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Ch. 17: Old Wiltshire Days--continued

An old Wiltshire woman's memories--Her home--Work on a farm--A little
bird-scarer--Housekeeping--The agricultural labourers' rising--Villagers
out of work--Relief work--A game of ball with barley
bannocks--Sheep-stealing--A poor man hanged--Temptations to steal--A
sheep-stealing shepherd--A sheep-stealing farmer--Story of Ebenezer
Garlick--A sheep-stealer at Chitterne--The law and the judges--A "human
devil" in a black cap--How the revolting labourers were punished--A last
scene at Salisbury Court House--Inquest on a murdered man--Policy of the
farmers


The story of her early life told by my old friend Joan, aged
ninety-four, will serve to give some idea of the extreme poverty and
hard suffering life of the agricultural labourers during the thirties of
last century, at a time when farmers were exceedingly prosperous and
landlords drawing high rents.

She was three years old when her mother died, after the birth of a boy,
the last of eleven children. There was a dame's school in their little
village of Fonthill Abbey, but the poverty of the family would have made
it impossible for Joan to attend had it not been for an unselfish person
residing there, a Mr. King, who was anxious that every child should be
taught its letters. He paid for little Joan's schooling from the age of
four to eight; and now, in the evening of her life, when she sits by the
fire with her book, she blesses the memory of the man, dead these
seventy or eighty years, who made this solace possible for her.

After the age of eight there could be no more school, for now all the
older children had gone out into the world to make their own poor
living, the boys to work on distant farms, the girls to service or to be
wives, and Joan was wanted at home to keep house for her father, to do
the washing, mending, cleaning, cooking, and to be mother to her little
brother as well.

Her father was a ploughman, at seven shillings a week; but when Joan was
ten he met with a dreadful accident when ploughing with a couple of
young or intractable oxen; in trying to stop them he got entangled in
the ropes and one of his legs badly broken by the plough. As a result it
was six months before he could leave his cottage. The overseer of the
parish, a prosperous farmer who had a large farm a couple of miles away,
came to inquire into the matter and see what was to be done. His
decision was that the man would receive three shillings a week until
able to start work again, and as that would just serve to keep him, the
children must go out to work. Meanwhile, one of the married daughters
had come to look after her father in the cottage, and that set the
little ones free.

The overseer said he would give them work on his farm and pay them a few
pence apiece and give them their meals; so to his farm they went,
returning each evening home. That was her first place, and from that
time on she was a toiler, indoors and out, but mainly in the fields,
till she was past eighty-five;--seventy-five years of hard work--then
less and less as her wonderful strength diminished, and her sons and
daughters were getting grey, until now at the age of ninety-four she
does very little--practically nothing.

In that first place she had a very hard master in the farmer and
overseer. He was known in all the neighbourhood as "Devil Turner," and
even at that time, when farmers had their men under their heel as it
were, he was noted for his savage tyrannical disposition; also for a
curious sardonic humour, which displayed itself in the forms of
punishment he inflicted on the workmen who had the ill-luck to offend
him. The man had to take the punishment, however painful or disgraceful,
without a murmur, or go and starve. Every morning thereafter Joan and
her little brother, aged seven, had to be up in time to get to the farm
at five o'clock in the morning, and if it was raining or snowing or
bitterly cold, so much the worse for them, but they had to be there, for
Devil Turner's bad temper was harder to bear than bad weather. Joan was
a girl of all work, in and out of doors, and, in severe weather, when
there was nothing else for her to do, she would be sent into the fields
to gather flints, the coldest of all tasks for her little hands.

"But what could your little brother, a child of seven, do in such a
place?" I asked.

