OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Trades Combinations page 4


Pages: 1 2 3 <4>

On the 14th of August some Chartists were tried at Chester for conspiracy - namely, George Thompson, Timothy Higgins, James Mitchel, and Charles Davies. The evidence went to show that they had in their possession a considerable quantity of fire-arms, with intent to aid the violent designs of the Chartists. Thompson, a Birmingham gunsmith, had upon his premises several orders for arms, with the following document: - "We hereby agree to become sureties for the payment of all arms sent to Timothy Higgins, at the Bush Inn, Signed, Charles Duke, Peter M'Dowell." The following placard was read, as being found in possession of the prisoner Higgins: -

"Dear Brothers, - Now are the times to try men's souls. Are your arms ready? Have you plenty of powder and shot? Have you screwed up your courage to the sticking point? Do you intend to be free men or slaves? Are you inclined to hope for a fair day's wage for a fair day's work? Ask yourselves these questions, and remember that your safety depends upon the strength of your own right arm. How long are you going to allow your mothers, your wives, your children, and your sweethearts to be for ever toiling for other people's benefit? Nothing can convince tyrants of their folly but gunpowder and steel; so put your trust in God, my boys, and keep your powder dry. Be patient a day or two, but be ready at a moment's warning. No man knows what to-morrow may bring forth. Be ready, then, to nourish the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants. You can get nothing by cowardice. France is in arms; Poland groans beneath the bloody Russian yoke; and Irishmen pant to enjoy their liberty. Up, then, because the whole world depends upon you for support. If you fail, the working man's sun is set for ever. The operatives of France have again taken possession of the city. Can you remain passive when all the world is in arms? No, brave boys! up with the cap of liberty now or never is the time. When you strike, let it not be with stick or stone; but let the blood of all you suspect moisten the soil of your native land, that you may for ever destroy even the remembrance of poverty and shame."

Then came some doggerel verses -
"In tyrants' blood baptize your sons,
And every villain slaughter;
By pike and sword your freedom try to gain,
Or make one bloody Moscow of old England's plain."

The jury took five minutes only to consider their verdict of guilty against all the prisoners. They were each sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment, and to find bail at the expiration of that time, themselves in 500, and two sureties in 100 each, for five years.

The Rev. Joseph Rayner Stephens, of Hyde, county of Chester, was tried at the same assizes. The prosecution was conducted by the Attorney-General, and Mr. Stephens defended himself. He was charged with a misdemeanour in attending an unlawful assembly, and exciting those present to a disturbance of the public peace. Many who attended the meeting carried arms, and bore banners with the inscriptions - " Tyrants, believe and tremble; " " Liberty or death; " "Ashton demands universal suffrage or universal vengeance;" " For children and wife, we'll war to the knife." There was also a transparency with the word "Blood." At that meeting the prisoner told the people he had good news for them. "He had been to the barracks," seen the soldiers, and the soldiers would not act against the people." He asked if they had fire-arms, and were ready, and the answer was given by a round of shots. The meeting continued till midnight. The prisoner addressed the jury in a speech which lasted more than five hours, but he called no witnesses. The Attorney-! General replied, and immediately after the conclusion of the judge's charge, the jury found a verdict of " guilty." The court sentenced Mr. Stephens to eighteen months' imprisonment in Knutsford gaol.

M'Dowell, another Chartist, was convicted at the same assizes, and was sentenced by Baron Gurney to twelve months' imprisonment in Chester Castle; and his companion, named Bradley, was sentenced to eight months. M'Dowell, who was the principal Chartist leader in Lancashire, defended himself with great ability. Among other things, he was charged with uttering the following seditious language: - " They are a bloody set of Whigs for persecuting Stephens. I advise you, men, women, and children of Hyde, to arm, as the people have been doing in other parts of the country. I have been to different parts of the country to enlighten the people; I have been to Sheerness and Chatham, and have advised the people to arm, and take possession of the Tower, with its 200 stand of arms, if they will not grant the people's Charter. Fifty determined men could arm all London. There is plenty of guns in gunsmiths' shops, and they might get thousands of stands of arms by placing their foot against the door. The London Chartists would be ready at three days' notice to meet the people of that district." There was then a cry, " We are ready," and a pistol was fired. The prisoner further said, " The officers of the army and navy, five out of seven, are with you, and the soldiers are getting up petitions in favour of the Charter. Thirty stout-hearted farmers' sons with bill-hooks would do a great deal of execution in a good cause like ours. One stout man with a bill-hook would do as much execution as a scamping fellow in a red jacket, hired for tenpence a day."

