1831: Merthyr Tydfil uprising

Merthyr Tydfil riots

In 1831, Merthyr Tydfil, iron workers struck against redundancies, rising prices and bailiffs, leading to several thousand workers involved in riots that led to bloody suppression by troops and mass arrests.

Two articles on the riots are included, by local historian Bob Saunders, and an excerpt from the Newgate Calendar:

THE MERTHYR RISING 1831
Bob Saunders
BACKGROUND

In 1829 depression set in in the iron industry which was to last for three years. As a result Merthyr Tydfil Ironmasters made many workers redundant and cut the wages of those in work. Against a background of rising prices this caused severe hardship for many of the working people of the area and, in order to survive, many people were forced into debt. Often they were unable to pay off their debts and their creditors would then turn to the Court of Requests which had been set up in 1809 to allow the bailiffs to seize the property of debtors. As a result the Court was hated by many people who saw it as the reason for their losing their property.

Against this background the Radicals of Merthyr, as part of the National movement for political reform, organised themselves into a Political Union in 1830 to lead the local campaign for reform. In November 1830 they called for demonstrations in Merthyr to protest against the Truck System and the Corn Laws. The campaign was actually supported by some local Ironmasters. William Crawshay of Cyfarthfa Ironworks and Josiah John Guest of Dowlais Ironworks, for example, both supported the campaign. By the end of the year 1830 the campaign had broadened to embrace the Reform of Parliament, and the election of a Liberal Government in Great Britain led to a bill being brought before Parliament to reform the House of Commons. The Bill was welcomed by the Merthyr Radicals as a step in the right direction, although it did not give Merthyr a Parliamentary Constituency and only extended the right to vote to the Middle Classes rather than the workers. In April 1831, however, the Bill was defeated in a House of Commons vote, the Government resigned and a new General Election was called to fight on the issue of Parliamentary Reform.

In May 1831 a huge demonstration in favour of Reform was held at Merthyr Tydfil. William Crawshay, the Ironmaster, who supported Reform, describing the demonstration, reported that a local shopkeeper, Mr. Stephens, would not support Reform and around 5000 demonstrators massed outside his house and threatened to hang him and threw stones and other missiles at his windows. Thomas Llewellin and another of the ringleaders, were arrested the next day, but a mob of around 3000 threatened to rescue them, burn down Mr Stephens' house and murder him. As a result Mr Stephens dropped charges against them and they were released. (William Crawshay: The Late Riots at Merthyr Tydfil, 1831).

Despite Crawshay's support for the Reforms he was forced , in March 1831, to announce cuts in the wages of his workers and redundancies. In May the wage cuts took effect and he made 84 of his puddlers redundant. It was this, combined with similar situations in other ironworks, the hatred of the activities of the Court of Requests, and some stirring up by political agitators which led to the Merthyr Rising. On 30 May 1831 at the Waun Common above Dowlais a mass meeting of over 2000 workers from Merthyr & Monmouthshire discussed :-

Petitioning the King for Reform

the abolition of the Court of Requests

the state of wages in the iron industry

One person, a stranger, advocated strike action. This stranger was probably a representative of the National Association of the Protection of Labour, a trade union which had been formed in the North of England in 1830, and which had already set up Colliers Union branches in North Wales and was attempting to do so in South Wales.

