Details from the First Big Trial of Rebeccaites

The preliminary hearing in the first big Rebeccaite criminal trial had its second day on . Here’s how The Cambrian covered it:

Rhydypandy Gate.

 — The Magistrates entered this morning into the case of Matthew Morgan and Henry Morgan, who were charged with having formed a part of the mob who had destroyed, on , the above toll-bar, which was in the parish of Llangafelach. There was an impression prevalent, that the investigation into the Rebecca riots had closed on , the hall, consequently, was not as full at the commencement of the proceedings as on .

Mr. Maule stated the charge upon which he intended proceeding against the defendants, which was founded upon the same statute as that against the four defendants on .

John Jones was then sworn, and deposed as follows:– I know Henry and Matthew Morgan, and see them now in Court. Henry Morgan resides with his father, at Cwmcillau-bach, and Matthew Morgan resides at Tymawr. Tymawr is three or four fields distant from Cwmcillau. I know the Rhydypandy turnpike-gate, in the parish of Llangyfelach. I know the night on which the Rhydypandy-gate was broken down — it was on . I saw both Matthew and Henry Morgan on that night; I saw Henry first; that was at . I spoke to him. I asked him if he was going to break the gate — I did not name the gate, it was reported that Rhydypandy-gate was to be broken. On my asking him the question, he (Henry) replied, that “he was going to do like the rest.” I had my coat turned on that occasion. I had turned my coat just before I spoke to him. Henry was dressed in a bedgown, and he had a kind of cap on his head, and a pickaxe in his hand. We went together across three or four fields, and arrived on the high road. I then stood on the road, and Henry went to the house of his brother Matthew. He came out of the house, in three to five minutes, accompanied by Matthew. The latter was dressed in a bedgown, he also had a cap on his head, and had a hatchet in his hand. Henry, Matthew and myself, went down the road, until a place called Tri Onen (Three Ashes), where there are four cross-roads. We then went together to Coed-caebryn maen; there were a number of people there — perhaps about forty; they were all men, and the greater part dressed either in bedgowns or white shirts. There was one person there who attracted my attention more than others — they called him “Becca,” and “Mother.” He was occasionally on foot, but generally on horseback. When first I saw him he was walking about, whispering to the different men. He rode a while horse, was dressed in a white shirt, and had something black over his face, and had an old bonnet on his head. I did not recognise that man, but suspected him. The greater portion of the people had some instruments in their hands — some had guns, some pickaxes, cross-saws, &c. They remained at Coed caebryn-maen for about half an hour, and went off in a body towards Rhydypandy-gate. The man on horse-back went before them and before leaving, he said, “Come, let us go now, it is time.” He spoke in Welsh and imitated a woman’s voice, as near as he could. In obedience to Becca’s orders, the party fired about twenty shots on the road, and the numbers increased as they proceeded. I heard the man calling out on the road, “Lucy,” “Mary,” “Nanny,” and every name. They arrived at the gate , and then destroyed it. Becca gave command. They broke it up with cross and hand-saws. Four or five shots were fired during the time the gate was being destroyed, which was done in ten minutes or a quarter of an hour. I saw Matthew and Henry Morgan during that time. Henry Morgan drew off the board containing the terms of the gate, from the pine-end of the house. I heard them break it, but was not on the spot. They then returned in a body to Coed caebryn-maen. I did not observe the two Morgans, but I believe they all went. I had also a cap on my head. Henry Morgan had a red mark on his face.

