Scotland's Last Duel
Updated: Mar 21, 2021
David Landale's duelling pistols, on display at Kirkcaldy Museum - photo taken from https://www.welcometofife.com
Scotland’s last duel was between two men from Fife, George Morgan and David Landale. Morgan was a retired lieutenant who had partaken in the Peninsular Wars, and an agent at the local Bank of Scotland. Landale was a Linen Merchant and founding member of the Kirkcaldy Chamber of Commerce. Morgan has been described in various sources (all of which are linked at the bottom of the post) as ill tempered and hot headed. It was actions that led up to Scotland’s last duel.
The Linen business in Kirkcaldy had been booming, and in 1818 around 2 million yards of linen was created in the Kirkcaldy Mills. After the Napoleonic Wars there was a considerable economic slump, which eventually stalled a variety of businesses, including the Linen Trade.
In 1826 David Landale had gone to the Bank in an attempt to hand in Bills of Exchange (a promise that one party would pay another an agreed amount on an agreed date). This would have worked like a loan, with the exchange being proof that Landale could and would repay it. However, Morgan refused outright.
Landale then had the embarrassment of returning to the people who owed him money and asking if they would instead give him cash. Due to his embarrassment, he proceeded to withdraw his accounts from the Bank. This was when Morgan began to spread malicious rumours about the state of Landale’s credit.
Landale retaliated by writing a strongly worded letter to the Bank’s HQ, complaining about the way he had been treated. Once Morgan heard about the letter, he was furious. He concluded that if he publicly attacked Landale, then a duel would be demanded. The opportunity provided itself when Morgan saw Landale on Kirkcaldy High Street. He proceeded to shout at Landale, drawing attention to them both before hitting him with his umbrella.
The deliberate public nature of the attack left Landale no choice but to demand a duel. He was by no means a lowly member of society, and he was expected to act in defence of his honour. Although Landale was certainly reluctant to go to duel, if he had not, his name, reputation and subsequently his business could all have been adversely affected. Morgan of course, was aware of this. It presumably came as no surprise then, when he received a letter from Landale demanding to meet him the at 7am on August 23rd. The letter set the duel at Cardenbarns Farm, just outside of Kirkcaldy.
There is no evidence to suggest that Landale had ever shot a pistol, he certainly never had any of his own. As such he had to venture to Edinburgh’s Princes Street to purchase a set of pistols. It is significant that he chose two second-hand percussion fired pistols, as they were much more reliable than the flintlock pistols that Morgan favoured. Landale then wrote letters to his Doctor and Estate Agent, preparing for his death, or that of Morgan’s. The former option evidently seemed more likely to him.
The next morning the two men met on the farm. If you’ve seen Hamilton you’ll know that during a duel a Doctor is brought onsite and would often be turned round so he could have deniability. This was the case here. Morgan was then offered the use of one of the percussions pistols but refused. When the men fired, David Landale shot and killed George Morgan. It has been suggested that the new pistols Landale had bought gave him a considerable advantage.
In the immediate aftermath, Landale fled Kirkcaldy. He promised to return for his trial which was set for September 22nd, 1826. He was accused of murder, but upon an examination of the circumstances he was found not guilty.
Interestingly enough, the two families didn’t hate each other forever as in 1851, ten years before the death of David Landale, his daughter married George Morgan’s nephew.
David Landale’s pistols can be found in Kirkcaldy Museum and his ancestor has written a book 'Duel: A True Story of Death and Honour'.
James Landale, ''Duel: A True Story of Death and Honour', (Canongate Books, 2006)