"Murder at Rhiw"
I read with great interest the account of a double murder that took place on the foreshore at Rhiw on the night of the 6th/7th January 1742 as outlined in the History section of Rhiw.com, and also the transcription of certain contemporary court documents. Due to the kindness of Tony and Gwenllian I have also had the opportunity to examine photo copies of the existing court documents, and being a retired Detective Inspector with great experience in attending and investigating murders, I have looked at the trial papers with relative modern eyes attempting to get to the truth of what happened that dreadful night 250 years ago, and to see if the two accused would have been found guilty in the 21st century.
"One of the documents"
The facts without dispute are
that on the night of the 6th January 1742, a ship foundered off
Bardsey Island, and the crew took to a long boat and managed to make landfall in
Porth Neigl (Hells Mouth Bay) somewhere between Porth Rhiw and Rhiw Point to the
south and west. There the captain
after leaving two of the crew (one a boy) to guard the long boat and its
contents, left with the Mate and two other crewmen went inland to seek lodgings
and assistance. The name of the
ship is not mentioned but it had an upperdeck which was swamped and a crew of
six which implies that it must have been a small but substantial coastal trading
vessel and to have been swamped must have been caught in one of the severe
storms which batter the area especially in the winter months.
Also without dispute was the
reputation of the residents of certain west coast areas to wreck and plunder any
ship unfortunate to founder of their coast and to murder without compunction any
surviving crew member or passenger. Chief
amongst these feared areas were the Cornish and Llyn Peninsulas, both remote and
poor with men well acquainted with sea and all its vagaries.
What is certain from the
statements obtained that a number of local men were out this particular night,
on the beach along the strand (tide line) searching for anything that was being
cast up by the tide. How they
seemed aware that a ship had foundered is unknown but no doubt experience told
them that it was likely a passing ship would be caught out in the treacherous
waters off Llyn.
The names of the murdered two
were Jonathan Morgan and Edward Halesham the latter being described as a boy.
Morgan was killed by a knife being thrust into the nape of his neck to a
depth of 6 inches causing a wound of 3 inches in breadth.
This wound must have caused the knife blade to protrude from his throat,
severed his spinal cord, his wind pipe and arteries.
He would have bled profusely and died quickly.
Halesham died totally differently, he was choked to death, the post
mortem brusing clearly visible some days later when causes of death were
established. It is conceivable that
one man killed both, but the element of surprise (unless they were asleep) is
missing and it is more than likely that at least two men or more were
responsible for the murders. If one man is stabbed to death one would assume
that this murderer would then use his knife on the other victim. The time of
death is not given but it must be presumed that they took place between midnight
and the early hours of the 7th January 1742 when witnesses state they
saw the bodies by the long boat.
The captain of the ship Conn
Fron, possibly from Ireland stated that he left Morgan and Halesham in good
health with no cuts or bruises and that they were guarding a chest of cutlery
which had been saved for their ship. A
spoon is mentioned later in evidence together with a blanket and a chest, all of
which seemed subsequently to be forgotten or ignored at the trail.
Now who was out and about at
the vital time? One witness was
David William, who stated that he went with John Robert, both of Rhiw, to the
strand between 1 and 2am on the morning of the 7th January 1742, and
that they walked the shoreline through out the night picking up separate things
and it wasn’t until far into the day that David William came to the long boat,
saw the murdered men, remarked upon their cuts and bruises, and that there were
several unnamed people present at the scene.
He further stated that he believed that both men had been murdered.
How did he and John Robert know that it would be worth their while to
leave their beds to walk the shoreline?
John Robert(s) stated that on
the morning of the 7th January 1742 before day break, whilst in the
company of David William and Richard Robert Arthur, he met a Hugh Bedward on the
strand near to Rhiw. He then stated
that he parted company with David William and Richard Robert Arthur, and walked
with Hugh Bedward. We now have 4
people on the beach at the appropriate time.
John Robert(s) continued in his statement that he and Bedward saw a boat
on the strand, and when they neared it they saw two dead bodies by it, and at
the same time he saw two other people whom he could not identify walking away
from the boat in the direction of Rhiw Point, which is away from Rhiw.
He also stated that he believed that the bodies of Morgan and Halesham
did not appear to have been starved or murdered, but he did not suggest how they
had met their deaths. If he can believed, does this now indicate that 6 people are
now near the scene?
