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On Trial the case of the stolen ducks

The Trial of William Morgan, 1866

Characters: Usher, the Judge, the Prosecutor, the Defence, the Accused, the Foreman of the Jury, Witnesses: Mrs. Margaret Matthews, Thomas Davies, James Tyler, Mrs. Jane Harris, P.C. Rogers.

Usher: “All rise for Her Majesty’s Justice of Assize, Mr. Justice Montague Smith.

(Enter Judge from door to Lodgings. Shuffling, coughing from public seats.)
Usher: “Silence in court.”

Judge: “The first case on the Grand Jury’s Bill - indeed, I see it is the only case - concerns an indictment for theft. Usher, call the accused.”

Usher: “Call William Morgan, Call William Morgan.”

Judge: “William Morgan, you stand accused that you did, on or about the 17th December last, steal three ducks and seven fowls, the property of John Brown of Llanshay. How do you plead to this charge, guilty or not guilty?”

Morgan: “Not Guilty, Your Worship.”

Usher: “Address the Judge as My Lord.”

Judge: “Never mind that - record his plea. Now, who is prosecuting this case?”

Prosecutor: “If it please His Lordship, Mr. Arthur Cheese.”

Judge: “Ah, yes, Mr. Cheese, I believe you are well known in this court. And who is defending?”

Defence: “Mr. John Bowen, if it please Your Lordship.”
Judge: “Very well, Mr. Bowen. Mr. Cheese, you may state the case to the Jury.”

Prosecutor: “Gentlemen of the Jury, this case concerns an indictment against William Morgan of Knighton, labourer, for the theft of three ducks and seven fowls, the property of John Brown of Llanshay farm, near Knighton. The offence took place on the 17th or 18th of December last, just before Christmas in fact, when I scarcely need remind you that poultry is much in demand. I shall show that the defendant stole the birds in the early hours of 18th December, thereafter killing them and concealing them in the dunghill near his house. And I shall further show that he then offered the ducks for sale in a public house called the Red Lion at Knighton, during the evening of the 19th of December. It is possible that another person was also implicated in the offence, but this person has not been apprehended, and I shall in any event show that the present defendant was the prime mover in the offence. To that end, I beg leave to call my first witness.”

Judge: “Please proceed, Mr. Cheese.”

Usher: “Call Mrs. Margaret Matthews. Now hold the book in your right hand. Do you swear that the evidence you will give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

Margaret Matthews: “I do.”

Prosecutor: “Please tell the court your name, residence and occupation.”

Margaret Matthews: “Well sir, my name is Margaret Matthews, and I be the wife of William Matthews, workman for Mr. Brown, Llanshay farm. We lives at a by-tack called Lawes on the Llanshay farm.”

Prosecutor:
“A by-tack is a kind of subsidiary farmhouse, My Lord. Please proceed, Mrs. Matthews.”

Margaret Matthews: “As I said, we lives in a by-tack and keeps poultry for Mr. Brown. About forty-nine fowls we had then, sir, and six ducks all of the same brood - oddly marked these ducks was, sir, with speckles on their necks, like. I’d know ‘em anywhere, sir.”

Prosecutor: “Very well, Mrs. Matthews, we’ll come to that later. Will you first tell us what happened on the 17th and 18th of December last.”

Margaret Matthews: “Well sir, I fed all the poultry as usual between eight and nine in the morning on Sunday morning, that’d be December the 17th, and I seen ‘em all there at two or three in the afternoon as I was going down to Knighton to Chapel. I didner come back until nine o’clock at night, about. Then we turned the dog out, as usual, and he started to bark, like as if there was somebody about. My husband went out, and he thought as he heard somebody throw a stone, but he didner see nobody, so he come back in. But th’old dog kept on barking until about two or three in the morning.
Next morning, Monday the 18th, I went out as soon as it was daylight - and I missed three ducks and seven fowls, so I went up and I told Mr. Brown.”
Prosecutor: “Will you tell us where the poultry were kept?”

Margaret Matthews: “Well sir, the fowls were roosted in the cow house, which was not locked, and the ducks roosted in the pool below the house.”

Judge: “Yes, Mr. Bowen, you wish to cross-examine?”

Defence: “Thank you My Lord. Now Mrs. Matthews, you say that the old cow house was not locked. Might the fowls have simply wandered away?”

Margaret Matthews:
“Oh no sir, there was a wall round the yard like, and the two gates in it was always locked at night.”

Prosecutor (to Usher): “Please produce the ducks and fowl skins.”

Judge: “I see that the ducks have been stuffed. Just as well perhaps.”

Prosecutor: “Now Mrs. Matthews, do you recognise these ducks and fowl skins?”

Margaret Matthews: “Oh yes sir, I’d know the ducks anywhere, and I fancy as the chickens be ours - they be certainly very like.”

Judge: “Mr. Bowen, your witness.”

Defence: Think carefully, Margaret Matthews, are you sure these ducks are yours? Surely one duck is very like another?”

