The grand jury deciding whether to bring an indictment against several Rebeccaites, including those accused in the Pontardulais gate attack and in the attacks on the constables trying to arrest members of the Morgan family, met on to hear the prosecutor’s opening argument. The Cambrian was there:
For the Trial of Parties Charged with Rebeccaism.
— Mr. Baron Gurney addressed the Grand Jury, and, after making a few preliminary observations, congratulating them on the good attendance of Magistrates, Grand Jurors, &c., said–
We are assembled at this unusual season of the year, under her Majesty’s Commission of Oyer and Terminer, to enquire into the cases of persons charged with felonies and misdemeanours arising out of, or connected with, the disturbances and outrages lately committed in this county, and to deliver the gaol of persons who are detained therein under such charges.
It is but too notorious that, in other parts of South Wales, there have been, for several months past, tumultuary proceedings — large assemblages of persons, generally by night, for the destruction of turnpike gates.
These proceedings did not receive a check at their commencement; and, therefore, they gradually increased, unlil they attained considerable height.
It might have been expected that the exposition of the law, the salutary cautions, the solemn warnings of the Learned Judge who presided in South Wales, on the Summer Circuit, in the two neighbouring counties of Carmarthen and Pembroke, would have been effectual in bringing the people to a sense of their moral duly, or if that failed, of their personal danger, from a perseverance in these practices; but I lament to say that, instead of decreasing, these offences have increased in number, in extent, and in enormity, and have at length reached the county in which we are assembled.
Excesses of this kind are never committed without some grievance, real or pretended.
The alleged grievance on account of which they commenced, and have been continued, was heavy tolls at turnpike gates.
When turnpikes were first established in England, about a century ago, it is matler of history that a large proportion of the farmers were hostile to them. They, with short sighted policy, preferred bad roads, imperfectly repaired by the parishes, to good roads, which were attended with the exaction of tolls. Wiser councils, however, prevailed, and to those wiser councils we are indebted for those roads, which have been gradually improved, and have at last, in many paris, almost attained perfection.
By the turnpike roads, many districts have been made accessible, which were not so before. They have stamped an increased value on thousands and thousands of acres of valuable land.
But good roads could not be constructed except by means of a large outlay; for that outlay money was necessarily borrowed, for the payment of the principal and interest of which, tolls were necessary, and gates for their collection.
The Principality has, I believe, largely benefitted by this system.
The improvement in the roads has been beneficial to all classes. It has opened important communications for trade, for agriculture, and for pleasure. The facility afforded to travelling has brought into your country, so rich in scenery, numbers of persons who would otherwise never have visited it.
If, in the execution of plans for the improvement of the roads, any error has been committed — if the tolls imposed by the Act of Parliament have been too heavy; or if, where trustees had discretion vested in them, they have erred in the exercise of it, it was equally the duty and the interest of those who felt any burthen which they thought they ought not to bear, peaceably to prefer their applications to the legislature or to the trustees (as the case might be) for relief.
And if they believed that any illegal exaction took place, they had in their own hands a prompt remedy, by application to the magistrates in petty sessions, or, if they preferred it, either by indictment or by action, when a trial would have taken place at the assizes; and I will venture to say, that the appeal for justice, by even the poorest member of the community, would never have been made in vain.
I have always found that the claim of an oppressed man was listened to with favour in a court of justice, and ample redress afforded.
If, therefore, any grievances existed in the shape or oppression or illegal tolls, there was a legal remedy.
If, indeed, there are persons who, after money has been lent for the making the roads, and tolls imposed for repayment, have wished to break faith with the creditors by destroying their security, they must be dishonest characters. Many a widow and many an orphan are dependent on these securities for their subsistence.
Instead of that peaceable application for redress, which I have pointed out, there have been large and tumultuous assemblages of persons, generally in the night, disguised so as to escape identification; armed in a manner to defy resistance, provided with implements for the destruction of gates, and even houses, and have carried their unlawful and wicked purposes into execution by terror and by violence, extending even to an attack upon the lives of peace officers, in the actual execution of their duty.
In a country which is governed by law, such excesses as these must be put down with a strong hand. They are sure, sooner or later, to bring ruin on on those who engage in them.
I am happy to say that the cases which will be brought before you, though heinous in their character, are not numerous.
I learn from the depositions which lie before me, that on , an attack was made upon the turnpike house and gate at Pontardulais, on the road from Swansea to Llanon, by a tumultuous assemblage of persons, amounting, it is believed, to 150, blowing horns, armed and disguised, provided with implements of destruction. The gate was broken down, and the house partly demolished, when the chief constable and other constables, accompanied by a magistrate, arrived.
There can be no doubt that the demolition would have been completed, but for the interruption by the constables.
The constables, it is deposed, called on them to desist — upon this one of the leaders fired a pistol at the chief constable, and was followed by a volley from the rioters.
The fire was returned by the constables, and three persons were apprehended. These three are John Hughes, David Jones, and John Hugh. Two charges against them are stated in the commitment — the one of beginning to demolish the house, the other of firing at the chief constable and the other constables. It will be your duty to decide on the evidence that will be laid before you whether the guilt imputed be or be not brought home to them, or to either of them.
If the proof be as, were it remain unaswered, would induce you to pronounce a verdict of guilty (if you were the trying jury) in that case you will find a true bill, and doubtless you are well aware that they who concur in the verdict must not consist of a less number than twelve.
To prove the guilt of the persons accused, it is by no means necessary to show that they were the very persons who wielded the pick-axe or the crow bar, or did, with their own hands, any thing in the demolition of the house.
The crime is the crime of the riotous assembly, and all who formed part of that assembly, all who, by their presence, swelled their number and augmented their force, more especially all who by their disguises had prepared to avoid detection, and all who by their arms had prepared to over-power resistance, and resist apprehension — all in short who, by their conduct, shewed that they were concurring and assisting in the execution of their unlawful purpose are in law equally guilty.
You will, therefore, attend to the evidence that will be adduced, and find a true bill or not, according as the evidence fixes or fails to fix guilt upon each of the persons charged.
The same observation applies to the charge of firing loaded arms at the peace officers — it is not necessary to prove that the person charged was the very man that pulled the trigger — all who banded themselves together in such numbers with such weapons — indicative of such a purpose, are equally guilty.
Had any of these shots taken fatal effect, they would have had to answer for the crime of murder — and this consideration should lead rash and unthinkinc people to some reflection as to the danger they incur by engaging in such enterprizes which may and continually do involve them in more atrocious crimes, and more condign punishments than they had anticipated.
Another case is a charge of assault upon the chief constable, for the purpose of preventing the apprehension, or of rescuing from his lawful custody a member of the family, against whom a warrant on a charge of felony had issued, of maliciously and feloniously cutting and wounding him.
The depositions state that the chief constable, accompanied by others, had apprehended Henry Morgan, on a charge of felony, when the mother, the father, the sister, and the brother, fell upon him with great violence; assaulted him with ditferent weapons — and the mother assaulted him with a weapon which cat his head to the bone.
In his own defence he was compelled to fire a pistol, by which one the family was seriously wounded; for the preservation of his life he was justified in so doing.
You will hear the narrative of each of the officers, and find a true bill or not, according as the evidence proves or fails to prove the participation of these parties in this crime.
As in the other case, it is fit that I should state that, where all the parties are equally engaged, the act of one is the act of all.