life stories

John Frost, 1784 – 1877

Former mayor of Newport, Monmouthshire, and 1839 Convention delegate

john frost chartistJohn Frost was Newport’s delegate to the General Convention of the Industrious Classes (the First Chartist Convention), and one of 12 delegates whose portrait (left) was drawn for William Lovett’s newspaper The Charter.

Born and brought up in Newport, Frost was apprenticed as a tailor, working in the town and in London before establishing his own successful draper’s business.

After a series of disputes with a local solicitor who also served as town clerk, in 1823 Frost was imprisoned for six months for libel. On his release from prison, he turned to radical politics, and in 1835 became both a town councillor and magistrate.

Frost’s politics did not go down well; he was forced to resign as mayor in 1837, and while serving as a Convention delegate, was stripped of his role as magistrate by the Home Secretary, Lord Melbourne after a furious exchange of correspondence.

Returning to Wales after the Convention, Frost became the leading figure in the Newport Rising of 1839, for which he was convicted of high treason and sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to transportation for life.

Following a nationwide campaign over many years, Frost was granted a pardon in 1854 on condition that he never return to Britain. The condition was lifted in 1856, and Frost sailed for Bristol, living in retirement at Stapleton until his death at the advanced age of 93.

He is buried in the Church of the Holy Trinity with St Edmund at Horfield, Bristol.

The profile of John Frost below appeared alongside his portrait in the 10 March 1839 issue of The Charter.

Charter masthead

Portraits of Delegates No. 2: John Frost

The subject of our present sketch is about fifty years of age, five feet six or seven in height, somewhat stoutly built, and apparently possessing much muscular strength. Although Mr Frost’s face is by no means handsome, its benevolence makes it highly pleasing, notwithstanding the powerful expression of purpose which is its predominant characteristic. His manners are quiet and courteous, gentlemanly, but singularly independent. The late correspondence between Lord John Russell and Mr Frost has increased the popularity of the latter, which his great and various exertions in the cause of civil and religious liberty have long since acquired for him. His manly reply to the inquisitorial, unnecessary, and unbecoming letter from the Home Secretary, was no more than was to be expected from a man of his strength of mind and consciousness of moral rectitude and purity of intention and conduct. Mr Frost, who first had his attention called to politics and the demands of his suffering countrymen by Cobbett’s Letter to Old George Rose, began to take an active part in the struggle for liberty, in the year 1817; and he has continued, unceasingly, to devote himself to the attainment of political knowledge, from that time to the present. He was very active in the contest between the Duke of Beaufort and the Monmouth burgesses; and also in the first contests for the boroughs of Monmouthshire, between the Marquis of Worcester and Mr Muggeridge, seconding the nomination of the latter gentleman. In 1822, he published several pamphlets concerning the conduct of persons high in authority, and was prosecuted for libel in the Court of King’s Bench, which sentenced him to six months’ imprisonment in Cold-Bath Fields. In 1831, his endeavours to assist the passing of the Reform Bill were unceasing; for, although he was thoroughly convinced of its insufficiency, he was aware that it was as well to get by instalments what he could not obtain in the lump. During the elections of that memorable year, and the following ones, he was most industrious. When the change took place in the Municipal Corporation he was elected a member of the council for the Borough of Newport, and by it was recommended to the Secretary of State, as a proper person to be a justice of the peace; and, in consequence, he received his magisterial appointment. In 1837, he was elected mayor, and in 1838, became a member of the Working Men’s Association, which had been formed in the August of that year. When the Poor Law Bill came into operation in the borough of Newport, he was elected a guardian, and commenced a course of determined opposition to the new workhouse system. Mr Frost has been an advocate of the principles contained in the People’s Charter for a period of upwards of twenty years, and he is not only a sincere member of the Convention, but one of the most industrious and talented delegates of which it is composed.

[Source: The Charter, Sunday 10 March 1839]