Rebecca Rioters Attack Carmarthen Workhouse

On , “Rebecca and her daughters” attacked the Carmarthen Workhouse. This was a departure from their usual attacks on tollgates, and was an unusal development for a number of other reasons.

The Rebeccaites conscripted men into their ranks by posting notices demanding all men between sixteen and seventy to meet at a particular place the morning of the attack. This also had the effect of forewarning the authorities, some of whom also turned up to try (unsuccessfully) to discourage the band.

The group, about 4,500 strong, marched on Carmarthen in broad daylight, carrying signs with protest messages and following the usual gaudily-dressed “Rebecca.” When they reached the Workhouse, they set to work destroying it.

Then the 4th Light Dragoons, a British Army unit, galloped to the scene, and the Rebeccaites scattered, with several taken prisoner.

Today I’ll reproduce some of the contemporary accounts of the attack found in Welsh newspapers.

From the Cambrian:

Rebecca at Carmarthen, &c.

In our last publication we detailed some of the depredating proceedings of the gang of organized rioters, known by the name of “Rebecca and her Daughters,” which proved that their strength, influence, and audacity, daily increased to a degree almost incredible; and we ventured to state, that were the depredators not checked by the presence of a strong military force, law and authority would soon become a mere dead letter. This week we have received so many communications confirming our anticipations, that the greatest difficulty presenting itself is to give a judicious selection from our correspondence. We shall commence by detailing Rebecca’s feats at Carmarthen, on . The authorities of Carmarthen had incurred Rebecca’s greatest displeasure ever since the destruction of the Water-street gate, in consequence of the Magistrates having issued distress-warrants against the goods of the parties who refused paying toll on the day following. We gave an account, in our last, of the unsuccessful attempt made to execute the warrant, by the pensioners and special constables, who were even compelled to assist the mob in the work of demolishing a wall belonging to Mr. Davies, a Magistrate, who had endorsed the warrant. Immediately after that audacious yet successful effort to set at defiance the civil authorities, several County and Borough Magistrates assembled at the Carmarthen Townhall, took down in writing the depositions of several of the special constables and pensioners, respecting the daring conduct of the rioters, and forwarded a copy of the depositions made to Sir James Graham, the Home Secretary, who, as will be seen by the remaining part of this account, lost no time in sending a party of the 4th Light Dragoons to Carmarthen, who arrived just in time to save the Union Workhouse from destruction. After her many successful feats in arms, “Rebecca” thought it no longer necessary to fall upon her prey in the stillness of night, or in any way to conceal her march, for soon after the Magistrates had forwarded communications to the Secretary of State, they received letters from Rebecca, informing them that she would pay Carmarthen a visit, not in the evening, midnight, or at break of day, but at noon, “Yn ngwyneb haul a llygad goleuni,” [“in the face of the sun and the eye of light”] and that she would let them “know her grievances.” Whether words or actions were to be the channels of information was not stated, but from her subsequent proceedings we infer the latter. The great majority of those who considered themselves above vulgar credulity, did not expect that this appointment would be faithfully kept, and considered it a mere rumour, to be believed by those who preferred the marvellous to the true. Yet many tradesmen had taken the precaution of closing their shops, and during there was little, if indeed any, business transacted in the town. , a party of the rioters advanced towards the town from the old Newcastle road, throgh the Water-street gate, which had been previously demolished, and marched through the principal streets in the town, for the purpose, we presume, of increasing their strength by the addition of the townspeople, who through fear or inclination would join them. The majority of those who arrived in town were mounted on horses, and several of them were dressed in women’s clothes. Our correspondent assures us, that the number of rioters, including the inhabitants of the town who joined them from fear of the consequences to themselves and families, could not be much less than 5000 persons. Their first object of attack was the Union workhouse, which was first entered, as our correspondent informs us, by “the bad boys of the town,” who had joined the Rebeccaites. They set about their mission of destruction in a very spirited manner, and commenced operations by freely throwing out of the windows feather-beds, chairs, portions of bedsteads, and whatever articles of furniture they could lay their hands upon, and they most undoubtedly thought their progress would not be stayed before the whole building would be razed to the ground. Most fortunately, just at this time, the party of the 4th Light Dragoons, stationed at Cardiff, who had been a few days before sent to Carmarthen by the Home Secretary, at the solicitation of the Magistrates, arrived, commanded by Major Parlsby, and headed by C.T. Morris, Esq., a very active Borough Magistrate. They immediately proceeded to the Workhouse, and took the rioters by surprise. The consternation of the mob, when the military surrounded the Workhouse, may well be imagined, and the Riot Act was immediately read. Many of the bye-standers, amongst whom was our correspondent, trembled for the consequences, thinking that the military would be commanded to fire, but happily the Rebeccaites made no resistance, — their valour “oozed out at their fingers’ ends,” and thinking that prudence was the best part of valour, their efforts were directed to the best method of making their escape from their now perilous position. Though several of the rioters succeeded in escaping, a great number were captured, and brought up for examination before the Magistrates, when eleven were committed to prison, and about seventy held to bail, to appear at the next assizes. The whole town was in a state of the greatest ferment and excitement when the prisoners were conveyed to the gaol. Upwards of one hundred and fifty foot soldiers were expected in the town at the time our correspondent wrote. Their billets had been engaged. Empty houses were recommended, rather than inns. Rumours prevailed that Rebecca intended visiting ihe town that night, but after such a signal defeat, it was not probable this appointment would be so faithfully kept. — So much for Rebecca’s feats at Carmarthen.

