Monday, 12 November 2007

Sources for Chartism: Merlin 5th November 1839

Merlin - 5th November, 1839 - Chartist Insurrection at Newport - Total Defeat of the Insurgents - Upwards of 20 Killed and a Large Number Wounded

We have this day to perform the most melancholy duty that ever devolved upon us as journalists and we write with the most intense feelings of regret.

The mania of Chartism which has been produced and actively cherished in this country amongst the great body of the working classes by selfish designing and profligate demagogues has appallingly raged; and the blood of many infatuated wretches has been spilt in an insurrectionary struggle. We have elsewhere in the present number of the Merlin, as well as upon many former occasions, expressed our opinions on the monstrous delusion of what the plunderers of the people, enemies of social order artfully call the "Peoples Charter"; and we now proceed to the sad details of the fatal consequences which have resulted to some of the ill-fated insurgents who have been lured from honest industry and have harkened to the voice of their betrayers.

On Saturday and Sunday last reports had come that the Chartists of the Hills were preparing for an attack on Newport and that in the event of success they intended to march to Monmouth for the liberation of Vincent and the other Chartist prisoners confined in the jail of that town. From the frequency and vagueness of such reports for some weeks little importance (generally speaking) was attached to these rumours until Sunday when Thomas Philips Junior Esquire, Mayor of Newport obtained information to which some credence was attached that an insurrectionary movement had been determined on in the Chartist Lodges. Some well-informed from the manufacturing districts stated that the "Rise" was to have taken place on the preceding Tuesday but was deferred to Sunday night or early Monday morning; that the disaffected had been possessing themselves of arms and that they had sent scouts to Newport to ascertain the state of preparation in which the town would be placed by the authorities. The Mayor from the first moment of serious alarm adopted every precautionary measure which firmness, correct judgement and indefatigable exertion could accomplish in the time and under the circumstances. He swore in a large number of special constables from amongst all classes - and was in frequent communication with the detachment of the brave 45th Regiment stationed at the Poor House and appointed the Westgate Hotel as the headquarters of the little band elected for the defence of the town. At eight o'clock Lieutenant Grey of the 45th with two sergeants and thirty soldiers arrived at the Westgate Hotel from the barracks at the Poor House beyond Stow Hill. The gallant Lieutenant immediately placed himself and men under the direction of the Mayor and the brave determined fellows were judiciously posted through the premises. Business was entirely suspended, the shops were all shut, and a solemn stillness pervaded the town. The shutters of the Westgate Hotel windows were closed but the entrance was open and the passage occupied by several gentlemen with staves who acted as special constables, there being no appearance of military force from the exterior of the house. At about nine o'clock the cheering of many voices was heard in the distance from the direction of Stow Hill producing the utmost alarm as evidenced by the countenances of those inhabitants who appeared at their windows. A few minutes after the front ranks of the numerous body of men armed with guns, swords, pikes, bludgeons and a variety of rude weapons made their appearance and wheeled round the corner of the hotel from Stow Hill with more observance of regularity in movement than is usual for rioters to display; an observer who saw the movement down Stow Hill calculates this body of Chartists must have amounted to five thousand men.

When the head of the column arrived at the Westgate, the rear ranks were at the house of Mr. Sallows and they appeared to be almost twelve abreast. The leading ranks then formed in front of the house and a large body made an attempt to enter the yard leading to the stables but found the gates strongly secured against them. They then wheeled to the portico of the inn holding their guns and other weapons in a menacing manner and called out as t'was understood "Give us up the Prisoners" (those that had been captured during the previous night by the special constables). A volley was immediately discharged at the windows of the house which broke almost every pane of glass within the frames on the lower floor and they made a rush into the passage a dense crowd forcing the special constables to fly from the points of their pikes. At this critical moment the soldiers who were in the large lower room of the eastern wing fired over the shutters which were nearly mid-way up the window but it was supposed that the balls passed over the heads of the visitors. The shutters were soon removed and Mr. Philips the undaunted Mayor, Lieutenant Grey and Sergeant Daly of the 45th appeared at the window. The Mayor had the Riot Act in his hand and appeared as if about to address or exhort the insurgents when he received a slug through the left arm (a rather severe flesh wound) near the wrist. Sergeant Daly was wounded in the forehead (with two slugs made from lead apparently taken from a window frame), he was hit on the peak of his cap the stiff leather of which prevented his being killed on the spot. The firing of the troops was steady and murderous both on the rioters in front of the hotel and on those who rushed into the premises. Several unhappy wretches fell in view of the people inside.

