This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. Paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading.

I’m almost certain there cannot have been such things as ‘mock trials’. The title might have been given by the editor, because the material was sensitive. Having read it many times and thought about it for rather a long time, I can find no explanation except that this is a jeu d’esprit – a fantasy account of a criminal trial, taking to an extreme all the factors which would make for a satire on actual trials. The Carroll reference maybe a clue as to how we are to read the article. The title is, I think, making a claim that criminal trials were a mockery. This makes it by far the most politically radical article in the series.

The date may be important. The owner and editor, David Duncan, died Sunday 5th January 1888. He seems to have been very hands-on, and if there was to be a move to being more explicitly radical this was the perhaps the moment. Duncan père was a Liberal Alderman, and an active opponent of the Marquis of Bute, who had Cardiff well “stitched up” for the Tories. Also Bute was Roman Catholic, while the Cardiff Times catered mainly for Non-Conformists. (See the references to the injustice of commuted tithes.

This article suggests that proceedings in English Criminal Courts were profoundly flawed. Since 1836, accused persons were entitled to have a counsel speak for them, but only if they could afford to pay for the service. (Payment of defence counsel by the state was not introduced until 1903.) The accused were not allowed to testify on their own behalf until 1898. There was no provision for appeal against conviction until 1907. If new evidence demonstrating innocence became available later, the only recourse was a pardon, which released the prisoner but left the guilty verdict in place. In Samuel’s account, the proceedings in the criminal court are as laughable and fantastic as that epitome of unreality, Lewis Carroll’s Mock Turtle, which is the absurd, imaginary constituent of mock-turtle soup, and which was in fact made from brains and calf's head. The trope of believing fact to be a poor imitation of reality is admirably sustained. The evidence presented is nugatory, and the platitudes uttered are exemplified by the habitual and overused quotation from Portia’s courtroom speech in The Marchant of Venice. The counsel’s questions are worth no more than some popular catch-phrases of the day: ‘whether his mother knew he was out, or whether he had ever been at Antioch, or … how he was off for snap’. The absence of narrative coherence and the inconclusive ending put the final touches to the unreality of the account, establishing that the whole business has been a farce. — David Skilton


Once upon a time there was a mock trial held in a noted law court which I need not further particularize. This mock trial was not as like to a veritable legal trial as is mock turtle to the genuine article; it was not even a good mock imitation of that which is but too often a mockery of itself; it was simply a somewhat indifferent attempt at amateur acting. I will not stop to ask the object of the performance – whether it was merely to amuse, or for the purpose of laying bare to the general public, only too ready to regard those who practice the law with suspicion, what an overwhelming amount of humbug underlies the processes of a trial. When I entered the court, sir, there were at least two things about the imitation provided which struck me as being realistic in the extreme. One was that the court was, to use the reportorial phrase, ‘much crowded by members of the fair sex,’ and the other was the seats supposed to be reserved for the members of the press were for the most part taken up by mere curious spectators. Those who have been in the habit of attending courts of justice will best recognise the truth of this remark. Well, sir, the court was all assembled; there was an excellent mock Judge, who seemed, if I may judge by his manner, to feel that he was taking part in a somewhat silly, slow exhibition.

His Lordship's discomfort was doubtless not diminished by the fact that his robes – which seemed to have been hastily ‘faked’ for the occasion – were of a nondescript order. In this matter I may be wrong, sir; it may be that his Lordship's method of wearing them was imperfect, instead of the robes themselves being so. However, there was a Judge; and there were five gentlemen in wigs and gowns which did not seem to fit them; and there were jurors who looked – no doubt through having volunteered their service instead of being pressed into the duty – more happy and comfortable than jurymen [….] a lugubrious lot, usually do; there was a prisoner, of course, for the trial was a criminal one; and there was, ‘as per usual’ in the real article, a gentleman in uniform sitting near the Judge. The similitude to a real trial would have been vastly increased had a few more gentlemen in wigs and gowns been planted round the barristers' table, each being provided with a toothpick, an eyeglass, and plenty of paper to draw caricatures upon. These gentlemen might have been instructed to yawn at stated intervals and to gaze steadfastly up towards the ladies' gallery. This would have had a very realistic effect. A ‘court-crier’, too, was sadly needed – one of the usual pattern, who could shout ‘S[i]lence’ and make a row every time there was a nice lull in the court.

