In Unexpected Quarters

A week in Edinburgh recently allowed me to pay a couple of research visits to the National Records of Scotland. Apart from being an exceptionally pleasant environment in which to work, the archives held there contain a surprising amount of material on Welsh history, much of which seems to be relatively little known to researchers in Wales. I’ve already reported elsewhere on an exceptionally rare first-hand account from a ship navigating the Burry Inlet in the eighteenth century (a very brief summary of a much longer piece I contributed to The Llanelli Miscellany), but the Scottish archives also contain, for example, a significant amount of letters and plans relating to the history of Pembroke Dockyard, papers of the Cardiff and Clyde Coaling Company and various other Welsh maritime companies, the correspondence of the Marquesses of Bute relating to Cardiff, and so forth.

During my recent visits, I came across a fascinating document relating to the famous riot at Carmarthen in 1803, when a naval press gang was attacked by a mob comprised chiefly of local women. This forms part of reference GD123/378, a bundle of miscellaneous documents relating principally to Carmarthenshire in the period c.1800-1810, and which includes letters by the likes of Lord Dynevor, Lord Cawdor, John Vaughan of Golden Grove, and Sir William Paxton of ‘Nelson’s Tower’ fame. It is a letter dated 5 June 1803 from several officers of the Carmarthenshire militia, who had been ordered to assist Lieutenant Roach of the Royal Navy in pressing men at Carmarthen on 7 May. They testify that they were willing to assist Roach, but ‘that it was to be understood by the undersigned that the Regiment was to be assisting, but no intimation given to the soldiers, who having friends and relations in the town might create an alarm, which would be the consequent loss of many sailors who would immediately abscond’. The letter provides an interesting insight into both the state of discipline in the Carmarthenshire militia and inter-service relationships during the Napoleonic War: its tone suggests that the officers had more than a little sympathy with their soldiers and, by extension, with the pressed men, and were glad of an excuse not to assist Roach to the best of their ability!