John Watkins' trial

This newspaper article was located by Charles E.  (Gene) Hales on a visit to Wales about 1999. The name of the newspaper(s) was not given. Two accounts of the same incident follow.

A Glanusk Murder Poaching Affray of 1876

In January 1876 the inhabitants of Crickhowell and District were excited and alarmed at a fatal poaching affray at Glanusk, in which a Gamekeeper lost his life. The affair remained a sensation for some time, but in spite of a Magisterial Hearing and Coroners Inquiry, it was never satisfactorily settled who the assailant was. An account of the Affair, which was published on 22nd January, 1876 was as follows: One of Sir Joseph Bailey's Gamekeepers was killed in a desperate affray with poachers early last Saturday morning. George King, Sir Joseph's Head Gamekeeper, who resided in the Lodge between Crickhowell and Llangynidr, had that night dispensed with the Watchers who had been previously employed to protect the game, the season being so far advanced. He arranged that Philip Hooper, the Under-keeper should remain up all night and call him if anything transpired. Soon after he han turned in Hooper called him up, saying he had heard shots fired in the direction of the Dwfyhant Wood. George King, dressed and accompanied by Hooper, proceeded in the direction of Llangynidr, where they came across the poachers near the wood. Shots were fired on both sides, King being struck twice, the first time in the chest.

The gun was fired at scarcely ten yards distance, the whole charge entering the poor fellows body. He died within ten minutes after being shot. The shot came from a field overlooking the road and sheltered by a roadside plantation. The deceased, who leaves a wife and eight young children had been many years in the employ of Sir Joseph Bailey and was much respected. The poachers got clean off.

The affair has excited a most painful interest throughout the week all over the County and every effort has been made to bring the criminals to Justice. A county gentleman has offered a reward of 200 Pounds for information that will lead to their apprehension. A tenant of Sir Joseph Bailey named John Watkins, who is paying rent of 90 pounds per annum for land upon which the encounter between the Keepers and the Poachers took place was arrested on suspicion and brought before Magistrates on Wednesday, charged with killing George King, but he was acquitted of complicity with the crime.

Eighty Shot Marks

At the Inquest Dr. P.E. Hill stated that the he found shot wounds on both legs, on the skin, knees and foot-six wounds in all. The serious wounds were on the right groin and extended eight inches in length and four and a half in breadth. The skin was completely riddled and he found at least eighty shot marks.

Mr. Farquhar who appeared for Watkins asked the Coroner if he would accept bail. Superintendent Evans said that Watkins was in his custody and he did not intend to part with him except by order of the Magistrate.

The inquest was adjoined to 7th February. At the Magistrates inquiry John Watkins was charged with the unlawful killing of George King. Mr. D. Thomas & Son, who was Prosecution for the Crown, said that in the present Inquiry, there was a great deal of evidence which would not be given that day, but he thought what would be adduced would be sufficient to make out a Prima Facie case.

Sir Joseph Bailey put in a plan which he had drawn of the place where the deceased was shot. He said that on the 6th December, 1872 the deceased found the prisoner shooting a pheasant and preferred a charge against him, but the case broke down in the Autumn of last year. He was informed by King that the prisoner had been ferreting on his land and he directed that a Summons be taken out against him. The prisoner came to him and acknowledged the ill feeling existing between him and King, and that the latter would persist in watching him and causing him annoyance. The witness saw that there was a great deal of animosity between them, but did not suppose that there was any murderous intent.

Gamekeeper's Evidence

Philip Hooper, Underkeeper to Sir Joseph Bailey, said that he had been in his service three weeks. At one o'clock on Saturday morning he was in the deceased's house. They agreed that King should got to bed and that the witness should keep garrison until the morning, but if he heard shots he was to call him up immediately. He went on to the drawbridge when he heard some shots m the Tower Wood. He at once ran for King, but before he got to his house a second shot was fired. He called King up and he came downstairs and put on his clothes outside the house. While he was dressing a third shot was fired and as they were going from the house, the witness heard a fourth shot fired. When they came to Dounant they saw the flash of the gun shot towards them on the Llangynidr side of the cover. The men who shot at them were in the field at the opposite side of the cover. The first shot was followed by two others in rapid succession, towards them. The first shot struck the deceased in the legs. They were working side by side. Three men then made a rush across the comer of the field into the cover. The deceased fired two shots at them and the witness followed with the same number. They could have shot the three men dead if they had wished, but they only wanted to frighten them. The witness got over the fence into the cover and fired two other shots. The deceased asked him if he had received any shots and he told him that he had not. The deceased then informed him that he had been shot very badly about the legs and asked him to go to the Crickhowell side of the cover and said that he wold himself go on the right hand side of the cover. When the witness got over the hedge from the road towards his point, he saw and heard another shot fired. He was then ten yards from the hedge. He heard the shot whiz in his direction. When about thirty yards further off he heard three more shots fired in rapid succession.

