Anniversary of the death of Dic Penderyn – the birth of Socialist activism was in Merthyr Tydfil

Posted: August 12, 2014 in Subversives in Art, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

13th August.

On this day 1831 Dic Penderyn was hanged on the gallows in St. Mary’s Street,outside Cardiff gaol at the age of 23. According to legend, his last words were “O Arglwydd, dyma gamwedd” ( “Oh Lord, here is iniquity”)

Dic Penderyn was a Welsh labourer and coal miner, who was born, Richard Lewis in Aberavon in 1808 and moved to Merthyr Tydfil with his family in 1819, where he and his father found work in the local mines. Richard was always known as Dic Penderyn after the village of Penderyn near Hirwaun where he lodged

On June 3, 1831, he was involved in the Merthyr Rising, which was one of many protests throughout industrial Wales at the time against the terrible working conditions in the mines and iron works, made worse by wage cuts and the lay offs as demand for iron and coal fell away. A mob ransacked the building where court records of debt were being stored and in a bid to restore order, a detachment from one of the Highland Regiments stationed at Brecon, fired into the unarmed crowd, killing 16 people. No soldiers were killed in the affray, but one, a Private Donald Black was stabbed in the leg with a bayonet. Along with his cousin Lewis Lewis, Dic Penderyn was arrested for the attack even though neither man could be identified as carrying it out, indeed it was said that Dic had had limited involvement in the rising and was there, more as a spectator than a participant. Nevertheless, both were convicted, sentenced to death and held in Cardiff gaol. Lewis Lewis had his sentence commuted to transportation, largely thanks to the testimony of a Special Constable, John Thomas, whom Lewis had shielded from the rioters.

The people of Merthyr Tydfil were convinced that Dic Penderyn was not guilty, and more than 11,000 signed a petition demanding his release. Even the conservative Cambrian newspaper objected. Joseph Tregelles Price, a Quaker ironmaster from Neath, who went to console the two condemned men, was immediately convinced of Penderyn’s innocence and persuaded the trial judge that the sentence was unsafe. However the Home Secretary Lord Melbourne, well known for his severity, refused to reduce the sentence and Dic Penderyn was duly hanged. Thousands grieved and lined the route as Dic’s coffin was taken from Cardiff to Aberavon where he was buried in St Mary’s churchyard, Port Talbot. Regarded as a martyr, his death further embittered relations between Welsh workers and the authorities and strengthened the Trade Union movement and Chartism in the run up to the Newport Rising. He became a working class hero, a folk hero, who through his death became a symbol for those who tried to fight and resist oppression.

In 1874, a man named Ianto Parker confessed on his death bed that he had been the one to stab Private Black. He had then fled to America to avoid justice. Another man, James Abbott, also confessed to having lied on the witness stand.

This video is by the most influential social historian of my childhood, the incomparable Gwyn Alf Williams


Comments are closed.