Shooting competitions among the volunteers of the early 19th century were not always the convivial and gentlemanly events more typical of the rifle volunteer movement of the 1860’s. Here’s an example of one in Gloucestershire, involving two rifle companies, that got a little put of hand – not so much in the matter of the shooting, but as a consequence of the post-match celebrations. This is from Paul Hawkins Fisher’s Notes and Recollections of Stroud, Gloucestershire, of 1871:
There were, likewise, two rifle corps. One of these, the Severn Rifle Corps, consisting of three companies, numbering 180 men, was under the command of Major Samuel Wathen, of Newhouse, in this parish; and the other, called the King Stanley Riflemen, was commanded by Captain Nathaniel Peach Wathen, of Stanley House, in this county. The uniform of the former was a bottle-green jacket and pantaloons, with black velvet cuffs and collar, a black velvet stock, a helmeted cap with upright blue feather, black leather cross belts and pouch, with horn powder-flask, a short rifle, and sword; and the uniform, &c, of the latter corps very much resembled it.
“… resting their rifles on their caps”: from J Jones, ‘The Rifle Manual and Firing’, 1804
On the 19th of April, 1804, there was a shooting match on Broad-barrow Green between these two corps, which led to unpleasant consequences. It had been agreed that ten men of each corps should fire 30 shots at 150 yards, and 30 at 200 yards distance, and that the unsuccessful one should give the winners a dinner at the King’s Arms Inn (now the George Hotel) in Stroud. At the trial of skill, the Stanley riflemen, (all of whom, except one, fired standing) put into the target 11 shots at 150, and two at 200 yards ; and the Severn riflemen, (who lay down and fired, resting their rifles on their caps) put in 16 shots at 150, and 7 at 200 yards ; the latter being, of course, the victors. Modern riflemen may well smile at the target practice of that day.
The twenty sharp-shooters, and a few others of each corps, with their respective officers, dined at the King’s Arms, at the expense of the officers of the Stanley riflemen; the dinner passing off with great hilarity and satisfaction to all present. A somewhat incorrect report of the day’s proceedings, and especially of one of the toasts given after dinner, was written by James Burden, a private in the Severn rifle corps, and appeared in the next Gloucester Herald. This report gave such offence to the Stanley riflemen that, after several unsuccessful attempts to prevail on Burden to publish an apology for the obnoxious report, he was challenged to fight a duel with Joseph Cam, a private of that corps.
Upon this, Burden moved the Court of King’s Bench for a rule to show cause why a criminal information should not be filed against Captain N P Wathen, Joseph Cam, and Lieutenant Henry Perry, for a conspiracy to provoke him to fight a duel, in breach of the peace, &c.
A rule was granted, and on June the 16th, 1804, it was argued by Garrow and Wigley, on the part of the defendants, and by Erskine on the part of the prosecutor, – before Ellenborough, C J, and Le Blanc and Lawrence, J J – and was made absolute. A criminal prosecution was accordingly filed against Wathen, Cam and Perry, which was set down for hearing at the Spring Assizes for Gloucestershire, in 1805. A verdict of acquittal was entered by consent, the matter having been left to the arbitration of Milles and Dauncey, two leading barristers of the Oxford Circuit, – these gentlemen made their award during the same assizes; in which they certified their opinion – “That the publication in the Gloucester Herald was not intended to convey any imputation or reflection upon the whole or upon any member of the King Stanley riflemen, and that the consequences which followed such publication arose entirely from misapprehension”; concluding with – “We are therefore of opinion, under such circumstances, that further explanation is unnecessary.” Thus a foolish affair was terminated; though at the cost to the defendants of nearly five hundred pounds.