Cross examined by Mr. Walters:— I never built a Tynôs on a mountain. I dug the foundation of a house near Darren-fawr; that was in the last Spring. I was never in Cwmcillau-house since that time. I believe Morgan Morgan had a right of common over Darren-fawr, like others. I asked him leave to build a house, and he said, I had better seek a place on some freeholder’s land. I believe he said he had no right to give me leave, as he was only a commoner. Morgan, at last, gave me leave. Mr. Jenkins, of Cynhordy, afterwards went round the neighbourhood, and asked several persons to go with him to destroy what I had done. The two defendants went with them. I never said I would injure the defendants, when I had an opportunity; I never said so either to John Williams, of Penyfidy, or to his wife. I told Mr. Jenkins, of Cynhordy, and the others, that perhaps they might want a house themselves. They were about six in all. I never told them that they would repent of what they had done. On , I had been working at Gellywran issa; I was labouring on the farm. I went there about six, and left at nine o’clock. There is about a mile between Gellywran and my house. I returned home about . I went across the fields, beyond Cwmcillau, from Gellywran. I knew they were going to destroy the gate that night. I remained near Cwmcillau for a quarter of an hour, when I saw Henry Morgan. I had walked direct from Gellywran to the place where I met Henry — it is about an hour’s walk. I believe it was about when I met Henry. It might have been later than nine when I left Gellywran. I turned my coat in the field beyond Cwmcillau house; it was in that field I overtook Henry. It was daybreak when I went home. There was no person there but my wife and children. I did not see Morgan Pugh on that night; I might have seen him in the morning of that day. I do not remember, nor do I deny, telling Morgan Pugh I did not get up that morning, as I was tired, having been mowing hay. I have frequently spoken to both defendants, after the taking down of my work on the Common. I had frequently spoken to Matthew, in going and returning from chapel. The bedgown worn by Henry Morgan was something grey; the police found 12 of them in Matthew’s house; Matthew wore a similar one.

Mr. Walters then called Morgan Pugh, on behalf of the prisoners:— I am a farmer, residing at Llangyfelach. John Jones, the last witness, lives in a barn belonging to me. On , I saw John Jones returning to bed. When I saw him on , in bed, he asked me what time it was? He said he had not got out of bed because he was tired, after having been mowing. I went into the barn, to see if John Jones had gone to mow hay on that morning. I thought he was engaged to go and mow for Williams of Penyfidy.

Re-examined:— I was frequently in the habit of turning to the barn, to see if Jones was there. I would not have gone to the barn had I not seen the door open. I had not heard that the gate was to be destroyed. I got up early that morning, to prevent a calf which was weaning going to suck the cow. I knew that the calf would suck as soon as he could get up. (Laughter). I was in good time to prevent him on that morning. I have a wife and a son. My son was not out during that night.

Mr. John Williams, of Penyfify, was examined, and stated, that, after the foundation on Darron-fawr had been destroyed, Jones said he would injure Morgan, of Cwmcillau, or his children. He said he would not care to run the risk of his life by doing so.

Cross-examined:– John Jones and myself were always friends. This conversation took place in , in my own house. — The witness went through a very long cross-examination, but nothing material was elicited.

The defendants were then committed for trial at the next Assizes. — The Magistrates accepted bail to the same amount as that on which they had been previously liberated.

Rebecca at Swansea.

Early on morning, it was generally rumoured in this town that the Tycoch gate, on the other side of the Swansea river, had been destroyed at about , having been cut down with saws and other implements, and afterwards burnt on a lime kiln, The rumour, at first, excited considerable surprise, especially as the circumstances which gave rise to it had occurred so soon after the long investigation before the Magistrates, on , which terminated in the committal of the parties charged; but, on enquiry, what was a mere rumour soon turned out to be a stubborn fact. In spite of the number of policemen, both rural and borough, at present sojourning in town — in spite of the numbers of military, including companies of the 73d and 75th Regiments, together with between forty and fifty Light Dragoons, the Tycoch gate — half a mile distant from the town of Swansea, was levelled to the ground unobserved, excepting by the toll-receiver who, as will appear from the following examination, recognized one out of the thirty or forty rioters who took part in the demolition of the gate. On evening, the Mayor, and several persons in authority, went over the river for the purpose of viewing the wreck of the gate, and of obtaining some information relative to the perpetrators of the outrage, one of whom had committed a most cowardly and disgraceful assault upon Margaret Arnold, the toll-receiver. On , after the conclusion of the investigation relative to the Rhydypandy gate, a collier, named David Lewis, who had been identified by the toll-receiver, as the person who bad assaulted her, was brought before the Magistrates, who had adjourned from the Hall to the Petty Sessions-room. Reporters were admitted from the commencement of the examination, and the public generally shortly afterwards.

