'THE RIOTS IN WALES.' in Illustrated London News
This newspaper article gives some general information about the Rebecca Riots while taking a handful of political stances concerning them. A few features stand out.
This is from the newspaper's front page, demonstrating the prominence and interest in the riots as far as London. Indeed, as the article later mentions writing in the Times about the Riots, we can see they spread fairly far in English reporting.
The article also assumes existing knowledge of the riots, opening by saying, 'The tumults which are now disturbing society, agitating the population, and destroying all social order in South Wales have at last assumed an aspect which may no longer be regarded without a profound anxiety, a watchful solicitude, and we fear we must add, also, a natural and justifiable inquiet and alarm'. As the reader is assumed to have some basic knowledge of these 'tumults', this further demonstrates the riots had established notoriety.
The article also constructs a fairly nuanced opinion towards the Riots. While it disavows the methods of the rioters (particularly in breaking laws), it also tries to understand why the Rioters would be driven to such lawlessness.
'...we are all emphatically bound to deprecate and abhor their actions, to regret their disloyalty and bad violence, to lament that their festering turbulence has been allowed to grow to head, and to join in hearty aspiration that they may now speedily crushed —not without such retribution either as the law will temper with mercy, such punishment as justice will administer with humanity—as an example to the future from the past. But at the same time it becomes also a social duty, for our own example's sake, to look into the source of the evils by which this rude and impetuous people have really been oppressed ; and when these riots are crushed utterly, to seek legislative redress for them'
This article identifies many factors causing this 'turbulence', but above all judges the Poor law to be the most influential in fuelling Rebecca. It then uses this as a chance to criticise the government and advise towards the abolition of the policy. It closes by saying that 'the way to crush rebellions is not to let them grow till they are worth crushing', or that through the right governance, such risings as Rebecca would not become problems to begin with. Therefore, Rebecca was not just of interest in London as pure spectacle; it came to strike at the heart of contemporary political discourse regarding far-reaching policies and government positions.
The full transcript follows below:
'29 July 1843.
THE RIOTS IN WALES.
The tumults which are now disturbing society, agitating the population, and destroying all social order in South Wales have at last assumed an aspect which may no longer be regarded without a profound anxiety, a watchful solicitude, and we fear we must add, also, a natural and justifiable inquiet and alarm, by every one professing to be at all regardful of the common peace of the community and the general tranquillity of the slate. We do not mean weakly and flimsily to assume that the wild daring and half romantic turbulence of the Welsh districts—a turbulence which has now indeed become as wicked as mischievous, by darkening its hardy boldness with the crimson stain of blood —is per se a thing to thicken horrors upon the public imagination, or to make the hair of the nation "stand on end ;" but we do take up these organized and insurrectionary movements as signs of the times which are multiplying much too rapidly, and which are much too readily made the resort of either disaffection and discontent, with that sort of dangerous defiance of the spirit of the constitution and the power of the law which every true lover of rational liberty in the British Empire must earnestly deprecate and deplore. That species of argument which is balanced upon a threat is always most dangerous when admitted or tolerated in the most remote degree—as dangerous to the conscious independence of good governments as it would be to the personal honour and character of true gentlemen; and yet this is the very style of “extorting justice” which the spirit of the times seems to have hit upon, and which is equally dishonest in its motive, and demoralizing in its effect. It depreciates the efficacy of the executive in the public respect, and tends to a prestige for tumult, and a defiance of every consideration of social equity and the prescriptive rights of peace. It is vain to say, however, that, with marks of distinction in their nature and tendency, crusades against the law and the constitution have not been suffered to grow ahead amongst us, and that, too, without half enough resistance on the part of those who should have quelled the storm in its rising, have stemmed the torrent before it grew to strength. Who will say that these remarks do not apply to Ireland, whence the threat of repeal has been literally brandished in the face of the British Government, or in the very teeth of the Saxon, as O’Connell would more emphatically shout? There physical force has been arrayed with moral forbearance, and with a display of power systematic, organized, concentrated, but perilous in the extreme ; there the literal wolf of rebellion has howled forth his hypocrisy in the sheep’s clothing of peace. And now that he has done this, it may be the best policy of the Government to conciliate him into impotence—by calm, untroubled reserve of authority to bind him with silken fetters within his jacket of fleece, and so give the wolf no pretext for escape into his natural atmosphere of ferocity. This we say may be, and perhaps is, the best policy now ; but we much question the wisdom, nay, censure the indifference, of allowing an insurrectionary spirit, whether passive or active in its principles, so far as actual violence is concerned, to have grown into so formidable a presence—to have spoken with so bullying a voice.
So, in a lesser degree, of the Welsh riots. They ought not to have been supinely permitted to have swelled to what they are-- to have grown into a wild, bold, powerful, spreading disaffection. Rebecca, while her family were yet young and few, might have been despoiled of her hopeful progeny —might have been left “like Niobe all tears”—no children tied to her revolutionary apron-strings-- not one son or daughter of turbulence at her side. Not so now. South Wales is shaken as by an earthquake—the amazonian who traded against turnpikes has become a leader of a thousand yeomen acting in defiance of constables, artillery, and troops. Under the magic of Rebecca’s name a regular and organized combination has sprung up, and in its boldness has conceived and matured a system of predatory warfare. Its conspirators are as numerous, as rapid, and as harassing as the far-famed guerillas of Spain. Suddenly and imperceptibly, at the start of rockets and firesignals upon the hills, they gather into wild freebooting throngs —storm property, destroy turnpikes, and threaten all peaceful dwellers upon the soil who will not participate in their design. Do the military arrive—one flash of flame from the signal mountains, and they are dispersed without leaving trace or track. They are gone with reckless energy to their hiding-places—the lone cottage—the rock chasm—the dark coal-pit--the bush--the ditch--the brake—the barn—the sheltering hedge. The troops are nonplussed—the work of mischief has been completed, but the authorities are successfully defied.
