Some readers may not know that a Fordingbridge man was the last Englishman to be killed in a dual in this country.
James Alexander Seton was born in Fordingbridge in 1816 and was the son of Colonel James Seton and Margaret Findlater. His inherited wealth meant he had no need to work but he nevertheless joined the Light Dragoons although he never rose above the rank of Cornet.
In the 1840s he and his wife and daughter rented rooms in Southsea where he met and started a relationship with Isabella Hawkey the wife of Lieutenant Henry Hawkey of the Royal Marines. Things came to a head when Seton danced with Isabella at a local ball causing a confrontation in which Hawkey called Seaton a blackguard and a scoundrel. The next day Hawkey challenged Seton to a dual which took place on a beach near Gosport. Seton’s shot missed and Hawkey’s gun, which was half cocked, failed to fire. By the accepted rules of duelling this should have brought an honourable end to the business but Hawkey insisted they try again. They took their marks once more, 15 paces apart, and this time Seton was wounded in the lower abdomen. Hawkey and his second fled and Seton was carried to a hotel in Portsmouth where he was operated on by a London Surgeon. Unfortunately the wound became infected and in June 1848 he died. Hawkey was brought to trial for murder but his defence council argued that he was severely provoked by Seton’s relationship with his wife and that the death was due to the surgery not the wound inflicted by Hawkey. Despite the judge pointing out that the surgery was only necessary because of the wound the jury found him not guilty and he walked free.
Hawkey later learnt that his wife was having an affair with another officer and after a violent confrontation with his rival he was removed from the active service list. Hawkey died in a London lodging house aged 38 of tuberculosis leaving his errant wife free to marry a man 11 years her junior.
Seton was buried in St Marys Church, Fordingbridge on 10th June 1845 after a procession through the town when most of the shops were closed in respect. His Tomb is outside the east front of the church next to that of his father.
I will leave it to the reader to decide if we should feel sorry for Seton who, by all accounts, was a brazen womaniser or for Hawkey who, despite no doubt detesting Seton, took no pleasure in his death and vowed to wear a black armband in his memory for the rest of his life.