Margaret Arnold, having been sworn, stated that she was a singlewoman, and collected tolls at Tycoch gate, in the parish of Llausamlet, about half a mile distant from Swansea. I lived in the house near the gate. When in bed about , I was disturbed by a noise outside the house. Several heavy blows were given the door of the house, and the shutters, the latter of which together with the windows had been smashed. When I came out of bed and opened the door, a man came from the turnpike towards me. He had an iron bar in his hand, with which he gave me a severe blow on the arm. I had held up my arm for the purpose of avoiding receiving the blow on any other part. The prisoner, David Lewis, is the man who struck me. He then struck the bar through the door, which I then closed and ran into the house. He struck at the door repeatedly afterwards until it was broken to pieces. I again went to the door, and observed the prisoner break down the toll-board which was fastened to the wall. There were about thirty or more men scattered here and there about the house when I went to the door. I screamed out “murder” as loud as I could, upon which they all fled in various directions. They appeared to be working-men, colliers, &c., and were not disguised. One of the party rode a dark-coloured horse, which appeared to be a cart-horse. In leaving he rode on before them. The gate appeared to have been cut down with saws. It was all right at when I retired to bed. There was a gate and a bar by the house, one leading to Foxhole and the other to Danygraig. The gate was placed on the lime-kiln after it had been cut down. I well knew the prisoner before. He had passed through the gate on with a cart. He rose his hand in passing, which intimated that he had no money about him, but would pay again. I have frequently trusted him before, and he has always paid me.

Mr. Emery, who stated that be was a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, stated that he had examined the complainant’s person, and found a wound about two inches in length, and half an inch deep, on the fore-arm. It might have been produced by a blunt instrument.

Mr. Melvin, who now came to the room, said he appeared on behalf of the prisoner, and asked permission to cross-examine the first witness. The Magistrates granted the request, at the same time intimating that it was a mere favour, being quite irregular after her evidence had closed.

In her cross-examination she said:— It was nearly when she saw the prisoner at the gate. It was rather dark, but light enough for her to see his features, and recognize him. She knew him well. He is rather lame.

Inspector Rees corroborated the witness’s evidence respecting the state of the gate and house.

Mr. Melvin then addressed the Bench, and offered to produce witnesses who could prove that the prisoner was in bed . The Magistrates declined hearing evidence to prove an alibi, while it was not intended to convict summarily, but send the case before another tribunal. The prisoner was then committed for trial at the next Assizes, on a charge of felony. The Magistrates declined accepting bail for the prisoner’s appearance at the Assizes. He was consequently committed to the House of Correction.

(The Monmouthshire Merlin also had a substantially similar account (and summary) of the examination of Arnold. It added: “we are given to understand, several attempts have been made by his friends to get him bailed out, but without success.” They also covered the earlier examination.)

Rebecca at Llanelly.

About , the inhabitants of Llanelly were alarmed by the nocturnal depredators who assume the above name; they were numerous on the occasion, and before they left the town they succeeded in destroying the Furnace gate, which is on the road leading from Llanelly to Carmarthen, and burnt the toll-house to the ground. The Sandy gate, on the mail road leading to Pembrey was also wholly demolished. We understand that the party broke to pieces a private gate belonging to D. Lewis, Esq., of Stradey.

During the last week nine gates and several toll-houses have been demolished in the neighbourhoods of Llandovery and Lampeter.

