His Duel With Captain D'esterre
When O'Connell found the Government determined to strain the Convention
Act to the utmost, and not permit the existence of any delegated
committee for the management of Catholic affairs, he issued circulars to
a number of gentlemen to meet him, as individuals, in Capel-street. From
that circular arose the Catholic Association.
It was at one of the early meetings of this body that he called the
nctionaries of Dublin, a beggarly Corporation. He had
become exceedingly obnoxious to the Orange party. He was an object of
intense hatred within the precincts of the Castle. To get rid of such a
man would be an invaluable service. The insult he had put on the
immaculate and wealthy Corporation, offered too inviting an
opportunity to be passed over. A champion of Ascendancy appeared in the
person of Captain D'Esterre.
On the 1st of February, 1815, nearly eleven days after the insult was
received, and eight days after explanation was demanded and refused,
this misled gentleman was advised to send a message. He addressed a
letter in the following words:--
Sir--Carrick's Paper, of the 23rd instant, in its Report of the
Debates of a Meeting of the Catholic Gentlemen, on the subject of a
Petition, states that you applied the appellation of Beggarly, to the
Corporation of this City, calling it a beggarly Corporation; and,
therefore, as a member of that body, and feeling how painful such is, I
beg leave to inquire whether you really used or expressed yourself in
I feel the more justified in calling on you on this occasion, as such
language was not warranted or provoked by any thing on the part of the
Corporation; neither was it consistent with the subject of your Debate,
or the deportment of the other Catholic gentlemen, who were present;
and, though I view it so inconsistent in every respect, I am in hopes
the Editor is under error, not you.
I have further to request your reply in the course of the evening--and
remain, Sir, your obedient servant,
J. N. D'ESTERRE,
11 Bachelor's-walk, 26th Jan. 1815.
To Counsellor O'Connell, Merrion-square.
* * * * *
Sir--In reply to your letter of yesterday, and without either admitting
or disclaiming the expression respecting the Corporation of Dublin, in
the print to which you allude, I deem it right to inform you, that, from
the calumnious manner in which the religion and character of the
Catholics of Ireland are treated in that body, no terms attributed to
me, however reproachful, can exceed the contemptuous feelings I
entertain for that body in its corporate capacity--although, doubtless,
it contains many valuable persons, whose conduct, as individuals (I
lament), must necessarily be confounded in the acts of the general body.
I have only to add, that this Letter must dose our Correspondence on
this subject.--I am, &c., &c.,
Merrion-square, January 27, 1815.
To J. N. D'Esterre, Esq.,
11 Bachelors-walk, Dublin.
Mr. D'Esterre was advised to persist in the correspondence, and
addressed another letter (but directed in a different hand-writing), to
Mr. O'Connell. It was returned to him by Mr. James O'Connell, inclosed
in a letter couched in the following terms:--
Sir--From the tenor of your letter of yesterday, my brother did not
expect that your next communication would have been made in writing.
He directed me to open his letters in his absence; your last letter,
bearing a different address from the former one, was opened by me; but
upon perceiving the name subscribed, I have declined to read it; and by
his directions I return it to you inclosed, and unread.--I am, sir,
your obedient servant,
Merrion-square, Friday Evening.
To J. N. D'Esterre, Esq.,
After a number of insulting letters from D'Esterre, his long-expected
hostile message arrived.
Major M'Namara, of Doolen, having been commissioned by O'Connell,
proceeded to Sir Edward Stanley, who acted as the friend of D'Esterre,
to arrange the meeting. The hour appointed was three o'clock on
Wednesday; the place, Bishop's Court Demesne, Lord Ponsonby's seat, in
the county Kildare, thirteen miles distant from Dublin.
It was proposed by him that the mode of fighting should be after the
following fashion:--That both should be handed a brace of pistols;
reserve their shots until the signal, and then fire when they pleased;
advancing or retiring after each shot, as they thought proper. Major
M'Namara would not assent to this mode of fighting, without first
consulting O'Connell and his friends. O'Connell at once directed him to
accept the terms. Major M'Namara then returned to Sir Edward Stanley,
and finally arranged the meeting. The parties proceeded to take their
ground, and were handed a brace of pistols each. The signal was given.
Both reserved their fire for some moments. D'Esterre first changed his
position, moving a pace towards the left hand, and then stepped towards
O'Connell. His object was to induce him to fire, more or less, at
random. He lifted his pistol, as if about to fire. O'Connell instantly
presented, pulled the trigger, and the unfortunate man fell.
In close attendance on O'Connell, at the ground, were Major M'Namara,
Nicholas Purcell O'Gorman, and Richard Nugent Bennett, as seconds and
friends; for all may be said to have acted in the double capacity.
It was reported in Dublin that O'Connell was shot; and a party of
dragoons were despatched from Dublin, for the protection of D'Esterre.
On their way the officer by whom they were commanded met, on its return,
the carriage containing O'Connell and his brother. The officer called on
the postilion to stop; whereupon Mr. James O'Connell pulled down the
window. The officer, addressing him, asked if they had been present at
the duel, to which he replied in the affirmative. The officer then said,
Is it true Mr. O'Connell has been shot? Mr. James O'Connell replied,
No; the reverse is the fact; Mr. D'Esterre has unfortunately fallen.
The announcement had a visible effect upon the military; they were not
prepared for the intelligence; and something like consternation was
exhibited. The carriage was allowed to proceed, the military party being
evidently not aware who were its occupants.
When D'Esterre fell the spectators present could not refrain from giving
expression to their excited feelings; they actually shouted; and a young
collegian who was present, and who became a Protestant clergyman, was so
carried away by the general feeling, as to fling up his hat in the air,
and shout, Hurra for O'Connell!
Very different was the conduct of the three occupants of O'Connell's
carriage. They displayed no exultation. The moment D'Esterre fell they
went off; and though the place of meeting was near Naas, they were close
to Dublin before a single word was exchanged between them. At last
O'Connell broke the silence, saying, I fear he is dead, he fell so
suddenly. Where do you think he was hit? In the head, I think, said
his medical friend. That cannot be--I aimed low; the ball must have
entered near the thigh. This will be considered a remarkable
observation when, as was subsequently found, the wound was inflicted in
the part mentioned by O'Connell. Being one of the surest shots that ever
fired a pistol, he could have hit his antagonist where he pleased. But
his object was merely, in self-defence, to wound him in no mortal part,
and he aimed low with that intention.
The excitement in Dublin, when the result was known, cannot be
described; and, indeed, is scarcely credited by those who were not then
in the metropolis. Over seven hundred gentlemen left their cards at
O'Connell's the day after the occurrence.
Great commiseration was felt for D'Esterre's family, but it was
considered that he himself lost his life foolishly. It may be added that
he was an officer in the navy, and an eccentric character. He at one
time played off rather a serious joke upon his friends, who resided
near Cork. He wrote to them from aboard that he was sentenced to be
hanged for mutiny, and implored of them to use every interest to save
him. Lord Shannon interested himself in the affair, and the greatest
trouble was taken to obtain a pardon. But it turned out to be a hoax
practised by D'Esterre, when under the influence of the Jolly God.
Knowing his character, many even of opposite politics, notwithstanding
the party spirit that then prevailed, regretted the issue the
unfortunate man provoked.