Special Carmarthenshire Assizes Held for Rebecca

There were also unseasonal Winter Assizes in Carmarthenshire, as seen in this article from the Cambrian (excerpts):

…The calendar contains the names of 64 prisoners, in addition to which there are a great number out under bail. The total number of persons to be tried amounts to very little, if indeed any, short of one hundred individuals, all of whom, with the exception of six or seven persons indicted for various comparatively minor offences — are charged with having been concerned in the late Rebecca disturbances. As might be expected, the interest felt by all classes, is most intense. The town is literally filled with people from various parts of the county — most of whom are either jurors, parties out under bail, or persons somehow or other connected with them. The number of persons in town may be surmised from the circumstance, that it is next to an impossibility to procure lodgings, either at inns or private lodging-houses.

The article goes on to list the 33 magistrates, 3 coroners, and 23 grand jurors, among whom the usual title “Esquire” dominates. The prosecutor-judge addressed those assembled:

There would be also presented to their notice several cases of a description which had not been before them on former occasions, and to dispose of which they might require assistance; and upon those cases he would offer a few observations — most of them being connected with the recent alarming disturbances in that and the adjoining counties of South Wales. The offences to which he referred were provided for by the statute 7th and 8th Geo. 4, which enacted, that if any person or persons riotously and tumultuously assembled, to the disturbance of the public peace, should with force demolish, pull down, or destroy, or begin to demolish any church or chapel, or any house used for worship by persons dissenting from the Church of England, or any dwelling-house, house, barn, manufactory, or house used for the purpose of carrying on any works, &c., together with the several other buildings enumerated in the statute, should be deemed guilty of felony. In order to bring the case within the provisions of the statute, it would be necessary that two things should be established. In the first place, the parties charged with being riotously assembled, must consist of three or more, — three being the number named in the statute. Their actions must also be accompanied with such circumstances as would be naturally calculated to occasion alarm or inspire terror; and, in the second place, it must be proved that the demolition, or the partial demolition of a building, took place. To decide whether the charge of beginning to demolish could be sustained, they must ascertain whether the partial demolition was effected with the intention of completing and finishing it, as beginning to demolish did [part of page missing] the demolition of a part of a building, [part of page missing] the intention of completing the demoli-[part of page missing]

Unfortunately, here (and elsewhere) there are several paragraphs missing, as the page in the original is ripped. This is too bad, because the first case is somewhat confusing. It involves someone who brags of being Rebecca, seems to be dressed in a Rebeccaite-like disguise, and fires a gun at someone; but is also identified as someone who had voted against Rebeccaite activity at a public meeting, and the crime in question doesn’t seem to have been accompanied by other Rebeccaite activity or to have been joined in by anyone but the defendant. This may have been another case of someone hiding behind Rebecca’s skirts to try and settle a private grievance.

