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Home / Latest News / The butter jibe killing, the ‘shoot the hat’ death, and other dark moments from Swansea history
Swansea Murders

The butter jibe killing, the ‘shoot the hat’ death, and other dark moments from Swansea history

A drunken servant who blasted his pal to death playing “shoot the hat” and a man who killed his maid for being cheeky about butter.

They are just two of the 25 often bizarre true stories chronicled in a new book about killings, murders and unexplained pre-war deaths in one Welsh city.

Swansea Murders – by retired deputy headteacher Geoff Brookes – reveals how heavy drinking was behind a number of the gory deaths, including one in which a fiddler is killed for not playing.

Mr Brookes, 62, said: “Tales of drunkenness and random violence keep repeating themselves with depressing regularity.”

One involves Morgan Mathews from Cardiff, a “county fiddler”.

Mr Brookes said: “On October 18, 1730 he was drinking in John Read’s pub in Swansea.

“Roger Landeg asked Morgan to play the fiddle, he refused, saying he was ‘not working’.

“Landeg called him a fool, a villain and probably worse.”

Nehemiah Rees from Llangyfelach, joined in.

They attacked the fiddler, Rees banging Mathews repeatedly on the head with the handle of his whip.

A week later, Matthews died.

A prosecution by Anne, Mathews’ wife, led to Rees and Landeg being arrested, the latter dying in prison awaiting trial.

Rees was convicted of manslaughter and “prayed benefit of clergy”, in which his thumb was branded to prevent him covering up his past in any future case.

The author added: “No matter how painful it would have been to be burnt with a red-hot iron, in Rees’ case it was better than six months’ hard labour.”

In another case from Swansea murders in the 18th century four young servants to military officers stationed in Swansea including James Bell, from County Down, Ireland, were drinking in a premises near Swansea’s Wind Street in the early hours of June day in 1761.

Their drinking companion was George Thomas, a labourer from Llangyfelach.

The servants had hand guns and were showing off.

Barmaid, Diana Watts said just before 4am one of them said: “Let’s go to the burrows for some shooting.”

They began blasting at driftwood and passing birds then James Bell fatefully declared: “Let’s shoot at George’s hat.”

George said: “That’s a good idea.”

Mr Brookes said: “This was Swansea, not Switzerland, and James Bell was no William Tell.”

Bell stood four yards from George, held the gun in both hands, took aim and shot George in the head. He died.

Bell denied murder but was convicted of manslaughter – and was also branded after praying benefit of clergy.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the then town, a few decades later, it was a seemingly trivial row over that would have deadly consequences.

On Saturday, October 19, 1805, well-off Morgan Williams was having supper in his Swansea home when his maid, Margaret Phillips, 40, provided potatoes and butter.

“Is this all the butter?” he asked.

“It is,” she said. “And if you want more, you can go to the dairy yourself.”

He attacked her, kicking, punching and stamping. She died soon after.

She was buried but the body was exhumed, Williams being fined £50 and imprisoned for a year for manslaughter. Benefit of clergy was no longer available.

Food was to play a part in a separate case when George Gibbs, 58, a farmer from Overton, Port Eynon, Gower, died in May 1845.

His daughter Elizabeth spoke of tensions between her late father and her brother George Beynon Gibbs.

Mr Bookes said: “On the morning he became ill Mr Gibbs senior had what you might call ‘The full Port Eynon’ – a bit of yesterday’s lobster, three oysters and a pint and a half of beer.”

Tests found mercury poisoning.

No charges were ever brought, with defenders of George Beynon Gibbs claiming his father could have died due to vinegar on his lobster “reacting with medication”.

There was little doubt about the perpetrator of another notorious 19th century Swansea killing, however.

Andrew Joseph Duncan, a blockmaker, was charged with feloniously and with malice aforethought, killing his wife, Emma Duncan, on October 25, 1872.

Duncan was found in Swansea’s Welcome Lane, semi-naked and soaked having thrown himself into the North Dock.

His wife, Emma, from Llanelli, had been viciously attacked with an iron and a razor.

He claimed insanity but was found guilty of  murder being condemned to death but was reprieved when a medical superintendent from Broadmoor Hospital declared him insane.

He was detained at her majesty’s pleasure instead in April 1873 and 19 years later discharged to the care of his brother in Liverpool.

In January 1893, he left his brother’s house in Cochrane Street, Liverpool and plunged into the Langton Graving Dock. He died aged 53.

“Was it his conscience?”, Mr Brookes pondered, 120 years later.

:: Swansea Murders, published by The History Press (£12.99) is out now

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