It appears that the impunity with which Rebecca and ber Daughters have hitherto carried on their system of destruction against toll gates in Carmarthenshire and the neighboring counties, has emboldened some lawless ruffians to destroy, by night, the property of any person whom they think to be opposed to their destructive proceedings. On , some mischievous persons cut down and destroyed some scores of young trees growing in the plantation of. Mr. Evans, of Tymain, in the parish of Llangeler. On , Mr. Howel Davies, of Conwil, was alarmed by the reflection of a bright light in his bedroom window. On looking out he observed a rick of old hay, and two stacks of straw intended for thatch, on fire in his haggard. An alarm was given, and nearly all the inhabitants hastened to the spot. As there was a good supply of water near the place, the flames from the hay were soon subdued, but the stacks of straw were entirely consumed.

On , a neat little house, lately built at Cwmdyad, near Conwil, Carmarthenshire, was in a short time completely reduced to ruins, by a set of lawless ruffians, who were disguised as usual. Several of them were furnished with fire-arms, which they frequently discharged, to the great terror of the neighbourhood, and of those who travelled along the road. Some persons who had attended the Carmarthen market, and had to go home that way, were detained for some time, until the Rebeccaites had completed their work of destruction, when they disappeared, and no man can give an account whither they went. It is believed, that what excited Rebecca’s vengeance against this house was, that it was intended to be a gate-house, at which a toll-gate was proposed to be erected, instead of that lately destroyed at Nantyclawdd.

The government of course played its “why didn’t you just address your grievances through proper channels” card (the same one they’re harping on so tediously in the Edward Snowden case today). But some did try calling their bluff. From the Monmouthshire Merlin:

Turnpike Tolls.

On , a written complaint was made to the Magistrates of Swansea, by a great number of persons who obtain a livelihood by hauling coal for supplying the town, charging Mr. Bullen, the farmer of the tolls for the Swansea district with the exaction of illegal tolls. The magistrates received the complaint with the greatest cordiality and kindness, and were glad to find that they had brought forward their complaint in a peaceable and lawful manner, and assured the complainants that it should have immediate attention. Mr. Bullen was requested to attend, which he readily did, and Mr. Wm. Walters appeared for the complainants. The complaint was, that the scale of tolls which Mr. Bullen had rented of the trustees, authorised him to take three half-pence only for every one-horse cart of coal, which sum was also stated on the painted toll-board, as being the charge; notwithstanding that he had for more than a year past exacted a toll of three pence for every horse drawing coal. Mr. Bullen, on being called upon for his answer to this charge, referred to an Act of Parliament, and contended that the trustees had no power to reduce the toll to three half-pence; that therefore he had a right to demand the utmost toll allowed by the Act, namely three-pence, but admitted that the scale of tolls let to him, and the toll-board only authorised the demand of three half-pence. The magistrates referred to Act 4 Geo. Ⅳ c. 95, whereby it is directed that any toll-collector, exacting a greater toll than allowed by any order or resolution of the trustees, was liable to a penalty of £5. They signified their unanimous opinion that he had been guilty of an illegal exaction, and that they were prepared to fine him when the case was ready for adjudication. The hearing of this case was resumed on and the magistrates unanimously convicted Mr. Bullen in the full penalty of £5. We hope this decision will give the public confidence in the laws, and induce all persons to bring their grievances before the magistrates, who have thus shown themselves ready to give redress.

Funny how a little direct action can start making the wheels of justice turn, i’n’ it?

Another note in the same issue read:

We are given to understand that Vaughan, landlord of the Pontardulais Inn, to whom the case of arms recently alluded to, was directed, can prove that the guns (fowling pieces) were ordered for sporting by farmers in his neighbourhood, from a commercial traveller who stopped at Pontardulais Inn: in fact, that the farmers and the commercial travellers will be forthcoming in due time. We hope so, for the credit of that part of the county of Glamorgan.

It appears that the eyes of the magistrates of Carmarthenshire are at length opened to the gross injustice so long practised on the poor farmers, many of whom were obliged to leave their land almost unmanured, in consequence of the excessive toll plunder. In one district nine gates levelled by “Becca,” are not to be restored.

