Late Rebecca Riot Notes

Today, some more newspaper coverage related to the Rebecca Riots, from papers published in the years after the peak of the Rebeccaite movement. First, this note from The Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser of , shows that the Rebecca formula of grassroots enforcement still had currency, though in this case it was not applied to tolls:

A Cardigan correspondent informs us that Rebecca[,] mounted on Black Bess, dressed in a dark shirt and with a national scarlet wrapper round her shoulders, visited Mr. Morris, of Daynold, and ordered him to throw out some corn which had been conveyed from the haggard to the barn, by some of a numerous retinue. The peremptory request was immediately obeyed. It is to be hoped that such misguided attempts to force corn to market will not be prevalent, otherwise the county will probably be put to great expense in maintaining police or soldiery.

The Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser of carried these two articles:

Rebecca Riot.

On , there were a great many of the family of Rebecca assembled in the field of a publican, at Cresswell Quay, and in a few minutes accomplished their design; they first began tearing down the hedge of the publican’s field, and then engaged themselves in tearing down a freeth, which had been made on the previous day. The motive the publican had in view was to stop a road which passes through his field, and leads to a well that supplies the neighbourhood with water — the road has been open to the public upwards of one hundred years. So far, the publican has been unsuccessful.

Rebecca at Work again.

On , a large mob assembled in the parish of Monachlogddn, and proceeded to demolish a hedge, the property of Morris Williams, Esq., of Trellefain, and entirely tore it down from one end to the other. It seems the hedge was a boundary between different estates, and had been presented at the last leet court, and had since been repaired at much expense — which circumstance did not please these midnight marauders. It is stated that the real original old Rebecca, who was the first cause of so much disturbance in the country, some years since, was present on this occasion; as her ladyship is now well known in this neighbourhood, her career of destruction cannot be of long duration.

The same paper, in its edition, gave another example of common criminals adopting the “Rebecca” appellation:

Fishguard.

On , our active police officer while going his rounds, succeeded in capturing one of a notorious gang of thieves, who have for a long time infested this town and neighbourhood, and are known by the appellation of the Rebecca family, although bearing no connection with the Rebeccas of turnpike celebrity…

A more traditional tollgate-destroying Rebecca returned to action the following year, according to the edition of that paper:

Revival of “Rebeccaism.”

On , Castellyrnyngyll gate (about two miles from the Cross-hands, on the Llandilo road), which has been recently erected, and for which tolls were taken on Saturday, was completely razed to the ground by some of “Becca’s” descendants. It was erected on the site of the old one, which was demolished during the former Rebecca riots.

The Monmouthshire Merlin of noted that:

The honour of a public dinner was given to John Gover Powell, Esq., reporter, at Swansea, last week, for the manner in which he reported in the Times, the extraordinary proceedings of the “Rebecca” riots.

A letter to the editor of that paper, published in its edition, used the threat of Rebecca as a warning against turnpike tolltakers:

Intolerable Toll.

Sir,

Having often occasion to drive from this town to Usk, I have much reason to complain of the shameful amount of turnpike tolls, levied in that short distance (only eleven miles). First, I pay 6d. at the bridge gate, Newport, which is fair and reasonable. Then at Caerleon (only three miles distant) 8d.! Then again at Usk, 6d.! makin in all, 1s. 8d.; while on the Pontypool road, for about the same distance, I pay but 10½d., and from Newport to Cardiff (twelve miles), the charge is 1s. 6d. Comment is needless. If such a state of things is not remedied, I should not be surprised if Monmouthshire receives a visit from the celebrated Rebecca and her stalwart daughters.

I am, sir, yours, &c.
Viator.
Newport, .

The Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian of published some Original Letters from Australia, including one from Ishmael Jones with this tidbit: “Shoni ’Scubor Fawr and Dai’r Cantwr are both liberated, and doing well.” The newspaper explained:

Shoni ’Scubor Fawr (John of the Great Born) and Dai’r Cantwr (David the Singer) were notorious characters in South Wales some years ago. They were tried in Carmarthen before Mr. Justice Creswell, about , we believe, for “Rebecca” rioting; and the former was sentenced to transportation for life, and the latter for twenty years. A thorough reformation and uniform good conduct has, probably, led to their conditional liberation.