Margaret Matthews: “Oh no, sir, these are ours, for a certainty.” They be very noted ducks, they be very well known - and I reared them myself, from the egg like. They have this peculiar marking on the neck feathers, see? Four months old, they was, when they was took.”

Prosecutor: “Very well, Mrs. Matthews. Now, do you know the prisoner?”

Margaret Matthews:
“Oh yes, everybody known Will Morgan.”

Prosecutor: “But did you see him about the time of the offence?”

Margaret Matthews: “Yes sir, I did. As I was going to Chapel on the Sunday afternoon, I met Will Morgan on the turnpike road going to our house, with a man called Thomas Jones. And later on, about nine o’clock at night, I met them both in Knighton, like as if they were coming from the turnpike road.”

Prosecutor: Very well, Mrs. Matthews, you may stand down at present. With your permission, My Lord, I will now call my next witness.”

Judge: “Proceed, Mr. Cheese.”

Usher: “Call Thomas Davies. Take the book in your right hand. Do you swear that the evidence you will give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

Thomas Davies: “I do.”

Prosecutor: “Mr. Davies, you are the ‘boots’ at the Chandos Hotel, Knighton?”

Thomas Davies: “Well sir, some say ‘ostler’,’ but yes, I am at the Chandos Hotel.”

Prosecutor: “Will you tell the court what happened in relation to this matter during the evening of the 19th December.”

Thomas Davies: “Between about six and seven o’clock on that evening, sir, I went to a public house called The Red Lion in Knighton. There I found the prisoner and a man called James Langford - they were sat one on each side of the kitchen fireplace, drinking. Langford said to me that he had a couple of ducks which he had won card-playing…

Judge: “Did you not think this was strange? Is it usual to play cards for ducks in Radnorshire?”

Thomas Davies:
“Well sir, it do happen, I didner think anything of it. At any rate, Langford offered to sell me two ducks for three shillings. I told him they were no use to me because I had no money. So I had a glass of ale, and I left, and went on over to The Crown. When I got there, I mentioned to the landlady about these ducks, and a man called James Tyler was there - I told them both the price Langford asked me. Tyler said he would have one of these ducks for fifteen pence - it wanner quite what they asked, but I went back to The Lion again with it. The prisoner and Langford were still there. Langford came to the door, and I gave him the fifteen pence, and he gave me the duck - he had it in his pocket.

Judge: “He had it in his pocket? Was it dead?”

Thomas Davies: “Oh yes sir, it was dead - it wouldner stayed in there else.”

(Laughter in court)
Usher: “Silence in court.”

Prosecutor: “Please proceed Mr. Davies. What happened then?”

Thomas Davies: “Well, I took the duck back to Tyler at The Crown. There was another man there, a Mr. Glayswell, he said he would have the other duck at the same price, so I went back to The Lion again, and told Langford I wanted the other duck. He said “I’ll send him out with you. So I waited in the passage by The Lion door, and then the prisoner came out with the other duck.”

Defence: “you’re sure it was the prisoner, not Langford?”
Thomas Davies: “Yes sir, it was the prisoner. I gave him the money - Langford had told me it would be all right, and he gave me the other duck, which I took back to Glayswell at The Crown.”

Prosecutor: “And are the ducks you see here the same as those you brought from the Lion?”

Thomas Davies: “I believe they are, Sir, only of course they wasn’t stuffed then.”

(More laughter)
Prosecutor: “We know that, Mr. Davies. What happened after that?”

Thomas Davies: “Nothing happened that night, but next morning, Constable Rogers took me into custody for receiving stolen ducks. So I told him just as I told you sir, and he discharged me.”

Prosecutor: “That is all for now, Mr. Davies. You may stand down. May I call the next witness, sir?”

Judge: “You may, if Mr. Bowen has no questions to ask the last witness.”

Defence: “No sir.”

Usher: “Call James Tyler. Take the book in your right hand. Do you swear that the evidence you shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

James Tyler: “I do”

Prosecutor:
“Mr. Tyler, please tell the court what happened on the evening of the 19th December last.”

James Tyler: “It was just like the last witness said. I was in The Crown, and I received a duck from him, for which I gave him 15d - one shilling and three pence. As soon as I got it, I gave it to the landlady to keep for me.”

Prosecutor: Do you see the duck here? Was it the same as the one produced here?”

James Tyler: “I couldner rightly say sir. I fancy it was the same colour - that’s all I can tell you.”

Judge: “Any questions, Mr. Bowen?”

Defence: “No, My Lord.”

Prosecutor: “Very well, stand down. I should now like to call Mrs. Jane Harris, landlady of The Crown.”

Judge: “Carry on, Mr. Cheese”

Usher:
“Call Mrs. Jane Harris. Now hold the book in your right hand. Do you swear that the evidence you shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

Mrs. Jane Harris: “I do.”

Prosecutor: “Mrs. Harris, will you tell the court what you saw on the night in question?”