Another correspondent informs us, that, on , a party of about 30 Rebeccaites destroyed another toll-gate situate near the town of Narberth, on the Whitland trust, together with the toll-house. They accomplished their work without any interruption, and afterwards marched off triumphantly, not one of them being recognized. Some of our contemporaries assert, that the Rebeccaites are always under the command of a particular individual, and that they never set about their depredating performances excepting when headed by that individual, who some even say, is a county magistrate, and a man of fortune. Such reports may be well calculated to please those readers who are fond of the marvellous, but we would rather confine ourselves to what is really true. On , the Narberth gate was destroyed, and we also understand that the Pontyberem gate and house were burned to the ground, which prove that Rebecca may be in several places at one time, or rather that there are several Rebeccas. On , two gates in the neighbourhood of St. Clears were entirely destroyed, and on , one at Llanddarog and another near Cross Hands, on the Llandilo road. Our correspondent at Cardigan states, that Rebecca is the sole topic of conversation there, and the inhabitants tremble lest she should pay them a gate-destroving visit. The same correspondent encloses us the following excellent address to Rebecca and her Daughters, issued by that spirited advocate of civil and religious liberty, E. C. Ll. Hall, Esq., Barrister-at-Law:—

Welshmen, You have sent me a letter commanding me to appear on Wednesday night at Blaennant Lane, armed and disguised. That your object is to obtain redress for some of the grievances with which you are oppressed is evident. But this is not the way to obtain such redress. I have been, as you know, labouring for years to gain you the rights of free men, and now that I begin to see the possibility of doing some good for you, you step in and by your violence and folly hinder me in the good work; and instead of hastening the time when all your grievances will be at an end, your nonsensical extravagance gives an excuse to your oppressors for refusing to listen to your complaints; and the redress you seek is farther off than ever. Get one grievance redressed at a time. The magistrates and Trustees of the Newcastle and Carmarthen Trust have appointed Friday the 23rd instant to overhaul the grievances connected with that Trust. I have been retained on the part of the men of the Hundred of Upper Elvet to represent their interests at such meeting. Do you think I will neglect my duty? Do you think it is likely I should flinch from insisting on justice being done to the people? Or do you think that I am ignorant of the means of screwing it out from the Trustees let them be as reluctant as they will? They have not been accustomed to be brought authoritatively to account. Like young colts not broken, they must be treated at first both gently and firmly. Do you think I can countenance or join your riotous proceedings? I tell you No. And what is more, though I have fought, am fighting, and will continue to fight your battles, until I can obtain perfect justice and political regeneration for you and your children, I am and will always be the first man to keep the Queen’s peace and prevent anything like rioting or disturbance. Enough has been done already to convince the Government of the great and universal discontent which your grievances have caused among you. They have sent down soldiers to keep the peace. I therefore entreat you not to meet together on Wednesday night. I have written for the soldiers to come here and prevent your doing mischief if you should. Why will you hinder me from fighting your battles in the only way in which we can be successful, and by your violence and absurdity, which can do no good, turn me from a friend to an enemy? Your conduct is childish and absurd and not like men who have great objects to attain. Why will you exhibit folly when wisdom is required? The penalty for pulling down a Turnpike-house is Transportation for life. What good can you get by running such a risk, when you may attain everything you ought to have, in a peaceable and quiet manner, without running any danger whatever? I can only attribute it to your ignorance, which prevents you from being able to guide in its proper course the great and irresistible force which you possess. A hundredth part of your strength properly applied, will do more for you, and without risk, than a thousand times your power wasted in the absurdities you have lately indulged in. Be guided by me. Do what I tell you and you must be victorious in the end. Go each one to your own homes on Wednesday night, peaceably and quietly. On Thursday morning let each Parish choose two Delegates to come to me (as the Parishes in the Hundred of Upper Elvet have done) to make me acquainted with your grievances and then follow implicitly the advice I shall give them. If you do, peace and prosperity will be sure to return to you. If you do not, I shall leave you to enjoy the results of your ignorance and folly. Edward A. Lloyd Hall (Barrister-at-Law). Emlyn Cottage, Newcastle Emlyn, June 20th, 1843.

