Grand Jury Hears Testimony in Rebeccaite Case

The grand jury deciding whether to bring an indictment against several accused Rebeccaites met again on to decide on the cases of John Hughes, John Hugh, and David Jones. The Cambrian was there:

They first considered the charges against John Hughes (who appeared in court with his arm in a sling from injuries suffered during his arrest). Hughes’s lawyer tried to challenge the method by which the jury was composed, without much success.

The prosecutor addressed the jury, saying in part:

He would forbear from making any observations upon the state of the adjoining counties, were it not for the purpose of accounting for their being assembled together on that extraordinary occasion, for the trial of this, and other cases which would come before the Court. The disturbed condition in which many of the counties of South Wales were at the present time, rendered it, in the judgment of those whose duty it was to advise the Crown, imperatively necessary that the resolute and immediate administration of the law should take effect, and justice be promptly administered, in consequence of the great increase in the number and magnitude of offences committed under circumstances of considerable violence.

He went on to describe the Pontardulais Gate attack as follows:

He would relate what took place on , by a mob, consisting from one to two hundred persons, many of whom were on horseback. They appeared to have come from some of the roads leading from the county of Carmarthen over a bridge, known by the name of Pontardulais bridge, which crossed a river, called the Loughor river. At a short distance from the bridge, on the Glamorganshire side of the river, there was a toll-house and gate, and he believed they had existed beyond the memory of most persons acquainted with that part of the country. He would next call the attention of the jury to the general appearance of the mob, and the manner in which they had provided themselves with arms and other implements of destruction. The majority were disguised in some garments resembling female attire, and having their faces blackened. Several of them had arms. Shots were fired, and in some instances it would be proved, that the guns were loaded with shot, one having been taken, and when examined was found to be loaded. What were the contents of the guns which had been discharged could only be proved by the effect taken by them, and it would be stated in evidence, that the marks of shot were visible on different portions of the toll-house, and he was not confident whether such was not the case in some of the neighbouring houses. They advanced towards the bridge, which they crossed, and went to the toll-house and gate. They appeared to have with them implements of a destructive kind, and when it was considered that there were taken posession of, on the following morning, some guns, cliff, pickaxes, sledge-hammers, and some other instruments, the jury could have no doubt what was the object of the party whom he had just described. The work of destruction soon afterwards commenced — all the windows of the toll house were broken, and part of the frame work destroyed, together with the door, and the house entered. The partitions of the room were destroyed, and from one part of the house there were several stones removed, making a breach or aparture in one place, in height about two feet, and eighteen inches in length, and posts which some of the witnesses would tell them were the props of the house. In their work of destruction, it would be found they were interrupted. That would be proved by the witnesses. When examined, it was found that the gate post was cut one-third through with a cross saw, and the jury would learn the slate in which the toll-house and gate had been left, from the evidence of the magistrates, chief-constable, and officers, who went there with the intention of apprehending some of the rioters. It appeared to him to be idle to suggest any doubts as to the general character of the assemblage — that it was riotous, tumultous, and in every way