Rebeccaite Found Not Guilty at the Carmarthenshire Assizes

The Carmarthenshire Summer Assizes were sitting on .

The Foreman of the Grand Jury was George Rice Trevor, who was also the local official responsible for the police actions against the Rebecca Rioters, the one who had called in the riot police from London, and the one who had established the rewards to be given to informers. Now he would be deciding the fate of the accused, I figured. Such is Due Process.

But a second “petty jury” was called for the Rebeccaite case, so it is unclear to me from the news coverage quite what role the Grand Jury had in it. In any case, this time around the jury was not stacked well enough to gain a conviction for the government.

The Judge said, in part, in his introduction to the Grand Jury (this and what follows comes from the report in the Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser for ):

I perceive that there is one case, which, by the depositions, seems to have arisen out of the unfortunate occurrences which took place in this county last year, and of which you have heard so much. The depositions seem to shew that the party charged is guilty of having attempted to demolish a house — an offense, I need not tell you, which is of a most serious nature. In order to constitute that crime, you must be satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt, that the party charged, not only intended to demolish the house, but that he did, by himself, and by others under his immediate control, or who acted under his instigation and authority, actually commence the work of demolition. There seems to be no doubt of that, if the facts stated in the depositions are strictly true, for it is positively alleged, that not only did they begin to demolish the house, but that they actually accomplished the demolition. You are aware that merely breaking the windows of the house will not be sufficient to warrant you in sending the parties charged, to take their trial; it must be strictly proved that a successful or unsuccessful attempt to demolish the house itself did actually occur.

The trial of David Evans for Rebeccaite demolition took place .

Trial of a Rebeccaite

David Evans, aged 48, farmer, was indicted for having, on , riotously, unlawfully, and feloniously demolished, pulled down, and destroyed a certain dwelling-house and toll-gate, situate in the parish of Llanfihangel-ar-Arth, in the county of Carmarthen.

That is within a day or so of the attack on the Carmarthen workhouse, which was possibly the largest-attended and boldest (it took place in broad daylight) of the Rebeccaite attacks, though it was quelled by the military. I’ve also seen the place called “Llanfihangleararth” and “Llanfihangle-Yeroth.” At the time (see ♇ 26 June 2014), the attack on the gate and toll-house there was estimated to have been accomplished by seventy people, which makes Evans a pretty unlucky fellow to have been singled out like this (or, perhaps he was deliberately singled out as a ringleader).

Several petty jurors, who did not answer to their names, were fined forty shillings each. The officer of the court called over nearly two-thirds of the jury-list, and only three jurymen answered. — His lordship then directed that the list should be gone over again, and that every juror who did not answer should be fined forty shillings; the result was, that a jury was procured in the course of a few minutes.

Mr. Chilton briefly stated the case to the jury, and said, he would call before them David Thomas, who would tell them that, up to , he, and his wife and family, had slept in the toll-house in question, and had collected tolls there — tolls payable at Llanfihangel gate. ; and on  — having heard that the gate and toll-house in which he resided was to be destroyed that night, he had caused his furniture to be removed, to prevent their sharing in the common ruin. This was one of those many cases which it would be almost affectation to suppose the jury had not heard of. He (Mr. Chilton) would shew them, that on , a very large assemblage of people came to the house and gate at Llanfihangel. They were variously disguised, having white dresses on, and their Faces blackened. Many of them wore dresses usually worn by women. The first attack on the toll-house was made by the prisoner, who had broken one of the windows with a gun he had in his hand, and which gun he at intervals discharged. The roof of the house was taken off, and the walls battered down. While the people were destroying the gate and toll-house, the prisoner walked about, giving orders in English — marching up and down, with his face blackened, among the mob, and giving directions. He (Mr. Chilton) would call three witnesses, who where present on the night in question. His learned friend (Mr. Hall) would probably tell them that as those persons were accomplices, this evidence, unless strongly supported by that of other persons, ought not to be received — or at most received with great caution; but he (Mr. Chilton) conceived they were were not accomplices in that sense of the word which rendered their testimony suspicious, or unworthy of credit. One of the witnesses would tell the jury that he was there in his usual dress and took no part in the proceedings that he looked on, but was, of course, totally unable to resist the crowd of persons who were there assembled. Two others were compelled by the mob to be present. The jury would hear from various witnesses, that the prisoner had made use of certain expressions subsequent to the commission of the offence with which he stood charged; and they would also hear from a magistrate what the prisoner said at the time he was committed. He concluded his opening address by explaining why the case had not been brought forward earlier; and assured the jury that he placed the most implicit confidence in their integrity, and felt sure that they would not shrink from discharging their duty faithfully and honestly.

