Monday, 16 January 2017

Remembering Chartist leaders found guilty of high treason in Newport Rising of 1839

The People’s Charter had been launched in the spring of 1838 to demand universal male suffrage and other egalitarian electoral reforms. - See more at:
The People’s Charter had been launched in the spring of 1838 to demand universal male suffrage and other egalitarian electoral reforms. - See more at:
The People's Charter had been launched in the spring of 1838. The Chartists wanted the vote for all men (though not for women) and a fairer electoral system. They also called for annual elections, the payment of MPs, and the introduction of a secret ballot.Working conditions in many coalfields and ironworks in South Wales were harsh, and there was often conflict between workers and employers. Given these circumstances, it was no surprise that Chartism developed quickly. In the summer of 1838 a Working Men's Association was formed in Newport, Monmouthshire to publicise the People's Charter. Within six months, the radical leader John Frost estimated that there were between 15,000 and 20,000 Chartists in the county of Monmouthshire.Chartism fought for democratic demands, but it was not solely a democratic movement, it was a revolutionary class struggle to change society. William Price, a Pontypridd Chartist leader said: "Oppression, injustice and the grinding poverty which burdens our lives must be abolished for all time."

In May 1838 eloquent public speaker  Henry Vincent, well known locally for his speaking tour of South Wales a year earlier, on 2 August all of 20 miles away in Monmouth was arrested for making inflammatory speeches. When he was tried on the 2nd August at Monmouth Assizes he was found guilty and sentenced to twelve months imprisonment. Vincent was denied writing materials and only allowed to read books on religion.
Chartists in Wales were furious and the decision was followed by several outbreaks of violence.John Frost toured Wales making speeches urging people not to break the law. Instead Frost called for a massive protest meeting to show the strength of feeling against the imprisonment of Henry Vincent. Frost's plan was to march on Newport where the Chartists planned to demand the release of Vincent.
The authorities in Newport heard rumours that the Chartists were armed and planned to seize Newport. Stories also began to circulate that if the Chartists were successful in Newport, it would encourage others all over Britain to follow their example.On 4 November 1839, 5,000 men roused with much anger  marched into Newport ,and attempted to take control of the town. They marched to  Westgate Hotel, where they had heard that after several more arrests, local authorities were temporarily holding several chartists, began chanting "surrender our prisoners". Troops protecting the hotel were then given the order to begin firing into the crowd, killing at least 22 people, and another fifty being wounded and resulted  in  the uprising being bought to an abrupt end. Among the injured was a Chartist named John Lovell, who was shot in the thigh and badly wounded. It would be the last large scale uprising in the history of  mainland Britain.

                                                   the attack on Westgate Hotel
Following the Newport defeat, South Wales was placed under martial law and hundreds of Chartists arrested or forced into hiding.Within days  many of the alleged the ringleaders including Frost were arrested and in December they were accused of high treason. John Lovell, Charles Waters, Jenkin Morgan, Richard Benfield and John Rees , on the advice of their counsels, were urged to plead guilty in the hopes that the Crown prosecutors could prevail upon the Judges to set the death penalty aside in their cases and on the 15 January 1840, they appeared together in court and pleaded guilty. The remaining four Chartists in Monmouth gaol - James Aust, Solomon Brtton, George Turner, Edmund Edmunds, were brought before the bar where to everyone's amazement, the Attorney General withdrew all charges against them and they were freed with a verbal admonishment.
 However on 16th January 1840, Lord Chief Justice Judge Tindal  having found them guilty  sentenced  John Frost, Zephaniah Williams and William Jones to a traitors death of hanging, drawing and quartering, the last time such a sentence was issued in the UK.
                                          Zepaniah Williams, John Frost, William Jones
The severity of the sentences shocked many people and thanks to the vigorous lobbying and protests  in support of the convicted Chartists, it led to to their sentences being commuted to transportation for life.When they actually received a total pardon in 1856. Jones stayed in Australia as a watchmaker and Williams stayed in Tasmania, where he subsequently made his fortune discovering coal. However, John Frost, who had worked as a school teacher in Tasmania, returned to Britain, where he received a triumphant welcome in Newport.
The Newport rising was a turning point for the Chartist movement. 'Physical force Chartism' was no longer popular however, and an uprising of the size seen in Newport for the time being has never happened again. However the movement gained strength and popularity throughout Britain and although it failed its purpose at the time, five of the Six Points of the original Charter which the Chartists had campaigned for have since been conceded, only the demand for Annual Parliaments not so far being accepted. A beautiful mural  as written about here previously:-
depicting four scenes from the Newport Rising, located in a pedestrian underpass in the city, was  recently shamefully destroyed to make way for a shopping center.
Long may the Chartists struggle and its leaders be remembered who helped give voice to the popular misery and discontent of the time in their struggle for democracy.

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