Hugh Bedward stated on
examination by Justice Love Parry on the 11th January 1742, that the
previous Friday, the 7th. That before day break he had gone to the
strand near Rhiw and met John Robert(s) and two other persons (presumably David
William and Richard Robert Arthur). The
four then split, Bedworth going off with Robert(s) and walked towards Rhiw Point
and after some time they found a boat on the strand with two persons alive and
leaning on the boat. Bedworth
stated that Robert(s) who was carrying knife, immediately stabbed the bigger of
the two men in the nape of his neck and instantly killed him.
Having done this he then went to the other person and took him by the
throat and choked him to death. Bedward
further stated that having killed both men Robert(s) suggested that that the
victims must have had effects with them, which they should take and bury before
they were discovered. Robert(s) is
alleged to have told Bedward to hold a chest, which was near the boat until he
had buried it. They obviously
opened it because Bedward said Robert(s) took cutlery out of the chest.
They also found a small trunk, which Robert(s) also wished to hide out of
Bedward further stated that
before they could carry off the effects found in the trunk, they were joined by
Maurice Lewis of Plas yn Rhiw, his son Morris and his man servant (Evan William
Howard). They were then joined by several other persons.
Bedward said at the time that the had discovered the boat and that they
had seen two persons going towards Rhiw Point away from the boat.
This evidence is unchallenged
unfortunately. I maintain that it
would have been difficult for Robert(s) to murder both men, and that different
methods were used, also no further mention is made of the chest or trunk, nor
any evidence of any blood staining on the suspects. With the extent of the wound on Morgan, copious amounts of
blood would have been spilt. Here
we have an allegation by Bedward that Robert(s) alone committed the crimes and
that he Bedward was innocent of murder.
Evan William Howard the man servant of Maurice Lewis on the morning of the 7th January 1742 he found 4 men at Plas yn Rhiw and that his master told him that a ship had foundered and that he was to go the strand, to find the long boat, the two crew men and the goods therein. He was to speak to one of the men who was Welsh (Morgan?) and to show his master the whereabouts of the boat. Evan William Howard did as he was ordered and went down to the beach where he came across a John Rowland of LLandygwnning and Robert John Jones, Evan William Howard said that he asked Robert John Jones if he had seen any boat and that Robert John Jones replied that he had not. Evan William Howard then walked towards Rhiw Point and saw a boat and two men near it. He recognised the men as John Robert(s) and Hugh Bedward, both of Rhiw. Evan William Howard stated that John Robert(s) showed him the bodies of two men near the boat. He further stated that John Robert(s) told him that he Robert(s) had found a spoon and an old blanket laid on the ground near the boat and was going to keep these objects. They were then joined by John Rowland and Robert John Jones. Here we have some evidence of the contents of the chest of cutlery, in that Robert(s) admitted that he had found a spoon, this is not mentioned again the court records available. The fact that John Rowland and Robert John Jones turned up so quickly implies that they could not have been far away and were probably lying when they told Evan William Howard that they had not seen any boat, this fact was not challenged at any time.
The priest of Rhiw Parish
Church another John Roberts before the Coroner Owen Owen at the rectory of the
church on the 10th January 1742 stated that the previous Friday the 7th,
that the bodies of two seamen William Morgan and Edward Halesham had been
carried to Rhiw where he had seen both the bodies.
He stated that that on the head of William Morgan were several deep cuts
most likely caused by a weapon, and several bruises and that there were
‘final’ marks on the windpipe of Halesham. The priest believed that both
seamen had been murdered by unknown assailants. Now we have a further little
mystery; why did The Rev. John Roberts have the bodies buried in Rhiw church
yard without any reference to the authorities.
Maurice Lewis the squire of Plas yn Rhiw would have been aware of the
fact as would have most of the residents of Rhiw.
Was some form of literal cover-up being carried out to protect the
residents of the village?
For some good reason the
Coroner became aware of the deaths and ordered the the bodies to be dug up and
examined and on the 10th January at this inquest Robert Morrey one of
the survivors stated that he with 5 others had come ashore in a long boat near
Rhiw, after their ship had been swamped to its higher decks within 5 leagues of
Bardsey Island. ( league can be
2000 yards so the ship was wrecked within 10,000 yards of the island which could
place it off Rhiw Point.) Morrey
then identified the bodies as those of Morgan and Halesham and stated that had
been left in good health and the post mortem injuries and marks of violence
showed that they had been murdered. It
is not known what happened to the bodies subsequently, there is no trace of them
being re-buried in the churchyard, but no doubt they would have been re-buried
locally and probably in an unmarked grave.