She laughed when she told me of her little brother's very first day at
the farm. The farmer was, for a devil, considerate, and gave him
something very light for a beginning, which was to scare the birds from
the ricks. "And if they will come back you must catch them," he said,
and left the little fellow to obey the difficult command as he could.
The birds that worried him most were the fowls, for however often he
hunted them away they would come back again. Eventually, he found some
string, with which he made some little loops fastened to sticks, and
these he arranged on a spot of ground he had cleared, scattering a few
grains of corn on it to attract the "birds." By this means he succeeded
in capturing three of the robbers, and when the farmer came round at
noon to see how he was getting on, the little fellow showed him his
captures. "These are not birds," said the farmer, "they are fowls, and
don't you trouble yourself any more about them, but keep your eye on the
sparrows and little birds and rooks and jackdaws that come to pull the
straws out."

That was how he started; then from the ricks to bird-scaring in the
fields and to other tasks suited to one of his age, not without much
suffering and many tears. The worst experience was the punishment of
standing motionless for long hours at a time on a chair placed out in
the yard, full in sight of the windows of the house, so that he could be
seen by the inmates; the hardest, the cruellest task that could be
imposed on him would come as a relief after this. Joan suffered no
punishment of that kind; she was very anxious to please her master and
worked hard; but she was an intelligent and spirited child, and as the
sole result of her best efforts was that more and more work was put on
her, she revolted against such injustice, and eventually, tried beyond
endurance, she ran away home and refused to go back to the farm any
more. She found some work in the village; for now her sister had to go
back to her husband, and Joan had to take her place and look after her
father and the house as well as earn something to supplement the three
shillings a week they had to live on.

After about nine months her father was up and out again and went back to
the plough; for just then a great deal of down was being broken up and
brought under cultivation on account of the high price of wheat and good
ploughmen were in request. He was lame, the injured limb being now
considerably shorter than the other, and when ploughing he could only
manage to keep on his legs by walking with the longer one in the furrow
and the other on the higher ground. But after struggling on for some
months in this way, suffering much pain and his strength declining, he
met with a fresh accident and was laid up once more in his cottage, and
from that time until his death he did no more farm work. Joan and her
little brother lived or slept at home and worked to keep themselves and
him.

Now in this, her own little story, and in her account of the condition
of the people at that time; also in the histories of other old men and
women whose memories go back as far as hers, supplemented by a little
reading in the newspapers of that day, I can understand how it came
about that these poor labourers, poor, spiritless slaves as they had
been made by long years of extremest poverty and systematic oppression,
rose at last against their hard masters and smashed the agricultural
machines, and burnt ricks and broke into houses to destroy and plunder
their contents. It was a desperate, a mad adventure--these gatherings of
half-starved yokels, armed with sticks and axes, and they were quickly
put down and punished in a way that even William the Bastard would not
have considered as too lenient. But oppression had made them mad; the
introduction of thrashing machines was but the last straw, the
culminating act of the hideous system followed by landlords and their
tenants--the former to get the highest possible rent for his land, the
other to get his labour at the lowest possible rate. It was a compact
between landlord and tenant aimed against the labourer. It was not
merely the fact that the wages of a strong man were only seven shillings
a week at the outside, a sum barely sufficient to keep him and his
family from starvation and rags (as a fact it was not enough, and but
for a little poaching and stealing he could not have lived), but it was
customary, especially on the small farms, to get rid of the men after
the harvest and leave them to exist the best way they could during the
bitter winter months. Thus every village, as a rule, had its dozen or
twenty or more men thrown out each year--good steady men, with families
dependent on them; and besides these there were the aged and weaklings
and the lads who had not yet got a place. The misery of these
out-of-work labourers was extreme. They would go to the woods and gather
faggots of dead wood, which they would try to sell in the villages; but
there were few who could afford to buy of them; and at night they would
skulk about the fields to rob a swede or two to satisfy the cravings of
hunger.