During the melee the Mayor was again wounded and had two providential escapes of life. A Chartist was about to pierce his body with a pike when he was shot by a soldier and secondly he was near being shot by one of the military who in the smoke produced by the firing mistaking Mr. Philips for one of the foe levelled his piece at him (then only at half cock) and would have fired but for a person who happily turned the muzzle of the gun aside and the Mayor announcing himself. The heat of the conflict lasted about a quarter of an hour when the defeated Chartists took to their heels in all directions, throwing away their arms and abandoning their dead and dying, and we are credibly informed that the Chartists at the rear of the column up Stow Hill fled across the fields below the church and in all directions scattering their weapons as they went and appearing panic stricken on hearing the roll of the musketry. Many who suffered in the fight crawled away, some exhibiting frightful wounds and glaring eyes wildly crying for mercy and seeking shelter from the charitable; others desperately maimed were carried by the hands of humanity for medical aid, and a few of the miserable objects that were helplessly and mortally wounded continued to writhe in torture, presenting in their gory agonies a dismal and impressive example to any of the political seducers or the seduced who might have been within view and a sickening and melancholy spectacle for the eye of the philanthropist.

Besides the injuries which were unfortunately sustained by Mr. Philips and Sergeant Daly we regret to state that Mr. Henry. Williams, Ironmonger of this town was wounded severely and Mr. Morgan, Draper, of the Waterloo House, Commercial Street received a gun shot wound, the ball was extracted and it is consoling to hear that at the latest moment of our enquiries that the wounded are doing well.

After the dispersal of the rioters, the slain chartists nine in number at the Westgate were placed in the yard of the inn and. presented a deplorable sight. Many of the inhabitants of the town went to see them and curses both loud and deep were uttered against the men who brought the unfortunate wretches to be thus sacrificed in the criminal purpose of forwarding by murder their infamous and destructive projects.

While witnessing this scene a withering passage in the catalogue of human woes took place, a young woman who had forced her way through the crowd of spectators in the yard no sooner got a view of the dead than she uttered a heart-rendering shriek and threw herself upon one of the bodies. The gush of fondness and of sorrow was great, she was dragged from him she loved, the blood of the fallen rioter having smeared her face and arms. There were other pitiable circumstances that might be set down as episodes the recital of which might cause a sigh even from the bosoms where the flame of hate burns but time urges to the recital of the leading facts.

The areas about Newport had literally swarmed with workmen from mining districts armed in various ways and it was said that upwards of ten thousand men within twenty minutes march from the town were waiting orders from the Chartist Chiefs. The Pontypool Road teemed with them and in one quarter alone the hills about Pen-y-lan farm there could not be less than three thousand. Several persons were stopped in coming to town and taken as prisoners and as far as we can learn not injured. A gentleman connected with the Merlin coming from Crindau to Newport was stopped and questioned, he expostulated with the men who had his collar and jostled him but did not experience much violence at the request of a person who seemed to have some influence with the detaining party, he was allowed to enter Newport. Mr. Brough of Pontypool and others were brought from the country and kept as prisoners all night. Numerous houses of parties on the hills were entered and searched for arms and all weapons found there were taken. Some Videttes who were sent from Newport to observe the state of the roads met with rough handling by the Chartists. Two gentlemen had a very narrow escape with their lives after being pursued by armed men in a wood who were urged on to kill them. Mr. Walker of the Parrot was badly wounded in the thigh.

The night was most tempestuous and the rain fell in torrents. The state of the weather, providentially, was a great cause of the failure of concentration amongst the thousands of disaffected. Had the night been favourable there would have been according to numerous concurring statements probably twenty thousand men within an hours march of Newport by three o'clock in the morning. The Chartists and the host of the poor unwilling creatures whom they forced along with them were exposed to the inclemency of the night for hours. Their ammunition was spoilt, and hungry and spiritless they sought shelter in vain.

Many of the scouts who had been prowling about Newport for information during the night were captured by the special constables who in this respect did good service and shall have honourable mention when we are able to ascertain the names of the most active. And above all as fortunate for the cause of Order and justice the insurgent leaders seemed to have egregiously blundered with respect to the movements of their most effective and best armed Chartists.

Had the attack been made as it was resolved upon in the middle of the night or even earlier in the morning before a single soldier was on duty in Newport our readers may judge what would have been the fate of the town. Among the precautionary measures taken by the Mayor on Monday morning were the distribution of public notices, the following with many other bills issued as soon as possible from the Merlin office were circulated through the town and neighbourhood:

Borough of Newport - County of Monmouth

The Justices of the Borough strictly require all persons who have been sworn in as Special Constables of the Borough to attend at the Westgate at nine o'clock this morning in order to perform active duty.

Dated this 4th day of November, 1839
By Order of the Justices.

Our Sovereign Lady the Queen strictly chargeth and commendeth all persons being assembled immediately to disperse themselves and depart to their habitations or to their lawful business upon the pains contained in the Act made in the first year of George for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies.

God Save the Queen

Borough of Newport 4th November, 1839
The Riot Act has been read by Order of Justice.

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