At a meeting of the National Convention held on the 14th of September, it was moved by Mr. O'Brien, and seconded by Dr. Taylor, that the Convention be dissolved. On a division, the numbers were for the dissolution eleven; against it eleven. The chairman gave his casting vote in favour of the dissolution. The dissentients recorded their protests on the ground that it was incompetent for a fraction of the body to perform such an act; that the Convention was bound to sit till the Charter was carried; and that their not doing so was a desertion of duty at this eventful crisis, and cowardice in the cause of Chartism, if not crime, tending to create suspicion and distrust in the minds of the people, and to impede, if not destroy, the progress of reform.

On the 20th of the same month Mr. Feargus O'Connor was arrested at Manchester, on a judge's warrant, for a seditious conspiracy, seditious speeches, &c. He appeared at the borough court before the mayor and a full bench of magistrates. He entered into his own recognisance for 300, and found two sureties of 150 each to appear at the court in Liverpool. The principal leaders having been now made amenable to justice, and the Convention being dissolved, it was hoped, and, indeed, publicly declared by the Attorney-General, that Chartism was extinct, and would never again be revived. It soon appeared, however, that this was a delusion, and that a most formidable attempt at revolution by force of arms had been planned with great care and secrecy, and on a comprehensive scale, the principal leader being a justice of the peace. Among the new borough magistrates made by the Whigs after the passing of the Reform Bill was Mr. John Frost, a linendraper at Newport. At the beginning of the Chartist agitation in 1838, Mr. Frost attended a meeting in that town, when he made a violent speech, for which he was reprimanded by the Home Secretary. But this warning was far from having the desired effect. During the autumn of 1839 he entered into a conspiracy with two other leaders - Jones, a watch-maker, of Pontypool, and Williams, of the Royal Oak Inn, in the parish of Aberystwith - to take possession of the town of Newport, which was to be the signal for a simultaneous rising of the Chartists in Birmingham and in all other parts of the kingdom. The town of Newport is the capital of a picturesque country, called the Hill District, which forms a sort of triangle. The whole region is intersected by well-watered glens, and maintains a mining population of 40,000, in regions which fifty years ago contained only the scattered dwellings of a few shepherds. It had been arranged that the men of the hills should march in three divisions on the town. Every member was sworn to obey his captain, without knowing, till the moment of rising, who that captain was. The non-arrival of the Welsh mail at Birmingham at the usual time was to be the concerted intimation that the insurrection had succeeded. But the weather was unfavourable, and the night was dark. The divisions under the command of Jones and Williams failed to arrive at the appointed time, and the party under the command of Frost himself was late. The intention was to surprise Newport at about midnight on Sunday, the 3rd of November; but owing to the wetness of the weather, it was not till ten o'clock on Monday morning that the insurgents entered the town in two divisions, one headed by Frost, and another by his son, a youth of fourteen or fifteen. They were armed with guns, pistols, pikes, swords, and heavy clubs. The mayor, Mr. Thomas Philips, jun., apprised of their approach, had taken prompt measures for the defence of the place. He placed special constables at the three principal inns, and he sat up all night in the Westgate Hotel, making arrangements and sending scouts into the country. Having thus ascertained that the Chartists were actually on the march for Newport, he made application for aid to Captain Stack, of the 45th Regiment. Thirty men were accordingly sent off, under the command of Lieutenant Gray, who took up their position in the Westgate Inn, which stands in the market-place, and was expected to be the principal point of attack. Two large rooms, one at each end of the building, with projecting windows, opened on the street, and communicated with each other by means of a corridor. The eastern apartment was occupied by the military. In the western were assembled the magistrates with the police, while a body of special constables surrounded the hotel. When the insurgents drew up in front of the building about 8,000 strong, Frost commanded the special constables to surrender. On their refusal the word was given to fire, and a volley was discharged against the bow window of the room where the military were located, and at the same moment the rioters, with their pikes and other instruments, drove in the door, and rushed into the passage. It was a critical moment, but the mayor and the magistrates were equal to the emergency. The riot act having been read by the mayor amidst a shower of bullets, the soldiers charged their muskets, the shutters were opened, and the fighting began. A shower of slugs immediately poured in from the street, which wounded Mr. Philips and several other persons. But the soldiers opened a raking discharge upon the crowd without, and after a few rounds, by which a great many persons fell dead on the spot, the assailants broke and fled in all directions. Frost was not visible after the first discharge, but he was afterwards seen crossing Tredegar Park. In addition to the gunshot wound, the mayor received a severe cut in the right side, which for some time quite disabled him. A sergeant and a private, and two shopkeepers of Newport, Messrs. Williams and Morgan, were seriously wounded, and several other special constables slightly. These were the whole of the casualties on the side of law and order.