The Monmouthshire Merlin of showed Rebecca up to her old tricks again, this time in England:

Rebeccaites in Somersetshire.

A good deal of excitement has been created within the last two or three days in the upper part of Somerset, by its becoming known that a turnpike gate had been carried off by a number of people in the style which made “Rebecca” so noted in Wales. It appears that the Black Dog Turnpike Trust, from a failure of tolls, has for some time been in difficulties, and that an application made to the magistrates some months since by the trustees under their act, with the view of compelling the several parishes though which the roads passed, to undertake the repairs, was unsuccessful, in consequence of a sum of about £5,000, with which a former treasurer of the trust had absconded, not having been brought into the accounts. Since this time the trustees and the parishes have each declined to repair the roads, which between Bath and Frome and Bath and Warminster have consequently become in a very bad state. The bondholders, however have seized the gates, and are taking the tolls for their own security. The consequence of high tolls and bad roads has been continued complaints from those who have occasion to travel over the roads, and the grievance appears to be generally felt throughout the district, and has at last resulted in the forcible removal of one of the gates, which has not since been recovered. On , the toll taker at the Midford gate, which is situated about four miles from Bath, on the Frome road, was awoke by the firing of several guns, which shattered the lamp outside the toll house to pieces, and so alarmed him that he was afraid to go out. He afterwards discovered that the massive gates across the road had been unhinged and carried away, and although search been made through the neighbourhood since, not the slightest trace of them can be discovered, nor can any one be found at all inclined to divulge the secret, as to the parties by whom the act was committed.

The Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser of reported that Rebecca wasn’t quite finished in Wales, yet, either:

Rebecca Riot.

On , “Rebecca,” with nine of her renowned followers, attired in female apparel, wearing bonnets, and having their faces blackened, assembled at Craigyborian, before the residence of a leading resident in the parish of Amroth. At this time the gentleman in question, with his two sons and the governess, were walking in a road overlooking the plantations, to which spot the Rebeccaites wended their way in procession, and on approaching at once informed the party in question that he was their man for that night, at the same time taking hold of him. The astonished captive resisted at first strenuously, but Rebecca maintained her powerful grip, and eventually succeeded in tying his hands behind his back, upon which he earnestly expostulated and inquired what mischief he had done. It was replied that he had violated the Welsh laws by not living with his wife, and had taken unto himself another woman, which was an insufferable offence in the Principality, and the punishment to be inflicted on all such heinous offences was to ride on the “Ceffyl Pren.” The fair lady in attendance was immediately fastened to a ladder by these executors of “Lynch law,” who then directed their steps towards Colby Lodge, carrying their female freight hoisted like the coffin of Mahomet between Heaven and Earth. From Colby Lodge they proceeded in like manner to the Burrows, and from there up the new road to Tinker’s Hill, and to Killanow Gate. By this time a large crowd of persons had congregated, making loud shouts; and when the procession came near the Craigyborian entrance the captive gallant offered £6 for the liberation of himself and his frail partner in durance, which compromise was in a great degree accepted, but ultimately the Rebeccaites thought better of the matter and refused the money as a bribe. So they went on to Lanteague, and from thence to Tavernspite, where they arrived about , when the gentleman and his beloved were set at liberty, having to walk back a distance of 10 miles to their home. The gentleman then addressed the crowd, saying he forgave them for what they had done, and should bear no malice in his heart, wishing God’s blessing upon them all, and promising that the fickle fair one should leave his fireside on the following day. Upon this understanding his hearers gave hearty cheering, and all departed peacably to their respective homes.

Rebecca tried her hand at economic populism in , according to The Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian of :

Rebecca.

Mistress ’Becca, of gate-breaking celebrity, appears still to be in the land of the living, if we may judge from the notices posted up at Builth and Brecon, though her grammar continues defective, and her English is by no means of the highest order. A copy of the notice was posted up this week, near the Vale of Neath Railway Station, by some Merthyr disciple; and as it attracted some attention on the walls of the terminus, we give it still greater publicity:–

Take Notice

To All Flour dealers, all corn factors and farmers, that shall be Found Concocting together to rise the price of eatables corn, bread, flour, cheese, butter and meat, Any farmer that shall be found out holding back, not bringing is corn to Market shall be dealt with according to my law, as he is shedding the blood of the Innocent, under the disguise of honest men, Let them look to themselves for my eye is upon them and I shall not spare, for my law is severe.