The case began, sir. The Judge, true to the traditions of those he caricatured, very wittily complained of the draughts in the court. He might even have increased the effect and added to the truth of his impersonation by, at intervals of course, complaining of someone's handwriting, of the stifling atmosphere[,] of the fact that some official was not in uniform, and a few other matters, and had he gone to sleep in the middle of the trial – a thing which would not have been difficult of accomplishment in all truth – the audience would have said that he was a pattern judge. The indictment, which charged one Horace Graham, alias A. H. Wilks, or Welks -- a somewhat ‘fishy’ name – with wilful murder, having been read, the prisoner was put up, only to be put down subsequently. No one took any objection to the framing of the indictment, which, though framed, was evidently not considered worthy to be glazed. Thus was the prisoner duly arraigned – which, by the way, is popularly pronounced ‘arranged’, as though the prisoner were sitting for his photograph. I am bound to record the fact that the prisoner seemed to feel his position acutely – and well he might. So agitated was he that even his moustache fairly bristled with fright – especially when the ladies in the gallery gazed down upon him as he stood in the dock; and the superhuman efforts he made to retain a single eye-glass in his right optic sufficiently betrayed his agitation. His cheek was pallid with prepared chalk, and he seemed infinitely relieved when he was allowed to sit down, and he looked as though he would have been more so had he been let out, which feeling he doubtless shared with a good many prisoners who have stood in the same place. Well, sir, the trial began. I may here dismiss the prisoner, as the Judge afterwards did, by saying that as he had nothing to say, at least during the time I was present, he did not require the aid of the prompter in these amateur theatricals. The learned counsel for the prosecution opened the case, and, I am bound to say, succeeded admirably in making it doubtful whether the judge, the prisoner, the learned counsel on the other side, or the foreman of the jury was charged with the crime of murder. However, sir, he was at least correct in his parts of speech, and he was certainly orthodox in his quotations. It was rather hard on the counsel for the defence, however, to take out of the mouth of the latter the stereo-typed brief for the prisoner-speech about mercy ‘dropping like the gentle dew from heaven,’ &c. The latter phrase made all the jury think of the snow dropping outside rather than of mercy. However, his speech was pardonably brief, if not particularly to the point. One of the solicitors who instructed him seemed particularly struck by the humour of the whole thing, and therefore kept up a perpetual smirk, which well became the somewhat elongated character of his features, during the whole of the evening. May he never in the conduct of the cases he may receive throughout his professional career have to pull a longer face.

The calling of witnesses began with the appearance of the usual ‘intelligent officer,’ in this case one Inspector Gripp. The Judge in this case, contrary to the custom of judges, who seem to believe anything almost that police officers tell them, evidently gave no credence to the astute Gripp’s story, and promptly disallowed his expenses, which brought from Gripp a deep groan of despair. The gentleman who represented Gripp had for comic effect chiefly relied upon the profuse colouring of his nose with carmine. A plan of the spot where the murder was supposed to have taken place was at this juncture handed in and no doubt succeeded as most such plans do in real cases, in rendering confusion worse confounded. The next witness on the list was Miss Rosalind Appleyard – a character sustained by a young gentleman. The witness showed a considerable amount of imperturbability, considering the ordeal he underwent in the way of cross-examination. I might at this stage say, sir, that the rules of law relating to evidence were ruthlessly set aside, and questions not alone irrelevant, but as impertinent as possible were allowed by the learned judge.

There was no remonstrance – no sly reference to the little tricks which are sometimes attempted by barristers who have barely blossomed into practice. Had the counsel asked a witness whether his mother knew he was out, or whether he had ever been at Antioch, or touchingly inquired how he was off for snap, I should not have been a bit surprised. To show the terrible nature of the crime to which the witnesses deposed, I must refer your readers to the accompanying sketch, wherein will be seen a fully developed pop-gun. The murderous looking stick, which is also in the sketch, was not exactly a feature of the actual case, but ‘Dr Thorndyke,’ a very frowsy-looking medical man, gave emphasis with it to his, remarks. The glove you see represents a part of the personal property of an aged country solicitor who appeared in the witness-box, and who, judging by his glove and his get-up generally, did not seem to have thriven as an attorney. A most noticeable feature about all the witnesses was that they seemed to very badly want their respective heads of hair cutting. The amplitude of their wigs was quite unnecessary, seeing what a ‘wigging’ they all got from the members of the bar. To me personally, sir, it seemed as though they had chosen these capacious wigs in order that they might, so to speak, disappear in them when they begin to feel nervous. I must hurry on to the summing up of the learned Judge, which was as clever and laughable as it was farcical. Ultimately, he discharged the prisoner, telling him ‘not to do it again.’ He ought to have told all the rest of them the same thing.

Last modified 29 January 2022