THE RISING

On 31 May 1831 bailiffs from the Court of Requests attempted to seize goods from the home of Lewis Lewis (Lewsyn yr Heliwr) at Penderyn, near Merthyr. However Lewis refused to let the take his property and, supported by neighbours, prevented them from entering his home. The Magistrate, J.B.Bruce, was called and he arranged a compromise between Lewis and the bailiffs which allowed the latter to remove a trunk belonging to Lewis. The next day a march was held by workers from Merthyr to the Ironworks of Richard Fothergill at Aberdare where they demanded bread & cheese and created a disturbance. At the same time, at Hirwaun, a crowd led by Lewis Lewis marched to the home of a shopkeeper who was now in posession of his trunk, took the trunk back by force, and prepared to march to Merthyr. On the march to Merthyr the crowd went from house to house, seizing any goods which the Court of Requests had taken, and returning them to their original owners. They ransacked the house of one of the bailiffs (Thomas Williams) and took away many articles. By this time the crowd had been swollen by the addition of men from the Cyfarthfa & Hirwaun Ironworks. They marched to the area behind the Castle Inn where many of the tradespeople of the town lived and in particular the home of Thomas Lewis, a hated moneylender and forced him to sign a promise to return goods to a woman whose goods he had seized for debt. The Magistrate J.B.Bruce arrived at the scene and realized that this was a widespread revolt against the Court of Requests. As a result he and other magistrates enrolled about 70 Sopecial Constables, mainly from the tradespeople, to help keep the peace, and advised the Military Authorities at Brecon that he might need troops. Bruce, with Anthony Hill, the Ironmaster of the Plymouth Works, tried to pursuade the crowd to disperse, but to no avail. He the had the Riot Act read in English and Welsh. Again this had little effect and the crowd drove the magistrates away and attacked Thomas Lewis' house. That evening (2 June) the crowd assembled outside the home of Joseph Coffin, President of the Court of Requests, demanded the books of the Court and other books in the house, which they burned in the street along with his furniture. On hearing of this attack Bruce decided that he would have to call in the troops and as a result 52 soldiers of the Royal Glamorgan Light Infantry were dispatched from Cardiff to Merthyr by coach and a detachment of the 93rd (Sutherland) Highlanders were sent from Brecon. Meanwhile the crowd had marched to the various ironworks and persuaded the workers to join them.

On their march from Brecon the Highlanders were mocked and jeered but eventually arrived at the Castle Inn where they were met by the High Sheriff of Glamorgan, the Merthyr Magistrates and Ironmasters and the Special Constables. The crowd outside the Inn, now some 10000 strong again refused to disperse mwhen the Riot Act was read for a second time and pressed closer toward the Inn and the soldiers drawn up outside. Anthony Hill then asked the crowd to select a deputation to put forward their demands. The deputation demanded:-

Suppression of the Court of Requests

Higher wages

Reduction in the cost of items they used in their work

Immediate reform

The Ironmasters refused to consider these demands and the deputation returned to the crowd. The High Sheriff then told the crowd that if they did not disperse the soldiers would be used. William Crawshay and Josiah John Guest (known reformers) also tried to get the crowd to disperse but they became even angrier and the front ranks of the crowd tried to surround the soldiers. Lewis Lewis was hoisted onto the shoulders of some of the crowd and called for the soldiers to be disarmed by the rioters. The front ranks of the crowd surged forward and threw clubs and stones at them and managed to disarm some. A great fight ensued in which soldiers were bludgeoned and stabbed and eventually the soldiers within the Inn opened fire killing three of the rioters with their first shots; the fighting continued for about 15 minutes and then the rioters were put to flight by the soldiers.(Crawshay).

The street outside the Inn was dreadfully covered in blood, women were screaming and looking for their husbands and sons and the soldiers, too, were in a sorry state, injured and some seemed near death. Altogether 16 soldiers were wounded, 6 of them severely, and up to 24 of the rioters had been killed (their bodies were removed secretly by the crowd and buried and the injured also were treated secretly).

The authorities were certain that this was not the end of the rioting and they moved their headquarters to a safer position at Penydarren House. That night the rioters searched for weapons ready for an attack the next day. They also sent word to the Monmouthshire ironworks in an attempt to obtain further support.

By 4th June more troops including the Eastern Glamorgan Corps of Yeomanry Cavalry and the Royal Glamorgan Militia arrived in Merthyr. A troop of the Swansea Yeomanry Cavalry (under Major Penrice) on arrival at Hirwaun were ambushed when they stopped, being greeted in an apparently friendly manner, and were surrounded, their weapons seized and they were forced to retreat to Swansea, where they re-armed and joined the Fairwood Troop for the march back to Merthyr. A similar ambush was laid at Cefn Coed y Cymmer to stop ammunition being delivered from Brecon. The Cardiff Troop of Glamorgan Yeomanry Cavalry (under Captain Moggridge) sent out to assist in the passage of the ammunition was forced to retreat, being fired upon by the rioters and having rocks hurled at them from the hills above, A troop of 100 Central Glamorgan Yeomanry (under Major Rickards) was sent to assist but were unable to break through the mob. Fortunately though Moggridge and the Cardiff Troop did manage to bring the wagons safely to Merthyr by a different route with only one man injured and one disarmed.

