Preliminary examinations of another set of accused Rebeccaite tollgate destroyers begin. In this set, we hear testimony from two tollhouse keepers who found themselves facing Rebecca’s wrath. From the Cambrian:
The Llanelly Toll Gates.
The town of Llanelly was in a state of considerable excitement on , that being the day on which the investigation before the Magistrates into the circumstances attending the destruction of the Sandy and the Furnace gates, took place. The Town-hall was crowded to excess. The persons against whom the charge was preferred were Francis M‘Kiernin (inn-kpeper, and contractor for the carriage of the mail from this town to Llanelly, and proprietor of the day coach running from this town to Carmarthen), George Laing, carrier, and John Phillips. These parties had at a former examination, when the information against them was given by the toll-collector at the Sandy gate, entered into recognizances to appear on the day in question, which they then duly discharged.
The Magistrates on the bench were R.J. Nevill, D. Lewis, and J.H. Rees, Esquires.
Mr. Wm. Gardnor, of Carmarthen, attended on behalf of the prisoners.
The Magistrates’ Clerk read over the charge, which was to the effect that they had, on , together with about twenty other persons, riotously and tumultuously assembled, and did, then and there, break down and destroy the Sandy toll-gate, and commenced to demolish the toll house. Each of the prisoners pleaded “Not Guilty.”
Jenkin Hugh, was the first witness examined. After being sworn, the witness asked permission to give his evidence in Welsh, but at the request of Mr. Gardnor, and on the Magistrates promising that any question he did not understand should be explained to him in Welsh, he consented to give his evidence in English.
Mr. J.H. Rees reminded the witness of the importance of the evidence he was going to give, and desired him to be very cautions in all statements he might think proper to make.
The witness then deposed to the following effect:– I live at the Sandy-gate toll-house, in the parish of Llanelly, Carmarthenshire. My wife’s name is Catherine. She is the toll-collector, and resides with my myself and family in the toll-house. On , the letter-carrier of this town delivered me a letter, for which I had to pay two-pence postage. At the time I received it, I told the letter-carrier that I would pay him again. The letter contained a notice to the effect, that the gate would be destroyed. I took it to Mr. Benjamin Jones’s office. He advised me to take it to Mr. Chambers, the magistrate. I did not show the letter to Mr. Chambers, as I thought the threat a mere joke. However, I took it with me to Mr. M‘Kiernin’s house; when Mr. M‘Kiernin, myself, and another person, took about two half-pints of beer each. When I showed Mr. M‘Kiernin the letter, I asked him what was the best course to pursue, whether I had not better remove my family from the toll-house. He replied, “Never mind doing that — should the gate be destroyed, neither yourself, wife, nor children, shall be injured; I will take care of that.” I am sure he said “I will take care of that.[”] Soon afterwards I returned home. This conversation took place . I was home by ten. After arriving at the house I expressed an apprehension to my wife, that the gate would be destroyed, and told her that it would he useless for us to retire to bed. However, my wife went to bed that night, but I remained on the settle. I had no particular fear for the gate on , for I had remained down many nights previously, having several times received letters informing me that the gate would be destroyed. One letter advised me, that I had “better retire to the Stradey level out of the way of Becca and her Daughters.” About , I heard a great noise at the gate. Some persons were talking and laughing. They then broke the gate to pieces. I was not asleep at the commencement of the noise. The first noise I heard was the striking at the posts of the gate. I then looked out through the window, and observed some of the party cutting the gate with saws. It was not light enough for me to see what description of saws they used. In a short time two shots were fired through the window. I was not looking out at that time. Two or three persons then broke the toll-house door with an axe or axes. I then went out to the turnpike-road and fell on my knees before them, and begged them not to pull down the house upon my family, but allow me to get the children out of the house. On looking about I observed Mr. M‘Kiernin standing on the railway, near the turnpike-road. I advanced towards him, and repeated my request that the party should stop until I had got out