Woman Shot by Rebeccaites Died of “Unknown” Cause, Says Inquest

On , a number of suspected Rebeccaites were examined at the Swansea Town-Hall. Here are some excerpts from the examination, as reported in the Monmouthshire Merlin:

Mr. William Cox, governor of the House of Correction, at Swansea, sworn: The prisoners John Hughes, David Jones, and John Hugh, were delivered into my custody on . It is customary to search prisoners when brought into the House of Correction, consequently I searched the prisoners present, commencing with John Hughes, who is wounded in the arm. A quantity of coarse gunpowder fell from his clothes to the ground as I took them off. I gathered it together and produce it now. I then searched his pockets, and found a quantity of silver and other money — ten half crowns, twenty-four shillings, nine sixpences, one penny, four halfpence, and a half sovereign. I also found a piece of paper with something written upon it in Welsh, a piece of an old Welsh hymn-book, twenty-one copper percussion caps, and a little bag. I next searched the man wounded in the head, David Jones, and found a knife in his pocket. I did not search John Hugh, but I believe he had 8d and a knife.

The following is a correct translation of the writing on the paper taken from Hughes:–

Daniel Jones, Brynhir, — Come with your armour (or covering) to Lanbystia, to assist us, on , or else you shall not have another (or further) notice.


PC Thomas Jones examined: I live at Ystalyfera, in the parish of Llanguicke. I accompanied Captain Napier and others of the police force of this county, to Pontardulais, on the night of . We arrived at Pontardulais , and proceeded to the turnpike gate. When we arrived there we saw a man on horseback, on the Swansea side of the turnpike gate. There was a great crowd of people upon the other side of the gate, most of whom were on horseback. They were dressed with white sheets over their bodies, their faces were blackened, and upon their heads they had straw hats. In the hats were stuck pieces of fern. I ran on, and took hold of a gun from a man on horseback, but the man escaped. A great many guns were fired before we reached the gate. On I delivered that gun to Sergt. Jenkins. It was then in the same state as when I took it from the man.

Mr. Superintendent Peake produced a quantity of arms, implements, ammunition, female apparel, &c., which were taken at the scene of the outrage. One of the articles produced was a woman’s cap, which was given to him by the prisoner Jones.

PC Peter Wright examined, proved that he was on duty at the Pontardulais gate riot, where he saw the prisoner J. Hugh discharge a gun at the police. He afterwards fell off his horse, and ran away, taking his horse with him. Prisoner threw his gun down, when he came off his horse, and the witness picked it up.

PC William Robertson Williams examined, stated that he was on duty at the riot, where the prisoner David Jones struck him a violent blow on his shoulder. Witness, being injured in the leg, went into the toll house, while the police were dispersing the rioters, and there saw a man with David Jones, the latter flourishing a bar, with which he again struck witness on the shoulder. Witness struck him a blow with his cutlass, on which he dropped the iron bar and ran out and was taken by Sergeant Jones.

PC John Price, examined, stated that in the affray at Pontardulais gate he saw a man on horseback this side of the gate, and a large mob. Witness took John Hugh off a horse in front of the mob, with a while cloak over his body, a white cloth over his hat, and a red handkerchief round his neck — he had a gun in his hand, which he fired at the police — he bad also a tin horn. Witness gave him and Hughes into the custody of Sergt. Jenkins.

William Abraham Lewis, toll collector at Pontardulais, examined: I am a shoemaker, and have been collector at Pontardulais gate for upwards of a twelvemonth. On , I moved my goods out of the house, because people told me Becca was coming there. After I moved my goods I stopped there, and I saw a party of men coming down over the bridge, most of them being on horseback. I instantly hid myself in the fields behind the house. While the crowd was opposite the Inn, I heard some shots fired. In about three quarters of an hour, I went back to the toll house, and found the doors and windows broken, part of the pine end wall demolished, and the gate in pieces — the posts were standing.

Police Sergeant George Jones stated that in the attack upon Pontardulais gate, where the rioters were firing guns and blowing horns, he pursued and captured Jones, while running out of the toll house.

(There is a somewhat more extensive account of this testimony in The Cambrian.)

The four prisoners taken by Mr. Chambers and the military in Carmarthenshire, on , were then placed at the bar. Three of them were mere boys — one apparently only thirteen years of age, and the fourth seemed a young man of the age of five-and-twenty. [The Welshman, in another article, lists them as “William Hugh, a lad of 15 years of age, the son of a very respectable farmer of Talyclew, dressed in woman’s clothes — Thomas Williams, a servant to a farmer at Llangennech — Henry Rogers, a farm servant at Penllwyngwyn, and Lewis Davies, farmer of Scybor Ucha, near Pontardulais.”] The following evidence was produced:–