Rebecca.

Rebecca had moved on to Scotland later , according to The Monmouthshire Merlin of :

Who does not remember the “Rebecca riots” of Wales, some years ago, when toll-gates were attacked — keepers beat — pikes overturned — and the Queen’s troops called out to aid in the collection of the pence. Scotland is on the move, and bids fair to rival Wales in its bar-like emeûtes. We are told that—

A few days since, the toll-gate at Kelso-bridge was forcibly removed, for the fifth time, by a large crowd of people, belonging to the town and immediate neighbourhood, in defiance of a proclamation by the sheriff. The next day the gates were re-erected, and a party of Dragoons dispersed the crowd, but on their retiring to their quarters the mob re-assembled, and about eleven o’clock, the gates were completely levelled for the sixth times. Upwards of one hundred special constables were sworn in. Having been formed into divisions they awaited further orders. A detachment of the 82nd Regiment, under the command of Major Hale, arrived by train from Edinburgh, for the purpose of enforcing the resolution of the Kelso-bridge trustees in maintaining the pontage. A meeting of the lieutenancy, justices of the peace, and magistrates was held, attended by the Duke of Buccleugh, lord-lieutenant of the county; the Duke of Ruxburghe; Lord Polworth, &c., &c. It was resolved to swear in a number of special constables for the protection of the peace, and in the meantime the workmen at the bridge were for the present ordered to desist from the erection of the gates.

Rebecca was again battling the ongoing theft of the commons in . This comes from the issue of The Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian:

Rebecca and Her Daughters.

On the town of Rhayader, in Radnorshire, and its neighbourhood were thrown into a state of great excitement, in consequence of a report being circulated that “Rebecca” and her children were once more going to make their appearance and parade the streets of Rhayader, before the shops closed. Nearly all the townspeople were standing in groups from the close of the evening until , when suddenly the sound of a horn was heard from a distance, and in a few minutes was answered from an opposite quarter. The boys and girls ran from all directions towards Cwmtoyddwr, and returned with the news that the Rebeccaites were blackening their faces, and would be up immediately to parade the streets, before they went to kill the fish. At about “Rebecca” made her appearance in Cwmtoyddwyr and from thence proceeded over the bridge to Rhayader, accompanied by about 80 of her “daughters, forming a procession of 4 abreast.” First went “Rebecca,” carrying a gun supported by two sword-bearers, right and left, with their faces blackened, and their shirts worn over their clothes, after the fashion of smock-frocks, with a handkerchief tied around their heads. These were followed by five ranks, four abreast, each outside man carrying a cutlass or sword, and the inside men spears and poles. Then followed 4 men, carrying a carriage similar to a stretcher with a large quantity of straw tied up in bundles. These were succeeded by a long train, four abreast, carrying guns, spears, pitchforks, and other weapons. They proceeded to opposite the Lion Hotel, where they fired two guns, and thence marched round the Market-place, where they fired again; thence they proceeded to Cwmtoyddwr-bridge, where they were joined by a reserve of about 40 or more, all with their faces blackened, and in the same kind of dress. They arrived at the Grove, the first ford and the bedding place of the salmon, the horn blew, and a gun was fired, which was the signal for commencing the attack; but the depredators did not succeed according to their expectations, as only three fish upon the first fell into their hands. The whole party then proceeded to a second, where the same signal was given — five of them entered the water with their spears and lights, and commenced the same destruction. There must have been a great slaughter had it not been for the conservator of the river, Samuel Owens, an old salmon fisher on the river Wye for upwards of 40 years. He, anticipating the visitors, with the assistance of police-superintendent Jones, and his two sons, well disturrbed the fords a few minutes before the enemy approached. Had not that plan been adopted there must have been a great destruction of fish; but we hear that instead of “Rebecca” having [2?]0 salmon from that ford, they killed only six small ones. During the time they were in the act of killing the fish, Mr. Taloc, steward of Mr. T. Prickard, of Darw, advanced nearer than was considered desirable, and a gun was fired at him; but fortunately only one shot reached him, and entered his elbow. David Price, a sawyer of the town, who out of curiosity went towards the river, had three spears placed at his breast, and was ordered to retreat. The marauders then proceeded to different fords on the Wye and Ellan, but did not succeed in killing so many fish as they expected. The whole number was supposed not to exceed 30. —Hereford Journal.

