Trial of William Morgans for the Murder of Jane Vittle

Accused:              William Morgans.
Death occurred:  29th Nov 1849.
Location:              Westfields.

In 1849 Jane Vittle was murdered by William Morgans. Jane was his servant and they lived in a farm at Westfields. 

Before the trial, William had been committed to the Haverfordwest Lunatic Asylum.  The old building of the asylum no longer exists but was open for 44 years from 1822 to 1866 and was located at the south side of St. Thomas’s Green in Haverfordwest. 

It seems that sometime after being released from the asylum, the death of his wife plus the financial pressures of running his farm became too much and his mental health deteriorated rapidly.  From William Morgans testimony, he had been plotting her death “for a number of years”.

The trial took place on Dec 7th, 1849 and was reported in local newspapers which make fascinating reading.  Extracts of these are below and have been largely unedited, giving an insight into life in 1849.  More detailed descriptions of the injuries caused do exist, but for the purposes of this article have been left out as nowadays they are considered too graphic. 


 It is our painful duty to record the particulars of a tragedy of a most heart-rending character, which has caused the utmost sensation in the neighbourhood where the foul deed has been perpetrated.

The melancholy event to which we refer is the murder of a servant girl named Jane Vittle, by her master, WM. Morgans, who is a farmer about 6O years of age, residing at Westfield in the parish of Rosemarket in whose service the deceased had been for many years.

The murderer has never been considered of sound mind, for some years since he was confined at the Haverfordwest Lunatic Asylum of the insistence from his wife, from personal apprehension of his violence.

He remained in the asylum for about 6 months, but since his release he has conducted himself in a rational manner, has managed the affairs of his farm, and regularly attended the market with his corn.

His wife, however, died about 3 weeks ago, when his lease expired, and being considerably in arrears for rent, his landlord we understand distrained for the amount, and his stock, crop, and other effects from oil to fertiliser were advertised for sale.

It is supposed that these adverse circumstances operating on his already weak intellect, caused a complete mental breakdown, added to which, we believe the murderer had freely indulged in intoxicating drinks the evening before he committed the sad catastrophe we have mentioned.  The murderer was immediately arrested and taken to Haverfordwest Asylum and brought up for “Wilful murder”.

Henry Vittle

Witness; Henry Vittle, a lad, deposed: I live at, Westfield, in the parish of Rosemarket. I know Wm. Morgan, now present.

On Wednesday last I slept at his house. Next morning he said “Henry put some water on the fire to boil”. I did so. He then said to Jane Vittle, put some ginger and sugar into the water. She did so and emptied it, into a cup for him to drink. He took a mouthful and said there was poison in it. Jane Vittle said, “Why do you think so."

She then said to me, “Go down and take some ashes out of the lower-room fire-place." As I was coming up therefrom, I had the little trowel in the basket, and the prisoner caught hold of the trowel, which stuck in some rods of the basket. I let go of the basket, and he went into the *hayguard [*Believed to mean “hay barn”] and battered a cask there and broke it in.

Jane Vittle went out to him and said, “Leave the cask alone and go in with you." He then lifted up the trowel and knocked her somewhere about her head. She put her hands on her head and cried “Murder".  I only saw him strike her once, when the trowel broke in striking her. He then attempted to strike me. I ran and avoided a blow at me.

Jane Vittle did not fall when I saw the blow struck.  He ran after me over a little burgage field and on my getting over the hedge made another blow at me but did not succeed in striking me. He followed me further.

I ran to my home, which was a field further, and told Josiah Griffiths that Mr. Morgan was murdering- Jane Vittle, Josiah Griffiths and Jonathan, my brother, ran up to his house. I went up also, and my brother Thomas.  Josiah ran into the hayguard, and then came to me, and requested me to go to Westbury for some of the men.

On my going into the hayguard, I saw Jane Vittle lying on the ground she was quite dead.

Henry Llewellyn

I live at Rosehill, in the parish of Rosemarket. On Thursday morning last, about half-past 8 o'clock, I was in a field about 3 or 400 yards from Morgans' house, I heard the screams or a female voice when I went towards the house. On my going into the yard, I met a boy, who informed me that Wm. Morgans had killed Jane Vittle.

I asked where the body was, he said in the hayguard. I went there and saw the body of the girl lying on the ground on the face. There was a dog lying there also. (It subsequently appeared that the prisoner had sacrificed this animal's life at the same time.) I found the handle of a trowel and the iron part there was hair on it.  I then ran after Morgans, and found him in custody.  I never considered him a man of sound intellect. He said to me, I have killed the badger, I have hunted her a number of years. He referred to Jane Vittle.

 Byers (Surgeon)

Byers deposed :—I am a surgeon at Milford. On Thursday morning last I was sent for about 9 o’clock, to see Jane Vittle. The messenger did not say she was dead. I found her dead, but still warm.

The whole of her right, side of the head was broken in as if by means of blows from some heavy instrument. There were cuts or wounds on both arms. On the right arm there was a compound fracture, a few inches above the wrist.

There was a post mortem examination, and I am of I opinion that death resulted from the blows inflicted. The magistrates said that as the prisoner was evidently in a state of insanity, they should decline putting to him the usual questions.

The precincts of the hall were thronged with persons, but they were not allowed to enter the court.  Morgans was classed as insane and was put into the lunatic asylum.  He continued to be violent towards others and more restraints were necessary for others safety.

After the Trial

Following the trial, William Morgan was re-admitted into the asylum on the 13th of December 1849.  The entry for his admission is as follows.  It lists him as a "Pauper":

Mary was buried at St Ismaels Church on December 1st 1849.  Her burial record is below.