The authorities at Penydarren House were now prepared for an expected attack by the crowd. Despite meeting various deputations from the rioters the ironmasters had not managed to persuade them to disperse. Just as the crowd were leaving Cefn Coed to attack Penydarren House a final deputation was leaving the house. At this point the advance party of the rioters arrived brandishing the sabres they had taken from the Swansea Cavalry, shouting and firing muskets. The soldiers at the house now prepared to repulse the forthcoming attack, with the Cavalry formed up at the front and rear of the house. (Crawshay).

Near the entrance to Cyfarthfa Castle the deputation which had just left Penydarren met the crowd. What exactly happened at that meeting is not known but after discussion the march broke up. The attack on Penydarren never took place, although there were some incidents in the town and some shooting.

On Sunday 5th June delegations were sent to the Monmouthshire Iron Towns to raise further support for the riots and on 6th June a crowd of around 12000 or more marched along the heads of the valleys from Monmouthshire to meet the Merthyr Rioters at the Waun Common. The authorities decided that rather than wait for this mob to attack them they would take the initiative, and 110 Highlanders, 53 Royal Glamorgan Light Infantry Militia and 300 Glamorgan Yeomanry Cavalry were despatched to stop the marchers at Cefn Coed. Josiah John Guest addressed the crowd but to no avail, the Riot Act was read but had no effect, and then the Highlanders and Militia were ordered to level their muskets at the mob and the Yeomanry to draw their sabres. Words of command were given clearly and slowly so that the mob could hear them. With this the crowd gradually dispersed, only the diehards remaining. Eventually they too gave way. No bloodshed was involved. (For details of the disarming of the Swansea Troop and its repercussions see my page on the History of the Glamorgan Yeomanry).

After the riot was over panic spread through the town and arms were hidden and the leaders fled. On the evening of 6th June the authorities raided houses and arrested 18 of the rebel leaders. Workers returned en masse to their jobs. Eventually Lewis Lewis was found hiding in a wood near Hirwaun and a large force of soldiers escorted him in irons to Cardiff Prison to await trial.

THE TRIAL

The rising at Merthyr cause great alarm to the British Government, who feared that the Colliers Union was behind it. The setting up of lodges of the Union at Merthyr immediately afterward seemed to support this view. Events at Merthyr were used both by opponents of Reform and by its supporters to further their aims. What was seen as most important was that swift, strong action must be taken against the ringleaders.

The trials began on 13 July 1831 at Cardiff Assizes. 28 men and women were tried, 23 of them ironworkers (12 colliers , 2 women, 2 shoemakers and one blacksmith). John Phelps, David Hughes, Thomas Vaughan and David Thomas were all found guilty of attacks on the houses of Thomas Wiliams and/or Thomas Lewis. Phelps was sentenced to transportation for 14 years, the others were sentenced to death (but with a recommendation for transportation for life instead). Lewis Lewis and Richard Lewis (Dic Penderyn) were charged with attempting to murder a soldier, Donald Black of the 93rd Highkland Regiment, by stabbibg him with a bayonet attached to a gun outside the Castle Inn on 3rd June. The main evidence against the two Lewis' was from Black himself, James Abbott, a hairdresser and Special Constable and James Drew, also a hairdresser and Special Constable. On the evidence it was adjudged that Richard Lewis (Dic Penderyn) was guilty but that Lewis Lewis was not guilty ( though he was already under sentence of death for attack on Thomas Lewis' house). Dic Penderyn was sentenced to death.

Joseph Tregelles Price, A quaker Ironmaster from Neath, took up the case of Dic Penderyn and Lewis Lewis and presented a petition to have them transported. Evidence was produced that Abbott had threatened Penderyn prior to the 3rd June and people saidthat Penderyn was not there when Black was attacked and that they knew who had carried out the attack but it was not Dic Penderyn. Strangely Lord Melbourn, the Home Secretary, reprieved Lewis Lewis, who was certainly one of those most responsible for the riots, and transported him to Australia, but would not reprieve Penderyn, who seems to have been much less involved. Richard Lewis (Dic Penderyn) was taken from his cell at Cardiff Prison on 13 August 1831 to the gallows at St.Mary Street, Cardiff and there he was executed protesting his innocence. His body was transported across the Vale of Glamorgan to be buried at Margam.