Mrs. Jane Harris: “Yes sir. The witness, Davies, was in my house, like he said. He bought a duck for Mr. Tyler and later another for Mr. Glayswell. They both left the ducks in my care, and I didn’t think no more about it. But the next morning, Constable Rogers he came round, and told me as they’d been stolen, so of course I handed them over. I’m not a receiver of stolen goods sir, I keep a respectable house.”

Prosecutor: “I’m sure you do, Mrs. Harris. Will you tell us whether the ducks you saw were the same as those now in court?”

Mrs. Jane Harris: “Yes sir, I’m certain they was. They was an unusual colour sir, I noticed it at the time.”

Prosecutor:
“Please stand down, Mrs. Harris. Finally My Lord, I should like to call police Constable Rogers.”

Mrs. Jane Harris: “Proceed, Mr. Cheese.”

Usher: “Call Police Constable David Rogers. Do you swear that the evidence you shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

P.C. Rogers: “I do.”

Prosecutor:
“Constable Rogers, you are accustomed to giving evidence, I know. Kindly tell the court the facts of this matter.”

P.C. Rogers: “My name is David Rogers, and I am the police officer at Knighton. On the morning of the 18th of December last, I received information concerning the loss of the aforesaid fowls from Llanshay. In consequence, I visited Llanshay and the place from which the fowls was lost, and I noted certain tracks leading to the prisoner’s house. So I proceeded to the prisoner’s house and watched discreetly part of that night and on the following day. On Wednesday morning, I took custody of the ducks from the witness Mrs. Harris, and on the same morning I also apprehended the prisoner Morgan. But Langford had absconded, and I could not find him.”

Prosecutor: “what did the prisoner say when you apprehended him?”

P.C. Rogers: “First of all I cautioned him according to regulations, and told him that the charge was stealing three ducks and seven fowls, the property of Mr. Brown. Then the prisoner asked me who else was in custody, and I told him I could not give out that information. Then he said “as for the ducks, I don’t know anything about the one Langford had. I came honestly by mine, I found it in a mixen - (that’s a dunghill) - opposite my house.” Then I locked him up.”

Prosecutor: “And what happened then?”

P.C. Rogers: “On the following morning, I went back to the building mentioned by the prisoner, which contained the dunghill or mixen. I found there the seven fowls in question, in a bag concealed under some hay. These were the chickens whose skins have been produced in court, along with the ducks I had from Mrs. Harris.”

Prosecutor:
“this building, with the dunghill was opposite the prisoner’s house?”

P.C. Rogers: “it was sir.”

Judge: “Do you have any questions for the Constable, Mr. Bowen?”

Defence: “Thank you, My Lord. These tracks you mentioned, from Llanshay towards the prisoner’s house - did you have any reason to connect them with the prisoner?”

P.C. Rogers: “Not at the time, sir. But afterwards I noticed that they resembled those made by the prisoner’s boot - his left boot had two nails missing, near the toe end. The tracks were very clear, because there had been wet weather, followed by a hard frost.

Judge: “Any more questions, Mr. Bowen?”

Defence: “No My Lord.”

Judge: “Very well then Constable, you may stand down. But before you do so, I should like to commend you for your very assiduous work on this case. I understand you have been commended before in this court for your work on a sheep stealing case at... er... Glasbury. The Radnorshire force is fortunate to posses officers such as you.
Gentlemen of the Jury, I believe I can scarcely add anything to the evidence already presented to you. This seems to me a very clear and simple matter, and unless your foreman has any questions, I propose to ask you to consider your verdict. Mr. Foreman, have you any questions, or do you wish to retire to consider your verdict?”

Foreman: “No questions, My Lord, and if we could just have a moment, I don’t think there will be a need to retire.”

(Talk among the Jury)
Foreman: “No My Lord, no need to retire - we’re ready now.”

Judge: “Gentlemen of the jury, do you find the prisoner guilty or not guilty?”

Foreman: “Guilty My Lord.”

Judge: “And that is the verdict of you all?”
Foreman: “It is, My Lord.”

Judge: Prisoner at the bar, you have been found guilty of a very serious offence. It may be that others were involved, but they are not on trial today. In any event, it is clear from the evidence so admirably collected and stated by the police Constable that the birds were found near your dwelling place and that you yourself placed them there. Also, you played a leading part in the attempted sale of stolen property. Moreover, you have exacerbated your offence by lying to the police, and might have exacerbated it further had the stone you apparently threw injured Mr. Matthews.

Moreover, your offence was clearly premeditated. It seems clear to me that at the time Mrs. Matthews saw you in the afternoon of the 17th December, you were going to spy out the land and plan your theft. It is fortunate for you that you have no previous offences recorded against you, or your sentence might have been a heavier one. As it is, I sentence you to six months imprisonment, during all of which time, you will be kept in hard labour.

Take him down.

The End

The details of this trial, including much of the
speech, are taken from the report published in
The Hereford Times on 13th January 1866.

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