Once within the last week, however, there has been a scene of conflict. Some drunken peasant, bribed to betray his comrades with a hundred pounds, disclosed one isolated rendezvous, but the Rebeccaites fought desperately, and in their affray with the constabulary blood was shed and human life sacrificed. Some of the consequences will be prosecution, transportation, and death ! This is a dreadful state of things—the whole country is plunged into mad alarm-- the participators the wild movement are many —the non-participators few and insecure. Soldiers, exasperated with fruitless adventure, march the highways and track the fields in vain—justice trembles and is paralyzed—juries dare hardly keep their oaths upon the trials ; and at last Government will be forced to the alternative of special commissions, and of sending down London magistrates to sift the ramifications of the frightful conspiracy that is alive.
Yet with all this, be it remembered, the mass of the Rebeccaites do not consist of the idle or depraved lower classes ; they are not even confined to the aggrieved peasantry, who suffer under poor law legislation in the agricultural districts ; or the sullen, grumbling labourers who have been thrown loose and penniless upon the country from the coal and iron works and mines ; but they have their ranks swelled and strengthened and rendered important by the accession of whole bodies of farmers, who frame a set of general grievances as the reasons of their revolt, and who seek only the alleviation or withdrawal of those grievances to lure them back to order and their allegiance to the laws.
Of course it would ridiculous to countenance any palliation of the outrageous conduct of these disorderly creatures upon any other ground than that of pitiable ignorance ; and whe [sic.] the shedding of blood ensues not even upon that. No—we are all emphatically bound to deprecate and abhor their actions, to regret their disloyalty and bad violence, to lament that their festering turbulence has been allowed to grow to head, and to join in hearty aspiration that they may now speedily crushed —not without such retribution either as the law will temper with mercy, such punishment as justice will administer with humanity—as an example to the future from the past. But at the same time it becomes also a social duty, for our own example’s sake, to look into the source of the evils by which this rude and impetuous people have really been oppressed ; and when these riots are crushed utterly, to seek legislative redress for them, as the English people will seek legislative redress for Ireland the moment her cry for the dismemberment the empire is hushed in peace, and loyalty becomes truthful in its allegiance to the throne.
In both countries the most just and violent complaints seem to be of the poor-laws—of that dreadful system of grinding poverty, and never blessing it with comfort or benevolence, of which we murmured so bitterly in our last. In Wales they fret of tithes too, from which Ireland is exempt ; and the heavy tolls are no doubt iniquity which ought in honesty to be removed. But the Poor-law is the monster grievance—there, here, everywhere ; and why will Government blind itself to the incalculable benefits of its extirpation? Why will they cling to this one madness, when they know that it broods disaffection, and feel that disaffection is raging into revolt?
ln Wales the farmer and the labourer complain of the poor-law alike--it torments, crushes them both. No doubt, too, there are many other complications of distress in the farm population of the Welsh districts now in insurrection ; and these have been well set forth at one of their organized meetings, and doubt faithfully reported by the correspondent of the Times. They should be carefully perused and considered by ministers and members of Parliament, when even these unhappy disturbances may be brought to end ; and Heaven speed the hour.
Although the discussion of Welsh riots has induced the mention of Irish agitation in this article, yet it is meet the reader should by no means identify the two disturbances in character. The Times has properly pointed out the distinction between them. “In Wales,” says our contemporary, "we have a very different case from that of Ireland. We have here no trusted and recognised leader, possessed himself, and endeavouring to inflame others, with a blind hostility of race, a bitter and revengeful animosity against everything English : it is not against the British connection that the Welsh farmer lifts his hand. It is a local quarrel, in which he has some right on his side, though his way of seeking it is unendurable in any country professing be governed by law ; and were that right clearly acknowledged he would probably be led to accept, not unthankfully, the intervention of Government between himself and the hated turnpikemen and rate-collectors. We do not mean that the state is to intermit its efforts to put down, by such force and activity as can command, the outrages which now disgrace the county of Carmarthen—far from it. Without a display of firmness and power, effectual conciliation is impossible. But let action and inquiry—prosecution of offenders and redress of grievances —go hand in hand. Let the Welsh peasantry learn how much they risk by persevering—how much they may gain by desisting from disturbance. But, above all, to repeat what have before enforced, let the conduct both of the coercion and of the conciliation be assigned to some one who has a head on his shoulders, and we shall then become somewhat less anxious than can now profess ourselves to be as to the issue of this dangerous and provoking conspiracy.”
The last sentence implies a just rebuke. The chief magistrates and others should have been sent before to the disturbed districts-- before, in fact, they were disturbed so fearfully—and then we might never have had to propound reproachfully to the Government the old story that prevention is better than cure, and that the way to crush rebellions is not to let them grow till they are worth crushing’
More articles like this one can be found at the British newspaper archive: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/
NB: An account is required and free article views are limited to 3 per day.
Alternatively, to save you a little work, the below link will take you to the BNA search engine, where the appropriate year range for Rebecca has been selected and 'rebecca riots' has been searched.