The riots which took place at the end of the year 1839, in the manufacturing districts of England and Wales, will long be remembered as among the most serious and violent popular commotions which have occurred in this country in the course of the current century. The Chartists, whose proceedings we have already alluded to, are alone answerable for the mischievous "risings "to which the country was made the prey, and many of them have paid the forfeit of their offences by the infliction of the punishments of transportation, fine, and imprisonment.
Among the most distinguished of the Chartist leaders, who were concerned in the Newport outbreak, which was the most serious of those to which public attention was directed, was Mr. John Frost, who previously to the time of his connection with these proceedings had been a magistrate, and a respectable inhabitant of the borough of Newport, in Monmouthshire Mr. Frost was well-known to have long entertained political feelings extending to the extreme of radicalism; but, considering the situation of trust which he had held in his native town, it was scarcely deemed possible that he should be engaged in proceedings, the declared object of which was to subvert the government of the day.
Preparatory to entering into a description of the circumstances immediately attending the great Chartist movement against Newport, we shall give a short narrative of the life of Mr. Frost. At the time of his conviction, in the month of January 1840, he had just attained the age of fifty years; his birth, therefore, must have taken place in the year 1790. At an early period of his life he was deprived of the paternal care of his father, and the direction of his education devolved upon his maternal grandfather, a boot and shoemaker at Newport, in extensive business. The schools of Bristol it was found, afforded far better means of education than those of Newport; and, to obtain the benefit of them. Frost was sent to the former place, where he sedulously laboured to avail himself of the good opportunities which were so considerately and timely offered to him.
He became early devoted to books, and little relished his grandfather's business to which he was at first indentured. From these indentures he was released by the interference of an uncle, then mayor of Newport; and he became assistant to a woollen-draper, in Bridge-street, Bristol. Leaving this city he remained for some time in London in the same capacity; and at last returning to Newport, at the solicitation of his mother, he took the house and business of a Mr. Thomas, draper and tailor, the drapery branch of which he carried on until 1812, when finding himself prosperous, he married his present wife, a distant relation of his own, and niece to Mr. Foster, the mayor of Newport, who had been the means of getting him released from his first indentures.
Whilst in London, although not more than twenty years of age, he was entrusted with the chief management of the business of the house in which he was engaged. He was particularly esteemed for his sobriety, and generally spent his evenings at some of the political club meetings which were then so numerous. In these clubs the unhappy subject of these records was in the habit of associating with Gale Jones, Thelwall, Hardy, Galloway, and others of the same school; and although he spoke but seldom, it cannot be disputed that the lessons which he there received and the principles which he there imbibed, had a great influence in directing his mind to that course which he subsequently pursued.
In the year 1817, Mr. Frost entered into a public political discussion with Mr. Cobbett, which was the first occasion on which he had been placed in a conspicuous position before the world. From this period he became a constant agitator. In all questions, whether of a local or a general character, he took an active part, and more than once before his connection with that struggle for Chartism, which was productive to him of so serious results, he became involved in situations threatening him with ruin.
In the year 1822 Mr. Frost was subjected to a severe imprisonment, upon a conviction founded upon a libel published by him against Mr. Protheroe, the town-clerk of Newport. Upon this subject a writer, apparently favourable to Mr. Frost and the views which he took upon this question, thus expresses himself;--
"Up to this period the current of Mr. Frost's life seems to have run smoothly and prosperously; a happy husband and father, and a prosperous tradesman, he seemed destined to go through life without a cloud on his fortunes, when he unfortunately became involved in law proceedings with a Mr. Protheroe, town-clerk of Newport, and land-steward to Sir Charles Morgan, a man of great influence in the neighbourhood. The immediate cause of this quarrel was Mr. Frost's having become bail for a relation, whom Mr. Protheroe (an attorney) was suing for an alleged debt of 150l. The legality and existence of the debt were both denied; but owing, it is said, to some informality, the suit was decided against the defendant, and in the consequences of this decision Mr. Frost became involved. Conceiving himself wronged, Mr. Frost, it appears, threatened to lay a statement of the whole affair before the public, unless his portion of the loss was refunded. The judgment not being upon the merits, but merely in consequence of a technical mistake, he conceived he was not morally bound to pay the money. This argument it seems was not satisfactory to the plaintiff, and the end was, that Mr. Protheroe brought an action against Mr. Frost, upon the ground that this threat of publication was an attempt to extort money. In the eye of the law it was so, and Mr. Frost had 1000l. damages awarded against him for this rash step. Mr. Frost immediately sold his stock, and paid all his creditors, save one relation, who arrested him for a debt of 200l. Upon this Mr. Frost declared himself insolvent, and surrendered himself as such."
The matter, however, did not end here; but the writer already quoted says further: --
"In the mean time his opponent, Mr. Protheroe, had commenced a fresh action against him for libel. Mr. Frost had, in reference to the former action, alluded to the jury as being 'packed,' and also asserted that two of the witnesses, clerks of the plaintiff, were perjured. Upon this Mr. Frost was tried and found guilty of a libel, for which he paid the penalty of six months' imprisonment in Coldbath-fields Prison, London.
"Public opinion was, however, in Mr. Frost's favour, though the law was his enemy. On his return to his native town, after his imprisonment for this libel, he was met by fifteen thousand of his neighbours, with banners and music, and so made a sort of triumphal entry into Newport, ruined by course of law, without having, in general estimation, been guilty of a shadow of crime."
From this period Mr. Frost continued to reside in Newport, exerting his influence, upon every occasion, in support of the more popular views upon the various questions coming under discussion, and advocating, with considerable effect, the necessity of reform in the corporation of that small borough. When the Municipal Corporation Reform Bill was passed, he was looked upon by his fellow-townsmen as the fittest person to represent their opinions; and, in the year 1837, he was elected mayor, notwithstanding the strenuous exertions of the party opposed to him in political opinions. At the same time he held the office of guardian of the poor of the union in which he lived, under the Poor Law Amendment Act; and in reference to this law, as well as all others upon which any popular feeling existed, he espoused the cause of opposition.
At the conclusion of the year of his mayoralty, he was placed on the list of justices of the peace for the district of Newport, in consequence of the representations of his fellow-townsmen, by Lord John Russell, at that time Secretary of State for the Home Department; but, notwithstanding his elevation to this undoubtedly honourable post, he continued to employ his greatest efforts in favour of the wishes of the working classes. In 1838 he joined a society called "The Working Men's Association," at Newport, and this was the first step which he took towards that unfortunate termination of his career which subsequent circumstances brought about. In the course of the ensuing year he was elected, as the representative of the district of Monmouthshire and its vicinity, in "The Convention of the Working Classes," an assembly which met in London in order to endeavour to procure the adoption of the principles of the "Charter" by parliament. Preparatory to his quitting Newport to take his share in the discussions which took place at this Convention, he attended several meetings of the persons by whom he had been elected, for the purpose of their determining upon the precise grounds to be taken by him upon his arrival in London. Acting as chairman at several of them, he made such assertions, and employed such arguments, as were considered by the officers of her majesty's government inconsistent with the duties of the office of magistrate, which he then held; and Lord John Russell in consequence wrote to him, to demand an explanation of his conduct. A long correspondence took place, and considerable public excitement was occasioned; but the result was that, in the month of May 1839, the name of Mr, Frost was removed from the list of persons in the commission of the peace.
This step upon the part of the government had the effect of raising Mr. Frost still higher in the opinions of those persons of whom he was now the professed leader; and, while in the Convention in the metropolis, he acquired considerable influence, on his return to Newport he was received with great enthusiasm. In his speeches, the views which he took, although undoubtedly opposed to the government of the day, of whom he spoke in no measured terms, were decidedly in favour of the operation of "moral force," as distinguished from "physical force," in securing the object which his partisans had in view. It is surprising, therefore, to find, that on his eventual re-appearance at his native town, he should have espoused the cause of violence, and should have consented to take the lead in so formidable a movement as that which was made under his immediate control and direction.
Frost, however, was not the only individual whose proceedings attracted attention. Other delegates to the Convention had been appointed from the same district, and the violence of the declared opinions of one of them, named Vincent, laid him open to charges against him of a very serious nature. He was found to have gained great power over the operatives in the coal and iron districts around Monmouth; and his outrageous language soon obtained for him the notice of Mr. Phillips, the mayor of Newport, within whose sphere of action he most frequently exhibited himself. A prosecution was in consequence determined upon; and, on the 2nd of August 1839, true bills were found at the Monmouth Assizes against him, together with other persons, his associates in the cause of violence, upon a charge of unlawfully meeting together, intending to disturb the peace and tranquillity of this realm, and to excite disaffection and hatred to the government and constitution of the country. Amongst the defendants upon these indictments was Mr. Frost; but, unfortunately for him, his case was postponed to the ensuing assizes. A verdict of "Guilty" was returned upon the charge preferred against Vincent, and he was sentenced to one year's imprisonment, while his companion, William Edwards, was ordered to undergo nine months' imprisonment, and John Dickenson and William Townsend were sentenced to six months' imprisonment.