my family. Mr. M‘Kiernin then cried out “stop, stop, let the man take his children out.” Upon that, the defendant George Laing, having stepped forward to the middle of the road, cried out “don’t stop, take it down — to the devil with it.” I then went into the house for the purpose of getting the children out, and a shot was fired after me. I do not know who shot after me. The marks are now on the mantelpiece. My wife had taken some of the children out through the back window. After going into the house I tried to carry out the clock. One of the party, who had his face blackened, assisted me to get the clock out of the house. After having taken the clock, which was damaged by the removal, out of the house, I missed both M‘Kiernin and Laing. During the riot I was severely struck on my arm with a gun. I do not know who struck me. Besides the two persons I have named, I saw a neighbour of mine there, but I forgive him. (Laughter.) I will swear I recognised none of the individuals who were present with the exception of Mr. M‘Kiernin, Laing, and my neighbour. I also saw three or four persons on the house-top, who commenced unroofing the house. They threw down a few of the tiles. The mantelpiece and the porch before the door were taken down. A great number of dishes, &c., on the sheif were taken down and broken. All the windows were smashed. I cannot say how long the riot continued. Mr. M‘Kiernin had not got his face blackened, but he wore a kind of white shirt over his clothes. Laing was dressed in a similar way. I did not see Laing’s face. He had a white shirt about him, and something around his waist. When be jumped from the railway to the middle of the turnpike-road and cried out “go on,” I spoke to him, and begged of him to stop them, but he made no reply, yet, I think he stopped them for a short time. I have no additional statement to make. I did not observe in what direction M‘Kiernin and Laing went.
Mr. Gardnor applied for permission to inspect a copy of the deposition made by the witness at the time the information was given by him.
The Magistrates granted the request.
In his cross-examination the witness said — I left my house with the letter soon after dinner, and went to Mr. Benjamin Jones’s office. I drank in all about three or four half-pints of beer, but I was perfectly sober. I cannot say whether the party came to the gate from different directions, or all at the same time. I did not see M‘Kiernin until I went to the railway. I knew Laing by his voice and his appearance. It is of no use talking to you (laughter); what I told the Magistrates was true, and said on my oath.
Mr. Gardnor:— In your former statement to the Magistrates yon said that when you begged Laing to allow you to take out the children, he said, “d–n you, never mind,” and now you say that he made you no reply. Which statement are we to believe? Witness answered, that he would explain the whole, if he should give his evidence in Welsh. He also said that what he said in his former examination was, that Laing told the men, “d—n you, go on,” when witness begged of them to allow him to take the children out of the house. Witness proceeded:— On the following morning I was intoxicated, as I had taken three or four half pints after having been down during the whole of the night. I was not quite sober when I went to the house of Mr. Chambers, the magistrate.
Mr. Gardnor:— Why did you wish, not to make a complaint against your neighbour whom you saw among the party?
Witness:— I did not wish to make a complaint against any person, but the Magistrates required me to make a deposition. I do not know who any of the persons on the roof were. I will swear I did not say that I recognized Mr. Chambers, sen., as being one of the persons on the roof.
Mr. Gardnor:— But I have witnesses to prove that you have said so.
Witness:— You may have witnesses to prove that I said many things which I have never said. I swear I never said so. I was alarmed, but not so much so as to prevent my knowing any person. M‘Kiernin had on, either a straw bonnet, or a straw hat. It was something white. I will undertake to swear that Laing was there. I knew him by his face, and the shape of his body. Do you think I am such a fool as not to know a person whom I see every day. He was walking to and fro while I was on my knees. The night had been rather dark, but it became lighter before the riot terminated. I told them that if they would allow me to save my furniture, they should burn down the house on the next day.
Mr. Gardnor:— Why did you refuse to be sworn before the Magistrates?
The Magistrates decided that that was not a proper question, not arising out of the examination.