William Chambers, jun, Esq, examined: I am one of her Majesty’s justices of the peace for the county of Carmarthen. In consequence of information I received, I proceeded on to Pontardulais, accompanied by a party of soldiers under Captain Scott. We set out from Llanelly  — Llanelly is distant from Ponlardulais six or seven miles. On the way, I saw a rocket explode in the air, in a direction between Llanedy and Llanon. On arriving at Gwilly Bridge, which is about half a mile distant from Pontardulais, I heard some horns sounded. There was one particular note which I noticed, which was repeated several times. Immediately after I heard the last note, I heard the report of fire arms in the direction of Pontardulais bridge, upon which I requested Captain Scott to load. I then advanced to Gwilly bridge, and having arrived there, I was in advance of the men, and saw the prisoner Lewis Davies come in from Pontardulais, over the railway, towards the place where I was. I immediately followed and saw him put something which he had in his left hand either under his coat, or into his pocket. I put my hand there, and pulled from under his coat, or out of his pocket, a woman’s cap. He was dressed in his usual clothes. The bottom part of his face appeared to be blackened. I asked him where he had been, and he said, “I’ll be quiet — I’ll come with you.” He was then given in charge to Sergt. Gibb. Up to this time I had heard the discharge of about forty or fifty shots within about seven minutes. I then went with the rest of the soldiers in the direction of the road leading towards the Hendy bridge, imagining that an attack was to be made on the gate. When I arrived at the gate, I heard the galloping of horses, and I immediately concluded that the Dragoons were approaching from Swansea. About the same time I heard persons approaching from Hendy bridge towards Pontardulais, and the prisoner William Hughes was taken shortly afterwards. He was dressed in woman’s clothes, — a straw bonnet on his head, and his face blackened. I went on to Pontardulais, accompanied by Captain Scott and some of his soldiers. Upon arriving at the bridge, the Dragoons galloped on, and I thought were going to charge us, but on perceiving who we were, they desisted. I proceeded to the gate — found the gate destroyed — the internal partitions of the toll house destroyed — and the windows smashed in. I saw three men there in custody. On my way back to Llanelly, the prisoner, William Hughes, told me he had a horn, and he would show me where it was. I went with him to a certain spot, and there found a horn, close to the spot where he was taken.

Sergeant Henry Gibbs, of the 73rd regiment, examined: I was on duty on , between Pontardulais and Llanelly. I was stationed on the railway near the Gwilly bridge. Whilst we were there I heard some men coming along the railway; I stopped them. I see them here now. They are the prisoners, Henry Rogers and Thomas Williams. They were not disguised at all or armed. They seemed to be very much frightened because I brought the bayonet down as if I was going to run it through them, and told them to slop. I told them I would let them go if they would tell me where others were gone to. They said they had nothing to do with the gate, but merely went out to see.

On , a coroner’s inquest was held concerning the death of Sarah Williams, the toll collector at Hendy Turnpike Gate, who had been shot in the course of that gate’s destruction. This inquest rather incredibly would find the death of Williams to have been from an “unknown” cause — thus precluding a homicide investigation. It seems to have been an act of jury nullification meant to shield Rebecca and her followers from the authorities.

Here is how the Monmouthshire Merlin covered the inquest:

Coroner’s Inquest

On the body of Sarah Williams, the toll collector at the Hendy Turnpike Gate.

On , an inquest was held at Pontardulais, before William Bonville, Esq., coroner, on the body of Sarah Williams, aged 75.

The Jury.
Griffith HenryJenkin Henry
Thomas SamuelJohn Bowen
John ThomasJohn Pugh
Walter HopkinsDavid Davies
John Bowen, jun.Samuel Griffith
John ThomasDavid Evans
John JonesRichard Davies
The Evidence.

John Thomas, labourer, sworn: Is a house carpenter, residing near the Hendy gate toll house, in the parish of Llanedy, in the county of Carmarthen. Knew the deceased, Williams, who was the toll-collector at the Hendy gale, and has been so for about a week. On , or early on Sunday morning, I was alarmed by report of five or six guns near the Hendy gate. I was then in bed, and soon after the deceased came to my house, and called me and my family to assist in putting out the fire at the toll-house, which had been set on fire and was then burning; but we did not go, as we were afraid to do so. In about a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes afterwards I heard the report of another gun; and about a minute after deceased came to my house, and my wife went to the door and saw deceased coming towards her. She (the deceased) was crawling along by the wall to support herself until she came to the door, when she cried out, “Dear, dear,” and fell down, and I found she was dead. The deceased has been a toll collector at many gates for years.