…parts of South Wales for several months past. The present question was so intimately connected with those disturbances, that if the charge against the prisoner were to be proved, it would have a tendency to show to what lawless excesses man may be carried when once the authority of the law was trampled upon, and when men take into their own hands authority which does not belong to them. They would learn by the evidence that, on , the prisoner at the bar was seen outside the door of the New Inn, Pontyberem. There he was first observed engaged in a scuffle with a person, who would be produced as a witness. He was at that time disguised in a manner which would be described in evidence, and he also appeared to have boasted that he was “Rebecca,” and to have asserted that he “took upon himself to do justice,” or made use of some expressions of that kind. The person who afterwards had a scuffle with him — a man of the name of Levi — seeing the extraordinary appearance of the prisoner on that night, exclaimed “who is here,” or “what is this,” when the latter pointed a gun towards him in a dangerous manner. Levi laid hold of the barrel and thrust it from opposite his own body. During the struggle which ensued, the gun was fired, whether purposely or accidentally it was not for him to say. Levi being alarmed ran to the Inn. There could be no doubt of the fact, that the prisoner then loaded his gun, and afterwards went towards the kitchen of the house, and there lost the ramrod of his gun, for it was subsequently picked up and delivered to him. Having retired from the house, he appeared to have meditated some violence, for the landlady desired the door to be shut. In obedience to the landlady’s desire, a person, named Walter Rees, advanced towards the door, and while in the act of shutting it, and while the door was half shut, the prisoner discharged the gun at the door. One or two shots pierced the person’s hat, while the powder numbed his cheek, while the rest of the charge passed by him, — some having entered the door, and some through the passage to the cellar door. After this he came to the Inn, asked for the ramrod, and stated that “the man who had his ramrod was a dead man.” It was picked up by a person named James James, who delivered to him the ramrod. The prisoner then left, and not long afterwards was apprehended and taken into custody. Now, he (the Attorney-General) had to tell them that, at present, he had nothing to do with any other charge against the prisoner. The duty of the jury would be first to enquire whether the alleged offence was committed at all. In the second place, whether a gun had been fired at Walter Rees or at any other person, with the intention of killing him or doing him harm. In one count, they would observe the offence was charged as having been committed against a person unknown — that was because it must be that the prisoner did not know the person to be Walter Rees, but thought him to be Levi or some other person; but whether he thought him to be Rees, Levi, or any other individual, it was for them to say whether any reasonable doubt could be entertained that the gun was discharged having murderous contents in it — capable of producing death or bodily injury, or that the party did discharge it with the intention of doing any mischief, or with a careless listlessness. It was the prisoner’s business to know that it would do grievous mischief. That some person fired there could be no doubt, as part of the shot entered the door, part the passage, and part Rees’s hat, and it would be for the jury to say whether it was discharged with the intention imputed. The last point to be ascertained was, whether the individual who committed the offence was the prisoner at the bar. He would be recognised by two witnesses — identified by two more, and when the witnesses who would fix the charge upon the prisoner would give their evidence, it would be for them to say whether they could have any doubt that the prisoner was the party. He was happy to say that the prisoner was to be defended by talent and ability, which was well known not only in that county, but also in other parts of the country.…

Walter Rees, woodman, near Pontyberem, who was examined by Mr. Chilton, Q.C., stated, that on , he was at the house of Mrs. Bowen, in Pontyberem. He went to the passage of the inn, about , when the landlady requested him to close the door. In doing so he saw a man, disguised in a woman’s dress. Witness here described the dress worn by the person whom he saw, and who carried a gun, which he pointed towards witness. He pushed the door as quickly as he possibly could. While doing so, and when the door was half shut, he saw a flash, accompanied with the report of a gun. Something struck the left side of his face, which benumbed the side of his cheek. After he returned to the kitchen, he found holes made by shot in his hat. Soon afterwards the prisoner came into the kitchen. [Witness was here examined with the view of proving the prisoner’s identity. The latter said, whoever had got the ramrod of this gun, was a dead man. The ramrod was given to the prisoner, who then retired.] Witness, together with others, then examined the door, shelves, &c., and found marks of shots. The hat was then produced.

Cross-examined by Mr. Lloyd Hall:— Saw only one individual there at the time this transaction occurred. Had been in the house for about two hours. Was at Mr. Powell’s shop at . Was outside the inn for a few minutes before this occurrence took place. Saw no individual in particular then. Saw no man, with the exception of the man referred to, in a plaid cloak. Drank three or four half-pints of beer at the inn. The prisoner was about three or four feet distant from the doorway when he first saw him. The door being partly between him and the prisoner, he could not see the muzzle of the gun. Knew the prisoner to be the man by his visage, and because he had seen him at a meeting at Mynyddd Sylan, at which Mr. Chambers, the Magistrate, presided. He heard a resolution passed at that meeting, and saw the prisoner hold up his hand in its favour. There was a sizable candle in the room when the prisoner asked for the ramrod.

