Special Carmarthenshire Assizes Held for Rebecca

From the Cambrian:

Carmarthenshire Winter Assizes.

(Continued from our last.)

 — This morning. Mr. Justice Cresswell took his seat upon the Bench at .

The Dolauhirion Gate.

Thomas Morgan, aged 28, and Thomas Lewis, aged 24, were arraigned on an indictment charging them with having, on , at Dolauhirion toll-gate in the parish of Llandingad, assembled together, with divers other persons unknown, and then and there the dwelling-house of the said toll-gate did unlawfully, feloniously, and with force, begin to demolish, pull down, and destroy. Both prisoners pleaded “Not Guilty.”

The Attorney-General (with whom were Messrs. Chilton, Q.C., Evans, Q.C., and E. V. Williams, as in all the cases prosecuted by the Government) stated the charge to the jury. He would occupy but a very few minutes of their time, in giving an outline of the case before him. As so many days had been already occupied in disposing of other similar cases, and as the jury residing in the county, must be well acquainted with the disturbances which had sprung up in many parts of South Wales, it would be unnecessary for him, in introducing this case, to make any observations of a general character. The charge against the prisoners was, that they had, on the night of , or rather early on the following morning, assisted others and were themselves actively employed, in destroying a dwelling-house. A month previous to the destruction of the house to which he referred, the gate alone was destroyed and the toll house left, and shortly afterwards a new gate was erected, and the toll-collector attended early each morning and collected tolls during the day, but did not sleep during night in the toll-house. Most probably an attempt would be made to raise an objection on a point of law, that the house was not within the meaning of the Act which had been framed and enacted for the purpose of protecting dwelling-houses in general. He (the Attorney-General) admitted that though the Act might not apply to every description of building which in conversation might be denominated a house — a pigeon-house for instance would not come within the meaning of the Act — still he contended that, where a house had been occupied as a dwelling-house, and if some days prior to the tumult, the party had been compelled by fear and terror to cease occupying it, that house came under the meaning of the Act providing for the protection of dwelling houses. He thought it right to call their attention as well of that of his Lordship to that point, as the house had not been described in the indictment as a “dwelling house.” It appeared that, on the night of , after the toll-keeper had retired, that the mischief which gave rise to these proceedings was accomplished. The case against the prisoners was, that, on that night, a number of persons riotously assembled together, prostrated the gate, and, thinking that as the former destruction of the gate only had not prevented the collection of tolls, they had thought proper to demolish the toll house too. A witness named Jones, a superintendent of police, who would give evidence before them, was called to the scene by watchers, who had been placed on the “look out” at the gate, partly to protect the toll-gate, and partly to give the alarm in case of an attack being made. The witness went as near the place as he could with safety have gone, and on his arrival, he saw a number of persons, amounting to some fifty or more running across a field, at the further end of which a gap had been left in the event of an alarm. As he approached the toll-house, he saw a man, who afterwards turned out to be the prisoner, Lewis, on the top of the house, engaged in the work of destruction. He saw the prisoner glide down from the roof into the field, where he was afterwards joined by the prisoner Morgan. They walked together across the field towards Dolauhirion farm-house. Suspecting that they were going towards some of the farm-buildings, the officer galloped on the road, and saw both prisoners entering a bin or barn attached to the farm-buildings. Now, the officer would tell the jury, that he saw one of them when on the house slide down the roof, that, being on horseback, he had ample opportunity to keep his eye upon them until they had entered the house, when he procured assistance and took them into custody. He immediately recognised them as the two who were at the toll-house, and unless the two men were changed by something wonderful, he would almost say miraculous, their identity was fully made out. The policeman pointed out to one of the other witnesses, whose evidence the jury should hear, the place where he saw the man glide down, and being then early in the morning, that witness was enabled distinctly to trace their footsteps in the dew from the toll-house to the farm-buildings, where they were apprehended. On the prisoners’ boxes being searched, a horn was found in that belonging to Lewis, and a pair of wet boots in Morgan’s box. On being questioned, Lewis said that the horn was used to give notice of the approach of the Rebeccaites. Those were the circumstances under which the prisoners were brought before them, and which would be more fully detailed in the evidence of the various witnesses. He (the Attorney-General) had been informed that an alibi would be set up on their behalf. He would tell the jury that an alibi, if clearly made out, was the best possible evidence; but if otherwise, it was the worst evidence, as no innocent man would support his case by perjury. He had no doubt that they would deal with the prisoners as the justice of the case required. The Attorney-General then proceeded to explain to the jury a plan of the relative position of the toll-house, road, farm-building, &c., by which they would perceive that one of the witnesses was in such a position, that he could not have seen the prisoner Morgan on the other side of the toll-house.

