Newport Rising eyewitnesses discovered
Testimonies of the last large-scale armed demonstration in the UK have been unearthed after nearly 200 years.
In 1839, around 4,000 Chartists marched from Newport to Gwent to demand democracy and the right to vote by secret ballot.
In what has come to be known as Newport Rising, armed soldiers fired at the crowd, killing 22 protesters and injuring dozens more.
The leaders of the march were found guilty of treason and were ordered to be hanged, pulled and quartered. The sentence was then commuted to deportation.
Transcripts of battle testimony were used in court during the Chartist trials.
They were unearthed by the Wales Archives and until recently they were archived in their original, unreadable form between the Newport Reference Library and the Gwent Archives.
The statements were transcribed by volunteers from the Gwent Archives as part of a project with the National Library of Wales and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
They detail the battle that took place on November 4, 1839, when thousands of men marched from the Monmouthshire valleys to the Westgate Hotel in Newport in an attempt to secure the release of five of them who were arrested in the hotel.
Records show the march was led by John Frost, Zephaniah Williams and William Jones, and when the Chartists arrived at the Westgate Hotel they were confronted by 500 special agents and soldiers from the 45th Regiment.
Thomas Hawkins, a tin plate maker from Bassaleg, wrote: “I witnessed the effect of the attack on the Westgate Inn, saw nine corpses lying in the stables belonging to and adjoining the Westgate. Inn.
“I saw the mayor on a bed at the Westgate Inn, he had been injured and when I saw him his laundry was covered in blood.”
Alfred Tibbs, a Newport employee, said: “I saw a great number of men at – my estimate about 5,000 men descend – Stow Hill.
“Everything I saw was armed, some with pikes, some with guns and other weapons.
“I saw a person fall from a shot fired at him from the window. I saw a total of I think nine corpses in Westgate and outside.
“I observed that a general shooting took place by the crowd outside before any shooting took place by the military inside.”
The testimonies are kept online at the People’s Collection Wales and offer a unique insight into the Welsh Valley communities and the Chartist campaign for democratic reform.
They were shared as part of Explore Your Archive week, organized by the UK Archives and Records Association.
Rhiannon Phillips, who works at the Gwent Archives, said: “This year we will be highlighting these many testimonies from witnesses to the Chartist uprising of 1839.
“Having the opportunity to see them up close is an opportunity to get closer to the history of our nation.
“Other items highlighted this year include the survey of the Barony of Abergavenny in 1821 and a message in a bottle found in the foundations of the Penallt War Memorial. “