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Affairs of honour

This is a sneak peek into edition 25 of Traces!

By Mel Tasker

On the chilly winter morning of Friday 17 August 1832, a merchant and a newspaper man stood facing each other on the grounds of Richmond House, Fremantle, in Western Australia. Each carried the heavy burden of societal expectation – and a duelling pistol.

A series of contemporarily typical events led to the stand-off that took place in the grounds of Richmond House: an insult had been given, offence had been taken, and there had been a determination by each man to assert his honour and stand on a principle.

Negotiating the dispute between newspaper editor William Nairne Clarke and his adversarial challenger, merchant George French Johnson, to a swift, bloodless conclusion was the responsibility of their respective ‘seconds’, William Temple Graham and Thomas Newte Yule. A written apology and a handshake should certainly suffice.

Customarily, Doctor Thomas Harrison stood at a distance, his eyes averted from the illegal proceedings lest the matter be brought before the courts and he be both implicated and able to provide witness testimony.

By 7.20 am, however, with peace negotiations having failed, Clarke and Johnson found themselves at the pointy end of pride.

Now, despite this grave situation, both parties in this affair had one remaining recourse to honourably resolve the conflict without bloodshed, and without any social implications of cowardice; they could simply opt to ‘delope’ by harmlessly firing their pistols into the air.

Indeed, numerous published guidelines that codified the ritualistic conflict resolution mechanisms of the duel strictly mandated more bluff and bravado than blatant brutality. Of 76 Australian colonial affairs of honour recorded in local press between 1801 and 1898, only 17 culminated in shots fired. Ten of those resulted in no personal injury.

This, however, would not be one of them.

To find out how the rest of the story unfolds, read the latest edition of Traces.

Image courtesy of iStock.

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