Magistrate Defends Response to Rebecca Riots

As I mentioned , the Cambrian published an editorial that chided Welsh magistrates for not suppressing the Rebecca movement more forcefully and for not immediately calling in the military when it became evident they were not powerful enough to do so.

This prompted a letter-to-the-editor from one of those magistrates in which he defended their course of action and explained that the nation’s military had no great enthusiasm for becoming the toll collectors of Wales:

To the Editor of The Cambrian.


 Having this instant seen your paper of , I lose no time in endeavouring to remove an impression which you have circulated, in the leading article contained therein.

You specifically charge the Magistrates acting for the hundred of Derllys and Narbeth, with a want of energy, promptitude, and decision, at the commencement of the unfortunate and disgraceful proceedings which have for some months, and still continue, to agitate and alarm the peaceable inhabitants of the Principality with unabated violence, and which has attained a height that makes it difficult to say where it will end, and which causes considerable alarm as to the safety of both life and property.

I therefore calculate with confidence, you will, when you are in possession of the facts of the case, with that liberality for which you are so justly characterized, do an act of justice towards those Magistrates, upon whom you have, I am quite certain, unintentionally cast such an unmerited imputation and stigma.

The facts of the case are simply these; — In , a meeting was called at St. Clears, which was attended by five Magistrates, three of whom acted for both counties, when an investigation of the different outrages perpetrated upon the turnpike-gates and toll-houses in the two counties, was fully gone into, and every attempt on their part made to explain, remedy, and conciliate the farmers, entered upon; but, unfortunately, the evil was too deeply rooted; and it was quite manifest, matters were in that state, and the combination and organization of Rebecca and her daughters (so called) so cemented and formidable, as to set at utter defiance any attempt of the Magistrates to restore order and tranquility, or in any way to repress the lawless proceedings then in operation; — when it was unanimously agreed, that a communication of the inadequate and insufficient means of quieting the insurrectionary movements, without the aid of military to assist the civil power, should be made to the Lord-Lieutenant of the County, and that an application should be made through him to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, to that effect; also, that Government should offer such a reward as would, upon the conviction of the offenders, enable any party, giving such evidence, to remove to a distant country, as such person’s life would be insecure in that district. This communication was signed, and forwarded to the Lord-Lieutenant, as was also, a letter to the same effect to one of the Members for the county, requesting him to have an interview with Sir James Graham upon this painful subject, which was immediately done, and as far as my recollection goes, was met by her Majesty’s Secretary of State in the following reply:– “Her Majesty’s Government do not feel authorized to offer a high reward; and it cannot be recommended to turn the Military into Toll-collectors.”

If, therefore, any blame there be, I do most positively assert, that such blame is not in any shape attributable to the Five Magistrates who took an active part in the affair, although others there may be, who pitifully shrunk out of all responsibility in the hour of need.

I am, Sir,
One of the Magistrates acting for the Counties of Pembroke and Carmarthen.