In some parishes the farmer overseers were allowed to give relief
work--out of the rates, it goes without saying--to these unemployed men
of the village who had been discharged in October or November and would
be wanted again when the winter was over. They would be put to
flint-gathering in the fields, their wages being four shillings a week.
Some of the very old people of Winterbourne Bishop, when speaking of the
principal food of the labourers at that time, the barley bannock and its
exceeding toughness, gave me an amusing account of a game of balls
invented by the flint-gatherers, just for the sake of a little fun
during their long weary day in the fields, especially in cold, frosty
weather. The men would take their dinners with them, consisting of a few
barley balls or cakes, in their coat pockets, and at noon they would
gather at one spot to enjoy their meal, and seat themselves on the
ground in a very wide circle, the men about ten yards apart, then each
one would produce his bannocks and start throwing, aiming at some other
man's face; there were hits and misses and great excitement and hilarity
for twenty or thirty minutes, after which the earth and gravel adhering
to the balls would be wiped off, and they would set themselves to the
hard task of masticating and swallowing the heavy stuff.

At sunset they would go home to a supper of more barley bannocks, washed
down with hot water flavoured with some aromatic herb or weed, and then
straight to bed to get warm, for there was little firing.

It was not strange that sheep-stealing was one of the commonest offences
against the law at that time, in spite of the dreadful penalty. Hunger
made the people reckless. My old friend Joan, and other old persons,
have said to me that it appeared in those days that the men were
strangely indifferent and did not seem to care whether they were hanged
or not. It is true they did not hang very many of them--the judge, as a
rule, after putting on his black cap and ordering them to the gallows,
would send in a recommendation to mercy for most of them; but the mercy
of that time was like that of the wicked, exceedingly cruel. Instead of
swinging, it was transportation for life, or for fourteen, and, at the
very least, seven years. Those who have read Clarke's terrible book "For
the Term of His Natural Life" know (in a way) what these poor Wiltshire
labourers, who in most cases were never more heard of by their wives and
children, were sent to endure in Australia and Tasmania.

And some were hanged; my friend Joan named some people she knows in the
neighbourhood who are the grandchildren of a young man with a wife and
family of small children who was hanged at Salisbury. She had a vivid
recollection of this case because it had seemed so hard, the man having
been maddened by want when he took a sheep; also because when he was
hanged his poor young wife travelled to the place of slaughter to beg
for his body, and had it brought home and buried decently in the village
churchyard.

How great the temptation to steal sheep must have been, anyone may know
now by merely walking about among the fields in this part of the country
to see how the sheep are folded and left by night unguarded, often at
long distances from the village, in distant fields and on the downs.
Even in the worst times it was never customary, never thought necessary,
to guard the flock by night. Many cases could be given to show how easy
it was to steal sheep. One quite recent, about twenty years ago, is of a
shepherd who was frequently sent with sheep to the fairs, and who on his
way to Wilton fair with a flock one night turned aside to open a fold
and let out nineteen sheep. On arriving at the fair he took out the
stolen sheep and sold them to a butcher of his acquaintance who sent
them up to London. But he had taken too many from one flock; they were
quickly missed, and by some lucky chance it was found out and the
shepherd arrested. He was sentenced to eight months' hard labour, and it
came out during the trial that this poor shepherd, whose wages were
fourteen shillings a week, had a sum of L400 to his credit in a
Salisbury bank!

Another case which dates far back is that of a farmer named Day, who
employed a shepherd or drover to take sheep to the fairs and markets and
steal sheep for him on the way. It is said that he went on at this game
for years before it was discovered. Eventually master and man quarrelled
and the drover gave information, whereupon Day was arrested and lodged
in Fisherton Jail at Salisbury. Later he was sent to take his trial at
Devizes, on horseback, accompanied by two constables. At the "Druid's
Head," a public-house on the way, the three travellers alighted for
refreshments, and there Day succeeded in giving them the slip, and
jumping on a fast horse, standing ready saddled for him, made his
escape. Farmer Day never returned to the Plain and was never heard of
again.