A note in an issue of the Monmouthshire Merlin datelined reads:

The prominent report in town is, that a proclamation will shortly be issued, offering a reward of £300 for such evidence as will lead to the conviction of any person or persons engaged in the destruction of toll gates in this county, and that 30 warrants are being prepared for the apprehension of persons against whom there is private information of being participators in the toll-gate crusade.

The investigation of charges against persons for breaking down other toll gates and houses in this county, took place at the Assize Court on . Mr. Maule conducted the prosecution.

The Spectator also covered the opening of the trial, and also reprinted excerpts from an analysis in the Times that gives a good summary of some of the injustices the Rebeccaites were battling against:

The prisoners charged with the destruction of the Belgoed gate were finally examined before the Magistrates at Swansea, on , and committed for trial. The only witness against them was John Jones, a rioter turned informer; who was declared unworthy of credit by witnesses adduced for the defence; his own brother contradicting part of his evidence. Among the committed prisoners, is Mr. G. Vaughan, or Pontardulais; to whom a package, containing twelve fowling-pieces, a brace of pistols, bullet-mould, and percussion-caps, had been addressed, but intercepted at Swansea. A letter, written after Mr. Vaughan’s arrest, countermanding the order for the arms, had also been intercepted.

At a meeting of the Kidwelly Road Trust, on , it was determined to abandon thirteen out of fifteen tolls within the trust.

The correspondent of the Times, continuing his researches into the cause of the Rebecca riots, rather inculpates certain Dissenting ministers–

I was rather surprised to learn during my inquiries, that the text I sent to you some time ago, the 24th chapter of Genesis and 60th verse, on which the Rebeccaites are said to found their proceedings, has frequently been preached from in the Baptist, Independent, and Dissenting chapels, and that the preachers have advised the people to their outrageous proceedings. The Wesleyan Methodist preachers, on the contrary, have pursued an opposite course, and have urged the people not to break the law. This sect, however, in Wales, is not by far so numerous as the various sects of Dissenters. I have been informed that Mr. Chambers, a Magistrate of Llanelly, and a gentleman of considerable influence, sent an address round to all the Dissenting Ministers, in Welsh and in English, urging them to read it to their congregations, and exhort them to refrain from these outrages; but these Dissenting ministers of peace, as I have heard, without an exception, refused to do this, stating as their excuse that they durst not do it. This fact exhibits in strong colours one of the worst features of a voluntary system of religion.

He has “wormed out what is at the root of the toll-bar grievances”: every fresh inquiry shows the abuses to be worse–

