The Reverend Thomas Jones 1775 – 1857. Chaplain of Carmarthen Gaol & his part in creating British legal history.

Thomas Jones, a formidable fluent Welsh orator and Minister was the last person to translate a verbal confession in Welsh into written English to be used as a confession of Murder. In 1830, the Court of Great Sessions was abolished in favour of the new “Circuit” system of justice. Reverend Jones’ translation therefore, a few months previously passed into history as the last confession from Welsh (verbatim) into written English of a convicted murderer.

A prison Chaplain circa 1830

Reverend Jones’s time at the Gaol at Carmarthen must have been a harrowing experience for him over the many years he served there, though at the age of 70 he was still the Chaplain of the Prison in 1845, receiving a salary of £100 per year for which he was also employed as the “Schoolmaster to the house of Correction”
Thomas Jones’ therefore, as Chaplain to the Prison (Gaol) had a very close relationship with the accused during his trial for murder in 1829 as can be seen in the story of the Execution of David Evans.  Notwithstanding the fact that the wooden crossbeam supporting the hangman’s noose gave way at the first attempt to hang him, causing mayhem and distress to everyone who witnessed it.

I have however; in bringing the story of Thomas Jones to the fore, omitted for the most part the detail of the murder trial itself. Briefly David Evans used a billhook to mutilate Hannah Davies’ body.. too explicit to mention here. She was two months pregnant with his child and the evidence was overwhelming despite his plea of not guilty. The prosecutor at the trial was Sir James Scarlett KB –Attorney General for England and Wales, one of the best legal brains in the country at the time.

Execution by hanging 1809.

 

 

In a rather gruesome ending to this story, it was considered at the time that execution was not enough of a penalty for murder, and that if a person was convicted of murder that after they were hanged their bodies would also be dissected and put on public display. The 1751 “Act for the better preventing the horrid crime of murder”, usually known as the “Murder Act”, mandated the dissection (also known as anatomisation) of the bodies of executed murderers (including females ones) or gibbeting for male murderers in particularly heinous cases. It came into force on the 1st of June 1752 and ceased upon the introduction of the Anatomy Act of 1832.

So as the Thomas & Elizabeth Mayhook Charity continues its work of restoration of St David’s Cemetery Carmarthen, it also continues to research many of those yet untold stories of those that are buried there, very often with remarkable tales to tell, as is the case of the Reverend Thomas Jones…….

In the 1800’s murder was a crime that very few committed, because everyone knew the sentence would be ‘Death by Hanging’. However it did occur, such as the time David Evans was charged with the brutal murder of Hannah Davies. The public crowded Carmarthen’s Guildhall disgusted that such a vile deed could have been perpetrated in their community.
At the trial’s end, which lasted for twelve hours the Judge summed up the evidence and the jury retired to consider their verdict. An hour later they returned with the verdict of ‘Guilty’. The Judge donned the black cap and passed the inevitable sentence. The words of his sentence were as follows:

“David Evans, you stand convicted of the horrid and unnatural crime of murdering Hannah Davies. This Court doth adjudge that you be taken back to the place from whence you came, and there to be fed on bread and water till Monday next, when you are to be taken to the common place of execution, and there hanged by the neck until you are dead; after which your body is to be publicly dissected and anatomised, agreeable to an Act of Parliament in that case made and provided; and may God Almighty have mercy on your soul.”

The whole court, as well as the Judge, was clearly affected by proceedings. Evans was the only one who seemed to have little regard to the proceedings and appeared unmoved. He was convicted at the Carmarthen Court of Great Sessions at the Shire Hall Carmarthen on 18th September 1829 and sentenced to public execution.

The Guildhall Carmarthen. Scene of the Murder trial of David Evans in September 1829