There is an element of humour in some of the sheep-stealing stories of
the old days. At one village where I often stayed, I heard about a
certain Ebenezer Garlick, who was commonly called, in allusion no doubt
to his surname, "Sweet Vi'lets." He was a sober, hard-working man, an
example to most, but there was this against him, that he cherished a
very close friendship with a poor, disreputable, drunken loafer
nicknamed "Flittermouse," who spent most of his time hanging about the
old coaching inn at the place for the sake of tips. Sweet Vi'lets was
always giving coppers and sixpences to this man, but one day they fell
out when Flittermouse begged for a shilling. He must, he said, have a
shilling, he couldn't do with less, and when the other refused he
followed him, demanding the money with abusive words, to everybody's
astonishment. Finally Sweet Vi'lets turned on him and told him to go to
the devil. Flittermouse in a rage went straight to the constable and
denounced his patron as a sheep-stealer. He, Flittermouse, had been his
servant and helper, and on the very last occasion of stealing a sheep he
had got rid of the skin and offal by throwing them down an old disused
well at the top of the village street. To the well the constable went
with ropes and hooks, and succeeded in fishing up the remains described,
and he thereupon arrested Garlick and took him before a magistrate, who
committed him for trial. Flittermouse was the only witness for the
prosecution, and the judge in his summing up said that, taking into
consideration Garlick's known character in the village as a sober,
diligent, honest man, it would be a little too much to hang him on the
unsupported testimony of a creature like Flittermouse, who was half fool
and half scoundrel. The jury, pleased and very much surprised at being
directed to let a man off, obediently returned a verdict of Not Guilty,
and Sweet Vi'lets returned from Salisbury triumphant, to be
congratulated on his escape by all the villagers, who, however, slyly
winked and smiled at one another.

Of sheep-stealing stories I will relate one more--a case which never
came into court and was never discovered. It was related to me by a
middle-aged man, a shepherd of Warminster, who had it from his father, a
shepherd of Chitterne, one of the lonely, isolated villages on Salisbury
Plain, between the Avon and the Wylye. His father had it from the person
who committed the crime and was anxious to tell it to some one, and knew
that the shepherd was his true friend, a silent, safe man. He was a
farm-labourer, named Shergold--one of the South Wiltshire surnames very
common in the early part of last century, which now appear to be dying
out--described as a very big, powerful man, full of life and energy. He
had a wife and several young children to keep, and the time was near
mid-winter; Shergold was out of work, having been discharged from the
farm at the end of the harvest; it was an exceptionally cold season and
there was no food and no firing in the house.

One evening in late December a drover arrived at Chitterne with a flock
of sheep which he was driving to Tilshead, another downland village
several miles away. He was anxious to get to Tilshead that night and
wanted a man to help him. Shergold was on the spot and undertook to go
with him for the sum of fourpence. They set out when it was getting
dark; the sheep were put on the road, the drover going before the flock
and Shergold following at the tail. It was a cold, cloudy night,
threatening snow, and so dark that he could hardly distinguish the dim
forms of even the hindmost sheep, and by and by the temptation to steal
one assailed him. For how easy it would be for him to do it! With his
tremendous strength he could kill and hide a sheep very quickly without
making any sound whatever to alarm the drover. He was very far ahead;
Shergold could judge the distance by the sound of his voice when he
uttered a call or shout from time to time, and by the barking of the
dog, as he flew up and down, first on one side of the road, then on the
other, to keep the flock well on it. And he thought of what a sheep
would be to him and to his hungry ones at home until the temptation was
too strong, and suddenly lifting his big, heavy stick he brought it down
with such force on the head of a sheep as to drop it with its skull
crushed, dead as a stone. Hastily picking it up he ran a few yards away,
and placed it among the furze-bushes, intending to take it home on his
way back, and then returned to the flock.

They arrived at Tilshead in the small hours, and after receiving his
fourpence he started for home, walking rapidly and then running to be in
time, but when he got back to where the sheep was lying the dawn was
coming, and he knew that before he could get to Chitterne with that
heavy burden on his back people would be getting up in the village and
he would perhaps be seen. The only thing to do was to hide the sheep and
return for it on the following night. Accordingly he carried it away a
couple of hundred yards to a pit or small hollow in the down full of
bramble and furze-bushes, and here he concealed it, covering it with a
mass of dead bracken and herbage, and left it. That afternoon the
long-threatening snow began to fall, and with snow on the ground he
dared not go to recover his sheep, since his footprints would betray
him; he must wait once more for the snow to melt. But the snow fell all
night, and what must his feelings have been when he looked at it still
falling in the morning and knew that he could have gone for the sheep
with safety, since all traces would have been quickly obliterated!