It happens that in this country the genus of pettifogging and jobbing attornies is pretty numerous. Wales, as everybody conversant with a London attorney’s office, or with the business which passes through a barrister’s or pleader’s chambers, well knows, is notorious for its spirit of litigation; which is, no doubt, chiefly owing to the chevaliers d’industrie who live by the law. These “gentlemen,” when lawsuits were scarce, often found it a splendid “spec” to get up a new road. There were travelling-expenses, the “costs” of getting a private act passed through both Houses of Parliament, and the prospect of getting the appointment of “clerk to the trust” in futuro: and accordingly, there are, as I informed you in a former letter, no less than fourteen distinct trusts in this county; and, of course, fourteen “clerks” and fourteen surveyors of the roads, all receiving heavy salaries — in fact, fourteen different managements to be paid out of the tolls. And now for the way in which this system works. When a new road is beat up in the way I have described, a few gentry in the neighbourhood subscribe a few hundred pounds; then the private act of Parliament is obtained, including a certain district, and giving power to the trustees to take under their management such roads as exist, and which have been already made by the farmers. So far all goes on swimmingly. The new road is begun, and the trustees are short of cash. Toll-gates are put on these farmers’ roads, where they never before existed; but still money must be borrowed to go on with. Then comes another little bit of jobbery — the quid pro quo. The trustees have money to lend, are gentlemen of the neighbourhood — magistrates: who so fitting to lend money to the trusts as these gentlemen? They accordingly advance money, taking securities called “tallies,” which are, in fact, bonds for securing the repayment to them of their principal out of the tolls, and interest at 5 per cent. But the new road, often not being much needed, is not a very paying road: there is not much traffic upon it; and it is found, that though the toll-bars on the trust are as numerous as the trustees dare make them, yet the tolls taken will do little more than pay the 5 per cent interest secured by the tallies, and the salaries of the “clerk” and “surveyor”; and then these gentlemen trustees come “down upon” the farmers under the provisions of the General Turnpike Act, and by indictment compel them to repair in many cases their own roads, which they themselves originally made, and also every day extract from them a grievous toll, nominally to repair the roads, in reality to pay 5 per cent to a neighbouring magistrate on an investment of his money. But this is not all: from being so numerous, these trusts intersect one another perpetually throughout the country; and though all the tolls taken on the roads of one trust may not be by themselves very oppressive, (though quite enough,[)] it continually happens that you cannot go nine or ten miles without crossing two or three separate trusts, each of course demanding separate tolls. If, on arriving at a turnpike-gate scarcely a mile from one you have paid toll at, you again have toll demanded, and naturally enough ask, “How is this? I paid toll not a mile from here?” you are answered, “Oh, we have nothing to do with that; this is another trust” — “No connexion with the people next door.” And now comes perhaps the worst feature in the case. The tolls are farmed, and let out to the highest bidder; and it is quite common for these toll-collectors to charge a higher toll in the country places than they are entitled to. If the farmers, exasperated at this and at the way in which toll is demanded of them, refuse to pay, or pay and summon the toll-collector before the Magistrate of the district, what is their remedy? The Magistrate who adjudicates upon the case is also a trustee of the road: but he is more — he is a tally-holder and a cestui que trust; he has merged his fiduciary character, and become bona fide an owner of the road and its tolls; and is in reality adjudicating in his own case, where his own interest is concerned in the charge, and is opposed to that of the farmers. The result may be easily imagined. The farmers get no redress; and the “clerk to the trust,” in defending the case, pockets some fees out of the poor oppressed farmers’ pockets. Is not this monstrous?

It is to be hoped that the Government Commissioner will inquire into this, the very root of the evil; and that the Government will pass a general act to consolidate all these trusts, and thus insure a moderate and uniform rate of toll throughout the county, and at the same time still enable the keeping up good roads by knocking off the salaries of thirteen “clerks” and thirteen “surveyors,” and (if possible) gradually abolishing the tallies and lessening the rate of interest paid. If this be done, we shall not hear much more of the war against the turnpike-gates.

Mr. Hall, the Magistrate, who was sent down by Government to inquire, began the investigation at Cardigan on . He has had such of the farmers as wish to say any thing before him separately; thinking that they would make a more full statement of their grievances than if influenced by the presence of their neighbours.

Several of the farmers afterwards repaired to the reporter of the Times, who was at the same inn. They fully confirmed statements made by that writer. We select a few points in this more formal evidence. The payment of toll at a turnpike does not free the vehicle for the rest of the day; it is free to return, but it must pay on repassing another time; and so on, paying every alternate time. A man who had contracted to carry building-stone from a quarry to a gentleman’s house for 4s. 6d. a day, threw up the contract, because the tolls on the first day came to 5s. The new Poor-law is unpopular, for many of the usual reasons; but there are two especial reasons in those districts: under the old plan the paupers were employed by the inhabitants, so that rates were not needed or paid; and as the people of each village are almost all related, it causes them shame when any are declared paupers. An increasing demand on the score of tithes is another grievance.

This curious note comes from the Monmouthshire Merlin, dated :

To Correspondents.

We have received from our valuable correspondent at Swansea, a capital report of a cricket match which took place on on the Crumlyn Barrows, near that town, between Mr. Starling Benson and Captain Napier, each supported by ten other gentlemen, in which Mr. Benson’s side was successful by a majority of 23. The game was well contested on both sides. We have likewise received from him a small publication, which has just made its appearance, entitled “Will you join Rebecca to night?” which is calculated to do much good at the present moment. We may make some extracts in our next.