Catherine Hugh, the wife of the last witness, stated that she was the toll-collector for Sandy gate, as her name was on the toll board. In her examination in Welsh by the Magistrates, she made the following depositions:— I remember , when I retired to bed . The children had previously gone to bed. My husband was on the settle. Shortly after retiring I heard a noise of knocking at the windows. It was . I came out of bed to wake my husband. He went on his knees upon the table for the purpose of looking out through the window at the party destroying the gate. The window was soon smashed in. The glass was broken to pieces. I do not know that it was broken by the shots, but there were marks on part of it the next day. I desired my husband to request them to stop until the children were taken out of the house. He cried “holt” through the window. The door was then broken open, and my husband begged them to allow him to remove the family and furniture. Some cried. “Come out, or we will kill you.” Others assisted in removing the furniture. I was in the back room with the children, who were ciying, while my husband was outside with the crowd. I heard some of the tiles fall, and also heard my husband telling the rioters that he depended upon their honour not to injure the children. I did not recognize one of the party. After the party had gone, I began to cry. My husband said they would surely repent. My husband was perfectly sober, but he had heen taking beer. That morning, before he left the house, he named some persons as being among the rioters. He named M‘Kiernin and Laing. He named no others, as I told him to hold his tongue. He complained of his arm, and was afraid it had been broken. The description of the damage done to the houses, &c., given by witness, is similar to that given by the first witness.
Cross-examined by Mr. Gardnor:— I had been out looking for my husband before his return on that night. He came home about . I took no particular notice of the rioters, as I was greatly alarmed. I did not look upon them, as they were shooting over my head into the house. Alter my husband came in, he told he had been conversing with Mr. M‘Kiernin on the railroad, who called upon the mob to “stop,” while Laing cried out “go on.”
Edward Challinder, tide-waiter, who lived near the toll-house, deposed that, in consequence of hearing a noise at the gate on the night in question, he looked out through his window, which commanded a view of the whole of the gate, and nearly the whole of the toll-house, and saw a crowd of people destroying the gate, and commencing the demolition of the honse. They were firing guns, and talking quite lond. He heard some voice saying “Go on,” and another calling out “Stop, stop, let the children be taken out.” I could not recognize any of the party. It was a rainy and dark night. I got out of bed and went to the toll-house in an hour’s time. Witness then described the damage done.
Cross-examined:— Believed that the two persons who stood on the railway had white shirts about them. It was light enough to ascertain that.
Re-examined:– Had a conversation with Hugh soon after the gate was destroyed. He said that he had received a kick and a blow on the arm. He had drank beer, but was steady enough. He did not mention to witness any persons who were among the crowd.
Mr. William Lewis was then sworn, and stated that he was the lessee of the tolls of the Kidwelly trust, and first received information of the destruction of the gate about . A person came about that time to his house, which is in the Swansea Market-place, and requested him to come to Mr. M‘Kierrnin, who wished to speak to him. Witness went to the “King William,” in St. Mary-street, where Mr. M‘Kiernin stopped. He said that the Sandy gate and part of the house were destroyed, and that Jenkin Hugh’s clock was injured. He also informed witness that the Furnace gate was broken to pieces, and the house burnt to the ground, and advised him to proceed immediately to Llanelly. Witness asked what use would it be to go on a market day. He said no person would hurt me by day. He did not say how he became possessed of the information. I think he said that Mr. Broom called at his house and informed him of the circumstance. I know Mr. M‘Kiernin is an inn-keeper and a coach proprietor.
Mr. M‘Kiernin:– Do you not remember I distinctly told you that the toll-receiver called after me as I was passing on the coach through the gate, and requested me to inform you of the destruction of the gates.
Witness:— I cannot remember that you told me so.
Mr. Gardnor then addressed the bench, and contended that the evidence was not sufficient to warrant the Magistrates to send the case for trial. He proceeded to remark upon the variations in the evidence of the witness J. Hugh from that given at the previous examination before the Magistrates.
Mr. J.H. Rees observed, that the evidence was direct and positive.
