and murder, had been very clearly and correctly marked out by the Learned Counsel for the prosecution; if parties in heat of blood went out and fought with deadly weapons, then the law, allowing for the frailty of human nature, deemed the party killing guilty of manslaughter only; but if, yielding to a false notion of honour, they went out upon deliberation and in cool blood to fight, then the death of one man fixed the crime of murder upon all concerned, upon seconds (frequently the more  culpable parties) as well as upon principals. The first question then was—were the prisoners at the bar two of the parties known to have been in the field at the time when the shot was fired? It was possible, he said, that the real perpetrators of the crime might have escaped from the field before the arrival of Mr. Pettigrew, and that the prisoners at the bar might have appeared accidentally at the moment; still the onus of showing that such had been the case lay in some measure upon them. Upon the second point, his Lordship continued, the feeling under which (assuming the identity) the duel had taken place, there was little in proof before the Jury. Of the time or place at which the quarrel originated, there was no evidence; and although between the time at which Mr. Patmore first applied to Mr. Pettigrew, and the time of the meeting at Chalk-farm, there was certainly space enough for reflection; yet it was possible that, at the moment of Mr. Patmore's application to his surgeon, the meeting might not have been contemplated by Mr. Trail or Mr. Christie. The declaration of Mr. Scott at the moment of his fall, that all had been done fairly and honourably, was, although the law would not recognise such ideas of honour, entitled to the attention of the Jury; and there was another circumstance arising out of the words of the supposed Mr. Christie, to which their consideration should be directed. The words to which his Lordship alluded were these—“Why was I allowed to fire a second time? I fired down the field at first; what could I do more? I was compelled to fire in my own defence.” Now the circumstances were not such as would, in law, acquit a man as having fired in his own defence; but the words might have an operation upon the feeling under which the second shot—for that was the shot which did the mischief—had been fired. The parties might have met deliberately and in cool blood, and under those circumstances the first fire might have taken place. Had death followed that fire, such death would have been murder; but it was possible that Mr. Christie, having forborne to take aim the first time, might have fired his second shot under and impulse of immediate anger produced by the failure of his pacific proceeding; and, in that case, although his adversary fell, the crime amounted only to manslaughter. The Lord Chief Justice concluded by recommending to the Jury, in a case of doubt, to take the side of mercy; and by observing (upon the excellent characters which the prisoners had received) that unfortunately, men of the most exemplary humanity and benevolent feeling were too often led to take part in transactions which led to the loss of life on one side, and to remorse and repentance during life on the other.

The Jury, after a deliberation of 25 minutes, returned a verdict of—Not Guilty.

Mr. Christie and Mr. Trail then retired from the bar amid the congratulations of the friends who surrounded them.