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Last Updated: Friday, 9 February 2007, 11:39 GMT
The last duel
Actor playing David Landale in Timewatch (Picture: Nobles Gate Ltd)
David Landale felt he had no choice
After quarrelling over a bank loan, two men took part in the last fatal duel staged on Scottish soil. BBC News's James Landale retraces the steps of his ancestor, who made that final challenge.

On 23 August 1826, two men met at dawn in a field just outside Kirkcaldy in southern Fife. Only one walked away alive.

One was David Landale, a linen merchant and pillar of the community. The other was George Morgan, a soldier-turned-banker with a fiery temper.

The pair had quarrelled over a bank loan, an argument that had led the banker to spread rumours about his client's creditworthiness. The merchant had in turn taken his accounts elsewhere and written a stiff letter of complaint to the Bank of Scotland headquarters in Edinburgh.

And that is where it would have stayed had not Morgan's temper got the better of him one morning when he struck Landale about the head with an umbrella in Kirkcaldy High Street.

According to eyewitness accounts, Morgan cried: "Take that, sir. By God, sir, you shall more of this yet!"

Before fleeing, Landale replied: "You are a coward, sir, a poor, silly coward."

One gentleman had assaulted another in public and so Landale had no alternative. He immediately challenged his bank manager to a duel. He wrote: "I must request that you will meet me tomorrow morning at seven o'clock... with pistols and give me the satisfaction which as a gentleman I am entitled to."

Age-old tradition

Landale's decision was driven and guided by centuries of duelling tradition and codes of honour that had emerged from the age of chivalry.

When Europe's medieval aristocrats were shorn of their private armies by increasingly powerful monarchs, they retained the right to resolve disputes of honour in private combat. They drew on the judicial tradition of trial by combat and the sporting tradition of knightly jousting to create the modern European duel. What began with swords by the early 19th Century ended with pistols.

Actors in Timewatch (Picture: Nobles Gate Ltd)
Landale was a novice shot
Before the duel, David Landale had to prepare. He found a friend to act as his second and then rushed into Edinburgh - he had never fired a shot in his life and needed to buy pistols.

That night, as he put his affairs in order, he wrote to a friend, insisting he was doing the right thing: "In the event of my falling, I beg of you to make no foolish lamentation, as I feel confident before God that I am doing my duty as a Christian and as a respectable member of society."

The next morning, on the duelling field, Morgan refused to apologise for striking his client.

Following ancient, self-regulating codes that stipulated exactly where the combatants should stand, what they should wear, and how and when they should fire, the seconds acting for Landale and Morgan agreed the terms of the duel.

The merchant and the banker stood 12 paces apart and, on command, fired simultaneously.

Morgan staggered and slumped to the ground, blood pouring from his mouth. Landale, the novice gunman, had fired the straightest and had shot his bank manager dead. He fled the scene immediately.

Thus ended the last fatal duel in Scotland.

James Landale
James Landale took time out from politics to trace his family history
Almost 200 years later, I took time off from my job at BBC News 24 to retrace David Landale's steps and find out just what it was that drove my ancestor to risk everything in a field in Fife.

I've dug out the letters, the witness statements, the old newspaper articles, all of which show how history, honour and social pressure left men in his position with no alternative. To maintain his reputation and his honour, he simply had to fight Morgan.

So what happened next? David Landale fled south of the border to the Lake District to avoid arrest.

He adopted an alias and kept a low profile, although he wrote to the legal authorities promising to turn up to his trial. One month after the duel, he was tried for murder in Perth but acquitted "with character unsullied".

And then, 25 years later, in one of those twists you couldn't make up, the Landale and Morgan families were reconciled when David's daughter married George's nephew.

Timewatch: The Last Duel is broadcast in the UK on BBC Two on Friday, 9 February, at 2100 GMT.


Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

It's a pity duelling is not still a way of life, there are one or two people I would like to challenge.
Mick, Norfolk

Those were the days. To legally be able to shoot your bank manager...
Sam, London

It's amazing how polite and gentlemen-like their conversation was. I can't imagine in today's society two arguing parties to refer to each other as "Sir".
AL, UK

The whole tone of the story appears very one-sided. Everything blamed on the loser and the winner a hero. An example of the victors writing history?
Anon

Interesting...that murder, as defined by the law of the day (despite the acquittal) and many of Landale's peer group, should be justified 'to maintain his reputation and his honour'. In the backstreets of Sheffield, where I come from, I've heard the same excuse advanced by the lads to excuse burglary, armed robbery, car theft... Nothing changes.
Ian Birt, Harrogate

In response to Mr Birt's comment, a gentleman's duel is in no way similar to a youth burgling. For one, the duel was prepared for in painstaking detail as mentioned in the article, which is designed to ensure no man has an unfair advantage over the other, apart from natural skill with a sword (becoming pistols later). I hardly think armed robbery is a fair competition between two people, who agreed by mutual consent to the fight.
Rob Orr, Southampton

Two individuals, not interfering with anyone else, settling an argument without the need for lawyers, social workers or authority. Sounds too much like a sensible idea to have any chance of working now. However, swap the guns for pillows and you can sign me up.
J McGregor, Guelph. Ontario, Canada

My husband is a direct descendent of David Landale. We found out about the duel through an article in The Scots Magazine written by Mrs Anne Mead of Kirkcaldy, who has done a good deal of research into the duel and its background. Having visited the site of the duel, and held the famous pistols, we shall be watching tonight's programme with great interest. If any other relatives are watching, perhaps the BBC could help us contact each other?

According to copies of documents sent to us, Morgan reportedly said: "I mean to assault Mr Landale publicly on the street; and that for the very purpose of making him challenge me: I mean to horse-whip him."
Sheila Barnard, Tobermory, Isle of Mull

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