Photo from the play “The Last Deadman” based on The Last Duel from Barndoor Productions in Perth, Ontario
Valentine’s Day falls on the 14th of February, so I thought I would re-tell a local story of those who expressed their undying love for each other. The tale I am about to tell you still gives me chills up and down my spine, because the last fatal duel in Canada which occurred in 1833 in Perth, was a result of this romantic tale. The love affair began with many lonely poems John Wilson sent to Elizabeth Hughes in 1833, even though the scoundrel was already engaged to another woman at the time.
Unfortunately, this love story went out of control with more twists and turns than a modern day soap opera. The official story says the two men from Perth were both in love with Miss Hughes at the same time. John Wilson and Robert Lyon were both young, handsome and smart. They were also law students interning under prestigious, prominent Perth lawyers. Wilson, age 20, was a Law Clerk for Mr. James Boulton, and Lyon, age 22, was working at Mr. Radenhurst’s office.
Both Mr.Wilson and Mr. Lyon were sent to Bytown on business and while there, Wilson overheard Lyon speak contemptuously of Miss Elizabeth Hughes. Miss Hughes, was a governess in a local school kept by Mrs. Ackland, with whom she had travelled with from England. According to idle gossip, Elizabeth apparently let certain gentlemen “have the milk for free, without buying the cow”. Of course, we have no idea if this hearsay is true, but she was indeed noted many times as being Lyon’s lover.
Meanwhile, still in Bytown, Wilson was furious with Lyon, and wrote a letter to the wife of his employer, Mrs. Boulton. Of course, she just happened to mention the “dirty laundry” about Miss Hughes to several people in town. The buzz about Miss Hughes’s character eventually circulated around Perth, and when Elizabeth found out she was furious. The day Lyon returned from his business trip, Elizabeth “terminated his dance card” immediately.
Back in those days people thought nothing of hurling insults, hauling out swords, or even carrying pistols in order to prove a point in the name of love. Some say Henri LaLievre, a friend of Lyon, had feelings for Miss Hughes, but that she didn’t want to have anything to do with him. Of course LaLievre blamed this on John Wilson. Another rumour was that Robert Lyon was sweet on Miss Hughes, but after she showed him the door, he too immediately blamed Wilson.
Meanwhile back in downtown Perth, there was a vicious round of “he said” “she said” going on. In order to prove a point, the two agreed that the only way to settle the matter was over pistols at dawn.
Rumour has it that the duel between Lyon and Wilson was planned after spending an evening consuming a few too many alcoholic beverages. Or, maybe it was thought of after Lyon met Wilson in front of the Perth Court House and slapped his face. But, when the morning of the duel was upon them, both men were less enthused about the idea than they had been in the midst of their heated argument from a few nights before. The love of a lady be damned — these two men had been longtime companions, and now they were going to meet and fire shots at each other.
At 6 am on June 13th, 1833, both Lyon and Wilson went to the clearing now known as The Last Duel Park in Perth, Ontario. The duel was fought standing sixty feet apart with Robert Lyon ending up the clear loser after the second attempt prompted by their friend LeLievre. Lyon’s wounded body was carried back to the foyer at Inge Va on Craig Street where he died from his wounds. He was later buried in the Last Duel Cemetery, where his tombstone still stands today. The pistol set from the fatal duel can still be seen at Matheson House – The Perth Museum .
It was said that Lyon’s friend Le Lievre fled, but Wilson and his second, Samuel Robertson gave themselves up and were thrown into the Perth gaol until the assizes at Brockville. Wilson was shut away in the Perth jail for three months until his case could be heard in the courts of Brockville. He acted as his own lawyer, and his passionate defense resulted in his acquittal. Wilson made the jury see how desperate and lonely he was to commit such a crime of passion.
Upon his release, he went immediately to the house of his fiance Joanna Lees. There I would like to think that Mum, Dad, and Joanna quoted a few Taylor Swift lyrics to Wilson in the vein of: “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”.
With Joanna Lees now out of the picture, Wilson eventually married Elizabeth Hughes two years later, but alas, it was not a happy union. They had three children together and Wilson became a judge and a member of Parliament until he died in 1869.
A word to the wise is that Valentines Day is no different than any other day of your life because love shouldn’t be as complicated as it is. I bet these three historical figures meant to behave, but somehow there were just too many other options. Or were there?
Photo from Perth Remembered
DID YOU KNOW
Last Duel Park, Perth will be the site of Outlandish Canada’s planned Battle of Culloden reenactment in the afternoon on Sunday July 31, 2016.
“The Park owes its name to infamous last fatal and most publicized duel to take place in Canada where, in 1833, law students Robert Lyon and John Wilson duelled over the honour of Miss Elizabeth Hughes.
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