1469: Andrea Viarani 1954: Nikos Ploumpidis, Greek Communist

1831: Dic Penderyn, Merthyr Rising martyr

August 13th, 2020 Headsman

Welsh coal miner Dic Penderyn was hanged on this date in 1831 to crush a labor rising.

Richard Lewis was his real name — he got his nickname from the village of his residence, Penderyn, which is also true of Wales’s most famous whisky — dug carbon out of the ground to serve the mighty ironworks of Merthyr Tydfil.


Satanic mill? Cyfarthfa Ironworks Interior at Night, by Penry Williams (1825).

This vital node of the burgeoning industrial revolution made princes of its masters, and paupers of its subjects. “The town of Merthyr Tidfil was filled with such unguided, hard-worked, fierce, and miserable-looking sons of Adam I never saw before,” Thomas Carlyle would write in 1850. “Ah me! It is like a vision of Hell, and will never leave me, that of these poor creatures broiling, all in sweat and dirt, amid their furnaces, pits, and rolling mills.” The broiling creatures’ surplus labor lives on to delight the modern visitor in the form of Cyfarthfa Castle, the spired mansion thrown up in the 1820s by the prospering ironmaster William Crawshay II. (His successor in the role, Robert Thompson Crawshay, would be known as the “Iron King of Wales”.)

For workers, precarity sat side by side with toil and in 1831 the pressure of contracting wages and constricting debt triggered a protest that metastasized into rebellion. The Merthyr Rising saw the town completely overrun by the lower orders, flying the red flag in perhaps the earliest deployment of this now-familiar symbol as a banner of the proletariat.

They sacked the debtors’ court and fed its obnoxious bonds to a bonfire, and formed a militia that fought off a couple of attempted state interventions before 450 troops occupied Merthyr Tidfil on June 6 to finally quell the revolt. Two dozen protesters were killed in the associated fighting.

Twenty-six people were arrested and tried for various crimes associated with the Merthyr Rising, but amid the various imprisonments and transportations-to-Australia, Westminster perceived the need for the sort of message that only hemp conveys. Two men, Lewis Lewis (Lewsyn yr Heliwr) and our man Richard Lewis (Dic Penderyn) drew death sentences for stabbing a soldier with a bayonet. The former man’s sentence was downgraded to penal transportation when a policeman testified that he’d been shielded from a dangerous moment in the riot by Lewis Lewis. That left just the one guy and never mind a widespread belief in the town that Dic Penderyn was innocent of the crime.

Prime Minister Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey — yes, he’s the Earl Grey tea guy — refused an 11,000-strong community petition to spare him. Dic Penderyn hanged at Cardiff on August 13, 1831, at the site of the present-day Cardiff Market. A plaque marks the spot.

To latter-day descendants, both those of blood and those of insurrectionary spirit, Dic Penderyn is a seminal working-class martyr. Commemorations, and efforts to officially exonerate him, continue down to the present day.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Rioting,Wales,Wrongful Executions

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