illegal. When the large weapons made use of were taken into consideration — when the disguised appearance and the violent conduct of the mob were considered — there could not be the least doubt but that it was, in the eye of the Act of Parliament [the law forming the basis for the criminal charge], a riotous and tumultuous assemblage of persons for the disturbance of the public peace. It appeared to him, that was beyond dispute. What had actually been done, would be borne testimony to, by a variety of witnesses, upon whose evidence no doubt could be thrown. There remained for the juey but one additional enquiry, and that was — what participation the prisoner at the bar had in the proceedings. He believed it would be laid down from the Bench, that when any riotous assembly tumultuously met together, every person who, by his presence, contributed to swell their number, which gave them that formidable appearance and character, calculated to inspire terror and alarm, would, in the first instance, be deemed guilty of participation in the riot. It would devolve upon the accused to show that he was present, with an innocent purpose. But the case against the prisoner did not rest upon his mere presence among the mob. When apprehended, it was found that he was armed, disguised by having his face blackened, and under circumstances from which they would draw the conclusion as to the part taken by him in the affair. It appeared that Capt. Napier, accompanied by a superintendent and some policemen, with a few others, to the number of eleven or twelve persons, in consequence of having received information of an intended attack upon the gate, proceeded there from the Glamorganshire side of the Pontardulais bridge, with the view of apprehending some of the parties concerned in the tumult. They were on a spot not a very great distance from the gate, and from where they were enabled to see, hear, and judge of what was going on among the crowd. They would be called before the jury. and would describe the number assembled, the frequency of the gunshots fired by them, the noises they made, and the signals given by means of blue lights. The work of demolition having been manifested by crashing noises, Captain Napier and his party advanced towards them, and desired them to desist. The conduct of the persons assembled he would leave the witnesses to state. Capt. Napier remarked the dress of the prisoner, and when apprehended, recognised him as the person who wore that dress. It was Captain Napier’s object to wound the horses, so as to apprehend the riders. He accordingly fired, and the prisoner descended; the police and the prisoner came into personal conflict, and in the conflict the prisoner was wounded, as the jury would observe, from his arm being in a sling. Upon a shot being fired by one of ihe mob, an attempt was made to ride down the party headed by Captain Napier. The prisoner’s identity would be distinctly proved. He was recognised by his dress — he was also recognised by his wounds, and was taken to the toll-house. There was also found on his person a quantity of gunpowder, with a shot belt in addition to copper caps, and papers, which were evidently intended for threatening notices, found upon him, and which he would call their attention to. The Hon. and Learned Gentleman then read a Welsh notice, to this effect:— “Come with your armour or covering to     on Wednesday next, to assist me, or you shall have no further notice — (signed.) — Becca.” There were other papers found upon his person, but parts of which were torn, which might render their meaning doubtful, so that he would prefer the jury to read them for themselves. Those notices would prove the prisoner to be closely connected with the operations of the night in question, He (the Attorney-General) did not consider it necessary to name every individual act of the persons present on the occasion, neither had he a desire to raise any legal discussion, but be thought it clear that all the acts of that assembly showed what were the objects for the accomplishment of which they had assembled together.