After this conviction no popular movement took place, but the prisoners were conveyed, without any attempt at disturbance, to the county jail; and although many remonstrances were heard as to their being subjected to the rigorous discipline of the jail, these eventually ceased, and a prospect of peace and quietude presented itself. While yet the authorities were congratulating themselves upon the check which appeared to have been given to physical-force Chartism, however, information reached them that secret meetings were nightly held in beer-shops and club-rooms in the country districts, the proceedings at which were calculated to excite feelings of the greatest uneasiness amongst the well-disposed subjects of her majesty. Rumours were afloat that a rising was meditated on the hills, for the purpose of attacking Newport, and, in the event of success, of marching to Monmouth to liberate Vincent and the other Chartist prisoners confined in the jail of that town. From the frequency and vagueness of such reports, little importance (generally speaking) was attached to them until Sunday, the 3rd of November, when Mr. Phillips, mayor of Newport, obtained information, to which some credence was attached, that an insurrectionary movement had been determined on in the Chartist lodges. The mayor, from the first moment of serious alarm, adopted every precautionary measure, which firmness, correct judgment, and indefatigable exertion could accomplish. On the first intimation of danger, he sent the police-officers to summon all the special constables to attend him at the King's Head Hotel, at eight o'clock in the evening. The call was promptly responded to by all the respectable inhabitants; and it was resolved that, in consequence of the information received, it was necessary that fifty special constables should remain on duty in the King's Head Hotel all night, fifty at the Westgate Hotel, and fifty at the Parrot Inn. The mayor afterwards adjourned to the Westgate Hotel, where the magistrates held their sittings; and a detachment of the 45th foot, consisting of thirty soldiers only, was stationed in the house, under the command of Lieutenant Gray, it having been deemed advisable that the remainder of the troop should stay at the workhouse with Captain Stack, where about two hundred stand of arms were deposited. In the course of the evening and the night, the special constables, who were on duty parading the streets, captured many Chartists, armed with pistols, pikes, and other deadly weapons. The alarm was complete; for, during the whole of the afternoon, every inhabitant, or stranger, who happened to arrive in town from the vicinity of the works, brought in the terrifying intelligence that the ringleaders of the Chartists had been scouring the hills during the whole of the day, in all directions, and compelling, by brute force, all who came within their reach to join their ranks, and that it was highly probable that an attack would be made upon Newport that night. This induced the mayor to look for further assistance, and he accordingly sent an express to the mayor of Bristol, requesting a reinforcement of troops. The morning dawned upon the affrighted town without apparent danger, but still alarms were abroad; and, as the hours advanced, business appeared at a complete stand-still, and no one ventured to open his shop. At eight o'clock Lieut. Gray, of the 45th, with two sergeants and twenty-eight soldiers, arrived at the Westgate Hotel, from the barracks at the poor-house, beyond Stow Hill, the remainder being left under the command of Captain Stack at their barracks. The gallant lieutenant immediately placed himself and men under the direction of the mayor; and the brave and determined fellows were judiciously posted in the room which commanded the entire extent of the front of the premises. The shutters of the Westgate Hotel windows were closed, but the entrance was open, and the passage occupied by special constables with staves, there being no appearance of a military force from the exterior of the house.
The subsequent circumstances attending this unfortunate affair, are best detailed by the Attorney-General's speech, and by the evidence which was produced at the trial; and having merely stated the fact of the riot having occurred on the 4th of November, 1839, we shall proceed to the description of the circumstances attending the investigation before the jury.
The importance of the inquiry was deemed by the officers of the crown to be sufficient to warrant the issuing of a special commission for the trial of the prisoners, and the necessary preliminary arrangements having been made, the business of the commission at length commenced on Wednesday, the 1st of January, 1840, at Monmouth, Sir N. C. Tindal, the Lord Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas; Sir J. Parke, one of the Barons of the Court of Exchequer; and Sir J. Williams, one of the Justices of the Court of Queen's Bench, being the Judges appointed to undertake the difficult task of trying the numerous prisoners in custody; and the Attorney-General (Sir John Campbell), the Solicitor-General (Mr. Serjeant Wilde), Mr. Serjeant Ludlow, Mr. Serjeant Talfourd, Mr. Wightman, and Mr. Talbot, being the counsel for the crown. The counsel engaged for the prisoners were Sir F. Pollock, Mr. Kelly, Mr. Thomas, and Mr. Rickards.
The whole of the prisoners had been arraigned upon the indictment preferred against them on a former day, and had solicited to be tried separately, in obedience to a right conferred upon them by act of parliament.
Mr. John Frost was the first put upon his trial. He was placed at the bar at nine o'clock in the morning, and appeared to possess great confidence.
The Attorney-General then rose, and thus proceeded to address the court and jury:-- "May it please your lordships, gentlemen of the jury; In the discharge of my official duty, I have the honour of attending here to conduct this important prosecution. I hope you will believe that my only object is, that the facts of the case may be fairly laid before you; that truth may be fully investigated; that innocence may be vindicated, if innocence be found to exist; and that you will only pronounce the verdict of guilty upon clear and convincing proof. It is highly important that parties accused should be zealously and ably defended; but it is likewise of importance that the law should be vindicated; that the peace of society should be preserved; and that, when crime has been committed, guilt should be brought to punishment. I think that no one will deny the necessity for the solemn inquiry in which we are engaged. There has recently been in this county an armed insurrection; the law has been set at defiance; an attempt has been made to take possession of the town of Newport; there has been a conflict between the insurgents and the Queen's troops; there has been bloodshed; there has been the loss of many lives. Gentlemen, the intelligence of these outrages has caused great alarm and dismay throughout the kingdom. Various prisoners, charged with having been concerned in these outrages, are now accused of having committed the highest crime known to the law. Not only on account of the importance of the occasion, but from the forms of the law, it became necessary for her Majesty to issue a special commission for the trial of those charged as offenders. A bill of indictment for high treason was found by a jury of the county against (amongst others) John Frost, the prisoner at the bar; but still he is presumed to be innocent. All the indictment says is this, that he should be put upon his trial. I need hardly caution you, gentlemen of the jury, that you are to dismiss from your recollection all that you have read, and all that you have heard, upon this subject. You are to be guided entirely by the evidence, and you will proceed as if you never had heard of the case until the indictment was read to you. I further use the liberty of saying that you are not to regard my statement, either as to the law or as to the fact. The law you will receive from the venerable judges who preside over this court -- the facts you will hear from the witnesses, and you will be guided by the evidence they give, and the credit that you think their testimony is entitled to. A most important charge is given to you, for it is one which bears upon the guilt or innocence of the prisoner. No men can have higher functions to discharge -- the life and the reputation of the accused are in your hands -- but there are likewise in your hands the public safety and the public justice of the country."
