The Duelling Pistols of Browns of Blackburn

The Slang DUELLISTS - a shot at a Hawke or the Wounded Pigeon Isaac Cruikshank 1807
Courtesy of the British Museum

Today we thought we would share some information about a rare pair of silver mounted 22-bore flintlock, breech loading duelling pistols made by Andreas Rhienhold (Andrew) Dolep, a Dutchman who was working in London. The pistols were highly innovative, featuring an automatic priming magazine, a re-loadable metal cartridge and a hinged barrel for easier and quicker reloading.

The pistols were made for one of Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s ancestors around 1690 and include the family (Brown of Blackburn in Berwickshire) arms and motto.

The pistols have had a chequered and interesting recent history, regardless of what they may have seen in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries. Possibly donated on the 16th Sept 1830 to the Bristol Institution by G.N. Daubeny Esq (as a pair of curiously formed ancient pistols), by 1921 they had found their way into the collection at Bristol Museum.

At some point after this one went missing (disappeared, presumed stolen or accidentally disposed of before 1945 when the records show just the one pistol in the collection) and then the remaining pistol was stolen in 1968 by a Major Baxter during an unsupervised visit to the museum stores.

The stolen pistol was offered via a dealer to a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London – luckily the curator recognized it and the pistol was recovered.  Major Baxter was convicted of theft from other museums and during the investigation it was proved that the other pistol, the missing one, was in the hands of a private collector; with no record of how or why it had left the care of the Bristol Museum and was present in his collection.

Since 1970 the pistol which was stolen has been on loan to the V&A.  The ‘missing’ pistol was offered for sale by Bonhams  auction house in Knightsbridge during November 2011, one of over fifty lots from the collection of the late Dr Robert Rabett – it sold for £31,250. Bonhams kindly agreed to pass our contact details to the present owner so that we could share this information with them, but to date we have had no contact.

We had wanted to include a copy of the pistols to show the Brown family crest in our book, unfortunately due to lack of space this was not possible so we thought we would share it with our readers here instead. We give more information on this fascinating but long forgotten family in our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, and suggest who may have owned the pistols when they were new. The pistol owned by Bristol Museum has now been permanently transferred to the V&A in London where it can be viewed. It is in the British Galleries, room 56d, case 5.

Brown Crest on pistol
Brown of Blackburn Crest on pistol.
Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum and transferred from Bristol Museums and Galleries.


Victoria & Albert Museum


Antiques Trade Gazette

Header image:

One of the duelling pistols owned by Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s Scottish forebears, from the V&A

The ‘Petticoat Duellists’ of 1792

In 1792, the Carlton House Magazine ran an article, with an accompanying illustration, of two female petticoat duellists. The participants were identified, in the magazine, as Lady Almeria Braddock and Mrs Elphinstone.

The ladies were taking tea when Mrs Elphinstone, after an exchange of ‘bloated compliments’ between them, said to Lady Almeria, “You have been a very beautiful woman.”

Lady Almeria: “Have been? What do you mean by ‘have been’?”

Mrs Elphinstone: “You have a very good autumn face, even now . . . The lilies and roses are somewhat faded. Forty years ago I am told a young fellow could hardly gaze on you with impunity.”

Lady Almeria: “Forty years ago! Is the woman mad? I had not existed thirty years ago!”

Mrs Elphinstone: “Then Arthur Collins, the author of the British Peerage has published a false, scandalous and seditious libel against your ladyship. He says you were born the first of April 1732.”

Lady Almeria: “Collins is a most infamous liar; his book is loaded with errors; not a syllable of his whole six volumes is to be relied on.”

Mrs Elphinstone: “Pardon me. He asserts that you were born in April 1732 and consequently are in your sixty first year.”

Lady Almeria: “I am but turned of thirty.”

Mrs Elphinstone: “That’s false, my lady!”

Lady Almeria: “This is not to be borne; you have given me the lie direct . . . I must be under the necessity of calling you out . . . “

Mrs Elphinstone: “Name your weapons. Swords or pistols?”

Lady Almeria: “Both!”

The ladies met at Hyde Park and set to with pistols. Mrs Elphinstone proved the better shot, putting a bullet hole through Lady Almeria’s hat. Their seconds pleaded with them to end it there but Mrs Elphinstone refused to apologise and so hostilities resumed, this time with swords. Lady Almeria managed to inflict a wound on her opponent’s sword arm and, with honour deemed to have been satisfied, both ladies quitted the field.

An Airing in Hyde Park, 1796. Yale Center for British Art.
An Airing in Hyde Park, 1796. Yale Center for British Art.

It’s no doubt an intriguing tale and has been repeated time and time again over the intervening two centuries. Unfortunately, it is also most probably completely untrue.  There never was a Lady (or a Lord) Braddock, and no contemporary account can be found of such a duel being fought, and it would certainly have excited plenty of attention if it had.

There was a contemporary Lady Almeria, but she was Lady Almeria Carpenter (20th March 1752-1809), daughter of the 1st Earl of Tyrconnell and the mistress of Prince William Henry, the Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh (1743-1805, son of King George II). She was mother to the duke’s natural born daughter, Louisa Maria La Coast.

The True Briton (28th June 1798) said of her that, ‘Lady Almeria Carpenter was at the Haymarket Theatre on Monday last; and though she has been celebrated as a Beauty for near thirty years, she may still vie in personal attractions with the fairest Toasts of the present day.’

Lady Almeria Carpenter by Richard Cosway via Sphinx Fine Art.
Lady Almeria Carpenter by Richard Cosway via Sphinx Fine Art.

If Lady Almeria Carpenter is not the person alluded to, we do wonder if the fictitious Lady Almeria Braddock is somehow referring back to the Georgian actress George Anne Bellamy (1727-1788)? She played Almeria in Congreve’s The Mourning Bride and was a close acquaintance of one General Edward Braddock (1695-1755). She claimed to have known him from her infancy, and in her memoir ‘An Apology for the Life of Mrs. George Anne Bellamy,’ in which she mentions him often, she said of him:

This great man having been often reproached with brutality, I am induced to recite the following little accident, which evidently shews the contrary.

As we were walking in the Park one day, we heard a poor fellow was to be chastised; when I requested the General to beg off the offender. Upon his application to the general officer, whose name was Drury, he asked Braddock, How long since he had divested himself of brutality, and of the insolence of his manners? To which the other replied, “You never knew me insolent to my inferiors. It is only to such rude men as yourself, that I behave with the spirit which I think they deserve.

Petticoat - George Anne Bellamy
George Anne Bellamy

In 1718 Braddock had fought a duel, using both swords and pistols, with Colonel Waller in Hyde Park. George Anne Bellamy also knew a Mrs Elphinstone; again in her ‘Apology’ she writes:

The most attached patronesses I had, besides those of the Montgomery family, which were numerous, were the Duchess of Douglas, and the Miss Ruthvens, the eldest of whom soon married Mr. Elphinstone. The latter were partial to me to a degree of enthusiasm. Lady Ruthven likewise honoured me with her support.

Petticoat - Braddock

We can, however, give one, much earlier account of a ‘petticoat duel’ which did take place, however not with swords and pistols but with pattens (protective wooden overshoes).

Some Days ago a Female Duel was fought at Greenwich, in which one of the Combatants kill’d her Antagonist with her Patten. The Coroner’s Inquest having sate upon the Body of the Deceased, brought in their Verdict Manslaughter.

(London Journal, 28th December 1723).