Sure enough, there follows here some hair-splitting over whether the toll house was really a “dwelling house” as meant by the charge in the indictment, and whether the case should instead be filed under a different section of the law as a misdemeanor instead of a felony. The judge overruled this objection. On with the trial:

Evan Davies examined by Mr. Chilton, Q.C.:– I remember Dolauhirion gate toll-house, which was inhabited by Benjamin Evans previous to the destruction of the gate, for two years. I was employed as watchman and toll collector for two days previous to the destruction of the house. There was no furniture in the house. I was employed to collect by Daniel Richards. I went to collect tolls in the morning at six o’clock and left at ten in the evening. I was during night employed to watch the gate. I was so employed on . I left the house and gate safe that night. I watched until and then left. When I returned , I found that the gate had been broken, and the front side of the roof entirely gone, and the back part partly so.

Cross-examined by Mr. Carne:— To the best of my knowledge all the tiles were off the front part of the house. A man named Rees came to me on the evening of . We remained until ten that night, and left together, shutting up the house, leaving no one in it. We returned that night to Llandovery, and saw George Jones, policeman — I drank beer with him. It was then about . When in company with Jones, a person named James Phillips came to us. Upon being told something by Phillips, Jones ordered his horse, and armed himself. He had a sword and double-barrelled gun — wished me to go with him. I objected, but afterwards went. On going up to the gate, we saw Williams and Thomas there. George Jones got up to the gate a few yards before me. When I came up, Jones ordered them to apprehend me as one of the “Beccas.” He said “William Thomas, apprehend this man. He is one of the Beccas.” Jones then went away. He soon after came up on horseback, whistling. This was . The moon had set and it was very dark. Heard some persons singing in a field at a little distance. Joseph Williams said “that sounds like the voice of one of the Dolauhirion boys.” None of us went up to see who it was. Jones and myself then returned to Llandovery. It was now . It was still dark. Might know a person at four or five or even ten yards. Jones afterwards went back to the gate.

Re-examined:— I was frequently in the toll-honse when B. Evans dwelt there. It was a furnished house. I was in the shade when Jones ordered them to seize me.

George Jones, Superintendent of Police, examined by Mr. Evans, Q.C., said — I remember , when Joseph Williams, William Thomas, and Evan Davies watched the toll-house. I used to go to the toll-house during the night to see if the watchers were on duty. On hearing whistling in the field, I drew their attention to it. Williams said, “I know that is Tom, the servant of Dolauhirion — he is going for the horses.” I then left, together with Evan Davies, and requested the other two watchers to remain. I proceeded to retire to bed, after having reached Llandovery, when I heard knocking at the door — found William Thomas there, who said, that there were about one hundred “Rebecca’s” about the gate. Went to the Three Horse Shoes for the dragoons. The patrol said, that he could not go without the officer. I said, “there was no time to consult him, that the gate would be destroyed.” I then went off. Thomas told me not to go, or I would be murdered.

The Judge:— That is no evidence.

Examination continued:— When I went to the gate, I saw several persons near the pine-end of the house. I saw one man on the house, who slided down from the roof. I tried to take the hedge. There were about fifty persons who ran across the field. The man on the house was Thomas Lewis, the prisoner. I could distinctly see him. He did not go in the same direction as the crowd, but towards Dolauhirion farm-house. I galloped on the road to the place where I expected them to come out. They went into a cow-house or bin. I called upon them to come out, as I knew them. I revived no answer. I heard a noise in the bin, as if undressing themselves. I went and called up David Evans, their master, who gave me a candle, but could not give me a light. I then called upon them again; they both answered, and asked what I wanted with them. They came to the door, the upper part of which was open — they were partially undressed. I charged them with breaking the gate, and told them, that they must come to Llandovery. Morgan said, “He would be d–d if he would go, until his master was up.” In ten minutes, the two watchers, Williams and Thomas, came up. I had gone to the cottage, to get a light. I ordered Thomas and Williams to take the prisoners into custody. They said, they would not, as they were not armed. I galloped to Llandovery, and returned to Dolauhirion with James Phillips, a constable. Noticed that Morgan’s boots were wet. Phillips asked both, why their boots were so wet. One gave no answer, but the other said, he had been out courting until three o’clock. On searching their boxes, I found this horn [produced] in Lewis’s box. I knew it to be his box, as he gave me the key. Morgan told me the other was his box. In it I found a pair of wet boots. Asked Lewis what he did with the horn. He said, “To call Becca, to see what sort of people they were.” It was between five and six o’clock when I saw the man on the house top. I pointed to Phillips the place I saw the prisoner on the roof.