I Am A Dying Man

King called out to him "Hooper, my dear man, come here, I am shot ". The three shots were fired before King called out again "Come here, I am a dying man".

The witness then went back by the way. He came. King was then lying on his side with his face towards the cover and with his gun in front of him. The witness wrapped his rug around him and put him to lie as easy as he could. King said "May the Lord have mercy on my soul; do not pray for me for I am a dying man". A person could have heard this twenty yards off, but could not at a distance of one hundred yards. The witness went for assistance and called John Walker of the Dunvant, but was not away more than three minutes. The witness sent to the prisoner's house for his cart, but the prisoner said that they could not have it, as it was broken. King was shot at three o'clock and died at four. He gradually lost his voice and died before he was put into the cart.

The three poachers had their cheeks blackened. He heard the voices, but could not swear to more than one and that was the prisoner, Watkins!. He had heard his voice while he had been ploughing in the field. He would swear that Watkins was one of the men. King said to them "Send for Watkins for I am certain he will not come". He requested the witness to pray for him several times and told him not to be so venturesome again. He said "the man could not be more than eight or ten yards from me when I was shot and I fired both barrels in the direction from where the shots came."

Pray For My Soul

James Walker, a labourer of the Dounant who was called by the last witness said that King was alive when he arrived, and he said to the witness "O Walker, Walker, pray for my poor soul, I wish Heaven was open to receive my soul". The witness went to Watkins home to ask if he would lend his cart to take King home as he had been shot. Mrs. Watkins spoke to him from the bedroom, and he did not see either Mr. or Mrs. Watkins. The prisoner came to the home of the witness after the body of King had been taken away. This was about four o'clock in the morning. There was no conversation excepting that Watkins said "It is a shocking thing" or something to that effect. On Sunday night, Watkins came to his house again, but did not say anything.

Mrs. Ann Walker, wife of James Walker, said that Watkins came to her house about four o'clock on Saturday Morning. His face was bandaged up and he had a mustard poultice on. He said he was suffering from toothache. He said he did not go to help the deceased, as he felt to fainthearted. He said he would not go alone, but he would go with her husband.

Cross-examined, the witness said that Watkins said he heard King say "God have mercy on my soul" and that he did not think King was hit too badly. In reply the Mr. Farquhar, She said Watkins said he heard King's remarks as he was passing by the hedge on the road to her house.

A Rusty Gun

Mr. Farquhar put in the gun belonging to the prisoner, which was rusty and appeared not to have been used for some time. He then called the prisoner's two daughters and his son, who severally swore to the father being in bed at the time the shots were fired. The little girl, a child of ten appeared to possess a clear understanding of the nature of an oath. She said she counted ten shots and asked her father if he heard the poachers about and he said "Yes". They all agreed that it was after Walker came for the cart that their father dressed himself and went out. Those witnesses completed the evidence offered for the Defence.

Mr. Farquhar now submitted that this fully proved that Watkins was in bed in his own house at the time the prosecution pretend he was out with the poachers.

The Chairman of the Magisterial inquiry therefore declared that there was not sufficient evidence to commit the prisoner for trial and he must therefore be discharged Mr. Farquhar without a stain on his character. No, we did not say that, we record our decision, as stated without any remark.

A cheer was on the point of being raised but silence was immediately enforced on reaching the open air, however a portion of the audience gave vent to their feelings in loud cheers.

Subsequently Bills were widely posted offering 100 pounds reward and a free pardon to any one of the poachers, not being the actual murderer who turned Queen's evidence.

At the adjourned inquest Philip Hooper and other witnesses repeated the evidence. Hooper stated that King said "Send for Watkins, but I am certain he will not come, for he is one of the three men who caused my death".

The Jury returned a verdict of "Willful murder against a certain person, to the Jurors unknown.