Welshmen, you have sent me a letter commanding me to appear on night at Blaennant Lane, armed and disguised. That your object is to obtain redress for some of the grievances with which you are oppressed is evident. But this is not the way to obtain such redress. I have been, as you know, labouring for years to gain you the rights of free men, and now that I begin to see the possibility of doing some good for you, you step in, and by your violence and folly hinder me in the good work; and instead of hastening the time when all your grievances will be at an end, your nonsensical extravagance gives an excuse to your oppressors for refusing to listen to your complaints; and the redress you seek is farther off than ever. Get one grievance redressed at a time. The Magistrates and Trustees of the Newcastle and Carmarthen Trust have appointed to overhaul the grievances connected with that Trust. I have been retained on the part of the Men of the Hundred of Upper Elvet to represent their interests at such meeting. Do you think I will neglect my duty? Do you think it is likely I should flinch from insisting on justice being done to the people? Or do you think that I am ignorant of the means of screwing it out from the Trustees let them be as reluctant as they will? They have not been accustomed to be brought authoritatively to account. Like young colts not broken, they must be treated at first both gently and firmly. Do you think any firmness is wanting in me? Why then will you do anything that will prevent my getting the bridle into their mouth? Do you think I can countenance or join your riotous proceedings? I tell you No. And what is more, though I have fought, am fighting, and will continue to fight your battles, until I can obtain perfect justice and political regeneration for you and your children, I am and will always be the first man to keep the Queen’s peace and prevent anything like rioting or disturbance. Enough has been done already to convince the Government of the great and universal discontent which your grievances have caused among you. They have sent down soldiers to keep the peace. I therefore entreat you not to meet together on . I have written for the soldiers to come here and prevent your doing mischief if you should. Why will you hinder me from fighting your battles in the only way in which we can be successful; and by your violence and absurdity, which can do no good, turn me from a friend to an enemy? Your conduct is childish and absurd and not like men who have great objects to attain. Why will you exhibit folly when wisdom is required? The penalty for pulling down a Turnpike House is Transportation for Life. What good can you get by running such a risk, when you may attain everything you ought to have, in a peaceable and quiet manner, without running any danger whatever? I can only attribute it to your ignorance, which prevents you from being able to guide in its proper course the great and irresistible force which you possess. A hundredth part of your strength properly applied, will do more for you, and without risk, than a thousand times your power wasted in the absurdities you have lately indulged in. Be guided by me. Do what I tell you and you must be victorious in the end. Go each one to your own homes on , peaceably and quietly. On let each Parish choose two Delegates to come to me (as the Parishes in the Hundred of Upper Elvet have done) to make me acquainted with your grievances and then follow implicitly the advice I shall give them. If you do, peace and prosperity will be sure to return to you. If you do not, I shall leave you to enjoy the results of your ignorance and folly.

Edw. A. Lloyd Hall

Emlyn Cottage,
Newcastle Emlyn,
.