The Court of Great Sessions was formally established in 1543 by Act of Parliament (an Act which came to be known as the ‘Second Act of Union’; the ‘First’ had been passed in 1536). This divided Wales into thirteen shires (which would form the basis of local government until 1974), of which twelve formed the circuits of the new courts. There were four circuits: Chester (comprising Flintshire, Denbighshire and Montgomeryshire); North Wales (Anglesey, Caernarvonshire and Merioneth); Brecon (Breconshire, Glamorgan, Radnorshire); Carmarthen (Carmarthenshire, Cardiganshire, Pembrokeshire). Monmouthshire was added to the Oxford circuit of the English Assizes (and so its records are held in the PRO). In fact, the Great Sessions had already begun operating before the Act was passed, during 1541; the court would play a major role in the legal life of Wales until its abolition in 1830. The Sessions met twice a year in each county, in around April/May and August/September, administering English law – officially, in English, although the extensive use of interpreters would represent an acknowledgement of linguistic realities throughout its existence. It was a powerful institution: it covered both criminal and civil actions, on the civil side, it enjoyed the same powers within Wales as King’s Bench and Common Pleas (and it also had an equity jurisdiction) in England, and its criminal jurisdiction was equivalent to the English counties’ assizes. In other words, it was the main court for the prosecution of felonies and serious misdemeanours in Wales for almost three centuries, especially as the once-powerful Council of the Marches in Wales became increasingly feeble in the seventeenth century (it was abolished altogether after 1688).

The Execution of David Evans – Monday 21st September 1829.

On Monday the extreme penalty of the law was carried into effect on David Evans, for the wilful murder of Hannah Davies, on the drop in the County Gaol, in the presence of at least 10,000 spectators. Since the evening of his conviction, this unfortunate man has been penetrated with a just sense of the enormous character of the crime he committed, and of the necessity of an unaffected penitence, as a means of regaining that divine favour which he had meritedly forfeited.

Sir James Scarlett KB. Attorney General and prosecutor at the trial of David Evans

As soon as he saw that his doom was inevitably fixed, his firmness forsook him, and he sought in religious and devotional exercises, that hope and that consolation which this world cannot give nor take away. The victim unsuspected and confiding, fell by that arm which ought to have cherished and protected her. Her lover was her murderer, he first seduced, and then hurried her “with all her imperfections on her head,” into the presence of her Creator, without one friendly moment to offer an ejaculatory prayer for mercy, for she never uttered a cry when she fell under the assassin’s blows. The unhappy man, who has now expiated with his life the violation of the law of nature and religion, has made a full disclosure of the facts connected with this horrible tragedy, and has acknowledged the justice of his sentence. Since his conviction he was attended by ministers of various denominations, who seemed all animated with a common desire to impart those spiritual consolations, which his peculiarly awful situation appeared to require. The Rev. T. Jones, the Chaplain of the Gaol, was indefatigable in his exertions to impress him with a proper sense of his guilt, & of his spiritual wants, and if external contrition, and a diligent appliance to devotional exercises, betaken to indicate internal change, there is every reason to hope that he is a new creature, and that lie will not perish everlastingly. —On the morning of the execution, the prisoner was attended early in the cell by his spiritual guides. The Rev. T. Jones, Rev. D. Peter, Rev. D. Thomas, Rev. D.A. Williams, and Rev. R. Gibbon, prayed with him, & he seemed absorbed in devotion during the whole of the time.

Carmarthen Gaol Entrance 1930

At nine o’clock the Under-sheriff (L. O. Lewis, Esq.) arrived, and shortly after, the Culprit, Governor, Officers, and Clergy moved in mournful procession from the cell to the chapel, where he partook of the Holy Sacrament at the hands of the Chaplain Reverend T Jones. He was then conveyed to the room adjoining the drop to be pinioned, and during this operation, the prisoner continued in audible and earnest prayer. After his arms were properly secured, and a short interval spent in prayer with Mr. Jones, the Chaplain, he ascended the drop with a firm step, and by a previously concerted signal, Reverend Jones dropped a handkerchief, and the drop fell but by one of those accidents which the utmost foresight cannot always prevent, the apparatus for his suspension gave way, and the shock the harrowed feeling’s of the assembled thousands received at this untoward event, was evidenced in a groan “not loud but deep.” He fell on the platform, but did not receive any material hurt. The scene at this moment was of a painfully distressing character. The prisoner was impressed with a belief that his life would be spared in consequence of the first attempt proving abortive, and when urged to re ascend the drop, in accents which clearly showed the tenacity with which he clung to life, he exclaimed in broken English “No hang again no no no gentlemen, was no hang twice for same thing,” and then proceeded in Welsh to protest against being obliged to undergo a second punishment for the same offence, and implored the intervention of the gentlemen who were on the platform. The gleam of joy that broke over his countenance when he found he had escaped the first death,” was most striking, and when assured that he must undergo the sentence pronounced upon him, the workings of despair upon his soul were indicated in the gloom that overcast his countenance. He resisted the re-execution of the sentence, until he saw that force would be resorted to, when again ascended the drop, and was launched into eternity without a struggle. — After remaining suspended an hour, he was cut down, and after being dissected was placed in a coffin. He was left open to public inspection, and thousands availed themselves of the permission given to view the mortal remains of this ill-fated young man. (CARMARTHEN JOURNAL 25TH SEPTEMBER 1829)

David Evans’ confession obtained by the Reverend Thomas Jones – Chaplain.