Thomas Jones examined by Mr. Vaughan Williams: I am a farm servant, and remember I had heard that that gate was to be broken on . In consequence of what I heard I went up to see what I could see of it. About I reached the gate, and saw a great many people come to the gate . They were variously dressed — disguised — they were very much like ladies. Their faces were blackened, and their hats were tied down to resemble bonnets. I know Daniel Evans the prisoner was one of them. He was dressed in white, and his face was coloured. I knew him, because I was near enough to him, and I saw him break the upper window of the toll-house with the point of his gun. The crowd were all about him at the time. Prisoner was talking something to them in English, but I did not understand what he said. After prisoner had said something to them in English they (the crowd) broke the gate and pulled the house down. While the people were pulling down the toll-house the prisoner did nothing but fire off his gun a few times. There was a great deal of noise there — noise occasioned by breaking the things, and by the people cheering. I think there were more than fifty people there disguised. I was not disguised. I had known the prisoner before, and was close by him when he broke the window with his gun. I knew his walk as he walked up and down, when the people were breaking the gate and house. I also knew his voice.

Cross-examined: It was rather a bright night. There were a great many there expecting the people to come and break the gate beside myself. I did not see David Jones of Bon-y-maen there, nor David Evans, of Brydbwll. My master’s name is John Lloyd. I was not in his service . I do not know of any quarrel that ever took place between my master and the prisoner. I never heard that the prisoner went to prove who had broken the gate at Wernmackwydd. I never heard that my master was charged with having broken that gate. I did not see John Jones, of Cross Inn, there that night, although I have heard that he was employed to watch the gate.

David Jones examined by Mr. Chilton: I remember . Some time after I had gone to bed on some persons came to my house. The first thing I heard was guns being fired. The people who came there knocked at the door and window. I went down stairs. It was a fine night, and I saw three or four people there by the door, dressed in strange clothes, similar to women’s clothes. Their faces were coloured. They asked me in English for pickaxes. I told them I did not understand what they said. One of the party then asked me in Welsh. I saw one gun there, and it was put opposite to me when they asked for the pickaxes. They told me to dress, and that I should have not much time to dress. I was very much frightened. They compelled me to go with them, and I went to Llanfihangel gate with them. When I reached the gate the first thing was a window broken. I saw the gate falling down. I heard a person there talking English, but I did not know who it was. I saw David Evans, the prisoner there. I have known him about 15 years. He was dressed in something similar to a woman’s dress, and his face was discoloured. He asked me to throw a few sticks on one side. They were sticks which had been taken off the house. He had a gun with him. I knew his voice when he spoke to me. There were a very great number of men there, and many of them were disguised. A great many were engaged in pulling down the house. The prisoner told a few of them to work well. He fired his gun off occasionally, and others did the same with guns they had. There was a great noise and disturbance made. The roof was all pulled down, and the walls were half pulled down — that is, half from the eaves to the foundation.

Cross-examined: My face was not blackened, and I did not halloa with the rest. I know John Lloyd of Dolmaen. I am a tenant of his. I know Evan Rees of Brydbwll. I know John Oliver, of Bedwhirion. I do not know that those three persons were charged with having broken Mr. Bowen, of Wernmackwydd’s gate. I do not know that the prisoner was to be a witness against those persons.

Re-examined: The men asked me for a mattock. I have since had it explained that a mattock is a pickaxe.

Evan Evans examined by Mr. V. Williams: I remember the night that Llanfihangel gate was broken. I was going to bed that night, when a person in disguise came to me and told me I was bound to accompany him to Llanfihangel gate. I said I was tired. The man said I must go. My wife begged of me to go for fear I should put her and the children in peril. I then went with them to the turnpike road, where I saw scores of people. Some of them had guns, which were fired off, and many of them were disguised. I went with them to Cross Inn, but before I got there I recognised David Evans, the prisoner, as one of the party. He was disguised in a white dress, and had his face discoloured. He had a gun in his hand. I was talking to him as I knew him very well. I was his tenant. My face was disguised. I said to him — “David, is it you are here?” He replied — “Do not call any person by his name.” I then went on to Llanfihangel gate, and saw the prisoner there. Some days after I saw the prisoner undisguised, and said to him that there was a terrible appearance at the toll-house. The prisoner said — “Yes, they did their work well.” Some days after that he gave me a small letter, and asked me to take it to the smith’s shop at Cross Inn Fach.

Cross-examined: I did not see all that took place at Llanfihangel gate. I saw the upper window broken before the gate was demolished. I do not know who broke it. I do not think it was the prisoner, as it was broken by a shorter man than the prisoner. I cannot say I have heard of any dispute between Mr. John Lloyd and the prisoner. When I met the men on the road I heard some one call out — “We shall meet ‘Becca at Cross Inn.” Cross Inn was nearer to Llanfihangel gate than the place where we were. I recollect asking the prisoner to come with me to a yard by Cross Inn, to see the people they called “Becca” pass. I went on to Cross Inn, and saw the people pass. I do not know where the prisoner was then, as I had lost sight of him.