Once more there was nothing to do but wait patiently for the snow to
cease falling and for the thaw. But how intolerable it was; for the
weather continued bitterly cold for many days, and the whole country was
white. During those hungry days even that poor comfort of sleeping or
dozing away the time was denied him, for the danger of discovery was
ever present to his mind, and Shergold was not one of the callous men
who had become indifferent to their fate; it was his first crime, and he
loved his own life and his wife and children, crying to him for food.
And the food for them was lying there on the down, close by, and he
could not get it! Roast mutton, boiled mutton--mutton in a dozen
delicious forms--the thought of it was as distressing, as maddening, as
that of the peril he was in.

It was a full fortnight before the wished thaw came; then with fear and
trembling he went for his sheep, only to find that it had been pulled to
pieces and the flesh devoured by dogs and foxes!

From these memories of the old villagers I turn to the newspapers of the
day to make a few citations.

The law as it was did not distinguish between a case of the kind just
related, of the starving, sorely tempted Shergold, and that of the
systematic thief: sheep-stealing was a capital offence and the man must
hang, unless recommended to mercy, and we know what was meant by "mercy"
in those days. That so barbarous a law existed within memory of people
to be found living in most villages appears almost incredible to us; but
despite the recommendations to "mercy" usual in a large majority of
cases, the law of that time was not more horrible than the temper of the
men who administered it. There are good and bad among all, and in all
professions, but there is also a black spot in most, possibly in all
hearts, which may be developed to almost any extent, and change the
justest, wisest, most moral men into "human devils"--the phrase invented
by Canon Wilberforce in another connexion. In reading the old reports
and the expressions used by the judges in their summings up and
sentences, it is impossible not to believe that the awful power they
possessed, and its constant exercise, had not only produced the
inevitable hardening effect, but had made them cruel in the true sense
of the word. Their pleasure in passing dreadful sentences was very
thinly disguised, indeed, by certain lofty conventional phrases as to
the necessity of upholding the law, morality, and religion; they were,
indeed, as familiar with the name of the Deity as any ranter in a
conventicle, and the "enormity of the crime" was an expression as
constantly used in the case of the theft of a loaf of bread, or of an
old coat left hanging on a hedge, by some ill-clad, half-starved wretch,
as in cases of burglary, arson, rape, and murder.

It is surprising to find how very few the real crimes were in those
days, despite the misery of the people; that nearly all the "crimes" for
which men were sentenced to the gallows and to transportation for life,
or for long terms, were offences which would now be sufficiently
punished by a few weeks', or even a few days', imprisonment. Thus in
April 1825, I note that Mr. Justice Park commented on the heavy
appearance of the calendar. It was not so much the number (170) of the
offenders that excited his concern as it was the nature of the crimes
with which they were charged. The worst crime in this instance was
sheep-stealing!

Again, this same Mr. Justice Park, at the Spring Assizes at Salisbury
1827, said that though the calendar was a heavy one, he was happy to
find on looking at the depositions of the principal cases, that they
were not of a very serious character. Nevertheless he passed sentence of
death on twenty-eight persons, among them being one for stealing half a
crown!

Of the twenty-eight all but three were eventually reprieved, one of the
fated three being a youth of nineteen, who was charged with stealing a
mare and pleaded guilty in spite of a warning from the judge not to do
so. This irritated the great man who had the power of life and death in
his hand. In passing sentence the judge "expatiated on the prevalence of
the crime of horse-stealing and the necessity of making an example. The
enormity of Read's crime rendered him a proper example, and he would
therefore hold out no hope of mercy towards him." As to the plea of
guilty, he remarked that nowadays too many persons pleaded guilty,
deluded with the hope that it would be taken into consideration and they
would escape the severer penalty. He was determined to put a stop to
that sort of thing; if Read had not pleaded guilty no doubt some
extenuating circumstance would have come up during the trial and he
would have saved his life.

