A stormy three week voyage on board the Usk took the prisoners to Portsmouth and the York prison ship, before transfer to the Mandarin convict ship, where Frost was immediately admitted to the ship’s hospital. They were visited by a journalist from the Beacon who reported that, ‘... they are separate from the other convicts, and they inhabit a cabin of twelve feet in length, and about eight feet in breadth, having three comfortable sleeping berths, a bathing machine, and other conveniences, although dressed in convicts’ attire they were not shackled. When visited today at noon Frost was reclining on his berth, and appeared very dejected, but his companions were in good spirits, they had a large supply of books, from which Jones and Williams apparently had been amusing themselves.’
Other accounts show that they were, in fact, all far from in good spirits, and that Williams was probably suicidal, as well as open to suggestions of mutiny. Frost had been given a letter suggesting that the ship be seized by the convicts and taken to South America. He thought it was probably a trap set for him and dissuaded Williams from taking part. It’s likely other pressure was put on the prisoners during the five month voyage. Zephaniah Williams, who had professed his innocence throughout the trial, allegedly confessed to the ship’s doctor, revealing that the capture of Newport was to have been a signal to Chartists across the country for a general uprising.
As Frost languished on the convict hulk, he wrote to his wife: ‘The value of life depends on the use we can be to others; if we cannot use it for the good of family or society it is hardly worth defending.’
Meanwhile his enemy Sir Thomas Phillips was knighted by the Queen for his brave and defiant stand at the Westgate. Seren Gomer reported that Queen Victoria commended him greatly for his wise, determined and unflinching conduct in calming the riot at Newport. He dined with the Queen and the Privy Council, slept at the Palace and in the morning was shown through the splendid rooms, appearing in better health than expected after his recent adventures. ‘His left arm and hand, which were cruelly wounded in the attack on the Westgate, still trouble him badly at times’, wrote the correspondent.
Lieutenant Gray was promoted to Captain; the military were honoured with a civic dinner at the Westgate Hotel and were thanked at ‘one of the most numerous and respectable assemblies that ever took place in Newport ...held at Williams’ great room, Commercial Street. Most of the magistrates and gentry, and all the merchants and respectable tradesmen were present; the mayor presided and thanks were given to the army.’
Text and artwork from Voices for the Vote: Shire Hall and the story of Chartism in south Wales. Reproduced by kind permission of Monmouthshire County Council/Shire Hall, Monmouth. The book costs £4.99 and can be obtained from Shire Hall Monmouth, Newport Museum or Gwent Archives