In 1874 the Western Mail reported that a man named Ieuan Parker had confessed to a Minister on his death bed in Pennsylvania, USA that he was the man who attacked Donald Black.

taken from: http://www.angelfire.com/ga/BobSanders/MTRISING.html

Excerpt from the Newgate Calendar on the riots:

LEWIS LEWIS, RICHARD LEWIS, DAVID HUGHES, THOMAS VAUGHAN, DAVID THOMAS, AND OTHERS

The Merthyr Tydfil rioters, June 1831

THESE riots, as alarming in their nature as they were distressing and mischievous in their consequences, occurred at Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales, on the 3rd of June 1831. The district surrounding Merthyr Tydfil was at that time, as it is now, densely populated by persons engaged in the iron manufactories with which that district abounds, and the alleged in sufficiency of the wages was the immediate cause of the desperate riot which took place.

The preliminary to this distressing occurrence, it appears, was a turnout, or strike among the workmen; and the alarming manner in which these men assembled, and the threats which they held out, produced a well-grounded apprehension that violence might be done both to the persons and the property of the iron-masters. In order to meet any attack which might be made, the magistrates assembled at the Castle Inn, Merthyr Tydfil, for the purpose of devising means to meet and repel the rioters, and the result was that an application for military assistance was determined on.

In consequence a detachment of the Ninety-third Regiment, under the command of Major Folkes, proceeded into the town, and on the 3rd of June took up their quarters at the Castle Inn, the chief inn in the town, where the magistrates still remained assembled in consultation.

By this time, the mob had already exhibited its riotous and unlawful determination by an attack upon the Court of Requests. This court, it would appear, had become hateful to them, from its being also the place where offences affecting the relations of master and servant were usually adjudicated upon, and they demanded that the books should be given up to them. This was, of course, refused, as indeed they had been already removed to a secure place, upon which the mob commenced a most violent and determined assault upon the building. The residence of Mr Coffin, the officer of the court, was also an object of their angry demonstrations, and the two places having been stripped of their books and furniture, a fire was immediately made of them in the street and they were burned.

This done, the rioters proceeded at once to the Castle Inn, there to give fresh proofs of their power and determination. At this time they exceeded a thousand in number, and they were loud in their demands that justice should be done them. A deputation was called in to explain their wants, who respectfully but firmly demanded an increase of wages, but the magistrates, having earnestly desired them to return to their work, pointing out to them that it was impossible that they could suffer themselves to be dictated to by a lawless mob, desired them to retire. Upon their return to their partisans they communicated what had taken place, and symptoms were soon observable in the countenances of all, which denoted their determination to proceed to measures even more violent than any they had hitherto adopted.

They were addressed by several of the iron-masters present at the inn, both in English and Welsh, but without effect, for they persisted in their demands for further wages, and declared their intention to persevere until their desires were acceded to.

At this time there was a guard of soldiers stationed at the door of the inn, the smallness of whose numbers was remarkably contrasted with the vast assemblage of the workmen. The weakness of the position of the military, in case of an attack, was at once seen, and steps were immediately taken to secure the safety of the post at which they had fixed themselves. For this purpose three men were ordered to each window in front of the building, to be ready with their muskets in case of necessity. Renewed efforts to procure the dispersion of the crowd were then made by Mr Crawshay and Mr Guest, and a long parley took place. No amicable decision was, however, arrived at, and at length, when it was least expected, a spontaneous rush was made by the people upon the soldiery occupying the door way and its vicinity, whose arms appeared to be the object of the attack. The force in the street was absolutely as nothing against the numbers by whom they were assailed, and orders were given to the soldiers above to fire.

