Dic was born the son of a farmer in the village of Llanrhyddlad, north-west Anglesey. His father was Roland Williams, and his mother was Sydna Williams. He had three brothers. Dic took after his maternal grandfather, and became the area’s ‘bad boy’. In 1842 he married Emma Owens of Llanbadrig. Then he disappears from history. He emerges in 1861 as a farm labourer in Camog Bach, Llanrhyddlad, where he is described as ‘widower’.
His Marriage to Elinor Roberts (Nee Williams)
In 1861 he married Elinor, after making her pregnant sometime in the February of that year. Elinor, herself a widow with four children went to live on her father’s farm, Garnedd in Llanfaethlu.
His relations with his father-in-law
Elinor’s father Richard Williams (70 years of age) had denied Dic access to Garnedd but he relented and allowed him to visit occasionally, on the condition that he and Elinor moved out by All Saints (November 1st.) At the time Dic had no permanent job, but followed the threshing machine from farm to farm. There was no evidence of quarrelling between father and son-in-law, however this was more likely because they avoided each other.
The night of the murder
On Friday, November 1st, 1861 at 6 o’clock in the evening, Richard Williams went to the neighbouring farm of Gaerwen to arrange for the threshing of his corn on the following morning. He stayed some two hours to two hours and a half. In the meantime Dic had come to Garnedd, and having asked where the ‘old man’ had gone, and having been given an answer, he went out, to return some one hour to one and a half hours later. He called for water to wash his hands and went to bed about 10 o’clock. Richard Williams never returned home alive.
The day after the murder
At 7 o’clock on the Saturday morning, Richard, Elinor’s son, went to look for his grandfather. He found him dead , with his feet in a ditch at the bottom of the field. His head had been battered in.The hedge and ditch marked the boundary between Garnedd and Gaerwen farms. The hedge and the environs of the body were a bloodbath, Richard ran to get help and the body was carried back to Garnedd in a cart.
Dic himself relayed the news to Richard Williams’ son William who lived in Trefdraeth. William refused to come to Garnedd that day but promised to come on the Monday. When he came he noticed discrepancies between Dic’s account and what he actually saw at the crime scene.
On Sunday night Dic was scared. He knew that he would be suspected, because he had gone out and was without an alibi, and because he had a bad reputation. Staying in Garnedd at the time was one Ellen Hughes, niece of Richard Williams, visiting from America. Dic said that he was glad she was there as she could give him an alibi. In other words he fully expected her to lie for him. He wanted her to say that he had not been out of the house the previous night. People were beginning to talk he said, and she would be able to save him.
The Inquest Monday 4th November
On the Monday morning Inspector Richard Ellis came to investigate the death. He arrested Dic and took him to the lock-up at Holyhead. In the afternoon the Inquest was held at the Black Lion public house, where evidence was given by William Jones of Brynteg, a farm next door to Garnedd. The inquest was adjourned pending a post mortem examination of the deceased.
The Inquest Thursday 7th November
The Inquest was reconvened at the Baptist Chapel, where more evidence was heard. A verdict of ‘wilful murder by Richard Rowlands (Dic Rolant) was brought in.
The Trial Saturday 22 March 1862
Presiding was His Lordship Sir Henry Keating, prosecuting was Mr McIntyre, and Mr Trevor Parkin, defending was Mr Morgan Lloyd. These were prominent barsisters on the North Wales Circuit. There was a significant difference between the evidence given at the inquest an that given at the trial in terms of what people saw and times etc. One thing the police needed to do was to place Dic incontrovertibly at the crime scene at about the time the murder was thought to have taken place. This they did in an extremely clumsy and unconvincing way, using the witness William Jones, Brynteg (he of the inquest) to say he had seen a spot of blood on the prisoner’s ‘whisker’. The problem being that Dic had returned home on the night of the murder without a speck of blood on him. This according to the main witnesses.
The jury retired and considered its verdict. Ellen Hughes’ evidence weighed strongly with them i.e. that Dic had been out about the time that the murder was committed. They asked to hear her evidence again. They finally brought in a unanimous verdict of ‘Guilty’. And Dic was sentenced to death by hanging. The execution was set for Friday 4th March.
In the condemned cell
All the while Dic had protested his innocence, and now with ministers of the Gospel urging him daily to confess ‘for the sake of the jury’ as one minister let the cat out of the bag (the jury was made up of prominent landowners and gentry) he still held steadfast in his protestations.
His wife, his son by his first marriage, and his brothers came to see him on the Wednesday before he was hanged. Elinor fainted and his son had to be taken out he was so distressed.
However, during his time in the condemned cell, Dic was able to convince the ministers of his innocence, even though a petition for clemency prepared by them was declined.
At 8 o’clock on the morning of the 4th April 1862, Dic was hanged in public by William Calcraft outside Beaumaris Gaol. It was said that his death was instantaneous, and was witnessed by a huge crowd. He never confessed to the crime. Popular legend says that Dic cursed the church clock, saying it would never show the right time. This is probably untrue, because he said nothing on the scaffold, having been persuaded not to do so by the ministers. It does however show that popular legend judges him innocent.
After the execution of Dic Rolant, chaos broke out in the press, some maintaining his innocence others agreeing with the verdict.. What is obvious, however, was that many people were worried that a man could be found guilty and hanged on such flimsy evidence, all of it circumstantial.
Dic’s legend lives on. The consensus of opinion today is that he was innocent, but that does not actually mean to say that he was.
To a jury guilt must be proven beyond the reasonable doubt. Today Dic’s innocence will have to be proved beyond the shadow of a doubt for it to be convincing.
Is the proof there amongst the documents that survive?