Dic Penderyn (1808 – 13 August 1831), also known as Richard Lewis, was a Welsh labourer and coal miner who lived in Merthyr Tydfil who was involved with the Merthyr Rising of 3 June 1831. In the course of the riot he was arrested alongside Lewis Lewis, one of the primary figures in the uprising, and charged with stabbing a soldier with a bayonet. The people of Merthyr Tydfil doubted his guilt, and signed a petition for his release. However, he was found guilty and hanged on 13 August. After his death he was treated as a martyr in Merthyr and across Britain.
Penderyn was born as Richard Lewis in Aberavon, Glamorgan, Wales in 1808. He moved to Merthyr Tydfil with his family in 1819, where he and his father found work in the local mines. He was literate with some chapel schooling. His sister Elizabeth was married to the Methodist preacher Morgan Howells.
Along with Lewis Lewis (or Lewsyn yr Heliwr), his cousin, Dic Penderyn was arrested for stabbing Private Donald Black of the 93rd (Sutherland Highlanders) Regiment of Foot, using a bayonet attached to a gun. This incident was alleged to have happened outside the Castle Inn. Private Black's injuries were not fatal, and he could not identify either Lewis Lewis or Richard Lewis; nevertheless, both were convicted and sentenced to death. There is no evidence that Dic played any substantial part in the rising at all unlike Lewis who was definitely involved. Both were held in Cardiff gaol.
Lewis Lewis had his sentence commuted to transportation, largely thanks to the testimony of a Special Constable, John Thomas, whom Lewis had shielded from the rioters. The people of Merthyr Tydfil were convinced that Dic Penderyn was not responsible for the stabbing, and more than 11,000 signed a petition demanding his release; even the conservative Cambrian newspaper objected. Joseph Tregelles Price, a Quaker ironmaster from Neath, who went to console the two condemned men, was immediately convinced of Penderyn's innocence and went to Merthyr to gather evidence for this. He persuaded the trial judge that the sentence was unsafe. The Home Secretary Lord Melbourne, well known for his severity, delayed the execution for two weeks, but refused to reduce the sentence despite pleas not only from workers but the Welsh establishment. It seems the execution occurred solely because Lord Melbourne wanted at least one rebel to die as an example.
Penderyn was hanged outside Cardiff gaol on the gallows in St. Mary's Street, Cardiff (current St Marys Street entrance to Cardiff Market), on 13 August at the age of 23. His last words were "O Arglwydd, dyma gamwedd" (English: "Oh Lord, here is iniquity").
Thousands accompanied his body through the Vale of Glamorgan to his grave, and listened to a funeral sermon from his brother-in-law Morgan Howells. He is buried in St Mary's churchyard, Port Talbot near Aberavon, where a memorial was placed on his grave by local trades unionists in 1966. A plaque to Dic Penderyn can now also be found at the entrance to Cardiff Market on St Mary's Street, Cardiff. Regarded as a martyr, his death further embittered relations between Welsh workers and the authorities and strengthened the Trade Union movement and Chartism in the run up to the Newport Rising.
In 1874, a man named Ianto Parker confessed on his death bed, in the United States, to the Reverend Evan Evans that he stabbed Black and then fled to America fearing capture by the authorities, thus exonerating Dic Penderyn. Another man named James Abbott, who testified against Penderyn at the trial, also later admitted to lying under oath.
Interest in the case has remained strong. Harri Webb wrote a booklet on it in 1956 titled Dic Penderyn and the Merthyr Uprising of 1831. In 1972 Alexander Cordell wrote the popular novel The Fire People, set against the background of the Merthyr Rising. Cordell did considerable research and an appendix to the book presents evidence suggesting he may have been unjustly condemned to be hanged. The book added to the interest in the case. In 1977 a memorial to a "Martyr of the Welsh Working Class" was unveiled at Merthyr public library by the general secretary of the TUC, and sections from Cordell's book were read out.
After reading Cordell's book, Welsh singer/songwriter Martyn Joseph wanted to write a song telling the story of Dic Penderyn. Cordell warned him to be sure to do Penderyn justice. Upon completing the song, Joseph sent the song to Cordell, who said that he had done "a beautiful thing".
Song, verse & word
- Dic Penderyn (The Ballad of Richard Lewis) – Martyn Joseph (song)
- The Fire People – Alexander Cordell (novel)
- The Angry Vineyard – Rhydwen Williams (novel)
- Dic Penderyn and other poems – John Stuart Williams
- All Things Betray Thee – Gwyn Thomas (novel, based on Penderyn's story)
- Dic Penderyn: the man and the martyr – Sally Roberts Jones
- Dic Penderyn – Islwyn ap Nicholas – (biography)
- My Land's Shore (musical – Christopher J Orton & Robert Gould)
- The Gates of Cardiff Jail by Huw Pudner and Chris Hastings (folk ballad)
- Only A Matter of Time & Time Added on For Injuries by Alan Plater (pair of plays)
- "Dic Penderyn" by Meic Stevens, on the 1972 album "Gwymon" and also the compilation album "Disgwyl Rhywbeth Gwell i Ddod" which is available on iTunes
- Dic Penderyn (on 1987 album "Cause for Complaint" by folk rock band The Chartists, sung by Laurence Eddy) – John Stuart Williams / Geoff Cripps (song)
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