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.

Screenshot 2019-04-06 17.14.24
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

5 thoughts on “Dueling at Holyhead

  1. Brian Jemmette April 7, 2019 / 9:09 am

    Very interesting

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Gareth Huws April 7, 2019 / 10:22 am

    An excellent account and a fascinating insight into a once-important part of the life of the gentry.
    I suggest that this method be adopted officially as a means of sorting out any disputes between individuals associated with the Museum. If tickets were sold, then this would definitely draw in a large crowd. (Care would have to be taken that the sewage system could cope with all that blood.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ken April 7, 2019 / 2:12 pm

      Excellent idea though I don’t think there are disputes that are that serious. The bloodthirsty British public always enjoyed executions, duels and flogging. Local low life would best be served with the latter, making a good Saturday afternoon entertainment. You are guaranteed a huge audience and source of money.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Edwyn Hughes April 7, 2019 / 8:51 pm

    Very interesting post, thanks again Peter also a very interesting idea form Gareth Huws.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s