Having then referred at great length to the law affecting the case, the learned gentleman proceeded to say:-- "I shall now, therefore, give you a short outline of the facts, which I understand will be clearly proved in evidence before you. For that purpose I must remind you of the geographical situation of the county in which these disturbances took place. You are probably well acquainted with what is called the 'hill district,' in the county of Monmouth. It is of a triangular form, having for its apex a place called Risca, about five miles from Newport. The base is at a distance of from fifteen to twenty miles as you ascend the country. On the west side you have Nantiglo and Beaufort iron-works -- on the east, Blaenavon, and the hills in the neighbourhood; Blorage, I think, being one of the heights. The country is intersected by deep glens, watered by rapid streams; the Rumney being on the west, and the Sirhowy parallel to it: then come the rivers Ebbw Upper and Ebbw Lower, which join and flow down towards Newport; and near to that is Lanthewy, and the river Avon. In that county, as you are aware, are mines of coal and iron. These mines have of late years been worked to a very great extent; and those mountainous hills which, fifty years ago, were almost uninhabited -- a few shepherds' huts only being scattered up and down, are now the seat of a dense population, estimated, I am told, at forty thousand persons, employed in working the iron and coal mines, and in supplying the wants of those so engaged. I am afraid the population which has thus suddenly sprung up is, in many instances, not the most peaceable. I am afraid that a degree of ignorance prevails which is much to be deplored; and that many of those who live there are subject to be practised upon by designing men. It would appear that this population had been organised to a considerable degree by societies established amongst them, so that on any occasion a command might be issued and circulated amongst the population, and speedily obeyed. It will appear that the prisoner, John Frost, who had been for many years a linen-draper in the town of Newport, possessed extensive influence in this part of the country, the hill district of the county of Monmouth. Newport, you are aware, is the place from which the coal and iron obtained in the mines is exported. It is a considerable town, and great importance is attached to it. It is on the highway from South Wales to Bristol, Gloucester, Birmingham, and the north of England. It will appear in evidence before you, that in the week preceding Sunday, the 3rd of November, a plan was formed for a general rising of the population of the district, to take place on the night of that Sunday, when it should arrive. Various consultations were held, at which Mr. Frost was present. Those consultations were held chiefly at a place called Blackwood, between Rumney and Sirhowy. There is a public-house called the Coach and Horses, where there was a lodge or society, and where meetings were held, and where it is clear this scheme was devised or matured. There was particularly a meeting held on Friday before Sunday, the 3rd of November. Deputies attended at that meeting; there was a return of the armed force which could be mustered; and it would appear that there the plan or scheme was laid down which was afterwards to be carried into effect. What was that plan? It appears that orders were to be issued to the men to assemble armed on the evening of Sunday, November the 3d. There were to be three principal divisions -- one was to be under the command of John Frost himself, who was at that time stationed at Blackwood. Another division was to be under the command of Zephaniah Williams. Williams lived higher up the country; he kept a beer-house at Coalbrook-vale, on the Ebbw, near Nantiglo. He was to collect the men up the country, and to bring them down towards Newport. The 3d division was to be under the command of a person of the name of William Jones, a watch-maker, at Pontypool. He was to collect the people from the north and west, and bring them down, and they were all to meet somewhere near Risca or Cefn, and to come on to Newport. They were to be at Cefn about midnight on Sunday, and, being assembled there, they were to march to Newport about two o'clock in the morning -- a time when it was expected that there would be no preparation to receive them; when the inhabitants would be buried in sleep, and entirely disarmed of all suspicion or apprehension of danger. They were, when at Newport, to attack the troops who were there, to take possession of the town, to break down the bridge which is there across the river Usk, to stop the mail, and then, by a signal, the success of the scheme was to be announced. The mail not arriving in an hour and a half after its usual time, those who were in concert with them in that town would know that the plan had succeeded, and there was to be a general rising there, and in Lancashire generally, and elsewhere. Gentlemen, there never was a charter law universally and instantly established -- there never was the remotest chance of this scheme being accomplished; but, had it not most providentially happened that the night between Sunday and Monday was one of the darkest and most tempestuous that was ever known in England, it is difficult to conjecture the degree of mischief which might have been wrought before the insurrection could have been suppressed, and peace and tranquillity restored. Gentlemen, John Frost, the prisoner, remaining at Blackwood, the men under his command did assemble considerably earlier than the other divisions. He crossed over from Blackwood to a place called Newbridge, on the Ebbw, and came by Abercairn to Risca and the Welsh Oak, and there he was early in the night; but, from the difficulties which presented themselves, the other divisions, which were to come from the upper parts of the country, did not arrive until long after the expected hour. Zephaniah Williams, who was to bring the men from Nantiglo, did not arrive till after daylight. William Jones, who was to bring his division from the north and west, did not arrive at the appointed time. A man of the name of Britton, who commanded a party of this division, did arrive in time, but Z. Williams with the others was too late. John Frost having come to Risca, remained there until shortly before daylight. It was then thought necessary to muster the forces there collected, and to march on towards Newport. There were collected at that time, according to the best computation that could be made, about five thousand men. Many of them were armed with guns and pistols, many had spears or pikes, and many were provided with an instrument called a mandril, which, as I understand, is a short instrument, made of iron, for picking coal in the mines -- a very dangerous and deadly weapon if used for hostile purposes -- resembling a pickaxe in shape; others had scythes fixed on sticks, and those who had not weapons of this kind were armed with sticks and bludgeons. Mr. Frost commanded them, and they marched towards Newport. They marched in military order, five abreast. The word of command was given from time to time by Frost, and they came down from Cefn by Pie-corner to Tredegar-park, the seat of Sir Charles Morgan, and through which the highway of a tram-road passes. By the time they had got to Tredegar-park, the day had dawned. Here inquiries were made by Frost as to the position of the military. I may now mention what had been passing at Newport during the night. Intelligence had been brought to Newport on the Sunday night of what had been passing in the hills. Mr. Phillips, who was the mayor of Newport, immediately took measures for the safety of the town, and special constables were sworn and stationed at the most important points. There are three principal inns in Newport, the Westgate, the King's Head, and the Parrot. These inns commanded the principal streets, and there the special constables were stationed. The Westgate is in the marketplace, and was considered the most important station of all. The mayor went to the Westgate with other magistrates, and sat up the whole night, sending out constantly for information, and making the best preparations to preserve the peace and defend the town. When the day dawned intelligence was brought that the insurgents were advancing, and were in the neighbourhood of Newport. The mayor had sent a person of the name of Walker, to gain information. That person had been shot at, and returned dangerously wounded. The mayor then sent for military assistance. There was in the neighbourhood only one company of soldiers, under the command of Captain Stack, who were stationed in the workhouse, which had been converted into a temporary barracks, and is on the outskirts of the town. Captain Stack sent thirty of his men to the assistance of the mayor, under the command of Lieutenant Grey and two sergeants. I believe the barracks are about half a mile from the Westgate. Lieutenant Grey brought his men to the Westgate, and in a little time they were stationed in a room in the inn which it is material, gentlemen, I should describe to you. That inn is in Westgate-street, fronting the north. On the east side there is a room, with a bow-window, looking out upon the street. In that room the military were stationed. There is a corresponding room on the western side of the house, where the magistrates were assembled. . Between these two rooms is a corridor or passage, which you will find was a scene of strife. The special constables remained before the door of the inn where they had been placed. The military had not loaded, and it will be a fact most material to the case, that the soldiers did not load their muskets till they were fired upon. This being the state of things at Newport as the insurgents approached. Frost at the head of the body, and giving the word of command, they reached the machine at Court-y-bella, and there Mr. Frost inquired respecting the military. He was told by two boys whom he met at the turnpike, that a number of soldiers had marched to the Westgate Inn. On that the insurgents divided, and part of them turned to the left and went up the hill leading to St. Wollo's Church, whilst another part kept to the right and went towards the town of Newport, through Commercial-street. This last division afterwards came up and joined the others. Those who had gone by St. Wollo's or the Friars, went down Stow-hill, which leads to the Westgate Inn, where Mr. Frost had been told the military were. Mr. Frost still walked at their head, and when they had passed a place called the Catholic chapel, which is close to the back of the Westgate, the insurgents tried to gain admission to the Westgate Inn by the carriage entrance to the courtyard, behind the premises I have been describing. That entrance is from Westgate-street, and when they failed to procure admission there, they wheeled round to the front of the Westgate Inn. Mr. Frost was still with them, and, as it will be distinctly shown to you, was in front of the Westgate Inn at that time. The special constables were before the door, and the insurgents asked them to surrender; one of the constables said they would not surrender, on which the command to fire was given, and immediately the firing began upon the bow-window of the room in which the military were stationed, and the insurgents attempted to break through the front door of the porch to the interior of the house. They used their pikes for the purpose of forcing the door, and having succeeded, they got into the hall and the passage leading from the magistrates' room to the room where the military were stationed. It was now the time for Lieutenant Grey to do what became him as an officer of her Majesty, and as a good subject of this country, who wished to preserve the lives of his fellow-subjects, and to take care that universal confusion should not occur. Orders were given by him to the military to load. They loaded. I should mention to you, gentlemen, that the room in which they were stationed was that in which was the bow-window -- that is, a projecting window having three sides, and not being circular. The shutters of this window were closed, and the glass had been broken by the shots which had been discharged. But while the shutters remained shut the soldiers could not use their guns and fire on the insurgents. Lieutenant Grey, who on that occasion acted certainly in a manner which is above all praise, for the moderation, the firmness, the energy, and intelligence he displayed -- went to open the shutters of one part of the window; the mayor went to open another part of the window, and Serjeant Daly to open another. As the mayor opened the shutters he received two wounds, one in the shoulder and the other in the hip. Serjeant Daly was also wounded in the head by slugs, which passed into it, and the gun which he had in his hand had its lock knocked off by a ball which had been fired by the insurgents. The soldiers were then ordered to fire. At this time the insurgents had gained the various approaches to the house; they were in the passage leading to the room in which the military were assembled, and if the order to fire had not then been given, there is no reason to doubt that the military would all have been massacred. The order, however, was given, and it was speedily and effectually obeyed. The insurgents in the passage were fired on, and several of them fell and were killed. The shutters being also removed from the window, the men directed their pieces through it, and thus had command of the space in which the insurgents were drawn up. They accordingly fired into the