Here there are several paragraphs missing from the newspaper report as the page is ripped in the original that was scanned. We return to the trial with what appears to be the defense attorney’s summing-up:

…prisoner was attired. He also contended, that though the prisoner might hold the gun in the scuffle with Lewis Levi, yet it had not been proved that the same party had fired at Rees, as it appeared in evidence that the first party went round the corner, and was lost sight of for several minutes, and none of the witnesses identified him as the same. Another important fact, observed Mr. Hall, stated by the witnesses for the prosecution was, that after firing the first shot, he had lost his ramrod. It was highly improbable that he could have discharged a second lime, as there was no evidence that there was a second ramrod with which to load it. Another circumstance which greatly weighed in the prisoner’s favour was, that of his having, at the Mynydd Sylen meeting, held on that day, and at which Mr. Chambers presided, held up his hand in favour of a resolution deprecating violence. The statement made by one of the witnesses relative to expressions made use of by the prisoner, during which he said, “He was sorry that he killed no person,” might have referred to another transaction.

The Attorney General replied to Mr. Hall’s observations. He thought that, irrespective of the prisoner’s guilt or innocence, the circumstance of the disturbances lately prevalent in South Wales, giving rise to such an act as the one committed in the Inn, at Pontyberem, on that night, was calculated to excite most melancholy feelings. The very fact of a man, having dressed himself up in the manner described, and having in that reckless manner discharged a gun, which to all appearances, were it not for one of those almost miraculous interventions of Providence, would result in the death of Rees, and the prisoner at the bar be tried for the crime of murder; and, when he looked at the character of the offence, he confessed that he felt somewhat surprised at the cool and jocular manner of the gentleman who had just addressed them. With respect to the references made to himself, personally, he was only surprised that the Learned Gentleman could have condescended to deliver such an address. After all, he (the Attorney-General) could not understand upon what point it was meant to rest the defence. Did he contend that no gun had been fired because the ram-rod had been lost? But there was the fact deposed in evidence, that the gun was fired. He thought it scarcely worth his while remarking upon the observations made by the Learned Counsel upon the privilege he had of replying. He allowed that it was a privilege of his office, and it was his duty to exercise his privilege as Attorney-General, for the benefit of the country. If he was of opinion that there was no case against the prisoner, it would be his duty immediately to enter a nolle prosequi, as alike just towards the Crown and towards the prisoner.

The Attorney-General spoke at considerable length, remarking upon those parts of the evidence which he contended clearly, and beyond doubt, proved the identity of the man who had the gun when first fired, and the man who afterwards fired it, as charged in the indictment. Mr. Hall had dilated considerably upon the circumstance of the prisoner’s having risen his hand in favour of a resolution deprecating violence at the meeting in the morning. If any fact proved his identity, it was that, for the same witness spoke of him as taking part at the meeting in the morning, and as firing with a gun in the evening; but what also fixed his guilt was, the fact of his having admitted in his conversation with the witness James, that he had fired into the house and was sorry he had not killed some one. The Learned Advocate concluded by congratulating the jury on the recent amelioration of the criminal code, by which, whatever their verdict would be, the prisoner’s life would not be periled.

The Learned Judge, in summing up the evidence, observed that the prisoner, under the different counts, was charged with shooting with intent to murder, or do grievous bodily harm, and as they had been already told, it was their privilege to decide upon the prisoner’s guilt or innocence; still, though a privilege, it was a privilege to determine according to the evidence, for they could not swerve to the right or to the left without violating their oaths, and rendering themselves responsible to God for their conduct. This case was important in every point of view, for on the one hand, they had the liberty of the prisoner dependent upon their verdict, and on the other, they had the safety of society to guard because, if crimes of this description escaped unpunished, what security was there to any of her Majesty’s subjects; and if they convicted upon rash or frivolous grounds, what innocent man was safe? They must first ascertain whether a gun had been fired in the manner described — whether with the intention imputed, and thirdly, whether the prisoner was the man who had used it. From various circumstances he thought there could be no doubt upon the first point. As to the second, the jury were to judge of any party’s intention by the natural result of the act. If a man performed an act, the natural result of which was to kill or murder, or do any grievous bodily harm, then the party was guilty of that intention. In accordance with their opinions upon all or any of these points, they would acquit or convict the prisoner, giving him the benefit of any reasonable doubts.

The jury retired, and after a short absence returned into Court, with a verdict of “GUILTY.” — Sentence deferred.

The Judge:— Upon what count do you find him guilty?

Foreman:– That charging him with an intention to do some grievous bodily harm.