At this period a scene of dreadful conflict was witnessed. The men in the windows advanced one by one to the front to fire, and each man, before he discharged his piece, took deliberate aim at one of the most violent of the mob, whom lie seldom failed to bring down. As each man fired, he fell back and re-loaded, so that there was a constant succession of discharges upon the heads of the misguided people in the street. The personal conflict below was no less dreadful. The first person whom the mob had attempted to seize, was a soldier whose back was turned to them, and his assailant was a brawny fellow of upwards of six feet in height. The musket was seized from behind, but the soldier, no less active than his antagonist, immediately turned round, still maintaining his hold of his piece. By a dexterous twist he pushed his opponent from him, and received him, on his return, on the point of his bayonet, so that he fell dead at his feet. The soldier was at once felled to the ground by a blow from a bludgeon, and his gun was secured by another of the rioters. At the same moment a scene almost precisely similar occurred within two yards of the same spot. A fellow seized hold of a drummer's sword, but immediately had a bayonet run though his body. The muskets, meanwhile, were cracking from every window, and the street was raked from one end to the other. Many of the rioters penetrated to the interior of the house, where they committed acts of violence upon the officers of the regiment and upon the magistrates, many of whom, in their efforts to secure these assailants, received severe contusions. The rioters exhibited a degree of determination which was truly surprising, and the position of those who were in the inn was at one time highly critical. The superior discipline of the soldiery, however, prevailed against their numbers, and at length the neighbourhood was cleared.

Upon a search being now made, it was found that thirteen of the rioters lay dead upon the ground, and the mob were seen carrying off many others, who were believed to be dead or severely wounded. The soldiers themselves did not escape injury: nearly twenty of them were wounded, exclusive of Major Folkes, who had received a serious contusion on the back of the head from a bludgeon. One of the men had had his bayonet taken from him and was stabbed in his side, while others were bleeding profusely from places where they had received blows or wounds from the people. The bodies which had been found in the street were conveyed to the stables of the inn -- many of them only now parting with the last quivering remains of existence -- there to wait a coroner's inquest, while those persons who had been secured and who were wounded, received immediate surgical assistance.

The danger to the town, however, had not yet altogether ceased. The rioters having succeeded in escaping from its precincts, ascended the neighbouring heights, from whence they continued to fire upon the immediate vicinity of the Castle Inn with much precision. Many of them had procured fowling-pieces, while others employed the muskets which they had taken from the soldiery.

It may readily be supposed that an occurrence like this produced a very great degree of alarm in the vicinity of Merthyr Tydfil; and the assertion that men were hourly swelling the ranks of the insurgents, tended to increase the apprehensions which already existed. The magistrates, with great promptitude, summoned additional military force to their aid, and by night a body of cavalry, infantry and militia, amounting in number to near five hundred men, was at their disposal. During the whole of the day exaggerated and alarming accounts of the proceedings of the rioters were brought into the town, and the number of rioters assembled in the evening was stated to be nearly eight thousand men, all of whom appeared to be endeavouring to station themselves at Coedycymer. A large body of troops, both cavalry and infantry, was in consequence dispatched to Penydarran House, to keep them in awe and prevent any further acts of mischief in that quarter.

This state of things continued during the whole of that night, but on the ensuing day a circumstance occurred which is worthy of notice, as exhibiting the ferocious intentions of these misguided men. Their headquarters at this time were at Hirwain, and there two red flags were hoisted, as typical of their bloody determinations. This, however, was not significant enough in their opinion, and they actually procured a basin of calf's blood, in which the flags were soaked, and with which the standard bearer's hands and arms were smeared on his appearing at their head. They were approaching Merthyr Tydfil with this emblem, when, however, they perceived the increased strength of the military, and prudently retired until they should procure fresh numbers.

On Sunday the rioters remained perfectly inactive; but on Monday it had been determined that a general meeting of the working classes should be held on the Wain Hill, near Dowlais, which was to include all the men engaged, not only in the local districts, but in the counties of Brecon and Monmouth, and nearly twenty thousand persons were expected to assemble.

