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Pints and pistols: the last duel in Wales

An artist's impression of a similar duel

WHEN we hear of pistol duels, most of us tend to think of high noon and cowboys in some dusty American wild west town. But duels were a common sight in Britain until they were made illegal in 1844.

The last duel to take place in Wales took place in Carmarthenshire in 1814 and would leave one man dead, this is its story.

The duel took place following a dispute in the Old Salutation Inn, a busy tavern overlooking the river Teifi in Adpar where Thomas Heslop, a West Indian gentleman, who lived in Carmarthen, was staying.

He and a group of others had been invited to go on a partridge shoot by local solicitor John Beynon on Thursday September 8, 1814.

The evening after the shoot, John Beynon invited 36-year-old Thomas Heslop, together with other people from the group, to spend an evening at the Old Salutation to eat and drink.

After the group had many alcoholic beverages, a dispute arose on the day’s shooting.

Heslop claimed that he had an awful day because he couldn’t shoot when and where he wanted. He blamed the men from Cardigan, who he derogatorily called “Cardis”, that were part of the group.

Beynon tried his best to diffuse this outburst by making derogatory remarks about the Salutation’s barmaid.

This inflamed Heslop even more because he fancied the barmaid himself, he strongly objected to John Beynon’s comments and called the solicitor “a damned villain and a scoundrel” before challenging him to a duel. 

Beynon accepted the drunken challenge and, two days later in the early morning of Saturday, September 10, the two men, together with their seconds, John Walters and James Hughes and a surgeon, John Williams, met in Dan-warin fields.

Standing on either side of a stream, with their backs towards each other, they prepared to walk the ten statutory paces, before turning and firing.

John Beynon only walked five paces before turning and shooting Heslop in the back, fatally wounding him. 

Heslop was pronounced dead at the scene by the surgeon who had witnessed the duel, he was buried in the churchyard of Llandyfriog on Monday, September 12 1814.

But the story doesn’t end there, Beynon was prosecuted and appeared before Cardigan Court.

The court notes for that day state: “Rex. versus John Beynon, John Walters and James Hughes on a charge of Manslaughter.

“John Beynon for shooting Thomas Heslop on Saturday, September 10, with a leaden bullet discharged from a pistol and John Walters and James Hughes present for abetting and assist-ing in the shooting”.

Solicitor John Beynon was found guilty of manslaughter and, probably due to his friendships with local lawyers and Justices of the Peace, he only received a fine.

The verdict was not received well in Adpar and Newcastle Emlyn, it was clear to local people that an injustice had been done and they took to the streets after Beynon’s blood.

Beynon hid in the cellar of a house in Newcastle Emlyn before escaping to America where he was never heard from again….