This is the Confession of me, David Evans, who am justly condemned to suffer, for committing a great offence against the laws of God and man. I die in charity with all men; I forgive all who may have offended or injured me, and I hope that all whom I might have injured in word or deed will forgive me also. I was received by Hannah Davies as her lover, and was much attached to her. I visited her on Thursday, the 11th of June last, and remained in her company on that occasion about two hours, and before we parted she asked me, if she were to go to her father’s house the following Saturday, would I accompany her? I said I would, and promised to meet her on the road near Esgair Fynwent. I left home between nine and ten o’clock, and took a bill hook with me, and told my sister that I was going to mend some gaps in the hedge; I began my work, but before I finished closing one gap, Hannah Davies came and called me, and asked if I was coming; my answer was that I would rather not come that night, and gave as an excuse that my sister was washing my stockings. She said,” come this night, or I will never forgive you” On this I went, and proceeded along the road to Cwmsifigw, in the parish of Llanybyther. We then went over the mountain, and proceeded along in a friendly manner until we reached the spot where the murder was perpetrated. As we were passing the small hollow where the body was found I struck her with the billhook (which I had concealed under my coat.) across her neck. She did not fall to the ground on the first blow; a second, which I immediately dealt, brought her to the ground, but on what part of the body it fell, I cannot exactly say, nor how many more blows I gave, for I was bewildered, and almost frantic, and-scarcely knew what I was doing. I was instantly smitten by my conscience after striking the first blow, and was sorry for the act; but I was urged to finish the deed for fear she would recover, and that the attempt would be discovered, and I suffer for it. I did not drag her from the road to the ravine, but she fell I should think in that direction from the force of the blows. I then ran homewards as fast as I could, and on the way dipped the billhook in a pool of water, to wash away the blood; I reached home about one or two o’clock on the Sunday morning, and got to bed very silently, where I lay about an hour; I then got up, wiped my shoes, and put grease on them. These were the shoes produced on the trial. Upon leaving the house on Saturday I told my sister, to prevent her coming out of the house, that she might not see me going with Hannah Davies, that I would drive the cattle into the night field; and in order to deceive her further, I finished mending the gaps in the hedges, after I got up on the Sunday morning. I do not think my sister heard me coming into the house, for I came in as silently as I could, and she was in bed. There was no blood on my clothes, and I had no accomplice whatever in committing this murder. I was instigated into this dreadful act by a feeling of jealousy, and I earnestly implore all young men to take warning by my melancholy end, and not give way to unruly passions, I return my most sincere thanks to those, in whose charge I have been ever since the awful and just sentence of the law was passed against me, for the very humane and tender kindness and attention, spiritual and temporal, which I received from them.

SIGNED “DAVID EVANS”

“This Confession was delivered voluntarily (verbally) by the Prisoner, in Welsh, and reduced to writing-in English by us, TMOS. JONES, Chaplain of the Gaol & D.A.WILLIAMS –Clerk.”

 

Reverend Thomas’ badly damaged memorial before making it safe

 

 

 

 

 

The memorial after making safe
The inscription on Reverend Thomas’ memorial.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All that is Mortal
Of
Sarah, the beloved wife of the
Rev Thomas Jones
Chaplain of the Gaol of the County of
Carmarthen
Is deposited beneath
The immortal part is gone to him that gave it
through the merits of a Crucified Redeemer
the separation took place
February 9th 18?? after a union
of 71 years
Looking for that blessed hope and the
Glorious appearing of the Great God
And our Saviour Jesus Christ who gave him all
For us, that he might redeem us
Also the mortal remains
of the above named
The Rev’d THOMAS JONES
who died March 4th 1857
aged 82 years