The Monmouthshire Merlin quotes the note somewhat differently in their coverage:

Daniel Jones, Brynhyr, — Come with your armour (or covering) to Llan Ty Issa, to assist us, on Wednesday night next, or else you shall not have another (or further) notice. — Becca.

The chief constable who led the raid, Charles Frederick Napier, testified first:

On I received information, which induced me to go to the Pontardulais gate. I first went to Penllergare. I was accompanied by Mr. J.D. Llewelyn, and L.Ll. Dillwyn, two county magistrates, Mr. Moggridge, Mr Sergeant Peake, and six police constables. We went across the country, starting from Penllergare, about . During the time of our proceeding, I heard a great noise of horns blowing [“as if for signals,” the Monmouthshire Merlin adds] in different parts of the country, and firing. I heard those noises repeatedly in the course of our proceeding. When arriving at the gate, we halted in the field about 600 yards from the gate. While in the field, I heard first of all great noise of voices, then shots were fired, and I heard a number of horses trampling from the opposite side of the river. I heard the voices on the Carmarthen side. The noise increased considerably, and came from the direction of the Red Lion Inn. I heard a volley fired, and also cheering, in the neighbourhood of the Red Lion Inn. I heard a voice say. “Come, come,” three times. They then proceeded towards the Pontardulais gate. Some of the mob cried out, “Gate, gate.” It was now . When I heard these voices I heard sounds of gate-breaking, and smashing of glass. I then ordered my men to follow me, and proceeded across the lane, and then to the main road. I saw three men mounted, disguised, with their horses facing the toll-house. There were other persons dismounted, and in the act of destroying the gate. There were about 150 [“about 100” says the Merlin] there. One had a white loose dress, with a loose handkerchief, and their faces blackened. The men on horseback appeared to be directing the other parties. I ordered the men to fall in, and advanced towards the party, and cried out “Stop, stop, stop,” as loud as I could. One of the men on horseback appeared to hear, fired at me. I then said, “Mark that man.” I advanced with my pistol, and fired at the horse. The muzzle was close to him. The horses turned, and the party appeared as if they rode over us. The man on the horse I shot fell, by what means I know not. The man that fell I believe to be the same as the man I fired at. I then advanced to him, and we struggled. He was then wounded in the arm, but by whom I know not. There were several others who fired. I did not take that person into custody then, as I was struck with a stick on the back of the bead. The person I was struggling with had a straw hat and a loose white dress, similar to a Druid’s dress [the Merlin says just that “he was disguised, and his face blackened”]. Others were disguised, but not in the same way. Some had their coat sleeves turned. I afterwards saw the same man in the custody of one of the police. To the best of my belief, he was the same man. The mob then retreated over the bridge to the county of Carmarthen. I know the prisoner at the bar to be one of the persons who was taken that night, and, to the best of my belief, who I was scufiling with. There were two other persons taken one had the straw hat, and his coat sleeves turned inside out. They had their faces blackened. The other had a woman’s straw bonnet, with a piece of fern stuck in it, as a feather. After the mob had retreated, I observed what was done to the house. The door was broken in, the window broken, and part of the walls demolished. Part of the sills were remaining. The boards on the floors broken up. About two feet ot the pine end of the toll-house were taken out. That is, a part of the walls of the building. I observed one person, with the but of his gun, drawing up the windows. There were several instruments found on the following day — crowbars, blacksmiths’ sledges, hammers, &c. There is a blacksmith’s shop adjoining the turnpike. It was damaged. I had seen a light when about five miles from Pontartlulais — it was a blue light, thrown up into the air. I observed it twice.

On cross-examination he added that he’d gotten the tip that caused him to go to the Pontardulais gate at . Next to testify was county magistrate John Dillwyn Llewelyn. He told more-or-less the same story, adding the detail “It was a moonlight night.” His brother, and fellow-magistrate, Lewis Ll. Dillwyn, testified next, to much the same effect, though he described “noises, similar to the mewing of cats” coming from the mob. H.J. Peake then briefly gave his similar description and produced some physical evidence:

I produce two flasks of powder given me by Thos. Jones, who also delivered me some papers. On the same morning he delivered me some articles of dress. [Pouch containing shot produced]. They are large shot. (Handed in). I produce a shirt covered with blood delivered me by Sergeant Jenkins. I produce straw hats and one covered with cloth [like a veil]. I produce two sledges, a cliff, some iron bars, a gun, a coat with sleeves turned.

He was followed by police sergeants Jenkins and Jones, and constables Jones, Price, Williams, and Wright. Price claimed he heard a shout of “fight till death” during the melee (the Merlin says that Jones heard this as well, and attributed the shout to “one of the mob,” while the Cambrian was more ambiguous about who did the shouting). Some of the witnesses reported on which of the prisoners they’d tangled with, what damage was done to the toll house, and what evidence they’d found at the scene, but nothing particularly worth repeating here.

George Evans, proprietor of a blacksmith shop near the Pontardulais gate, testified that his shop had been broken into on the night of the attack and identified some of the tools recovered at the gate as having been among the items taken from him.

The papers, &c., found on the prisoner’s person were then put in evidence — one contained 5s. in silver, and was addressed “Mrs. Rebecca,” and contained writing, but in consequence of its being torn it was not very intelligible. There was also a threatening letter saying, “That the worthy mother would call on some one, and visit him for his wicked deeds, and giving him notice to prepare for the day of judgment,[”] and signed “A Hater of Tyranny, and one of Rebecca’s daughters.”

The Monmouthshire Merlin also covered the hearing. It added the detail that “The court was densely crowded in every part.”