There, if ever, spoke the "human devil" in a black cap!

I find another case of a sentence of transportation for life on a youth
of eighteen, named Edward Baker, for stealing a pocket-handkerchief. Had
he pleaded guilty it might have been worse for him.

At the Salisbury Spring Assizes, 1830, Mr. Justice Gazalee, addressing
the grand jury, said that none of the crimes appeared to be marked with
circumstances of great moral turpitude. The prisoners numbered one
hundred and thirty; he passed sentences of death on twenty-nine, life
transportations on five, fourteen years on five, seven years on eleven,
and various terms of hard labour on the others.

The severity of the magistrates at the quarter-sessions was equally
revolting. I notice in one case, where the leading magistrate on the
bench was a great local magnate, an M.P. for Salisbury, etc., a poor
fellow with the unfortunate name of Moses Snook was charged with
stealing a plank ten feet long, the property of the aforesaid local
magnate, M.P., etc., and sentenced to fourteen years' transportation.
Sentenced by the man who owned the plank, worth perhaps a shilling or
two!

When such was the law of the land and the temper of those who
administered it--judges and magistrates or landlords--what must the
misery of the people have been to cause them to rise in revolt against
their masters! They did nothing outrageous even in the height of their
frenzy; they smashed the thrashing machines, burnt some ricks, while the
maddest of them broke into a few houses and destroyed their contents;
but they injured no man; yet they knew what they were facing--the
gallows or transportation to the penal settlements ready for their
reception at the Antipodes. It is a pity that the history of this rising
of the agricultural labourer, the most patient and submissive of men,
has never been written. Nothing, in fact, has ever been said of it
except from the point of view of landowners and farmers, but there is
ample material for a truer and a moving narrative, not only in the brief
reports in the papers of the time, but also in the memories of many
persons still living, and of their children and children's children,
preserved in many a cottage throughout the south of England.

Hopeless as the revolt was and quickly suppressed, it had served to
alarm the landlords and their tenants, and taken in conjunction with
other outbreaks, notably at Bristol, it produced a sense of anxiety in
the mind of the country generally. The feeling found a somewhat amusing
expression in the House of Commons, in a motion of Mr. Perceval, on 14th
February 1831. This was to move an address to His Majesty to appoint a
day for a general fast throughout the United Kingdom. He said that "the
state of the country called for a measure like this--that it was a state
of political and religious disorganization--that the elements of the
Constitution were being hourly loosened--that in this land there was no
attachment, no control, no humility of spirit, no mutual confidence
between the poor man and the rich, the employer and the employed; but
fear and mistrust and aversion, where, in the time of our fathers, there
was nothing but brotherly love and rejoicing before the Lord."

The House was cynical and smilingly put the matter by, but the anxiety
was manifested plainly enough in the treatment meted out to the poor men
who had been arrested and were tried before the Special Commissions sent
down to Salisbury, Winchester, and other towns. No doubt it was a
pleasant time for the judges; at Salisbury thirty-four poor fellows were
sentenced to death; thirty-three to be transported for life, ten for
fourteen years, and so on.

And here is one last little scene about which the reports in the
newspapers of the time say nothing, but which I have from one who
witnessed and clearly remembers it, a woman of ninety-five, whose whole
life has been passed at a village within sound of the Salisbury
Cathedral bells.

It was when the trial was ended, when those who were found guilty and
had been sentenced were brought out of the court-house to be taken back
to prison, and from all over the Plain and from all parts of Wiltshire
their womenfolk had come to learn their fate, and were gathered, a pale,
anxious, weeping crowd, outside the gates. The sentenced men came out
looking eagerly at the people until they recognized their own and cried
out to them to be of good cheer. "'Tis hanging for me," one would say,
"but there'll perhaps be a recommendation to mercy, so don't you fret
till you know." Then another: "Don't go on so, old mother, 'tis only for
life I'm sent." And yet another: "Don't you cry, old girl, 'tis only
fourteen years I've got, and maybe I'll live to see you all again." And
so on, as they filed out past their weeping women on their way to
Fisherton Jail, to be taken thence to the transports in Portsmouth and
Plymouth harbours waiting to convey their living freights to that hell
on earth so far from home. Not criminals but good, brave men were
these!--Wiltshiremen of that strong, enduring, patient class, who not
only as labourers on the land but on many a hard-fought field in many
parts of the world from of old down to our war of a few years ago in
Africa, have shown the stuff that was in them!