At an early hour men were seen drawing towards that spot in every direction, and at ten o'clock it was announced that there were thousands in the road coming down to Penydarran, armed with bludgeons. The troops, now consisting of one hundred and ten Highlanders, fifty of the Glamorganshire Militia, and three hundred Yeomanry Cavalry under the command of Colonel Morgan, accompanied by the magistrates, proceeded to meet them, and at Dowlais the road was found filled with the dense masses. Mr Guest ably addressed them, but to no purpose, and the Riot Act was read. Still no disposition to disperse was manifested, but a determined resistance was shown and maintained. The Highlanders were at length ordered to level their muskets; but the coolness and forbearance of all parties allowed the words of command to be given so slowly, that the consideration of the consequences intervened between them, and the last word Fire!' became unnecessary, to the great satisfaction of all the gentle men present. The rioters now gave way, and many returned home. Some parted on one side, others on another, but the greater part crossed the hill to the ravine in the Brecon road, where, by regular concert, all the arms were collected under the most determined and hardened of the villains; and they were observed from the tower of Cyfarthfa Castle exercising in line with the sabres and pistols taken from the cavalry, and with the muskets of the Highlanders and their own fowling-pieces. This exercising was observed to continue during the whole morning, and repeated shots were heard fired. About twelve o'clock a scout who had been sent out brought intelligence that two black flags were flying in the Brecon road -- a symbol of the determination of the men who fought under the banner to conquer or die. Soon after this, a movement was observed among the rioters, as if they would assume an offensive position, and every preparation was made to give them such a reception as would effectually disperse them. Their march was observed, however, to be hesitating and wavering, numbers flung away their arms and returned home, and at length the main body became so disheartened that they fairly took to their heels and disappeared.

During the whole of the remainder of that evening and the next morning, the magistrates and military were exceedingly active in apprehending such men as were suspected or were known to have taken part in these disgraceful proceedings, and fourteen of the worst among them were taken in their beds. On Wednesday night, Richard Lewis, who had led the attack upon the Castle Inn, was secured. He was found skulking in a wood by two men, who secured him in a low public-house until they had obtained the aid of the military, and the prisoner was escorted into the town by a body of cavalry. His appearance and demeanour were ferocious in the extreme -- in which he differed materially from the other prisoners, of whom there were now near forty, all of whom admitted their fault, and ascribed the lamentable bloodshed which had taken place to their own unjustifiable attack on the military. This expression of feeling on their part was also sufficiently accorded to by the conduct of their fellows at liberty, who, without saying one word against the course which had been taken, buried their dead companions as quickly and as quietly as possible -- a sure proof that their own consciences convicted them of lawless violence. Those who had been wounded, exhibited an equal consciousness of guilt, by abstaining from seeking medical aid, until pain or inflammation rendered such a step absolutely necessary to save their lives.

In the course of the week, the greater proportion of these misguided men who were still at liberty returned to their work, while the cases of those who were in custody were disposed of by the magistrates. Several who appeared to have acted as ringleaders in this dreadful affair were committed for trial, but the larger number were dealt with summnarily, by the infliction of the penalties of fine or imprisonment, or by their being held to bail, to be of good behaviour. Many of the muskets and sabres which had been carried off were restored, and all exhibited the greatest terror at the guilt in which they had involved themselves, and apprehension lest they should be placed in the same position of difficulty in which their less fortunate companions were thrown.

At inquests held on the bodies of the rioters who had been killed by the soldiery, the juries returned the invariable verdict of 'Justifiable Homicide' -- a sufficient assurance to the country that the steps taken by the magistracy had been neither uncalled for nor too violent.

The trials of the prisoners who had been committed for various offences of which they were alleged to have been guilty during these disturbances came on at the Cardiff summer assizes, held in the month of July.

The following sentences were passed upon those who were convicted:

Lewis Lewis and Richard Lewis -- Death, without a gleam of hope of mercy.

David Hughes, Thomas Vaughan and David Thomnas -- Death recorded: the judge intimating that the sentence would be commuted to transportation for life.

Eight were sentenced to imprisonment for different periods and hard labour.

Several other persons, committed to Cardiff jail for having participated in the riots, were acquitted.

The charge upon which Richard Lewis was convicted, was that of having, during the scuffle with the military before die Castle Inn, wounded Donald Black, a private in the Ninety-third Regiment of Highlanders, with a bayonet: the wound in this case was never considered dangerous.