street, and several of the insurgents were wounded and fell, and the others were speedily dispersed (Mr. Frost had not been seen after the firing first began), and they fled in every direction. Zephaniah Williams was about ten minutes too late, but he did arrive at last with the Nant-i-glo men, a band almost as numerous as that led by Frost himself. William Jones, of Pont-y-pool, did not come nearer to Newport than Malpas, but he was proceeding onward when he heard of the disasters which had happened to his associates in Newport. He likewise fled, and the men who were with him dispersed. I should mention that these three parties in their progress scoured the country and pressed various persons whom they compelled to march with them, at the same time seizing all the arms they could find. Mr. Frost himself was seen soon after the defeat of his associates in Commercial-street, which leads to Tredegar; after the action was over, he was seen in Tredegar-park escaping into a wood, and he was apprehended in Newport on the Monday night with pistols and powder in his pocket. Gentlemen, thus tranquillity was restored, and it will be for you to say, if these facts be true, whether there is any reasonable doubt of the guilt of the prisoner Frost. And how are those facts to be proved? With regard to the main circumstances, no doubt whatever can be entertained; and I shal.1 prove the facts by witnesses who are above exception, who were unconnected with the circumstances, and who were employed in trying to establish peace and to restore tranquillity. With regard to the declarations made by Frost, which I have avoided to detail for the present, the proof of these will much depend on the evidence of persons who were concerned with him in the insurrection. When my learned friend comes to remark upon their testimony, he will probably call them accomplices; but, gentlemen, whether they are voluntary or compulsory witnesses, there is no doubt that their evidence ought to be received with great suspicion, and weighed with anxious care; but if you do sift it, and find no good reason to doubt its veracity, you will not hesitate to believe the evidence given by such individuals. In such cases evidence of this kind must be laid before the juries who try them; for it is evident that treasonable conspiracies are not concocted in public; and how can they be proved but by the employment of spies and informers, whose evidence, it is true, is generally condemned and often disbelieved In this case, however, I purpose to call no spies, no informers -- for none such were employed -- but I propose to call persons who were engaged more or less in the insurrection, and who, I submit, may be trusted if their evidence be consistent, and if it be corroborated as to the main points to which they will speak. On that evidence no doubt will exist in your minds with regard to the guilt of the prisoner. Gentlemen, it gives me sincere satisfaction to find that he is defended by gentlemen of the first eminence and the first talent at the bar of England. All that zeal, learning, and eloquence can accomplish, will be achieved in his cause, so that the result of this trial must satisfy the public justice of the country. I own it seems to me, that my learned friends will have a difficult task to perform. I think they will hardly deny the law of treason as it was laid down by Mr. Justice Foster and Lord Tenterden; and here was an insurrection of men, formidable from their numbers, met for a public purpose, and actually engaged in conflict with the Queen's troops, not accidentally, or in a sudden affray, but publicly, with premeditation and design. Will my learned friend say that it was a private object the prisoner sought to obtain? What this was I am at a loss to conjecture. It was not private revenge, or a private grievance. The insurgents did not meet for the purpose of discussing petitions to be presented to the Queen, or to either of the houses of parliament. It was not a meeting arising out of disputes between the masters and servants engaged in the coal and iron trade. It was not a sudden outbreak arising from want of employment, or the want of food; for, I believe, that if inquiry be made, it will turn out that the coal and iron trade has not been in a more prosperous condition than it was when this insurrection occurred; that the wages of those employed in it were high, and that those persons who were engaged in the insurrection had no pretended private grievances which they wished to redress. What conclusion then must be drawn from this if the witnesses speak the truth? That they assembled for a public object with an armed force to change the law and the constitution of the country. Unless this offence be satisfactorily made out there can be no question, gentlemen, that it will be your duty to acquit the prisoner, and that you will have great satisfaction in doing so; but if the evidence clearly and satisfactorily establishes the case against him, you will no doubt act the manly part which it will be your duty to perform. You will not shrink from your duty, whatever may be your feelings. It imports all persons, whatever may be their situation, that the law shall be respected and obeyed: whether they possess landed property, or if they are merchants, or tradesmen, or labourers. Whatever may be their situation whether it be high or humble, it imports them all that such tumults as this should be suppressed, and, for the sake of example, that punishment should take place. I have given you a short outline of the facts of the case. I have no doubt that the witnesses who will be called and examined will receive from you the most careful attention, and that you will listen, with the respect due to them, to the arguments which may be adduced in favour of the prisoner. On these it will then be your important duty to pronounce your verdict of 'guilty' or 'not guilty;' and I have no doubt that you will do so with justice towards the prisoner, and with satisfaction to the public justice of the country."
The learned Attorney-General having concluded his address, the first witness, named Samuel Simmons, was called.
Sir F. Pollock rose to submit an objection to the court, to the examination of the witness. It appeared that by various statutes, the prisoner was entitled to the delivery of a copy of the list of witnesses to be examined at the trial, and also of a copy of the indictment, and of the panel. The statute of the 7th William III. entitled the prisoner to the delivery of a copy of the indictment five days before the trial, and to the delivery of a copy of the panel two days before the trial. The statute of the 7th Ann, c. 21, s. 11, provided that "when any person should be indicted for high treason or misprision of treason, a list of the witnesses who should be produced on the trial for proving the said indictment, and of the jurors, mentioning the names, professions, and places of abode of the said witnesses and jurors, should be also given at the same time that the copy of the indictment was delivered to the party indicted." It then further provided in favour of the prisoner, that "a copy of all indictments for the offences aforesaid, with such lists, should be delivered to the party indicted ten days before the trial, and in the presence of two or more credible witnesses, any law or statute to the contrary notwithstanding." In the present case the list of witnesses had been handed to the prisoner on the 17th of December, but the copy of the indictment had been served on the 12th of the same month. The distinct provisions of the act therefore had not been complied with.
The Attorney-General, on the other side, contended first, that the objection was too late, and that it ought to have been made before the arraignment of the prisoner on the indictment, when the formal error, if any had been committed, might have been remedied by fresh service; but secondly, that in fact there was no error at all, for that the service of the copy of the list of witnesses and of the copy of the indictment before the time required by the act of Queen Ann was advantageous to the prisoner, and that their not having been handed to him both together could not be deemed by the court to be sufficient ground for setting aside the proceedings, or for directing an acquittal of the prisoners.
In answer to these arguments, which occupied the whole day, Chief Justice Tindal said, "It seems to me that the prisoner's counsel have raised a very great doubt, and the point is one which requires serious consideration. It is the more important as the same objection may apply itself, under existing circumstances, to several other cases. We propose, therefore, to take a course in the present case, to prevent the possibility of any hasty decision operating to the disadvantage or prejudice of the prisoner on the one hand, or to the prejudice of public justice on the other. We shall allow the trial to proceed, and take the opinion of her Majesty's judges on the subject, in the event of the result of the trial on the present occasion making such a reference necessary."
On the 2nd of January the learned counsel for the crown proceeded to the examination of witnesses in support of the allegations against the prisoner. The evidence was corroborative of the statement made by the learned Attorney-General, and it is unnecessary to repeat the facts which were sworn to. Sir Thomas Phillips, the mayor, who had been knighted, and Captain Grey, who had received a new rank in consequence of their gallant and praiseworthy exertions in defence of the town, were called and examined, but they in effect related the same story which had been detailed in the opening speech.
The next witness called was Thomas Walker, the special constable, who had been wounded. He stated that he went out by order of the mayor to make observations upon the district towards Risca, which is about six miles from Newport. He found several parties of men on the road, apparently armed; and at Risca he heard shots fired, and some cheering. On his return he was stopped by about sixteen men, and he was stabbed by one in the thigh, while another fired a pistol at him, the ball from which inflicted a very severe wound. He managed to reach Newport, but on his arrival there he was so weak as to be unable to walk any further; and having reported himself to the mayor, he was carried home and put to bed.
The mode by which the men, under the command of the prisoner, increased the number of his followers, was detailed by several witnesses, who were labouring men, residing on the different lines of march taken by the Chartists. From their testimony, it appeared that every cottage was attacked and the male inhabitants forced to take such implements as they might possess, (fit to be employed as offensive weapons,) and accompany the main body. In case of refusal, or of disinclination being exhibited to obey the orders which were given, force was used, and persons were set to guard those who appeared likely to attempt to escape. Out-scouts, it was also proved, were appointed to watch the districts in the neighbourhood of the Welch Oak, and the various places of meeting, and upon the approach of any strangers, they were directly seized and carried before some of the leaders for examination. Chartist lodges were shown to have been established throughout the whole district of country surrounding Newport; and at the meetings which were held antecedent to the insurrection, collections were made for the purpose of defraying the expenses of the purchase of arms to be used against the authorities of the town.
Other witnesses were called, who deposed to facts implicating Zephaniah Williams and William Jones, as well as the prisoner Frost, and proved the employment of great violence by them and their followers.
The evidence as to the apprehension of Frost, was that of Mr. Thomas Jones Phillips, clerk to the magistrates of Newport. Having proved the issuing of the warrant for the prisoner, he said "On Monday the 4th of November I went to Mr. Frost's house with the superintendant of police, but he was not there. I afterwards went to Partridge's house, but not in search of Mr. Frost. I had a search warrant for Partridge's house. I went to the house attended by some special constables. It was between the hours of seven and eight o'clock at night. I knocked at the door, but no notice was taken. I then attempted to enter the house, but finding the door fastened, I called out 'Partridge,' and he said 'I am gone to bed.' I said 'Get up and open the door, or I must force it open.' The door not being opened, I forced it open. I heard the cross, that seemed to fasten the door inside, falling down, and then, when the door was open, I saw Mr. Frost standing within two yards of it. He was facing me. The cottage in which Partridge lives is a very small one, and the door opens from the street into the room. There is no passage. I walked up to Mr. Frost, and laid my hand upon his shoulder on one side, while Mr. Rogers, who was with me, laid his hand on his other shoulder, and said to Mr. Frost, 'He was a prisoner.' Mr. Frost said, 'Very well, I will go with you directly.' I said, 'No, I am not yet prepared to go with you,' for I had the search warrant to execute. I then searched the house. Mr. Frost appeared to me (at the time) to be very much fatigued; and he himself told me that he felt very uncomfortable. He walked arm-in-arm with me from Partridge's house to the Westgate Inn. He was not searched till he got to the Westgate Inn. There were found upon him three pistols, a powder-flask, and some balls. The balls I believe were loose in his pocket. The pistols were all loaded."
