The Browne - Miller Duel of 1748

Neale House
Creative Commons Licence - Mike Searle


On Thursday 21st January 1748 a duel was fought at Musicfield, on the outskirts of the village Of Kilmaine, in South Mayo between John Browne of The Neale and Robert Miller of Milford, Kilmaine.

The Parties

John Browne (5th Bart.) was the second son of John Browne of The Neale (3rd Bart.) and his wife Julia Bellew. He was married firstly to Margaret Dodwell, by whom he had five sons and one daughter and secondly to Catherine Blake, daughter of Sir Walter Blake of Menlo, Co. Galway and widow of Denis Daly of Carrownakelly, Co. Galway. He was not called Sir John Browne during his lifetime because although the baronetcy was created in 1636, it was not assumed by the Browne family until 1777, when John Browne’s second son, another John, formally became the 7th baronet. This son was elevated to the peerage in 1789, when he became the 1st Baron Kilmane. John Browne died in October in 1762.

Robert Miller was the eldest son of Robert Miller of Milford and Jane Crosdaile, third daughter and co-heiress of Thomas Crosdaile of cloghstoken, Co. Galway. He succeded his father in 1729. His funeral entry in the Kilmaine parish register records that he was aged thirty five on 14th November 1746. He was not married and had one brother, Croasdaile, who prosecuted John Browne through the courts after Robert’s death, and one sister, Mercy.

The cause

The cause of the duel was a refusal to allow John Browne to become a member of ‘The True Blue Club, of Kilmaine. This club had as one of it’s rules, a prohibition to admit anyone who had a Catholic grandfather. John Browne’s brother George (4th Bart.) was the first of the family to become a Protestant. He conformed in Hollymount Church in 1711. Robert Miller was on of the founders of the club in 1745, the clubhouse was a building on his estate in the village of Kilmaine and he was the club’s president in 1746.

On his arrival at The Neale on the evening of Wednesday 20th January 1748, Browne wrote to Miller objecting to the prohibition and had the letter delivered to Milford the next morning by James French. Miller immediately replied that the prohibition was not meant as a personal affront to Browne or anyone else but was merely a way of stopping the club growing too big. Miller wrote that the intentions of the club members were – “To spend a week each season merrily, without giving offence and [to] stand by each other”. James French had instructions from Browne to open Miller’s reply and if it was not a favourable one to inform Miller that Browne would meet him a 2 o’clock that day, beside the turlough (seasonal lake), near George Blakes castle in Killernan.

The Seconds

Robert Lindsey, a member of the Lindsey family of Turin, accompanied Robert Miller to the duel and acted as his second. James French of The Neale and Undersheriff to George Browne, High Sheriff of Co. Mayo, acted as both messenger and second for John Browne. Browne and French were accompanied to the scene of the duel by quite a number of supporters from The Neale, all armed, these included JameS. Gilmer, James Barrett, Francis French (brother of James) and James McDonaugh, a Petty Constable. These supporters stayed hidden between the scene of the duel and Killernan Castle and it was the opinion of one eyewitness, John Ham, that if Miller had harmed Browne, they would have killed both Miller and Lindsey.

The Duel

So the duel took place that afternoon, on Thursday 21St January 1748, near the turlough on Musicfield and not far from Killernan Castle, where George Blake lived. Peggy O’Neill who worked at Milford in later times and is supposed to have seen miller carried into the house after the duel, told a story how George Blake stuck his head out of the window when he saw Miller and Browne and on learning what they intended, invited the victor in to breakfast.

It is not exactly clear where the weapon used by Miller came from but, Browne certainly provided his own pistols. There was some discussion as the two parties met up and an attempt by the seconds to heal the row, was without success. After some time, Browne suddenly took a few paces and with a pistol in each hand, wheeled round and shot at Miller. Miller returned fire and Browne hit Miller in the right of the stomach with his second shot. Browne then threw his pistol at Miller and rode off. Miller managed to mount his horse and rode home. By tradition he jumped the front gate at Milford and rode up the avenue before being carried into the house.

