Mixed Verdicts in Late Rebeccaite Trials

The issue of The Cambrian covered a late Rebeccaite trial. Excerpts:

Carmarthenshire Lent Assizes.

…His Lordship observed, that after perusing the depositions placed before him, respecting the cases into which it would be their duty to inquire, he thought he might fairly venture to congratulate them on the marked improvement in the state of public feeling, since the duty last devolved upon him of presiding in that Court; for, although many of the charges in the calendar were of a description similar to those which then formed the subject of inquiry, yet it appeared that, for the most part, they were offences committed during that time; and taking the calendar as a whole, he thought there were in it no features to induce him to think that any of the cases indicated the existence of that spirit of insubordination, and the reckless destruction of life and property, which at that time prevailed in the county. He should have stated that, since his arrival at Carmarthen, he had been informed of a serious depredation upon property, but he would attribute that to a malignant feeling on the part of one or more individuals, than to anything partaking of the character of a general combination.…


Benjamin Jones, 28, labourer, Samuel Thomas, 30, farmer, and John Thomas, 28, shoemaker, were arraigned upon an indictment, charging them with having, on , feloniously and maliciously set fire to the dwelling-house of the late Thomas Thomas, of Pantycerrig, in the parish of Llanfihangle-Rhos-y-Corn. In other counts they were charged with setting fire to a cow-house adjoining the dwelling-house, &c.; in others, with setting fire to the dwlling-house, persons being therein at the time. This was a Government prosecution. Mr Chilton, Q.C. Mr. Evans, Q.C., and Mr. V. Williams appeared for the Crown; Mr. Carne, Mr. Hall, and Mr. Richards defended the prisoners separately.

Mr. Chilton addressed the jury on the part of the prosecution. He observed, that this was a charge arising out of the late Rebecca disturbances. The prisoners at the bar were indicted for the most serious offence known to the law, with the exception of murder, and one which, even in the present state of the law, rendered them liable to the forfeiture of their lives, provided they were convicted on the last count — charging them with having fired the house, persons being in it at the time. … The circumstances of the case were these:– On the house of the prosecutor was burnt down, and that it could not be the result of accident was quite evident. It appeared that the cowhouse formed part of the house, being separated therefrom by a wattled partition. Over the cowhouse was a loft, on which were two rooms, a bedroom and a dairy, in the former of which a servant named Margaret Bowen, and a little girl of the name of Catherine Jones, slept. Between the room and the dairy there was an old wattled partition, full of holes, through which any person in the bedroom would be enabled to see any parties in the loft, into which was an entrance from the yard. When crimes of the atrocious nature of that with which the prisoners were charged had been committed, it was natural and necessary to endeavour to find out the motives which might have induced the commission of the crime. For this purpose, it would be necessary to state that, on , an attack was made upon Pantcerrig, by a party of Rebeccaites, when on , Mr. Thomas, who was since found dead, and whose death is still a mystery, visited Carmarthen, and gave evidence before the Magistrates against two parties, which resulted in their committal for trial. It was also proved, that on the return of Mr. Thomas from Carmarthen, a witness named James met one of the prisoners near Brechfa, when he requested the witness to endeavour to meet Thomas, and ask him what had become of the Evanses (the parties committed). They added that they had blacked themselves, with the intention of intercepting him, but that they arrived too late, he having passed previous to their coming up. This witness subsequently walked part of the road with Mr. Thomas, and cautioned him with respect to what he had heard and seen. On the same day the prisoner, Benj. Jones, borrowed a gun from a person named Davies, for the purpose, as he alleged, of killing rabbits, and he promised to return it that evening. The lender, however, did not receive his gun back for two months — Jones having absconded. At the time he borrowed it, he was accompanied by his brother, who also had a gun in his possession. On the arrival home of the old man, Mr. Thomas, at eleven o’clock, he intimated his desire of sleeping out of the house that night, in consequence of information communicated to him. He accordingly went out, and about twelve o’clock the wife retired to bed, in a room called the parlour; Margaret Bowen, the servant, and the little girl Catherine, having previously retired to the bed in the room adjoining the loft over the cowhouse. However, Margaret Bowen having gone to bed in a state of great alarm, could not sleep; and in the course of two hours after having retired, she heard a noise at the back of the house, and on raising herself in a sitting posture in bed, she was enabled, through the holes in the partition, disctinctly to see Benj. Jones in the next room, having a gun in his hand; she next saw Samuel Thomas, and next John Thomas, the latter of whom also had a gun. These persons she distinctly saw, and knowing them well before, she was enabled positively to swear to them. They were but slightly disguised, merely having turned their coats inside out. She also heard Benjamin Jones, whose voice she was well acquainted with, say “I will do very well with the old devil.” She saw a fourth party, but could not positively swear to his identity. She immediately went down stairs, passed through the kitchen, in which a labourer named David Davies slept, and into the room in which her mistress slept. To her she immediately communicated what she had seen, and that she had recognised some persons, but she did not then name them. Her mistress requested her to lay in bed with her, but she had hardly remained there ten or fifteen minutes, before they heard the noise of firing, soon after which the smell of smoke was perceived. On returning to the loft, she found all in flames; she endeavoured to get part of her clothes, and went down stairs. She afterwards returned, and found the bed encircled by fire, which was fast gaining on the whole roof. She immediately aroused the little girl, who was fast asleep, and carried her down stairs, without having time to save any of the clothes. The servants, some of whom slept in the outhouses, were aroused, but the house was completely burnt to the ground. It appeared that the witnesses had given information to a magistrate at the time, but owing to Benjamin Jones’s absence, it was thought discreet not to agitate the matter as against the Thomases, until Jones, supposed to have been the chief incendiary, had been apprehended.