This evidence, which was concluded at the end of the fifth day of the trial, completed the case for the prosecution.
Sir F. Pollock, on the following Monday morning, proceeded to open the case for the defence. The learned gentleman occupied more than five hours and a half in addressing the jury; commenting in the most able manner upon the whole of the vast mass of evidence which had been adduced, and contending that there was nothing in the conduct of the prisoner, or of his associates, which could in the slightest degree warrant a presumption that they had assembled for the purpose of committing any offence which could be supposed to amount to high-treason. He urged that the probability was, that the assemblage took place with a view (on the part of the Chartists), to exhibit their power, and, by making a general movement, to procure the release of Vincent, their partisan, at that time undergoing an imprisonment, on a charge of sedition, in Monmouth jail; and that some prisoners having been made from amongst them, they had gone to demand their liberation, and had become exasperated by the harsh measures adopted against them by the authorities.
Several witnesses were called with a view to support these suggestions, and to show that the first act of aggression was on the part of the soldiers; and many persons gave the prisoner an excellent character for humanity and general mildness of disposition.
Mr. Kelly then proceeded to sum up the whole of the evidence, on the part of the prisoner, in a most able speech, and he was followed by the Solicitor-General in reply.
Towards the conclusion of the eighth day's proceedings, the Lord Chief Justice addressed the jury upon the whole case. At six o'clock the jury retired to consider their verdict, and in about half an hour returned into court, and declared that the prisoner was "Guilty" of the offence imputed to him, but recommended him, generally, to the merciful consideration of the crown.
On the following morning, the 9th of January, Zephaniah Williams was put upon his trial. As we have already entered so fully into the facts proved against the prisoner Frost, it would be useless to repeat the evidence adduced in any of the subsequent cases, which was merely a repetition of that already given. On Monday the 12th of January, this prisoner was called upon for his defence, when he appeared dreadfully affected. His counsel had already addressed the jury at great length in his behalf, and he contented himself with denying that he ever entertained any notion of the kind imputed to him, and solemnly protested that he never had the least design of revolting against the Queen. He was found "Guilty," but, as in the case of Frost, was recommended to mercy.
William Jones was then put on his trial, and on Wednesday he was also pronounced "Guilty," with a similar recommendation to mercy.
It now became the duty of the learned judges to proceed to the consideration of the indictments preferred against the other prisoners, in custody for minor offences alleged against them. Charles Walters, Jenkins Morgan, John Rees, Richard Benfield, and John Lovell, confessed themselves guilty of the charges laid against them; and the Attorney-General withdrew the prosecutions against Edmund Edmunds, James Aust, George Turner, and Solomon Britton, in reference to the propriety of whose indictment great doubts existed. On the same day several other prisoners pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, riot, pike-making, burglary, &c.; and on Thursday, the business of the special commission was terminated by the learned judges passing sentence on the prisoners.
Frost, Williams, and Jones, were first brought up; and their lordships having gone through the usual forms put on the black caps, and:--
Chief Justice Tindal addressed the prisoners in the following words:-- John Frost, Zephaniah Williams, and William Jones, after the most anxious and careful investigation of your respective cases before juries of great intelligence and almost unexampled patience, you stand at the bar of this court to receive the last sentence of the law, for the commission of a crime which, beyond all others, is the most pernicious in its example, and the most injurious in its consequences, to the peace and happiness of human society -- that of high-treason against your sovereign. You can have no just ground of complaint that your several cases have not met with the most full consideration, both from the jury and the court; but as that jury have, in each of them, pronounced you guilty of the crime with which you have been charged, I should be wanting in justice to them if I did not openly declare that the verdicts which they have found meet with the entire concurrence of my learned brethren and myself. In the case of all ordinary breaches of the law, the mischief of the offence does, for the most part, terminate with the immediate injury sustained by the individual against whom it is levelled. The man who plunders the property, or lifts his hand against the life of his neighbour, does by his guilty act inflict, in that particular instance, and to that intent, a loss or injury on the sufferer or his surviving friends; but they who, by armed numbers, or violence, or terror, endeavour to put down established institutions, and to introduce in their stead a new order of things, open wide the flood-gates of rapine and bloodshed, destroy all security of property and life, and do their utmost to involve a whole nation in anarchy and ruin. It has been proved in your case, that you combined together to lead from the hills, at the dead hour of night, into the town of Newport, many thousands of men, armed in many instances with weapons of a dangerous description, in order that they might take possession of the town, and supersede the lawful authority of the Queen therein, as a preliminary step to a more general insurrection throughout the kingdom. It is owing to the interposition of Providence alone, that your wicked designs were frustrated. Your followers arrive by daylight, and, after firing upon the civil power and the Queen's troops, are, by the firmness of the magistrates, and the cool and determined bravery of a small band of soldiers, defeated and dispersed. What would have been the fate of the peaceable and unoffending inhabitants, if success had attended your rebellious designs, it is useless to conjecture. The invasion of a foreign foe would, in all probability, have been less destructive to property and life. It is for the crime of treason, committed under these circumstances, that you are now called upon yourselves to answer; and by the penalty which you are about to suffer, you hold out a warning to all your fellow-subjects, that the law of your country is strong enough to repress and to punish all attempts to alter the established order of things, by insurrection and armed force, and that those who are found guilty of such treasonable attempts must expiate their crime by an ignominious death. I do, therefore, most earnestly exhort you, to employ the little time that remains to you, in preparing for the great change that doth await you, by sincere penitence and fervent prayer; for although we shall not fail to forward to the proper quarter that recommendation which the jury intrusted to us, we cannot hold out to you any hope of mercy on this side the grave. And now doth nothing more remain than that the Court pronounces (to all of us a most painful duty) the last sentence of the law, which is, 'That each of you, John Frost, Zephaniah Williams, and William Jones, be taken hence to the place from whence you came, and be thence drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, and that each of you be there hanged by the neck until you be dead, and that afterwards the head of each of you shall be severed from his body, and the body of each, divided into four quarters, shall be disposed of as her Majesty shall think fit; and may the Lord have mercy upon your souls.'"
The prisoners received the announcement of their fate with the utmost firmness, yet propriety of demeanour. They were the only persons in the crowded court whom the fearful nature of the sentence, and the low, solemn tone, in which it was pronounced, did not most deeply affect.
The prisoners were then removed from the bar, and the clanking of their chains was painfully audible.
Charles Waters, John Lovell, Richard Benfield, John Rees, and Jenkin Morgan, were next placed at the bar, and, as in the former case, were addressed by the learned Judge with great solemnity. Their cases, though sufficiently aggravated, presented features of palliation which entitled them to an extension of mercy, and their lives would be spared. "At the same time (said his lordship), looking to the active and prominent share which each of you has taken in the lawless proceedings at Newport, on the fatal 4th of November, we cannot hold out to you the hope of further mitigation than that you must be prepared to leave your native country and probably for the remainder of your lives. For the present, and with the object of obtaining such mitigation of the execution of your sentence, it is our duty to pass the sentence required by law;" which his lordship did in the form adopted with the other prisoners.
All the prisoners received the intimation that they should be transported with some indication of surprise. Rees alone leant his head upon the bar and wept.
Notwithstanding the extremely perilous situation of the unfortunate men, who were thus convicted and left under sentence of death at Monmouth, during the whole period occupied in their trials their brother Chartists throughout the county persisted in pursuing their reckless and mischievous career. In the immediate vicinity of Monmouth, small armed bands associated themselves for the purpose of deterring the attendance of jurymen and witnesses at the trial; but the active interference of a large body of the London police-force, sent down with a view to the preservation of peace and good order, effectually prevented the success of their schemes. Rumours were industriously circulated, as well before the commencement of the proceedings of the special commission as during their continuance, that a new rising was intended, to procure the release of the prisoners from custody; and the most active preparations were made to meet any outbreak which might occur; but it eventually turned out, either that the reports were unfounded, or that the devisers of the plots wanted the courage or the means to carry them into execution. In Sheffield, Dewsbury, and many of the northern towns, the Chartist agitation was kept up, avowedly without the least consideration for the wretched prisoners; and, by the vigorous agency of the police, the most atrocious plots were discovered and frustrated.
In the metropolis, too, the work of disaffection was apparent. Repeated meetings took place, and schemes of the very worst character were devised; and, on Tuesday the 13th of January, the government received private information that an insurrection was to break out on that night or on the following morning, and that the firing of London in various parts was to be the signal for a general rising throughout the country. Orders were in consequence instantly transmitted to the Horse Guards, for the preparation of a sufficient force to repel any treasonable attack which might be made; and here, as well as at all the barracks in the vicinity of the metropolis, and at the Tower, the whole of the men were put under arms. The metropolitan police-force and the city constables received orders to be ready for immediate action, and the London Fire-engine Establishment -- a body of most enterprising and active officers -- formed into a fire-police, was placed in readiness to employ their exertions to assist the municipal authorities to suppress the supposed intended conflagration.