Cross-examined by Mr. Carne:— It was not very dark when I returned to the gate. It was not cloudy. It was not too dark to see a person fifteen yards off. I passed a man who stood on the hedge, near the toll-house. I distinctly saw and recognised a man on the roof. I had to pass a corner in going to Dolauhirion. The corner of the house projects into the farm yard. The corner of the house partially hides the door from the road view. I knew neither of these men before — had not, to the best of my knowledge, seen them. When Thomas refused to take them into custody, he did not say there was no appearance of their being at the gate. I did not ask William Thomas to swear that it was light enough to recognise a man at 20 yards off. He never told me. “I would not take the world for telling a lie for you.” Never said, “Mind to swear to the voices of the Dolauhirion boys: if you swear to their voices, you shall have a hundred pounds.” Never said any thing of the kind. I have seen the proclamation, offering a reward for the conviction of Rebeccaites, but not as soon as it had been published [The proclamation was dated in London on that day.] Never stood in that dock. Never was charged with robbing a man in conjunction with Rebecca Lloyd. Knew a person committed to gaol for that offence.

Re-examined:— I saw the two men enter the bin.

Mr. John Williams, surveyor of the Trust, was called to prove the correctness of the plan, the destruction of the gate. and the damage done to the house. His description was similar to that given by other witnesses.

James Phillips:— Is a constable. Remembers the morning the Dolauhirion toll-house was destroyed. Remembers George Jones calling upon him on . On arriving at Dolauhirion, saw the two prisoners churning. Assisted George Jones to take them into custody. Observed Lewis’s boots, which were quite wet. The mistress of the house said she could prove they were in bed. I showed the boots to her, and asked if she thought the wearer of them had been in bed. She then said she “did not think that boy was afraid of Rebecca.” Witness also proved the finding of the horn, &c., in prisoners’ boxes, as detailed by the last witness. He afterwards went to the toll-house, and saw the damage which had been done [which witness described in similar language to the other witnesses], Jones pointed to him the place where he saw the prisoner jump from the roof. Could distinctly trace in the dew the path of two persons walking from the toll-house to the farm-house. Knows William Jones, who lives in a cottage opposite the toll-house.

Witness was cross-examined, but nothing important was elicited.

Benjamin Evans called:— Was toll-collector previous to the destruction of the gate. Heard great noise on the night in question — the noise of tiles falling, and the noise of men running. Judged they were a great many. Was not disturbed by the firing of guns or the blowing of horns. I heard no noises with the exception of the cracking of tiles. Lives at a considerable distance from the gate.

The Attorney-General stopped the case at the suggestion of the Judge, who then proceeded to charge the jury, and said that, at the commencement of their proceedings, the Counsel for the prisoners rose an objection on the ground that the house did not come under the meaning of the section constituting the offence a felony. Being of opinion that the evidence did not prove the existence of a “riotous and tumultuous assemblage,” he (the Learned Judge) had to tell them that it would be their duty to return a verdict of “Not Guilty” upon the present indictment. Verdict accordingly. There is an indictment for misdemeanour against the prisoners.

So much for that.

Riot, and Assault upon Bailiffs.

Philip Philip, aged 56, farmer, Wm. Philip, aged 23, farmer, and Wm. Harries, blacksmith, were charged with having, on , at Pound farm, in the parish of Llangunnor, riotously and tumultuously assembled, with divers other evil-disposed persons, and did then and there make a great noise, riot, and disturbance, and divers of her Majesty’s liege subjects did put in bodily fear, against the peace of our Sovereign Lady the Queen, her Crown, and dignity. The elder prisoner had his head bound round with two or three handkerchiefs, as if labouring under indisposition.

