William Brewer, a Wellington lawyer, died on 4 March 1844 as a result of wounds received in a duel with another lawyer, H. Ross, on 26 February. The duel was the result of a quarrel that had arisen from a case in the Wellington County Court.
When the two men faced off in Sydney Street, Brewer fired into the air but 'received Mr. Ross' ball in the groin'. According to the New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator, Brewer was ‘immediately conveyed to a friend's house. During the first few days it was hoped that his life was safe, but appearances afterwards became unfavourable, and on Monday last, about six in the evening Mr. Brewer breathed his last.’
A Coroner's Inquest was convened. Although there were several witnesses to the duel, the inquest concluded that the evidence did not prove by whom the wound was inflicted. The survivor of a duel could be charged with murder, which may explain why the witnesses were not entirely forthcoming in the evidence they gave. Or perhaps it was a case of ‘what happens on the duelling field stays on the duelling field.’ The New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator of 9 March used the outcome of this inquest to condemn the ‘barbarous custom’ of duelling and call for it to be banned.
Brewer was no stranger to duelling. In 1840 he had ‘threatened to call out the next man’ who associated him with a certain ‘young lady’. John Kelly, a surveyor, was that man and in the duel that took place on Oneroa Beach at Kororareka, part of his wig was shot away by Brewer.I've often had disagreements with other lawyers. But it never entered my mind to shoot them.
So why don't we use duels to resolve legal disagreements more often?