Dueling at Holyhead


During the 18th Century dueling was a common method of settling differences between gentlemen in European society. The object being not necessary to kill an opponent but to ‘gain satisfaction’. Fighting duels in Ireland at this time was illegal. However, dueling in Britain was not banned until 1842. This resulted in a number of duels being fought at Holyhead when antagonists would travel over, sometimes in separate vessels, with their supporters, to find a convenient location to settle their differences.

One such notable duel is reputed to have taken place at Holyhead between two Irish politicians, Henry Flood and James Agar. An account suggests that it occurred in the grounds of St. Cybi’s Church, within the walls of the Roman Fort. Dueling with swords had generally ceased by this time and the use of pistols became the norm. As a result of this engagement James Agar ended up being slightly wounded. However, the disagreement between the two Irishmen did not end here. They again met at Dunmore Park, Kilkenny in 1769 resulting in the death of James Agar. Henry Flood was tried at Kilkenny Assizes the following year but was acquitted.

Henry Flood (1732 – 1791). Portrait by Bartholomew Stoker

Buried in the churchyard at St. Cybi’s Church are the last mortal remains of Major William Houghton. The Northampton Mercury newspaper provides an account of a duel between Major Houghton and a Captain Wolsely that occurred in October 1796. Records show that the duel was fought away from the town and on land belonging to Plas Rhyd-Pont near Four Mile Bridge. It is unclear as to why the duel was fought but sadly it resulted in Major Houghton being shot and instantly expiring.

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Entry in the Holyhead Parish Burial Records

The Parish Burial Register records that William Houghton was a Major in the 23rd Regiment of Foot (Royal Welch Fusiliers) and buried on 12th October 1796. His gravestone bears the following inscription.

‘Here lieth the body of William Houghton late
Captain in his Majesty’s 53rd Regiment of Foot
who departed this life on the 8th of October 1796’

Captain Wolseley would appear not to have been brought to justice but was pursued by the Petty Constable of Holyhead, Hugh Williams, as far as Conwy.

From research undertaken by Peter Scott Roberts.

© Holyhead Maritime Museum