The Attorney-General stated the case to the jury. The case which he had to lay before them was in itself a very simple one. The prisoners were indicted for convening and taking part in an illegal assembly, and with having assaulted two bailiffs. The jury would find that this case was an instructive example of the great danger to society of any illegal proceedings making head and taking root in the community. The conduct of those who, taking the law into their own hands, prostrated gates, destroyed toll-houses, and sought to get rid of what they deemed to be grievances, was highly dangerous to society; but though not disposed to moderate the guilt of those who unlawfully endeavoured to redress grievances, supposed or real, the guilt must be greatly aggravated of those who — and the present case was a specimen of that guilt — taking advantage of the disturbed state of the community to further their own private ends — not even pretendedly for the public good. They went far beyond the persons who, though they set the first example of violating the law, yet professed to be redressing some grievances, either real or imaginary, of a public nature. There were many features in the case before them, in common with the Rebecca cases, as far as the violent and illegal means used were regarded; but the Rebecca cases professed to have some pretended public object in view, and, consequently, some degree of public sympathy was expected; but in this case a private right was denied — the right of a landlord to demand the rent due. They would find that the right of the landlord to recover his rent by legal process bad been denied, and that the prisoners had called together a riotous assembly of persons, who had assumed the name of “Rebecca,” to prevent the bailiffs executing their duty. Mr. Hall appeared for one of the prisoners only; the other two were undefended by counsel. He hoped the jury would therefore exercise care that the evidence affecting the undefended prisoners should be well considered, that it may not be supposed that, because without counsel, they are without defence. Wm. Philip was the occupier of a farm called the Pound, from the landlady, Mrs. Eleanor Evans. Philip Philip, the prisoner who appeared to labour under indisposition, was a farmer, resident in the neighbourhood as was William Harries. At Michaelmas, when rent became due, the younger prisoner did not pay it, and Mrs. Evans instructed a bailiff, named Evans — who was assisted by another person, named Lewis — to assist him, to distrain for rent due, amounting to 17l. 10s. On the day previous to the day of the riot with which the prisoners stood charged the bailiff, Evans, probably with a view of getting differences adjusted, met the elder Philip — told him that he had received authority in writing to distrain, and informed him that he would execute the warrant on the next day. The reply made by the prisoner was, that “the mother and her children” would be there to meet them. What was meant by these expressions, he presumed, would be well understood by all in Great Britain, especially in that county. Next day Evans, accompanied by Lewis, proceeded to execute process, and at a short distance from the house they met Philip Philip, the father, with whom Evans had some conversation, during which the latter referred to the conversation which had taken place on the preceding day. Philip said that the money was ready, but there was some mistake made by Mr. Wilson in an arbitration, with which, Evans said, he had nothing to do. He then accompanied the bailiffs towards the farm, and upon meeting the young man near the house, addressing the bailiffs, he said in a loud voice, “What the d–l do you come here to ruin me.” Immediately upon his saying so, a gun was fired, and five or six gun-shots followed it. — After that demonstration, appeared a number of persons disguised in various ways — some with caps, bonnets, and others with blackened faces, false beards, &c., who came out from some of the farm buildings. The effect of their appearance was to make Evans and Lewis run away, but they were pursued and brought back. When taken back there was among them a conspicuous tall man, who he might turn out to be was not then important. He demanded Evans to give up his distress paper, and when he produced them they were burnt. The tall man appeared to be directing the whole proceedings. While the papers were burning, the elder Phillip said that they must have the other paper — meaning the authority to distrain. As the last scene of that strange conduct in a civilized, especially a Christian country, the tall man sent for a Bible, made Evans swear upon it that he would never again visit the place. Alarmed for his life, and from the circumstance of guns being pointed towards him, he took the oath, but the place being well-known, he adopted that course which the law pointed out, and the parties were brought there to answer for their very gross violation of the laws of their country. It would be the duty of the jury, after hearing the evidence, to say whether, as the occupier of the farm, there had been any doubt of the son’s participation in the affair. They would have to make the same inquiry as it regarded the father — not forgetting the expressions used by him. The other defendant would be identified by the testimony of one of the witnesses who would be produced before them, and the jury would find him to be the man who had administered that strange oath. He had to inform them that the charge was not one of felony, but of misdemeanour only. Though such was the case, he would not wish them to commit upon less proof. He felt it to be his duty to point out the great mischief resulting from even a beginning to redress any supposed wrongs by riotous mobs. It struck at the very root of society, and set at defiance that law which was the protection of all — our lives, property, and every thing near and dear to us. Though careful not to impute to the prisoners this offence upon improper or insufficient evidence, but if satisfied as to their guilt, they must not shrink from discharging that duty which they owed both to society and themselves.