The alarm, which was necessarily spread through the metropolis in consequence of these warlike preparations, however, turned out to be without cause; for although on that night a very large meeting of Chartists took place at the Hall of Trades, in Abbey-street, Bethnal-green, there was no attempt at violence. The conduct of the speakers at this assemblage, indeed, sufficiently showed the extremes to which they desired their followers to go; and a subsequent meeting on the following Thursday proved that they were not quite so harmless as their apologists would have had it supposed. At this convention, held, as it was announced, for the purpose of discussing the existing state of the working-classes throughout the country, upwards of seven hundred persons attended, the majority of whom seemed to be individuals of low rank. At nine o'clock the committee came upon the platform, when Mr. Neesom was called to the chair. After the chairman had detailed the objects for which the meeting had been called, Mr. Spurr, who had on a former occasion taken an active part in the discussions, rose to propose the first resolution. After a few preliminary observations, he contended that the only way to preserve the peace was to be prepared to wage war; and in support of such an assertion he thought it would be well deserving the attention of the meeting to bear in mind the words of a celebrated person, "to put their trust in God, and keep their powder dry," which was received with loud cheering. On silence being restored, the speaker was about to proceed, but a body of police appearing at the door with drawn sabres, caused the greatest possible confusion. The chairman entreated the meeting not to be disturbed, as it was held on constitutional principles, but in order not to give their enemies an opportunity of succeeding, he hoped there would be no breach of the peace committed. The police then, having blocked up every avenue leading to the room, prevented all present from retiring, and proceeded to search their persons. Daggers, knives, sabres, pistols primed and loaded, and other weapons of an offensive character, were taken from many of them, while upon the floor were discovered others of a like description, evidently thrown away by their owners in order to enable them to escape detection. Twenty-one of the persons who were taken into custody on this occasion unarmed, were detained in the Trades Hall, and eleven others, upon whom pistols and daggers had been found, were removed to safe custody, in order to await their examination before the magistrates. Upon subsequent inquiries taking place, several of them were discharged, while, however, others, with new prisoners subsequently secured and identified as parties to the meeting, were tried and convicted at the Old Bailey Sessions, and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment.
The accounts received from some of the country districts also, showed that the conduct of the Chartists there was still more alarming; although from the vigilance of the police, and the constant watch kept on their movements, ail serious mischief was prevented.
At Sheffield a plot of a most fearful description, which had for its object the burning of the town, was discovered to have been formed, and considerable preparations towards carrying this diabolical attempt into execution were found to have been completed. The magistrates immediately procured the assistance of the military, and the most anxious exertions were made to render any attack which might be attempted futile. It was ascertained that a midnight meeting was to be held among the Chartists on the night of Saturday, the 11th of January; and Colonel Martin, commanding the troops in the vicinity of the town, was called upon by the magistrates to render them such assistance as should be necessary to prevent any outbreak. In the outskirts of the town it was found that the Chartists had assembled in great numbers, and were prepared to undertake any mischievous attack which might appear to their leaders to be proper. The police, who were stationed in the roads to gain intelligence of their proceedings, were repeatedly fired upon and wounded; and one individual, who, from his dress, was mistaken for one of their body, received no fewer than twenty-seven slugs in his neck and shoulders from repeated discharges at him. In the course of the night a great many persons were taken into custody, and a large quantity of muskets, pikes, daggers, a species of instrument intended to impede the progress of horse soldiers, with three long and sharp prongs, called a cat, with powder, balls, and hand-grenades, were secured. In the darkness of the night large bodies of men, armed with muskets and spears, were seen moving from various points towards the town; but, upon their approaching as far as the pickets which had been thrown out, they appeared to come to the conclusion that their scheme had been discovered, and that therefore their attack would be repelled, and they turned back and marched off into the country districts. During the whole of Saturday night and of Sunday, the greatest degree of excitement prevailed throughout the neighbourhood of Sheffield, and frequent seizures of combustibles and arms took place in houses in the suburbs.
The prisoners who were taken were instantly conveyed before the magistrates for examination, and Samuel Holberry, Thomas Booker, his son William Booker, James Duffey, William Wells, John Marshall, Thomas Penthorpe, Joseph Benison, and William Martin, were eventually committed to York Castle for trial.
Throughout the whole week, great alarm prevailed among the well-disposed inhabitants of the town; and the military continued in possession of the principal places of strength to prevent any new effort against the public peace.
The exhibition of violence on the part of the Chartists, however, was not confined to Sheffield; but at Dewsbury a simultaneous rising took place. On the Saturday night the town was seized by a number of armed men; and the private watchmen, six in number, were compelled to fly. Mr. Hale, an inhabitant of the town, who was acting as inspector of the watch, was fired at, although without effect, and the mob kept the neighbourhood in a state of terror during the whole night by the constant discharge of fire-arms. In Heckmondwicke, and other villages, similar scenes were enacted; and it was afterwards learned that the men who thus disturbed the public peace, were proceeding to join the Sheffield Chartists, but before morning all of them had dispersed.
While these disturbances, however, had occupied the attention of the authorities in the North, in London the government and the law officers of the crown had been occupied in determining the fate of the prisoners under sentence at Monmouth. The questions for the consideration of the judges, reserved at the time of the trials of Frost, Williams, and Jones, for in each the same points arose, were argued before the fifteen judges in the Exchequer Chamber; and after a most lengthy and learned discussion, extending through three days, the case terminated on the afternoon of the 28th of January.
The conclusion arrived at by the judges was communicated by the Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas to the Home Secretary, in the following letter: --
Westminster-hall, 28th January, 1840.
"My Lord -- I have the honour to inform your lordship that the argument upon the three cases of The Queen v. Frost, The Queen v. Williams, and The Queen v. Jones closed this afternoon, and that the judges, after considering the subject, have come to the following determination upon the two questions which have been argued before them, viz:-- First -- A majority of the judges, in the proportion of nine to six, are of opinion that the delivery of the list of witnesses was not a good delivery in point of law.
"But secondly -- A majority of the judges, in the proportion of nine to six, are of opinion that the objection to the delivery of the list of witnesses was not taken in due time. All the judges agreed that if the objection had been made in due time, the effect of it would have been a postponement of the trial in order to give time for a proper delivery of the list. The result, therefore, of the determination of the judges is, that the conviction is right.
"I have the honour to remain, my lord, your lordship's faithful and obedient servant,
"N. C. TIDAL.
"The Lord Marquess of Normanby, &c. &c. &c."
On the day following the receipt of this communication, at a Privy Council which was held, it was determined that the lives of the convicts must be forfeited to the laws of the country, and the following letter was transmitted to Monmouth: --
Whitehall, January 29, 1840.
Sir -- I am to signify to you the Queen's commands that the execution of the sentence of Death, passed upon Zephaniah Williams, John Frost, and William Jones, now in the jail at Monmouth, be respited until Thursday the 6th day of February next. But the prisoners are to be distinctly informed that the sentence of the law will then be carried into effect.
am, sir, your obedient humble servant,
"To the High Sheriff of the County of Monmouth."
The governor of the jail, in obedience to these instructions, delivered a copy of this letter to each of the prisoners, and they appeared perfectly composed, and as if they had never entertained any hopes of mercy being extended to them. Every exertion had been made in the metropolis in the meantime with a view to procure the mitigation of the sentence of the prisoners. Petitions from all classes poured in to the Home Office; but all were declared to be of no avail, and it was not until Friday evening, the 31st of January, at a late hour, that her majesty's ministers came to a resolution to spare their lives. Sir Frederick Pollock used his greatest efforts to procure this desirable end; and having had no fewer than six interviews with Viscount Melbourne upon the subject, he had given up his task in despair, when, urged by Lord Brougham once again to see the premier, the learned and indefatigable advocate retired with the promise of her majesty's ministers, that the crimes of Frost and his two wretched partners in guilt should not be expiated on the scaffold.
On the following evening an express was sent off to Monmouth, bearing intelligence of this decision on the part of the government; and on Sunday night it arrived in that place. The reprieve, however, was accompanied by an order for the immediate removal of the prisoners to the hulks; and a military escort having been procured, at half-past one o'clock on Monday morning, the prisoners were roused from their beds, informed for the first time of their altered fortunes, and ordered instantly to prepare themselves for their removal. The wretched men had already taken leave of their families, supposing death to be inevitable, and their first feelings at their escape can be well imagined. They were now supplied with refreshments; and at two o'clock they were hurried into the prison van, and, escorted by a troop of lancers, were conveyed to Chepstow, and there put on board the Usk steamer, to be carried to Portsmouth, from whence they were to be transported for life.
In the course of the time during which the prisoners lay at Portsmouth awaiting the sailing of a vessel for New South Wales, renewed attempts were made to procure their freedom. Petitions from many districts, numerously signed, were presented, in which the impolicy of tarnishing the annals of a month in which the nuptials of the young queen were to be celebrated was urged; and even parliament was occupied with the discussion of the propriety of the steps taken by the government. In the House of Commons and in the House of Lords motions were made with a view to obtaining the pardon of the prisoners, but the ministers of the Crown, in a wise exercise of the duties of their office, strengthened in their opinion upon the case by that of the learned judges, before whom the prisoners were tried, declined to recommend that Her Majesty should make any further alteration in the sentence of the prisoners. The following letter. Conveying the sentiments of the judges upon this occasion, was produced in both Houses of Parliament: --
Westminster-hall, January 31st, 1840.