1954 Extract Taken Of The Incident From A Local Newspaper Cutting

It is the early hours of the morning. Two Gamekeepers on a large estate brave the cold, January air to try to apprehend a number of poachers. They draw near to them, there is the sound of shots and one of the Gamekeepers falls to the ground fatally injured...

A scene from a recent film? Or perhaps part of a "thriller" fresh from the publishers? It is neither, but a true-to-life incident which took place in the Crickhowell district exactly seventy-eight years ago - way back in 1876 when poaching was more prevalent than it is today.

Very few happenings at Crickhowell before - and indeed, if any, since - caused so much tongue-wagging and speculation. A Gamekeeper murdered and brought home in an old cart - what a topic for discussion! But let this sordid tale begin where it should - at the beginning.

A Flash of Gun Shots

George King, a respected man in the district , was a married man with a family. He was also Head Gamekeeper on the Glanusk estate to Sir Joseph Bailey, and had been greatly concerned about the activities of some stop-at-nothing poachers. And so it was that at about one a.m. on the third Saturday in January, 1876, that King and an Underkeeper named Philip Hooper were chatting in King's house on the estate. The men agreed that King should go to bed and that Hooper should "keep garrison" until the morning. If any shots were heard, however, King was to be called immediately. King went to bed, and his companion went out into the night.

It was when Hooper reached a nearby drawbridge that the first heard the sound of shots fired in a wood not far away. At once he ran for King, and King dressed rapidly. Then on the Llangynir side of the cover, they saw the flash of gun shots.

Convinced that these were the poachers, the two Gamekeepers decided to separate so that they would stand a better chance of catching the nefarious "invaders"' but before they were able to do so they unexpectedly came upon the poachers who began firing at them. King went one way, Hooper the other. Then a regular fusillade of shots came from a thicket and King sank to the ground, bleeding profusely from his stomach, abdomen and legs. After a further exchange of shots had taken place Hooper returned to the Head Gamekeeper and found him to be a dying man.

Who was the murderer? The Inquest was held at the Six Bells Inn, Llangattock, on the Monday, and on the next day John Watkins "a respectable tenant farmer paying a rental of 90 pounds a year among whose fields the covers were situated" appeared at Crickhowell Police Court charged with King's murder, described by a "Chronicle" Reporter of that time as "one of the most deliberate and cold-blooded that ever characterized a poaching affray".

No Murderous Animosity

Thee Court was packed to capacity and the tense crowd listened carefully as Sir Joseph Bailey told how, four years previously, King had found Watkins shooting a pheasant. And the previous Autumn, Sir Joseph added, he learned that Watkins had been ferreting on his land, and had directed a Summons to be taken out against him. Watkins, however, had called to see him and asked to be forgiven and no further action was taken.

"The prisoner complained of an ill-feeling existing between him and King". Sir Joseph told the Magistrates "I saw that there was a great deal of animosity existing between the men, but I did not suppose there was any murderous emnity. "

Philip Hooper, the Under Gamekeeper, was next to give evidence. He said that there were three poachers, all of whom had blackened their faces. He swore that one of the men was Watkins, who wore breeches and leggings. 'Mere could be no mistake as it was a bright moonlight night.

John Walker, a labourer, told how he had been called from his bed by Hooper at about 3:00a.m. and how he had called at the prisoner's house to borrow his cart to convey the body of King. Watkins and he was sure if he was told that he couldn't have the cart as it was broken.

The Vital Alibi

After other witnesses had given evidence Mr. Farquhar, an Abergavenny Solicitor, defending Watkins, produced a legal bombshell. He said that had he not believed Watkins was innocent he would not have taken the case. "I shall endeavour to prove an alibi by calling witnesses to show that the prisoner was in bed at home in the morning in question", he declared, "and that when the Police went to his house they found his gun rusty and it had evidently not been used for some time".

And that is what he did. The vital alibi was supplied by Watkins! two young children. They swore that their father was in bed with them at the time of the shooting, one of them saying that he was in the same bed as his father.

It wasnl't much, but it was enough to secure Watkins an acquittal and prevent him from being hanged. That afternoon crowds of people attended the funeral of the murdered Gamekeeper which took place a Llangattock. And as they watched the coffin being lowered into the grave the majority of them must have wondered who was responsible for his death.

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