Re-examined: At the time I had this discourse with the prisoner about Cross Inn, he had a white dress on, and his face was darkly coloured.

David Thomas examined: I was toll-collector at Llanfihangel gate, and had slept in the toll-house with my wife and family the night before it was destroyed, and had done so for 24 years. I was the lessee of the tolls. I had heard a report that the gate and house were to be pulled down, and therefore removed my furniture on  — that is, the morning before the house and gate were pulled down.

By the court: I paid rent to the Carmarthen and Tivy side district road trustees.

John Timothy Hughes examined: I am a superintendent of the rural police. On , I conveyed the prisoner to gaol. I did not say to him it would be better for him to confess anything. As we were going along he said — “It is hard that I should be punished for the whole, when I did no more than the others.” He was speaking of the offence for which he had been committed — about the destruction of Llanfihangel gate.

Cross-examined: I am sure he was not speaking about Rebeccaism generally. He complained that he was singled out for punishment, when he had done no more at Llanfihangel gate than others. He said this more than once. He said nothing of other gates. I am quite sure his remarks had reference to the Llanfihangel gate and the Gwarol gate.

Henry Edwards examined: I am a policeman, and had a warrant to apprehend the prisoner on . I searched for him and found him at Llanfihangel, in the house of David Jones, concealed upstairs. It was about nine in the morning. He was in bed with his clothes on.

Cross-examined: I heard that morning that he had been at Carmarthen the day previous with Mr. Bowen of Wernmackwydd.

John Lloyd Davies, Esq., examined by Mr. Chilton: I am a magistrate of this county, and took the examinations of the witnesses against the prisoner. I took down the examination of David Jones. When he (David Jones) had answered all the questions I put to him, I asked the prisoner if he wished to ask him (David Jones) any questions. He replied — “I’ve only to say I was there, I did no more than others.”

Cross-examined: I recollect a person came into the room at the time the examination was going on, but as he told me he was not a professional man, I ordered the room to be cleared.

Re-examined: The prisoner can speak English. He is a farmer.

This concluded the case for the crown. Mr. Lloyd Hall then addressed the jury on behalf of the prisoner, and said that, the prisoner had now to appeal to them whether or no he was to be transported for the term of his natural life — sent as a felon from his native land, or to be, by their verdict, returned to his home and to his family. That the toll-house of Llanfihangel was destroyed on the night in question was beyond doubt but that the prisoner was a participator in that riotous and disgraceful affair certainly was very far from being established. The prisoner had from the very commencement repeatedly said he had not touched the house. The witnesses for the prosecution did not agree in ascribing the act of breaking the window to the prisoner. One of them, who knew him well, said, it was not the prisoner who broke that window while the other witness, who did not know the prisoner so well, swore positively that the man who broke the windows was also the man who acted as leader of the crowd. With regard to the conversations which had been given in evidence very little weight could be attached to them as it was apparent that the prisoner only adverted to the affair in terms similar to those which any innocent person might have used. The whole case depended upon the evidence of the two first witnesses, Thomas Jones and David Jones. The jury had heard something relative to another case which had taken place on the day previous to the prisoner’s arrest. They might infer, from what they had heard, that the witnesses were influenced by private feeling in giving their evidence, and in the colouring which they gave to their statements. The learned gentleman then eulogized the government for having treated the persons charged with Rebeccaism, during the last Winter Assizes, with marked leniency, and regretted that a similar course had not been pursued on this occasion; and this old affair — this old prosecution which had slumbered for twelve months had not been abandoned. He then analysed the evidence of the witnesses, and told the jury that if they were to convict the prisoner upon such evidence they would be grieved in after years by the reflection that they had upon insufficient evidence been the means of banishing a man who might be entirely innocent, from his country and from his friends.

The learned judge summed up the evidence at great length to the jury, who after retiring for an hour and 40 minutes, returned the following verdict— “Not guilty of demolishing but guilty of being in the company.”

The prisoner was then removed in custody, and was tried upon a second indictment on .

The article proceeds with that trial a bit further on:

David Evans, who was tried on on a similar charge, was charged on a second indictment for destroying a turnpike gate, called Gwarallt, in the parish of Llanllwny, in this county, on the night of , pleaded “Not guilty.”

After hearing the evidence, the jury were locked up, and were discharged; his lordship informed the prisoner that he was liable still to be prosecuted at a future assizes, of which notice would be given him.

A little further on it is explained:

David Evans, who was indicted for a misdemeanor , connected with the destruction of the Gwarallt gate, was this morning discharged, the jury, who had been locked up all night, being unable to agree as to their verdict.