"Murder at Rhiw"

 by

Patrick Allely

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.

 verdict.jpg (85242 bytes)

"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 sight.

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 relatives.

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.

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We would like to thank Patrick Allely for this very interesting article.

 

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