Margaret Thomas, wife of the last witness, said that , the deceased came to our house, and asked my husband and me to get up directly, as some one had set the toll house on fire. I went out to the door and told her to carry her things out of her house. She went back to the toll house, and took her furniture out on the road. I asked her several times to come into our house, but she did not come. I heard the report of four or five guns afterwards, and the deceased, in about three-quarters of an hour after I had first spoken to her, came towards my house, at which time I was standing within the door, which was open. The deceased did not speak a word that I heard, and seeing that she was exhausted, I laid hold of her round the waist, and she sank down at my door, on the outside. My husband came out, and we took her into the house, but she did not speak a word. My husband held her, and put her in a silting posture on the floor, and she died in about two minutes. I did not see any blood, except a little on her forehead. I thought at first that she was frightened to death. I did not hear the noise of horses, nor footsteps, nor did I see any persons from the beginning to the end. I did not hear any horns blown, or any shouting. My husband was in the house all the time.

By the jury: I did not think from the blood on the forehead that she had had a blow, and that that had been the cause of her death. I did not think she died from a blow, but by suffocation from loss of breath.

By the Coroner: About I saw the toll house and gate still standing, and in the course of the night I saw the toll house on fire. That was when the deceased called us up to put it out, and in the morning I found the house and and gate both pulled down, there being only the walls standing. The house had a thatched roof, and contained two rooms. The toll board had fallen down some time back, and was then in the house in pieces.

Mr. Benjamin Thomas sworn: I am a surgeon, residing at Llanelly. I have, with Mr. Cooke, inspected and made a post mortem examination of the body of the deceased Sarah Williams, now lying at the Black Horse, Pontardulais. We examined the body externally and internally. On the anterior view of the body, whilst the corpse was lying on its back, from the feet to the breast there did not appear to be any mark of violence. The marks of shots were seen penetrating the nipple of the left breast, one in the arm-pit of the same side, and several shot marks in both arms. On the external end of the left clavicle there were two shot marks, one on the left side of the wind pipe, several on the forehead, and one in the external angle of the right eye. There was blood on the cloths covering the breast, and the marks of blood having escaped from the mouth. In moving the body to a sitting posture, a considerable quantity of fluid blood escaped from the mouth. The back view of the body did not shew any mark of violence. On moving the integuments of the scalp, the shot marks observed on the surface were found in the bony structure of the skull, but not penetrating through it. Upon removing the bone covering the brain, the external covering of the brain, or dura mater, was exposed entire, and appeared slightly vascular, as did also the entire structure of the brain. The lateral ventricles contained no more fluid than is generally found in them. On opening the chest the left lung pressed higher up than is natural, and was darker in colour, and on cutting into it, the substance was found considerably congested, with marks of some shots on the surface, two of which we found in the substance of that lung. In the right lung, there was an adhesion to the side, on nearly the whole of its external surface, with a considerable effusion of dark coloured blood into its substance. In the cavity of the left pleura there were about three pints of blood, a large portion of which was in a coagulated state, and the remainder fluid. The head was natural, and we did not proceed further with our examination, being satisfied as to what was the cause of death, which was the loss of blood and the state of the lungs and pleura arising from the shot found in the substance of the lungs, and which had caused this extravasation of blood.

Mr. John Kirkhouse Cooke, of Llanelly, surgeon, corroborated Mr. B. Thomas’s evidence.

The jury then retired to consider their verdict, and in about a quarter of an hour returned the following:– “That the deceased died from the effusion of blood into the chest, which occasioned suffocation, but from what cause is to this jury unknown.”

Other newspapers went into more detail about Cooke’s [or perhaps Cook’s] testimony, which more than merely corroborating Thomas’s conclusions, backed them up with additional details. Here, for instance, is the Cambrian’s version:

I examined the body of the deceased with the last witness — found no external marks of violence, excepting some gun-shot wounds. The shots were found in the bony structure of the head, and in the breast. The lungs on the left side protruded considerably, and also had the appearance of having a considerable effusion of blood; and, on removing them, we discovered an immense effusion of blood into the cavities of the chest — the greater portion of it in a fluid state, but a considerable quantity was coagulated. It amounted altogether to about three pounds of blood. On tracing the surface of the lungs, on the interior part of it, I discovered distinct patches of effused blood, also opening, which had the appearance of being made by shot, which I traced into the substance of the lungs, and extracted two. They were the ordinary sized shot. This examination was sufficiently satisfactory to shew the cause of death, which would have been produced from the large quantity of blood effused into the chest, and which impeded the motion of the lungs, as well as by the large quantity of blood lost, destroying vitality. There was also a large quantity of blood escaped through the mouth. There was no other cause to attribute this effusion of blood into the cavity of the chest, but by the shots penetrating the lungs and injuring its vessels.

The Welshman reports that on , a policeman insulted a woman in the company of a soldier, the soldier later caught up to the policeman, and “a furious collision took place” between cops and soldiers “for some time — the combatants amounting to 30 or 40 persons.” This gives some clues as to the state of morale among law enforcement, as do these details: “Every evening since the station house has been literally besieged with persons, yelling and hooting the police, and cheering the military… Several persons are in custody for withholding their assistance to the police when called upon ‘in the Queen’s name.’ ”