On this day in 1839, around 10,000 Chartists, led by John Frost, marched on the town of Newport, Monmouthshire, in what would become known as the Newport Rising. It was the last large-scale rebellion to take place in Britain and would result in the deaths of 22 demonstrators, who were shot by troops guarding the Westgate Hotel. The leaders of the rising were convicted of treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, though their sentence was later commuted to transportation.
Chartism was a working-class movement for political reform in Britain that existed from 1838 to 1857. It took its name from the People's Charter of 1838 and was a national protest movement, with particular strongholds of support in Northern England, the East Midlands, the Staffordshire Potteries, the Black Country and South Wales. The People's Charter called for six reforms to make the political system more democratic, namely:
The Newport Rising occurred in the wake of the House of Commons' rejection of the first Chartist petition in July 1839 and in August, the conviction and imprisonment of Chartist Henry Vincent in Monmouth Gaol. Because of Vincent’s imprisonment, the authorities were alert to the possibility of a riot. They had not however anticipated the potential scale of the reaction until November 3rd and so, the day before the Chartists would arrive, began to make hasty perpetrations. Frost and his associates had gathered around 10,000 people on their march towards Newport, many of whom were armed with home-made pikes, bludgeons and firearms. 500 Special Constables were sworn in and troops sent were sent for to bolster the 60 men already present in Newport. Crucially, 32 men of the 45th (Nottinghamshire) Regiment of Foot were stationed at the Westgate Hotel where Chartist prisoners were held.
The Chartists arrived in Newport on November 4th. The exact rationale for the confrontation is uncertain, although it may have its origins in Frost's ambivalence towards the more violent attitudes of some Chartists, and the animosity he felt towards some of Newport’s establishment. They arrived at the small square in front of the hotel at about 9.30 am and demanded the release of Chartists they believed to be held inside. A brief but violent battle ensued. Shots were fired by both sides, contemporary accounts indicating that the Chartists attacked first. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the superior training, disciple and firepower of the soldiers quickly broke the crowd. The Chartists did manage to enter the building temporarily, but were forced to retreat in disarray. After a fiercely fought battle, lasting approximately half an hour, around 22 Chartists had been killed and upwards of 50 had been wounded.
In the aftermath more than 200 Chartists were arrested and twenty-one were charged with high treason. The main leaders of the Rising, including John Frost, were found guilty and were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Though it was later commuted to transportation, they were to be the last people to be sentenced to this punishment in England and Wales. Frost was transported to Tasmania.
In response to the conditions, Chartists in Sheffield, the East End of London and Bradford planned their own risings. Samuel Holberry led an aborted rising in Sheffield on January 12th 1840; police action thwarted a major disturbance in the East End of London on January 14th, and on January 26th a few hundred Bradford Chartists staged a failed rising in the hope of precipitating a domino effect across the country. After this Chartism turned to a process of internal renewal and more systematic organisation, but the transported and imprisoned Newport Chartists were regarded as heroes and martyrs amongst workers.
Frost was given an unconditional pardon in 1856 and immediately returned to Britain. He retired to Stapleton near Bristol and continued to publish articles advocating reform until his death there, aged 93, in 1877.
This model was built by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on people and protest. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
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