"Hells Mouth January 6th 1742"

 

Porth Neigwl has been feared and dreaded by seafarers for centuries, because of its jaw like stance, poor anchoring qualities, and in the days of the square rigged sailing ships when they couldn’t sail close to the wind, a trap that once inside the bay was near impossible to get out unscathed, but after the terrible events of one winters night in the middle of the eighteenth century, the name Hells Mouth would became synonymous with cut through wreckers that added to the mariners misery.

In a raging storm at the beginning of January 1742 a small merchant vessel was making her way through the Irish sea, Capt Conn Fron and his crew of five, were fighting a loosing battle against the mountainous seas, that was slowly but surely devouring their little ship, and when they were five leagues (sixteen miles) off Bardsey Island, and taking in a lot of water, so much, that in Capt Morry’s own words “The water was up to her topside” the order was finally given to abandon ship. The small boat that they boarded was hardly a lifesaver, but it was all that they had to take them safely to dry land. And as they hoisted their well-reefed mainsail they set off to the east, as they watched their ship foundering astern. 

 Capt Conn Fron, was not familiar with the Llyn Peninsula although he had sailed past it on many occasions. But as night fell, he was glad that at least one of his crew could speak Welsh, as this would be invaluable in this part of the world. At one a clock on the morning of the 6th they could hear the waves crashing against the rocks as they rounded Penarfynydd headland and into Hells Mouth, and within the hour they came surfing onto the beach just below Treheli. 

Their relief at arriving safely on dry land must have been overwhelming, but they quickly composed themselves, and set about their next plan of action. Capt Morry ordered two of his men William Morgan and a young boy called Edward Halohan to stay and watch the boat along with their meagre belongings that they had managed to salvage, while Morry and the other three would go and find somewhere to stay. This was a good choice as William Morgan could speak Welsh, which would come in handy if someone were to challenge them. But unbeknown too them, ever since they sailed past Graig Ddu, they had been watched, their lantern had been clearly visible on this dark and moonless night. And shortly after the rest set off up the hill for Rhiw, Morgan and Halohan were approached by several men. What followed was a most cowardly and unprovoked attack on these poor unfortunate souls, having sailed many miles in an open boat in atrocious weather, landing on a beach miles from their home, cold wet tired and hungry, to be set upon by a bunch of cut throat hoodlums. William Morgan died instantly of a six inch knife wound to the back of the neck, while young Halohan was strangled till his neck was broken, both their bodies were left on the beach, while their killers helped themselves to a trunk containing cutlery, some odds and ends and blankets. By this time Morry and the other three, were at Plas yn Rhiw, where we believe they stayed the night, because in the morning a Mr Maurice Lewis who was the occupier of the manor house, sent his servant Evan Williams, down to the beach to see how the other two were getting on, only to find two men, John Roberts and Huw Bedward standing by the boat and two corpses lying near by.

The two bodies were laid to rest the next day at St Aelrhiw’s churchyard, in the belief that they had drowned. Within three days they had to be exhumed for the Coroner a Mr Owen Owens who examined them in the house next door, which was occupied by a widow named Margaret Richard. He confirmed that they had indeed been murdered and not drowned as was first thought. The Rector managed to get himself into trouble as well, by giving the two “drowned” mariners a good Christian burial, he was accused of trying to cover up the crime, but luckily for him he was let off. 

Only two men were arrested for the attack even though a lot more were involved, they were the above-mentioned John Roberts and Huw Bedward both labourers from Rhiw. They spent the next 12 months in Caernarvon gaol, and by the beginning of their trial in January 1743 they were in a very sorry state. In those days prisoners were not fed by their gaolers, but relied on their family and friends to tend to them, but because Rhiw was such a long way away, they depended on the generosity of the local people for food. On one occasion a Robert Williams, Bodgrigun Rhiw, and a friend visited them, and they were deeply shocked by their condition.

            

John Roberts was charged with murder, but he had maintained that the Devil had possessed him that night. Huw Bedward had the lesser charge of aiding and abetting and conspiring for his own personal gain, but he still faced the gallows. All the witnesses at the trial were bailed to appear at sums varying from £50 to £200, which was an exorbitant amount in those days. It also came out in the proceedings that John Roberts had tried to persuade Huw Bedward to bury the bodies with him, and so hide the evidence, but Bedward refused to have anything to do with it. The trial came to an end on the 6th of April 1743, and the Judge, Justice Thomas Martyn, declared that they should hang, and within two weeks they were taken to the Gallows. It is said that the grass of Rhiw didn’t grow for two years after this sorry event, and the villagers would hold their heads in shame for decades afterwards.

 

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"Actual transcriptions of the case"

Murder at Rhiw

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With thanks to Mr G Jones for pointing us in the right direction.

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