The various witnesses testified, Margaret Bowen being the clincher, as she was the one who claimed to have seen and recognized the defendants at the scene of the crime. The defense therefore attacked that witness relentlessly, saying she could not have seen what she claimed to see in a dark barn at night, that she had made inconsistent statements after the event, and that besides the defendants had alibis. Witnesses then testified to each of these things, and must have been fairly convincing, as:

The jury retired, and after a short absence returned a verdict of “Not Guilty” as regards the three prisoners.

The following day, though, Benjamin Jones was back in the dock, charged with “assaulting Margaret Bowen, the principal witness in the case yesterday, with intent to murder her — to maim or disable — to disfigure — or do grievous bodily harm.” Bowen took the stand:

…and said, that some time after the attackes on her master’s house, and after she had said that she saw the prisoner, her master was found dead in a brook; this was three days before the last Winter Assizes. Some days after the body was found, there was a sale at Bergwm. The body was found near Glynllydan, where prisoner resided. On the evening of the day of Bergwm sale, she (witness) went out to gather wood. She observed the prisoner lying on the other side of a hedge. She asked him what he did there, and he asked her “where old Thomas, of Tynyforth (a farm in the neighbourhood), was?” She answered, “What do you want with him, do you wish to serve him in the same way as you did my master.” He said, “Oh, damn you, you old jade, I am not sorry for anything I have done to your old master, unless it is that I did not kill him sooner.” He then laid hold of her, placed his hand upon her mouth, which prevented her crying out, took a knife from his pocket and drew it several times across her throat, threatening to kill her. He then struck her on the nose until she fell insensible to the ground. She soon became better, and returned to the temporary house in the yard. On going in she found there were several wounds in her neck; immediately communicated with her mistress, who tied up the wounds. She subsequently became subject to fits. She went before Mr. Price, the magistrate, in three weeks. — Witness was searchingly cross-examined by Mr. N. Carne on behalf of the prisoner. [The jury here examined the witness’s neck, and found in it the mark of three wounds, and one on the chin.] Will swear I did not make them myself. Will swear I never told David James that a bramble in the hedge caused the wounds.

Mary Thomas and John Rowlands (a servant at the Thomas home) corroborated Bowen’s testimony. The defense brought forward witnesses who testified that Bowen had been bribed by Mary Thomas to invent the testimony, and others who testified as to an alibi for Jones. This time the Crown won its conviction. “Another bill,” unspecified by the article, “was preferred before the Grand Jury in the course of the day against the prisoner” and he was again found guilty. “There are other indictments against Benjamin Jones, but having been convicted of the capital charge it is supposed they will not be proceeded with.” Sentencing was deferred.

The Grand Jury have ignored the bill preferred against John Morgan, John Howells, David Howells, Thomas Thomas, John Jones, Benjamin Jones, and William Hopkin, charged with having set fire to a house in the parish of Llangadoc, on . It appeared the prisoner, Thomas Thomas, having been first committed upon the charge, on the evidence of untainted witnesses, was subsequently admitted approver against the rest; and though before the Magistrates he gave such evidence as resulted in the committal of the others, yet he turned round before the Grand Jury, and swore he knew nothing about the affair. — The Grand Jury also ignored the bill preferred against William Hopkin for demolishing Pontlleche turnpike gate, and also a bill against him for having stolen some smith’s tools.

And, from the same paper, an indication that Rebecca was not quite through yet:

Rebecca Again.

A Correspondent writes– “On , or , some outrageous ruffians broke off the staples, and drew off its hinges, a gate which was on a wood near Ynisygerwn, and threw it on the middle of the high road, to the great danger and inconvenience of travellers. Some of those wanton poachers think it proper to avenge themselves by destroying private property; but I trust that they shall meet that punishment which is their deserts.