The soldier gave his evidence upon the trial in a very manly and creditable manner, but could not identify the prisoner as the party who had used the bayonet. The only evidence of identity was that of a person who, till the riots, was unacquainted with the prisoner.

The prisoner persisted in a denial of his guilt, and declared that he would do so with his dying breath.

Lewis Lewis (called Lewis the Huntsman, from his having been a huntsman to a gentleman of the name of Llewellen, about eleven years before) was indicted jointly with Hughes, Vaughan and Thomas, together with three other persons. He was charged with having, on the 2nd of June (the day preceding the affray near the Castle Inn), stood upon a chest in the street, opposite the house of a man named Thomas Lewis, and addressed the mob to the following effect: 'I understand that the mob has taken a chest of drawers from a widow woman, who had purchased it for two guineas from the bailiffs of the Court of Requests, and restored it to another poor widow, from whom it had been taken in execution. Now I don't think that is fair, unless she has her two guineas back, and if you are of my mind, we will go to Thomas Lewis and get it back. All you that are of my mind, raise up your hands.' Upon this, the mob all raised their hands, and several of them went into Thomas Lewis's house, and compelled him to deliver up the two guineas which he had received (being the plaintiff in the execution) to one David Williams, the widow's son. They also compelled Thomas Lewis to give up several other articles. During the whole of this time Lewis Lewis remained in the street. Upon this evidence the jury found Lewis Lewis, Hughes, Vaughan and Thomas Guilty, and acquitted the other prisoners.

It appears that the two guineas thus extorted were restored to the prosecutor, Thomas Lewis, about a month before the assizes.

Looking at this offence with all its bearings, there seems a much less degree of moral turpitude in the crime, than that of an ordinary robbery, committed for the sake of plunder. Here the offender sought no plunder, but, from a mistaken sense of right and wrong, did that which he thought justice, by restoring to the widow the money she had paid for the chest of drawers.

At the conclusion of the trials, John Thomas of Merthyr Tydfil, who was employed during the riots as a peace-officer, and who apprehended the prisoner when he was committed to jail, was called by the prisoner's counsel, and was ready to prove, upon oath, that whilst the mob were assembled before the house of Mr Coffin at Merthyr Tydfil, some of them attacked him (J. Thomas) and violently beat him. And but for the timely aid of the prisoner, who actually fought in his defence, and in which he was himself severely beaten, he would, in all probability, have been killed.

This evidence, however, was declared inadmissible at the trial, although it was subsequently made the ground of an application for mercy on behalf of the prisoner.

The circumstances attending the conviction of these unhappy men procured for them almost universal commiseration, and petitions, signed by many thousands of persons unconnected with them in any way, were presented to the Crown, with a view to obtain for them a mitigation of punishment.

In the cases of Hughes, Vaughan and Thomas, in obedience to the suggestion of the learned judge, an immediate reprieve was granted, together with a commutation of punishment. In that of Lewis Lewis, the huntsmnan, a respite for a week was at the same time allowed. The same favour was almost immediately afterwards accorded to Richard Lewis, but the most painful doubts were entertained as to his ultimate fate.

On Friday, the 5th of August, Lewis Lewis received a reprieve, together with a notification that his punishment was commuted to transportation for fourteen years (an arrangement which was also at the same time made in the cases of Hughes, Vaughan and Thomas) and on the same day a respite for Richard Lewis for a fortnight was transmitted to the sheriff.

This postponement of the fatal day was looked upon by most persons as preparatory only to a commutation of punishment, but this favourable anticipation was contradicted by its being eventually determined that the case of the prisoner did not entitle him to any further consideration.

On the night before the execution, the unhappy convict was urged to make a confession of his guilt, but he positively denied that he had been in any way connected with the transaction in which he was alleged to have been an actor. He continued firm in this declaration up to the time of his death, and Lewis Lewis, who so narrowly escaped the same fate and who was his brother, subsequently confirmed the assertion which he had made, and stated that he could have given satisfactory evidence of his brother having been altogether absent from the affray.

The execution took place at Cardiff, on Saturday the 20th of August 1831.

Posted By

Mike Harman
Aug 22 2007 04:06

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