A Correspondent, at Llandyssil, informs us, that Cardiganshire, which had been a proverbially quiet and undisturbed part of the country, has latterly become the scene of continual depredations. Last week, a little thatched cottage, in which a woman resided who received the tolls at Pontweli gate, near the village of Llandyssil, was burnt to the ground, though no fire had been lighted in it since the preceding day. The next house was with considerable difficulty saved from the devouring element. On [Henry Tobit Evans dates these attacks at ], the toll-gate at Pontweli and that at Troedyrhew-bribin, both of which are near Llandyssil, and on the road between Newcastle Emlyn and Llandovery, with the gatehouse belonging to the latter (the other having been destroyed as stated above), were entirely demolished by a crowd of disguised individuals. Our Correspondent adds, “They were so daring, and assumed such an authoritative tone, that they forcibly compelled those whom they met to join them in the work of destruction. They compelled even the toil-receiver and the special constable to strike the first blow at the gates. They carried fire-arms with them, which they discharged.” Bwlch-clawdd gate, in the parish of Llangeder, Carmarthenshire, was destroyed on [Evans does date that attack to ]. On , a letter signed “Eliza,” and dated at Conwil, was left at the house of a person residing at Llandyssil, by a person unknown to the servant, and who immediately decamped after delivering it. The writer requested, or rather commanded the individnal to whom it was addressed, under pain of a nocturnal visit, to summon all the inhabitants of Llandyssil to meet the writer at the gate of Llanvihangel-yeroth, which she intended destroying. The receiver of the letter, alarmed at the consequences of neglecting or refusing to obey the orders of his fair, though unwelcome, Correspondent, sent the crier to publish the contents of the letter throughout the village. Eliza faithfully kept her appointment, and passed through Llandyssil with a large party, who were disguised and armed with guns, which they discharged at intervals. A great number of the peaceably-disposed inhabitants of Llandyssil, struck with terror at Eliza’s threats, joined Rebecca’s children, and marched to the Llanvihangel-yeroth gate. a distance of three miles, where all were compelled to labour hard in the work of destruction, amid the cheers, howlings, and sometimes horrid screeches of Rebecca and her children.” In a short time, the gate, posts, &c., were entirely destroyed and carried away by the crowd.

We believe the above is a full and faithful statement of the proceedings of these deluded depredators during the last few days. Our correspondents express various doubts as to the legality and justice of the erection of some of the gates, but all agree in denouncing the above deluded, lawless, and irrational proceedings, which are a disgrace to our country. the company of the 73d Regiment, stationed at Swansea, under the command of Major Dawson and Mr. Lyon, marched to Carmarthen, in pursuance of an order from the Home Secretary.

We have been informed by a gentleman who travelled through Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire on , that the effect on trade and business generally, produced by the lawless conduct of the Rebeccaites, is most deplorable; not only are the inhabitants in a state of great personal fear, but trade is stagnant and dull in the extreme. He adds, the farmers, who expect by such violence to redress their grievances, must surely forget that prosperity and peace are handmaidens. How do they expect those who usually visit watering and country towns for recreation, to locate where the iron rule of might sets herself in array against law and order? Tenby is suffering greatly, and the farmers ought to recollect that their produce will remain on their hands if there are no persons to buy; the county-rates also must be enlarged, and not diminished, by the additional expenditure thus thrown upon them.

A letter from our Correspondent at Cardigan, dated on , says:— “The Rebeccaites were at their favourite work again ; — they pulled down three gates, near Newcastle-Emlyn, on the Cardigan side of the river, viz., Henafod, Adpar, and Kerry gates. It is said that they go to Kenarth , and to the Cardigan gates . Where these proceedings will end is a difficult thing to know — very likely in bloodshed and the loss of lives.”

The Cenarth gate was attacked . I’m not sure what the Correspondent means by “the Cardigan gates.”

From the Monmouthshire Merlin:

Riots at Carmarthen.

Arrival of the Military and Capture of Sixty of the Rioters.

During the early part of , the most intense excitement prevailed in all quarters of the town of Carmarthen and neighbourhood, in consequence of Rebecca having intimated to the mayor and magistrates, that she and her daughters would pay them a visit at the town-hall in the course of , for the purpose of stating the grievances of which they complain, and at the same time plainly intimating that if they did not obtain redress, “vengeance would follow,” and the workhouse should be visited. As might be expected from the lawless career which these deluded men have recently pursued, all classes were greatly alarmed and as it was currently rumoured that a military force was expected in town (the posse comitatus and pensioners have been hitherto totally useless), consequences of a very painful description were fearfully anticipated.

In the course of , the borough authorities held several consultations with the county magistrates, and every precautionary measure which was deemed necessary for the safety of the town, and the protection of property were immediately had recourse to. Communications having been despatched to Sir James Graham, the Home Secretary, the magistrates were informed that a military force sufficient to meet the exigencies of the case would be sent to their assistance. At , the special constables, with the police and the pensioners, assembled at the Guildhall, when they were met by the mayor. At this time the streets were thronged with anxious groups of the inhabitants endeavouring to obiain information as to the movements and measures of the Rebeccaites. By business was completed suspended, and the immediate neighbourhood of the Guild-hall became densely crowded with people anxious to see the events of the day, while the more timid were seen wending their way with anxious look to the Castle-hill, to watch the advance of the military, on whom they felt the safety of the town wholly depended.