, The Aberystwith Observer noted that Rebecca was still defending the rights of Welshmen to fish in Welsh rivers:

The “Rebecca” Riots.

The verdicts of Welsh juries have long enjoyed an unenviable notoriety. The decisions of Welsh justices, if we may judge from a recent example, are sometimes equally perplexing. For some time past a determined opposition to the salmon fishery laws has been offered by a large number of persons in the counties of Brecon and Radnor, who claim the right to catch salmon at any season of the year, and have of late destroyed large quantities of fish in the river Wye and its tributaries. In order more effectually to carry out their designs, the poachers have formed themselves into a sort of association, under the title of “Rebecca and her Daughters,” a name which first became notorious when, some years ago, a number of men banded themselves under it for the purpose of destroying the turnpike gates and tollhouses in the two counties just mentioned. For some time past the poachers have been mustering in force on the Upper Wye and the Khon, one of its tributaries, and lighting the stream by means of torches, have speared the salmon in large numbers. Great exertions have been made by the board of conservators of the Wye fishery district to prevent this wholesale destruction of the fish but the number of watchers and water-bailiffs at their disposal was so small compared with that of the poachers that it was not deemed prudent to attempt to capture the latter, who at length became so daring as to announce their expeditions by the firing of guns. In , however, the gangs of these marauders had become so formidable that the number of water-bailiffs on the Khon was increased. At the bailiffs, led by a gentleman of the neighbourhood and his gamekeepers, came upon a gang of about twenty poachers, disguised in various ways, and armed with spears, pikes, bludgeons, and other weapons; some of them carrying Hambeaux of straw with which to light the streams and attract the fish. For a time the water-bailiffs and their assistants concealed themselves in a wood on the banks of the Khon, but when the poachers had commenced their work of spearing the fish, they made their appearance and followed them into the stream. At first the poachers fled, but soon rallied, and, forming themselves into line, presented their spears at their pursuers. Upon being asked what they meant to do, and whether they would deliver up their weapons, they replied, “Fight!” Upon this the watchers’ closed with them, and a desperate encounter followed, in which a gamekeeper named Lloyd was nearly scalped by a blow from a spear, and several men, both poachers and watchers, were severely injured. The watchers, however, after a fight which lasted for a quarter of an hour, proved victorious, capturing four men and driving the others off the field. During the struggle one of the poachers, the son of a large and wealthy farmer, is said to have knocked down the superintendent bailiff, and keeping him on his back, made an attempt to “gouge” him, which was prevented only by the timely assistance of one of the watchers. On the four men who had been captured — two of whom, it appears, are the sons of one of the wealthiest farmers in the neighbourhood — were brought before the two magistrates at the petty sessions at Penyhont, when the water-bailiffs and the injured gamekeeper Lloyd gave evidence as to the infringement of the law and the fight which followed. The proof adduced for the prosecution was certainly precise and positive, but the magistrates discharged the prisoners. We are not aware of the grounds upon which this decision rests; it was certainly contrary to the evidence of the bailiffs, and it would be interesting to know whether the magistrates disbelieved their statements, or had other reasons for the course they took. Whether or not the accused persons were really guilty of poaching — though, as the Times says, that is too mild a name for such an outrage against both law and nature as killing salmon in December — it is notorious that wholesale and systematic poaching is carried on by the Radnorshire farmers, and it is time that strong measures should be taken to suppress so flagrant a scandal. No body of men can be allowed to defy the law with impunity, and we are glud to hear that the matter is to be brought under the notice of the Home Office. —The Pall Mall Gazette.