Here we have evidence of identification, proof that the victims were last
seen alive in good health, and undoubted evidence of a violent death.
At this point it appears that
the Coroner who also examined John Robert(s) and Hugh Bedward although there is
no transcript of their examination, decided that the causes of death was murder
and that Robert(s) and Bedward were the likely suspects.
They were both taken in custody and held at some place unknown, but
locally, it may heave been the gaol in Stryd Moch, Pwllheli, however on the 14th
January 1742 they were taken to the County Gaol at Caernarfon by Lowry William
and Richard Morris, both Constables of the Hundred of Gaslogion.
Although police forces as we know them today were not formed until 1829,
each small area had a law enforcement officer appointed by the local justice and
performed a roll similar to that of a sheriff and deputy in the Old West.
When the witnesses of this
trial were summoned before Justice Love Parry at Pwllheli in April 1742 Lowry
William stated that when he was taking Bedward to the County Gaol on the 14th
January Bedward had stated that Robert(s) had carried out both the murders, and
described the methods used. Richard
Morris corroborated this evidence precisely.
It is highly unlikely that any written record of the admission was made,
and also doubtful whether the peace officers could read or write. However there was the evidence and the only evidence of guilt
other than circumstances of Robert(s) and Bedward being found near the bodies.
At this same committal
proceedings all the witnesses were bound over under stringent penalties to
attend the trial, the penalties for non attendance amounted to a huge cash
payment and the seizure of goods and chattels.
They were obviously all being treated as potential hostile witnesses who
would be reluctant to give evidence against their neighbours and possibly
So this was the caase for the
prosecution when Robert(s) and Bedward appeared before Mr Justice Martyn at
Caernarfon Assizes in January 1743, some 12 months after the offence.
They could not have had a worse judge as Justice Martyn was aa drunk,
incompetent and corrupt. In April 1741 he had caused a scandal whilst trying 4 men at
Beaumaris Sessions. Here 4 men all
charged with robbing a stranded brigantine the ‘Loveday & Betty’ which
had come ashore in a gale at Anglesey, whilst the captain was ashore the accused
attacked the vessel, stealing everything they could carry which included the
sails and the 5” hawser holding the ship to the shore. This theft was at that
time a capital offence. However the
accused had some influence, one being a Buckley, and Martyn being drunk every
day deferred all court business to the last day of the Sessions when the caught
sat late until 3pm! Martyn then
promptly discharged all the prisoners much to the dismay of the local searcher
of customs officer Lewis Morris, who promptly wrote a poem deploring the actions
of the judge.
This was the Judge to try
Robert(s) and Bedward, the jury list shows over 40 names but only landowners and
yeomen (wealthy men who had served in the military) were selected and none of
them was from Rhiw.
As previously pointed out,
the only evidence was an admission by Bedward that Robert(s) had committed both
murders. This admission would not
be allowed in today’s courts, the knife used was not recovered or at least no
evidence was produced that it was. No
action was taken about the spoon being found in the possession of Robert(s), and
indeed nothing is known of what happened to the chest and trunk found in or near
the long boat.
I would suggest that a massive cover-up was undertaken by the residents of Rhiw, not only by the people on the beach that night, but also by Maurice Lewis and the Rev. John Roberts and that as the crime had been detected by the authorities in the form of the Coroner, some one had to be sacrificed, and obviously this had to be Robert(s) and Bedward. They had taken their chance and been caught out and but for Bedwards admission there was no evidence whatsoever. Imagine today’s investigation - fingertip searching, forensic examination, statements taken under caution, photographic evidence, scientific post mortem examinations and a thorough investigation by trained murder squad detectives. I rather feel that more than the two accused would have appeared before an honest judge and would be represented by barristers trying their hardest to seek acquittals. However this was not the case, their jury found them guilty, Robert(s) of the murders and Bedward of aiding and abetting the crimes. Within two weeks of the trial, without recourse to any appeal they were both hanged and their bodies left hanging as a warning to other robbers.
Reading the evidence I feel that Robert(s) probably killed Morgan by stabbing him and I also feel that Bedward killed Halesham by strangulation, but I do not believe that they were alone and that other people on the strand were possibly involved in the murders, they were there certainly to steal whatever they could and of course they could not admit to this, a hanging offence. Life had suddenly become more difficult for them and someone had to take the blame, the most obvious being Robert(s) and Bedward.
We would like to thank Patrick Allely for this very interesting article.
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