Chaos ensues in the Newport Rising
Broiling tensions erupt into violence in south Wales
Inthe late 1830s, south Wales was not a happy place. Thousands lived in grinding poverty, while the government’s rejection of the People’s Charter of 1838 – which demanded the right to vote for working men – had provoked intense political discontent. In May 1839, the Chartist leader Henry Vincent had been arrested in Monmouth, and his conviction and imprisonment later that summer inflamed local opinion. By early November 1839, Welsh radicals were ready to move – and so began the last armed rebellion in British history.
Sunday 3 November was a day of rising tension. Down the valleys streamed thousands of marchers, although pouring rain meant that the turnout was smaller than the organisers had hoped for. In Newport, the authorities, anticipating trouble, swore in 500 special constables and stationed dozens of soldiers at the Westgate Hotel, where they were reported to be holding Chartist prisoners. But it was not until the small hours of the next morning that the Chartist march, now at least 7,000 strong, arrived in the town.
What followed was bedlam. Having divided into two vast streams, the crowd reunited in front of the Westgate Hotel, where the guests would usually have been eating breakfast. After a great deal of shouting and cheering, they promptly laid siege to the hotel. Gunshots echoed back and forth between armed demonstrators and the soldiers within: “Nothing,” one observer told The Times, “can heighten the horror of the scene at this moment.” The town’s mayor, who attempted to read the Riot Act, was badly wounded by Chartist musket-fire, but the soldiers’ superior discipline and firepower won the day. By the time the radicals fell back, 22 had been killed and dozens were injured. The rising’s leaders were sentenced to death by hanging and quartering, commuted to transportation to Tasmania for life. Newport’s mayor, however, ended up with a knighthood.