John Evans, the bailiff referred to in the Attorney-General’s address, was then called. His evidence entirely bore out the statements made, as far as the two Philips were concerned. He added that, when he and Lewis were in the act of running away, the old man called out to the mob, “Catch them, beat them, fire at them.” There was a tall man amongst them who took the most conspicuous part in the proceedings. He was disguised with a false beard, similar to a goat’s beard. He had for many years known the prisoner Harris. He could not identify him as the tall man. He observed a fustian trousers under the cloak worn by him. He at first insisted upon witness stripping himself, and walking to Carmarthen in a state of nudity, but that was abandoned when the mock oath had been administered. — This witness underwent a long examination and cross-examination by Mr. Hall, who defended the prisoner Harris, but the whole is contained in the opening address.

John Lewis, the person who assisted the last witness, gave evidence to the same effect. In running away, he fell, and all the party commenced beating him most violently. He bled profusely from the head, his garments down to his shoes being covered with blood. The old man interfered, and cried “don’t beat him — ’tis the other I want you to settle,” or words to that effect. Had it not been for his interference, witness believed the mob would have killed him. The witness positively swore to the identity of Harries as being the tall man who took so conspicuous a part among the mob. Had known him for years, and had an opportunity of recognising him when the mask and false beard accidentally fell off when near the fire — leaving his face quite exposed.

Mr. Hall cross-examined the witnesses at great length, but the latter persisted in his evidence that Harris was the tall man referred to. Both the other prisoners who defended themselves, also cross-examined witness with considerable tact, though occasionally straying to the dispute between themselves and their landlady, which, in fact, had nothing whatever to do with the charge. Their examination of witnesses proved that the elder prisoner was not so deaf nor infirm as supposed during the first part of the trial.

Mr. Hall then addressed the jury on behalf of the prisoner Harris. He commenced by deprecating the outrages which had arisen in South Wales, and which no right-minded person could for a moment sanction. The only excuse that could be offered for their existence was “gross ignorance” — fancying that physical efforts could redress grievances — a more mistaken notion could not be entertained. Mr. Hall spoke at great length upon the relative position and duties of landlord and tenant, being of opinion that no relationship, if well conducted, could be more conducive to the well-being of society, and then proceeded to establish an alibi on behalf of the defendant Harris.

A witness named Ress was called to prove that between seven and eight the prisoner called at his house, which was a mile and a half distance from Pound, on the Swansea road. Other witnesses were called to prove conversations with them at different times, until past nine, being the hour at which, according to the evidence of the witnesses for the prosecution, the riot took place. Some of the witnesses deposed having seen the prisoner on the Carmarthen side of Pound farm, about nine. The prisoner’s father was called to prove that he never wore trousers, the witness Evans having stated that the tall man in the mob wore a fustian trousers.

Mr. Chilton replied on behalf of the Crown. He remarked upon the badly-sustained alibi made out on behalf of Harries, Mr. Hall having opened that Harries was too far distant from the scene of disturbance at eight o’clock to be at the riot at half-past eight or nine; whereas, by subsequent evidence, it turned out, even by that of his own witnesses, that he was at the time in the immediate vicinity. As to the circumstance of all the witnesses undertaking to swear to the time almost within a few minutes, it was quite an absurdity, for no man, if asked a few days subsequently, could call to mind the exact hour at which he held any conversation with another. He also contended, that the testimony of prisoner’s father did not contradict that given by witnesses for the prosecution, as fustian “leggars” might have been easily mistaken for trousers made out of the same material. Mr. Chilton then commented on the plea set up by the younger prisoner, Philip — that he took no part in the assembling of the mob, and had no previous knowledge of the riot. He thought the case clear against the two Phillips, and that the alibi set up for Harries had not been sustained, especially when put in opposition to the witness Lewis’s positive evidence of his identity among the mob. All sympathy should not be exhibited towards the accused, but some should be displayed towards witnesses who come forward to give evidence against those who set all law at defiance. The Learned Judge having summed up the evidence, the jury acquitted Harris, and returned a verdict of Guilty against Philip Philip, and Wm. Philip. Sentence deferred.