My Lord -- As to the law, the uniform practice has been, so far back as we have any means of knowledge, that if the judge upon the trial of an indictment feels any serious doubt as to an objection that occurs in point of law, he decides the point against the prisoner, and allows the trial to proceed, reserving such point of law, in order that he may take the advice and opinion of all the other judges thereon. After consulting them, and hearing argument thereon (if thought necessary) the opinion of the judges is taken, and that of the majority binds the judge who has reserved the question. If that opinion should be against the prisoner, the law is suffered to take its course, and the sentence which has been passed remains. If the opinion of the judges is in favour of the prisoner, the constant course is for the judge who tried the prisoner, and passed the sentence, to apply to the Secretary of State for a free pardon. And this course in no way depends on any consent, express or implied, on the part of the prisoner; the judge pursues it at his own discretion, and decides the point for the present against the prisoner, giving him the benefit of further consideration and advice with the other judges. And this course is pursued for the manifest purpose of preventing a failure of justice; inasmuch as if the judge decided under his immediate impression, supposing it to be in favour of the prisoner, and directed an acquittal, there could be no new trial, although upon reference to the other judges his own opinion was held to be wrong. On the other hand, if the opinion of the judge is at the time unfavourable to the prisoner, it can be reserved by that course, and if erroneous set right.
"With respect to the statement in the memorial, of what took place at the trial, so far as relates to ourselves, we cannot but remark, that the learned counsel labour under a complete misapprehension, at which we are the more surprised, as we expressly stated that no distinction would be made between this and other cases tried at the assizes, but that it must follow the ordinary course.
"At the time of the discussion, we all of us entertained serious doubts, more or less strong, on the objection that was raised before us. And if the law had obliged us to come to an immediate and final decision, without the power of consulting the judges, which the law does not, we were not prepared, without much further consideration, nor without hearing the argument on the part of the Crown concluded, to come to any determination on the point. We therefore followed the ordinary course pursued on similar occasions, decided the point against the prisoner by allowing the trial to proceed, subject to the revision before referred to.
"We beg to inform your lordship, that we think the circumstance stated and relied on in the memorial; viz,, that two of the judges under the special commission ultimately declared their opinion in favour of the objection, does in our judgment make no difference whatever; nor do we think that any inclination in their minds at the time of the trial ought to affect the question; the law is taken from the majority of the judges when consulted.
"Under the circumstances above mentioned, we beg leave to represent to your lordship, that in our opinion there is no ground whatever to entitle the prisoner, John Frost, to a free pardon.
"N. C. TINDAL.
"To the Most Noble the Marquess of Normanby, &c."
While these proceedings were going on in London, on the 26th of January, Bradford, in Yorkshire, was made the scene of acts of conspiracy against the government; but as the particulars of this affair appear in the allusion to the trial of the conspirators, which we make hereafter, we shall not here further refer to it.
The trial of those prisoners whose names we have already mentioned as having been parties to the Sheffield conspiracy, came on at the York assizes on the 16th of March, before Mr. Justice Erskine.
The court was at an early hour besieged by parties anxious to obtain admission. In a part of the hall a great number of pikes, knives, daggers, and fire-arms of various kinds, were laid in readiness to be produced at the trial. On the table in the court was a large basket containing pistols, muskets, balls, powder, and shells of various kinds, some of them nine or ten inches in diameter, and bound round with great quantities of pitched twine.
At nine o'clock his lordship entered the court, and was immediately followed by the Attorney-General (Sir John Campbell) who had gone down specially to conduct these prosecutions.
Samuel Holberry, Thomas Booker, William Booker, and James Duffey were put to the bar. Wells, included in the same indictment, had pleaded guilty.
The prisoners were charged with a conspiracy to violate the law, to create insurrection, and to disturb the public peace. The inquiry extended to a very great length, but the most interesting evidence was that of one of the associates of the prisoners, named Samuel Powell Thomson. He said, "I had been in Sheffield about three years in January last. I became a member of the Secret Association the first or second Sunday after the disturbance in Wales, some weeks before Christmas. I belonged to a class held at Valentine Benison's, in the park. I attended meetings from time to time there and at other places. There was a room in Figtree-lane.
There were two sorts of meetings, one a public meeting, to which any one was admitted, the other a secret one for those who were made members. I knew Samuel Holberry. I got acquainted with him the latter end of August or the beginning of September. He attended the meetings in Figtree-lane. I saw him on Sunday, the 5th of January; it was at his own house. There were some other men I had seen at the Chartist public meetings. Holberry said he had been to Dewsbury, and he was happy to tell us that the day, and the hour, and the moment were settled when a unanimous rise would take place, but only two people in each town were to know the time. He had pledged his word, he said, that no place of worship should be destroyed, and no provision stores. We then went to the room in Figtree-lane, where there was a party of members belonging to the Secret Association. Holberry repeated what he had previously said, and said the time would be short, but he was not allowed to make it known to any but two. He said he had another journey to go, and would want some money. He had to go round by Nottingham and that district. He mentioned Sutton and Ashfield. We began to make a subscription of 10s. or 11s. I gave sixpence." The witness having detailed the occurrences at subsequent meetings at which he was present, and at which the quantity of arms in the possession of the conspirators was calculated, went on to say:-- "On the Saturday Boardman desired me to come to the Figtree-lane room about three o'clock. I went and found several men there, one of the name of Cooper. Samuel Holberry came; he told us to follow him. We went to a public-house in Lambeth-street. We went into the lodge-room up stairs. We found a person of the name of M'Catterick and others. Holberry spoke; he stated that the first thing to be done was for us all to assemble, and be at the Town-hall and Tontine exactly as the clock struck two, as they were first to be taken. That the classes were to come up to take them. One was to come up first from every class, and then two, and then the whole body. Boardman said he could bring about fifty. I said I could bring fifty. M'Catterick said he could bring about forty. Duffy said he would bring sixty-four. The Irishmen present began to talk about getting arms. It was decided that they should go to the shops where weapons were exposed for sale, and break them open. They were to shut the gates of the Tontine, and barricade them with the coaches. In the Town-hall, one part was to occupy the lower floor and the other the upper. They began to talk about the "cats." It was decided that they should be thrown between the barracks and the Tontine. Holberry said, that he and eight others would go, after the soldiers were called out, and fire the straw chamber. One was to climb the spout and throw a fire-ball into the straw-chamber. They were also to fire the riding-school. The ones and twos who were to come up first were to assassinate all the watchmen they met. We remained in Lambert-street till nearly six o'clock. Holberry said they had agreed as to what was to be done, but they had not agreed provided they were put off. In that case they were to 'Moscow 'the town. I was in company with fourteen or sixteen belonging to my class. I took these men to Burke's class, in Mill-lane. They were generally armed. William Wells brought three daggers, and gave them to me; he wished the name to be filed out. We remained at Burke's till two o'clock. Burke dipped some torches in turpentine. A person came down from the council, which had met at Lambert-street, and brought word we were to meet at the top of Watery-lane. We set off thither, about twenty-four of us. We got there near about three o'clock. We then came back to Tobacco-box-walk. We met a few Irishmen of Duffy's class. They said they were seeking Duffy. I accompanied them to Duffy's house. The people were armed with dirks, and weapons of that sort; some with pistols. We then went to Burke's. We did not find him at home. As I was coming from Burke's house to my father's I was stopped by a policeman on the Ladies'-bridge, and taken to the Town-hall. I have seen Booker at these meetings, I think on the Friday."
Cross-examined: I took a promise of secrecy. I remember the terms of it: "Will you do all that lies in your, power, even to the loss of your own life, and the shedding of the blood of the tyrants?" That was the first part. The person replies, "Yes." The second part was, "I do most solemnly and sincerely promise, in the sight of Almighty God, and the assembly here present, that I will assassinate any one who shall betray the secrets of this meeting, and bear assassination if I should betray." This was what I said; I revealed these secrets, but not till I was taken as a prisoner. I consider the oath I have taken to-day binding on my conscience. The witness was further cross-examined with a view to show that he was unworthy of belief.
Several other persons were subsequently called, whose testimony was corroborative of the statements which had been made, and the jury having been addressed by the learned counsel for the several prisoners, a verdict of "Guilty" was returned.
On the following day John Clayton, John Marshall, Thomas Penthorpe, and Joseph Bennison, pleaded guilty to an indictment charging them with a seditious conspiracy to procure arms and disturb the public peace in the town of Sheffield, on the 12th of January; and William Martin was convicted of uttering certain seditious words in the room in Figtree-lane.
On the 18th of March the trial of the conspirators in custody for the affair at Bradford took place.
Robert Peddie, William Brooke, Thomas Drake, James Holdsworth, and Paul Holdsworth, were put to the bar charged with a seditious conspiracy to oppose the law.