Mr. Gardnor said that he could produce respectable witnesses to prove that Mr. M‘Kiernin was in bed on the night in question.
Strangers were ordered to withdraw, until the Magistrates had decided whether such evidence could be admitted.
On our return, Mr. J.H. Rees said, that after the long and patient investigation made into the case, and after the direct evidence given, the Magistrates could come to no other conclusion than that it was their duty to commit the parties for trial. If it were desired, the Magistrates would receive evidence, but the question of an alibi could not be entertained by them. It was not their duty to be judges of conflicting evidence. That belonged to the judge and jury. The only kind of evidence which could be received by Magistrates was evidence to prove a witness unworthy of credit.
Mr. Gardnor expressed a hope that, as the Magistrates had determined to commit, the case would be sent for trial to the Assizes, as the parties were desirous of having the benefit of Counsel.
Mr. Nevill said that the case would be sent to the Assizes, as probably a Special Commission might be sent down to try the parties charged with being implicated in these and similar disturbances.
John Phillip was discharged, there being no evidence to inculpate him.
Mr. J.H. Rees said that the Magistrates were extremely sorry that it became their duty to commit for trial parties of the respectability of the defendants, but as they were not to decide upon the credibility or non-credibility of evidence, they were compelled to send the case for trial, but would receive bail — each principal in the sum of 200l., and two sureties in 100l., each.
On the Magistrates announcing their intention of committing the parties for trial on a charge of felony, Mr. Gardnor called their attention to the Act of Parliament, which enacted that any person convicted of destroying any turnpike gate, chain, or bar, so as to let passengers pass without paying toll, or any house or building used for the purpose of toll-collecting, should be deemed guilty of a misdemeanour only.
Mr. Grove, Clerk to the Magistrates, said that the Act cited referred to the destruction of a gate, bar, or house by one person only, but called Mr. Gardnor’s attention to 4 and 5 Vic., c. 56., s. 7, which enacted that if three or more persons riotously assembled and destroyed any church, chapel, or any description of building, he should, on conviction, be deemed guilty of felony.
Messrs. M‘Kiernin and Laing were committed under the latter Act. The required sureties having been found, they were liberated.
From the Cambrian:
The final examination of Mr. Wm. Davies, of Nantyfen, a respectable farmer and freeholder, took place at the County gaol, Carmarthen, on . The following Magistrates were present:– The Hon. G.R. Trevor, M.P., D.A.S. Davies, Esq., M.P., J.E. Saunders, J.G. Philipps, Grismond Philipps, Daniel Prythero, Esqrs., and T. Jones, Esq. M.D. Reporters and the public were, we understand, excluded from this, as well as from the previous examinations. Mr. Lewis Morris, the prisoner’s solicitor, was allowed to be present, but not to cross-examine the witnesses for the prosecution, or call any for the defence. The charge against the prisoner is to the effect — “that he, in company with divers other evil-disposed persons, riotously and tumultuously assembled together, to the endangerment of the peace of our Sovereign Lady the Queen, feloniously demolished, pulled down, and destroyed the dwelling-house of one Griffith Bowen, toll-collector, Penygarn, in the parish of Llanegwad, county of Carmarthen, and with having also unlawfully and maliciously levelled and destroyed the toll-gate their situated.” On the magistrates intimating their intention of committing the prisoner, bail to the amount of 4000l. was offered for his appearance, which was refused. He was consequently sent to gaol. We understand the evidence consists chiefly of some remarks made use of by Mr. Davies in conversation, which, it is alleged, correspond with occurrences which took place at the destruction of the toll-house and gate, and which could not be known excepting by a person who had been present at the time. Mr. Davies’s friends, on the other hand, say that evidence can be adduced which will completely exculpate him.
The Riots in Wales
Mr. Hall, the Chief Magistrate of Bow-street, returned to town on from Wales, and shortly afterwards proceeded to the Home Office to produce the evidence and the result of his inquiries to Sir J. Graham.