Miller was shot by a sort of a homemade slug, rather than the conventional bullet or ball. Browne himself confessed to Robert Lindsey in a letter written later on the evening of the duel, that he had been forced to melt down some shot to make a slug. He hoped this knowledge “may give some insight to his surgeons”. Another source mentions two bullets chained together. it is certainly apparent that Browne loaded his pistols with illegal slugs. Local folklore also refers to this fact. Browne wrote three letters to Robert Lindsey at Milford in the twenty four hours following the duel. in them he expressed his sorrow for what had happened and his hope for Miller’s recovery. Miller lingered between life and death for a few days, attended by a Dr. Prendergast and then died on Tuesday 26th January at about 10 a.m.

The Aftermath

On Wednesday 27th January, at the Coroner’s inquest a verdict of wilful murder was returned and on Thursday 28th Miller was buried under the Communion Table in the Protestant Church of Kilmaine. Miller, when he was dying, ordered that his favourite horse, Hobnob, should be shot and buried with him. This appears to have been done with regard to the horse’s head, as in the mid-1850s when alterations were been made to the church in Kilmaine, Miller’s grave had to be opened and the remains removed and parts of a horse’s skull were also found. The jawbone of the horse exists to this day.

John Browne disappeared after the duel and a process of outlawry was issued against him. In January 1749 however, he surrendered himself to stand trial in the Court of King’s Bench, Dublin. The trial took place in April 1749 and there are two traditions as to the result. First that when indicted Browne tell on his knees and pleaded the king’s pardon and secondly, that James Ferris of Clogher, one of the seventy jurors, stood on the jury saying he would never find one of the name of Browne guilty. A Dublin newspaper of the day shows that Browne was found guilty of manslaughter –

“Yesterday came on the Trial of John Browne, Esq., for killing Robert Miller, Esq., in a Duel, which Trial began at eight o’clock in the morning and continued till near five, when the Jury, after a short stay, brought in their Verdict: Guilty Of Manslaughter.” (Faulkner’s Dublin Journal 18-22 April 1749).

There were celebrations in the streets of Dublin after Browne’s acquittal on the charge of murder. He wrote himself –

“Whereas a Report has been industriously and maliciously spread, that I had ordered the Bells to be rung and Bonfires to be made in several parts of this City to foment riots and public disturbances in Town on the night of My Acquittal and that I run through the streets with a drawn Sword and Pistols in my hands: This is to certify, that all the said Reports are false, scandalous and malicious in every Particular, propagated to ridicule and asperse me at this critical Time, for I did not order one bonfire to be made, nor one Bell to be rung; but on the contrary used my endeavours to prevail on the multitude to suppress their Joy; and if I have so lived in society as to have Friends in it to rejoice at My Deliverance, it cannot be imputed as a Crime to me… John Browne” (Faulkner’s Dublin Journal, 25-29 April 1749)

There is also a poem expressing the joy of the people of Connacht on the return of John Browne. It begins –

“Heavy hearted Connacht folk, dry your eyes That have wept for this year and a quarter; The head of the Brownes is happily returning to you, Coming from the clutches of his enemy”.

John Browne was punished for the manslaughter of Robert Miller as follows – “Last Saturday (May 6th) John Brown Esq. was burnt in the Hand, at the Bar of the King’s Bench and ordered into confinement for six months for killing Robert miller Esq.” (Faulkner’s Dublin Journal, 6-9 May 1749).


  1. In some instances the duel is dated 1747, the reason for this is that the Julian calendar was still in use in Ireland. under this calendar the year began on 25th March, hence the confusion. Ireland adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1751.
  2. The Clubhouse was the Post office in 1870s and is now the site of Lyons Supermarket.
  3.  Peggy O’Neill, married a Walsh and was housekeeper at Milford. she aged 124 years in January 1867.


The above article appeared in Vol. VI of the South Mayo Family Research Journal published in 1995 and is published here with their permission. They are located here in Ballinrobe on Main Street.


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