, at last arrived, and with it the intelligence that the rioters were approaching the town by the old Newcastle road. This was immediately confirmed by the appearance of the procession, headed by a band of music, and bearing a white banner, with this inscription, “Cyfiawnder yr ydym yn ymofyn,” (Justice we do require), passing through Water-street gate, thence they proceeded up Catherine-street, round the Monument, down Lammas-street, Blue-street, over the Quay, Spilman-street, round St. Peter’s Church, and down King-street, the Cross, and Guildhall Square. Our own correspondent says, “The procession, we should say, numbered above one thousand persons, the majority of whom were on horseback, and had females respectably dressed in their ranks.” Other communications now before us vary considerably in the details. One estimates the procession at 2000, while another goes as high as 4000. On reaching Guildhall-square, the Rebeccaites immediately directed their course towards the Union Workhouse, which is situated a short distance from it. When they reached this point, they knocked at the door of the lodge, rang the porter’s bell, and demanded immediate admittance. This demand not being complied with, they forced their way within the outer enclosure by hundreds, entered the Workhouse, proceeded up stairs, and commenced throwing out the beds and bed clothing fiom the windows, at the same time demanding the instantaneous release of the inmates.

While this scene of confusion was proceeding, a party of the 4th Light Dragoons, under the command ot Major Parlby, arrived from Cardiff, and had just reached Spilman-street, when the magistrates were informed that the mob had taken possession of the Workhouse, and were going to rase it to the ground, whereupon Mr. Thomas Charles Morris, one of the borough magistrates, headed the military, and proceeded to the spot. They immediately surrounded the wall to cut off the escape of those within, while a party entered to secure the rioters. Notwithstanding the precautions of the military, in the confusion numbers contrived to elude their grasp by scaling the walls and beating a retreat as fast as their limbs could carry them. Indeed this part of the day’s proceedings is inexpressibly ludicrous. The courage of these doughty heroes, which has hitherto animated them to the pitch of valour when only opposed by the nerveless efforts of a supine magistracy and a few inoffensive constables, like Bob Acre’s “pluck,” suddenly oozed out before a handful of well-disciplined soldiers; in fact, the route was as signal and instantaneous as the celebrated defeat of the local amateur warriors now almost as famous in Cambrian story as the retreat of the ten thousand. The soldiers however, succeeded in taking upwards of sixty prisoners.

A meeting of the borough and county magistrates was immediately held on the spot, and the depositions of several witnesses taken down. Owing to the shortness of time which has elapsed we regret that we have been unable to obtain copies of these important documents. The magistrates were engaged in the examination till , when, we understand, they committed six persons to the county gaol, and three to the borough prison, all to take their trial at the ensuing assizes; one man was remanded and fifty-two were held to bail. Major Pailby and his party deserve the greatest credit for the prompt and soldier-like manner in which they acted on this occasion.

Some idea of the despatch with which the troop hastened to the scene of the disturbance, may be formed from a fact stated to us by an eye witness — that one of the troop horses immediately dropped down dead from sheer exhaustion, on entering the yard of the Workhouse. Indeed, had it not been for their very timely arrival and assistance, the Carmarthen Workhouse would have been totally destroyed and it is hard to say if even private property would have escaped unscathed had these lawless men been allowed to retain the mastery of the town for an hour or two longer.

The capture of so many of Rebecca’s gang, will no doubt tend to lead to the conviction of the leader or leaders, who have so long bid defiance to the law. The want of systematic procedure and precaution in avoiding a surprise by the military, would induce us to think that Rebecca herself was not present at the riot on . The skill, and above all the celerity, with which her followers have hitherto conducted their proceedings, is abundant evidence that she is an able tactitian. Such a captain would have conducted the expedition of in very different style. There are strange rumours afloat in regard to the identity of this now celebrated leader. It is now beyond doubt that he is a gentleman of fortune, and moreover a magistrate of a neighbouiing county. His name we have even heard, but we do not at present wish to make any hazardous supposition on the subject, as it is extremely probable we shall be enabled to make some important disclosures to the public by .

We have been favoured with the perusal of a letter (dated ) from a gentleman in Carmarthen, to a correspondent in Swansea, in which he states — “It is rumoured that Rebecca will visit the town with a thousand armed men but we do not expect anything, as all is now quiet. The magistrates are gone home, and the soldiers to their quarters.” — Swansea Journal.

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