“Yesterday”, records John Tregurthen Short in his diary, “arrived the Usk steamer from Bristol, having on Board the three Chartists (Frost, Jones and Williams) who were condemned to death for high treason after the late riots at Newport, on the voyage to join the convict-ship at Portsmouth, the sentence having been commuted to transportation. At night the steamer went into Hayle, where she now lies, no one being allowed to see the prisoners”.
The three men had been identified as leaders of an 'insurrection' in Newport in autumn 1839. Frost, Jones and Williams were arraigned before a Special Commission and sentenced to death on January 16th 1840. The sentence was later commuted and on May 3rd 1856 all three were pardoned and returned home.
John Frost, Zephaniah Williams and William Jones were in fact the last men in Britain to be sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. The legality of the process which led to their convictions was contested throughout their trials and on February 1st the primary objection raised by the defence, which had been set aside for later consideration during the trial, was heard before a panel of 15 judges. The judges' finding was that the objection was valid but that it had been dealt with incorrectly. A compromise was thought necessary, not least because of the weight of public opinion against the death penalty, and the sentence was commuted.
Over 100 men were transported to Tasmania for crimes associated with Chartism: 10 in 1839-40; at least 85 in 1842-3; and 16 in 1848.
The Newport rising followed a concerted attack on the Chartist movement which saw many of the leaders arrested and much violence meted out by the troops deployed to 'keep the peace'.
Why the Usk put in to Hayle is unknown, possibly it was simply because the vessel's skipper did not wish to sail around Land's End at night. But possibly there was another reason. One of the Chartist leaders arrested in 1839 was William Lovett, who had been born in Newlyn in 1800. The identity of the passengers on the Usk seems to have been common knowledge, were they being used to serve as an example to the notoriously unruly tinners of west Cornwall?
Chartism was a movement for political and social reform in the mid 19th century. The name arises from the Peoples Charter of 1838 which called for six key reforms:
A vote for all men over the age of 21, of sound mind and not undergoing punishment for a crime
A secret ballot to protect the elector in the exercise of his vote
No property qualification for members of parliament
Payment for members of parliament
Equal sized constituencies
Annual parliamentary elections
William Lovett of Newlyn was one of the twelve authors of the Charter.
Universal manhood suffrage was not won until 1918
Secret ballot became law in 1872
Property qualification for MPs dropped in 1858
Payment of MPs came about in 1911
Equal sized constituencies resulted from the 1885 Redistribution Act
Annual parliamentary elections was never achieved and probably never will be.
History of the Chartist Movement 1837-1854, R.C. Gammage, Merlin, 1976
The Chartist Legacy, Eds Owen Ashton, Robert Fyson and Stephen Roberts, Merlin, 1999
Popular Movements c 1830-1850, ed J.T. Ward, Macmillan, 1970