The mayor ordered Frost's house to be searched for papers, and then proceeded to the house of Partridge, his printer, where he found Frost himself quietly taking his supper of bread and cheese, apparently unconscious of danger, though a reward of 100 had been offered for his apprehension. They were both made prisoners, with many others. The number of the killed was upwards of twenty, but the wounded were much more numerous. The bodies of the dead were found lying about the streets and in the fields. Their dress and appearance indicated that they were in full employment, which was the case at that time with the Welsh miners generally.

The examination of the prisoners commenced the day after the battle, and continued to the end of the month. The people among the hills remained for some time in a very disturbed state, and there was great apprehension felt that other risings would follow. But the defeat of the insurgents by so small a body of soldiers, and the arrest of their chiefs, had the effect of gradually extinguishing the hopes of the Chartists. On the 9th of November Lord Normanby addressed a letter to Mr. Philips, mayor of Newport, expressing the Queen's high approval of the conduct of the magistrates; and on the 13th of November, he addressed another letter, offering him, in Her Majesty's name, the honour of knighthood, which on his recovery was conferred upon him at Windsor Castle.

Frost, Williams, and J ones were tried by a special commission at Monmouth, and found guilty of high treason. Sentence of death was pronounced upon them on the 16th of January, 1840. The event naturally excited great interest, and the court was crowded as soon as the doors were opened. At nine o'clock the judges took their seats, and the prisoners were ordered to be placed at the bar. Frost's countenance expressed the same calmness that he had exhibited all through the trial. Williams appeared low und desponding, and Jones had lost that air of levity and carelessness by which he had previously been distinguished. The three judges having put on their black caps, the Chief Justice, Sir Nicholas Tyndall, pronounced sentence upon the prisoners. He stated that they had been found guilty of a crime which, beyond all others, is the most pernicious in example, and the most injurious in its consequences to the peace and happiness of human society - that 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. " What would have been the fate of the peaceable and unoffending inhabitants," he said, " 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 human property and life." Sentence of death was then pronounced upon the three prisoners, "that they should be thence drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, and that each of them be there hanged by the neck until he was dead, and afterwards the head of each should be severed from his body, and the body of each, divided into four quarters, should be disposed of as Her Majesty thought fit." Frost raised his eyes during the latter part of the sentence, but the other prisoners did not show any signs of emotion. Addresses to the Queen for mercy to the three convicts were sent from twelve congregations in Birmingham, and a petition to Parliament to the same effect from that town received 21,000 signatures in three days. The petition was granted, and on the 1st of February, the sentence was commuted to transportation for life. A free pardon was granted to them on the 3rd of May, 1856, and they returned to England in the September following.

<<< Previous page <<<
Pages: 1 2 3 <4>

Pictures for Trades Combinations page 4

The death of Thom
The death of Thom >>>>
Mr. Feargus OConnor.
Mr. Feargus OConnor. >>>>

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About