The most important evidence in this case was also that of an accomplice, named James Harrison; and his testimony showed the implication of all the prisoners in a plot to attack and burn the town. Peddie, who with Marsden had come from Scotland, was to assume the whole command; and it was agreed, that arms should be procured and other means taken to oppose the constabulary and military forces. The statement of the witness as to the arrangement for the attack was as follows: --
"They were to meet at the Green-market, as near two o'clock as possible, but not later. When they got to the Green-market, they were to take possession of the Bazaar and the Piece-hall for ammunition, and the Newsroom was to be the depot for the men. Peddie said they would soon set the colliers to work, and make holes through the walls of the News-room, to put the cannon through; and they were to get food and clothes. After they had done with Bradford they were to take the cannon and the baggage-carts with shoes, clothes, and provisions, and go to Dewsbury. 'We shall gain strength,' he said, 'as we go; if we have five hundred in the morning we shall have two thousand at night.' From Dewsbury we were to make our way up to London. I went to the Green-market a little after two o'clock. Peddie was there; George Flynn, Isaac Holloway, and Paul and James Holdsworth. There were near thirty; some had guns, some pistols, some pikes. Peddie had a belt with a pistol and dagger. Peddie asked if I had seen Turner? I said I had not. Peddie said 'I don't know what the man is doing to be so much out of his time. I have had possession of the Green-market near half an hour. We have got two watchmen prisoners,' and he pointed to the shed. I went across the market to look at the watchmen. I saw Brook that night at the New Inn, after I left the market. He was with another man, coming into the town. He returned in about ten minutes. He asked me to take a walk through the town, and see what was going on. On the way to the Court-house we met some foot-soldiers; and at the Court-house the cavalry were coming out of the yard. Brooke said 'It is a plain proof we're deceived, for the magistrates know as much about it as we do ourselves.' We went down towards New-street. We saw some people in the distance. Brooke said, 'I have something about me; if these are constables I shall be taken.' We were stopped, and Brooke was taken into custody. They searched me, and let me go. I saw Paul Holdsworth on the Sunday evening, about nine o'clock, in Nelson-street. I know Smith, an orange-seller. He lives down a passage leading out of Nelson-street. Holdsworth was going there; he had something in his hand like a brush handle, about six feet long. He was one of the sentries over the watchmen in the shed. James Holdsworth was in the Green-market. He had a spear."
Other evidence was adduced, showing the intention of the Chartists to be to secure the town; and that they had gone fully armed for the purpose of attaining their object. Several of the witnesses admitted that they were parties to the design, and that they were taken into custody; but were subsequently induced to make a statement of the circumstances within their knowledge.
For the defence it was argued that the whole story related, bore the character of fabrication; and that none of the expressions imputed to the prisoners, at all warranted the jury in coming to a conclusion that they were guilty of sedition.
The jury, however, found a verdict of "Guilty." At the conclusion of the assizes, the learned judge passed sentence upon the prisoners who had been convicted: --
Samuel Holberry was sentenced to be imprisoned in the jail of Northallerton for four years, and at the expiration of that period to be bound, himself in 50l., and to find two sureties of 10l. each, to keep the peace towards her Majesty's subjects. Thomas Booker, to be imprisoned at Northallerton for three years, and to be bound, himself in 30l., and to find two sureties of 10l. each. William Booker, his son, to be imprisoned two years at Northallerton, and to be bound in his own recognizance in 20l., to keep the peace for two years. James Duffy, three years in Beverley jail, and at the expiration of that period to enter into his own recognizance of 20l., to keep the peace for three years, and to find two sureties of 10l. each. William Wells, one year's imprisonment, and at its expiration to enter into his own recognizance of 20l. to keep the peace for one year. John Marshall, Thomas Penthorpe, and Joseph Bennison, otherwise Benson, convicted of riot, were sentenced to two years' imprisonment at Northallerton, and to enter into their own recognizances of 20l. to keep the peace for two years. William Martin, for using seditious language was sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment, without hard labour, in the jail at Northallerton.
Robert Peddie, William Brooke, Thomas Drake, and Paul Holdsworth, for conspiracy, with intent to create riot at Bradford, were sentenced -- Peddie to be imprisoned in Beverley House of Correction for three years, and to enter into his own recognizances for three years, in the sum of 30l., and find two sureties of 10l. each. William Brooke, three years' imprisonment in Northallerton House of Correction, and to enter into his own recognizances of 30l. to keep the peace. Thomas Drake, to be imprisoned in Beverley jail for eighteen months, and enter into his own recognizances of 30l. for three years. Paul Holdsworth, three years in Northallerton House of Correction, and the same recognizances as Brooke.
John Walker, Joseph Naylor, John Riding, Phineas Smithies, Hutton, and Rishworth, convicted of riot at Bradford, were sentenced to imprisonment; Walker, Naylor, Riding, and Rishworth, for two years in Wakefield House of Correction, and to enter into their own recognizances of 30l. each, and Hutton and Smithies eighteen months in the same place, recognizances 30l.
In the course of the assizes many other convictions for sedition, for seditious publications, and other offences of a like character, took place.
At Monmouth, Henry Vincent and William Edwards, persons who were long notorious for their opinions -- the former of whom (as we have stated) had already been convicted of an offence of a similar description, were indicted for having conspired with John Frost, to subvert the constituted authorities, and to alter, by force, the constitution of the country.
The trial crime on before Mr. Baron Gurney, on the 20th of March; the case for the prosecution being conducted by Mr. Serjeant Talfourd, Mr. Richards, and Mr. Whateley.
Several witnesses were called, whose testimony was adduced with a view to show the nature of the language employed by the prisoners. Vincent was the principal orator; but he was proved to have been supported by Edwards and Frost. The tenor of his speech was condemnatory of the whole course of proceeding of the government, with threats against both Whigs and Tories; and it contained a declaration of the intention of the Chartists to rise on the 6th of May in the year 1839 (the meeting being held on the 1st of January), if the charter was not granted before then, and send the ministers to "look for lodgings at New York,"
The jury delivered a verdict of "Guilty;" but in consideration of the long imprisonment which the defendants had already undergone, recommended them to mercy.
They were sentenced, Edwards to fourteen months', and Vincent to twelve months' imprisonment.
At Liverpool, on the 6th of April, R. W. Jackson, R. J. Richardson, William Butterworth, and Bronterre O'Brien, were tried before Mr. Justice Coleridge, on an indictment charging them with sedition.
The meeting at which the sedition was alleged to have been spoken, was held on the 23rd of April, 1839, at Batty's Circus, Manchester, pursuant to a placard which was posted through the streets. The four defendants were there; and their speeches sufficiently indicated their political opinions to be of the most violent description. Various expressions were proved to have been used, by which the adoption of force was recommended, and the jury found the prisoners "Guilty."
In the course of the ensuing three days, several other convictions for sedition took place, at the same assizes, before the same learned judge. Many prisoners, whose cases presented circumstances of a mitigating character, were allowed by the government prosecutors to be discharged upon recognizances to keep the peace; while others, who had been convicted of being parties to riots, which had occurred at Wigan, Bolton, and Ashton, were allowed to plead guilty, with a view to the mitigation of their sentences.
On the 9th of April, Mr. Justice Coleridge passed sentence upon the prisoners.
Richardson and Butter worth, who had long been known as connected with the Chartists and their proceedings, were sentenced to be imprisoned in Lancaster Castle for nine months, and at the expiration of that time, to enter into their own recognizances in 100l., with two sureties in 50l. each, to keep the peace for three years. Upon Jackson being placed at the bar, his lordship said "that it was a melancholy thing to find a person of his station in society, attending such meetings as those which had been referred to in the evidence. He was a minister of religion, presiding over its services in a chapel where Christians met for sacred worship; and yet he was found at a public meeting, using language which one would have rather expected from the lips of one who had been a follower of the camp, than a member of a sacred profession. He had talked, if a constable came to his house to search for arms, of presenting to him the sharp end of the pike, the muzzle of the gun, and what came out of it. He must, in passing sentence, consider his station, abilities, and power of injuring society." He was ordered to be imprisoned for eighteen months, and to enter into his own recognizance of 500l., with two sureties in 250l. each, to keep the peace for three years.
Mr. O'Brien was next brought up. He was one of the most popular leaders of the day, and was notorious for the active part which he had taken throughout the whole of the proceedings of the Chartists. Upon his being informed that a sentence of imprisonment would be passed upon him, he implored the court rather to send him out of the country for life, declaring that he had no hope of England in its present state. His sentence was similar in its terms to that of Mr. Jackson.
Mr. Jackson was then sentenced to six months' further imprisonment on a second indictment against him, and the following prisoners received the judgments appended to their names for their participation in the mischievous events which had recently before occurred.
George H. Smith, to be imprisoned in the House of Correction at Preston for eighteen months, and to enter into his own recognizance in 500l., with two sureties in 100l., to keep the peace for three years. John Kaye, six months; recognizances in 200l., with two sureties in 50l. Christopher Doyle, nine months; recognizances in 300l., two sureties in 100l. each. William Barker was sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment in the House of Correction at Kirkdale, with hard labour. Frederick Davidson, six months, with hard labour. Samuel Scott, eight months' imprisonment; to enter into his own recognizance in 100l., with two sureties in 50l. each, to keep the peace for three years. Charles Morris, twelve months' imprisonment; recognizances in 100l., with two sureties in 201. Daniel Ball, eighteen months' with hard labour; similar recognizances. Peter Murdin, six months' imprisonment with hard labour. William Willoughby, three months' with hard labour.