But, alas! for the poor women who were left--for the old mother who
could never hope to see her boy again, and for the wife and her children
who waited and hoped against hope through long toiling years,

And dreamed and started as they slept
For joy that he was come,

but waking saw his face no more. Very few, so far as I can make out, not
more than one in five or six, ever returned.

This, it may be said, was only what they might have expected, the law
being what it was--just the ordinary thing. The hideous part of the
business was that, as an effect of the alarm created in the minds of
those who feared injury to their property and loss of power to oppress
the poor labourers, there was money in plenty subscribed to hire
witnesses for the prosecution. It was necessary to strike terror into
the people. The smell of blood-money brought out a number of scoundrels
who for a few pounds were only too ready to swear away the life of any
man, and it was notorious that numbers of poor fellows were condemned in
this way.

One incident as to this point may be given in conclusion of this chapter
about old unhappy things. It relates not to one of those who were
sentenced to the gallows or to transportation, but to an inquest and the
treatment of the dead.

I have spoken in the last chapter of the mob that visited Hindon,
Fonthill, and other villages. They ended their round at Pytt House, near
Tisbury, where they broke up the machinery. On that occasion a body of
yeomanry came on the scene, but arrived only after the mob had
accomplished its purpose of breaking up the thrashing machines. When the
troops appeared the "rioters," as they were called, made off into the
woods and escaped; but before they fled one of them had met his death. A
number of persons from the farms and villages around had gathered at the
spot and were looking on, when one, a farmer from the neighbouring
village of Chilmark, snatched a gun from a gamekeeper's hand and shot
one of the rioters, killing him dead. On 27th January 1831 an inquest
was held on the body, and some one was found to swear that the man had
been shot by one of the yeomanry, although it was known to everybody
that, when the man was shot, the troop had not yet arrived on the scene.
The man, this witness stated, had attacked, or threatened, one of the
soldiers with his stick, and had been shot. This was sufficient for the
coroner; he instructed his jury to bring in a verdict of "Justifiable
homicide," which they obediently did. "This verdict," the coroner then
said, "entailed the same consequences as an act of _felo-de-se_,
and he felt that he could not give a warrant for the burial of the
deceased. However painful the duty devolved on him in thus adding to the
sorrows of the surviving relations, the law appeared too clear to him to
admit of an alternative."

The coroner was just as eager as the judges to exhibit his zeal for the
gentry, who were being injured in their interests by these disturbances;
and though he could not hang anybody, being only a coroner, he could at
any rate kick the one corpse brought before him. Doubtless the
"surviving relations," for whose sorrows he had expressed sympathy,
carried the poor murdered man off by night to hide him somewhere in the
earth.

After the law had been thus vindicated and all the business done with,
even to the corpse-kicking by the coroner, the farmers were still
anxious, and began to show it by holding meetings and discussions on the
condition of the labourers. Everybody said that the men had been very
properly punished; but at the same time it was admitted that they had
some reason for their discontent, that, with bread so dear, it was
hardly possible for a man with a family to support himself on seven
shillings a week, and it was generally agreed to raise the wages one
shilling. But by and by when the anxiety had quite died out, when it was
found that the men were more submissive than they had ever been, the
lesson they had received having sunk deep into their minds, they cut off
the extra shilling and wages were what they had been--seven shillings a
week for a hard-working seasoned labourer, with a family to keep, and
from four to six shillings for young unmarried men and for women, even
for those who did as much work in the field as any man.

But there were no more risings.

W. H. Hudson