Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Frost, John (d.1877)

FROST, JOHN (d. 1877), chartist, was the son of John and Sarah Frost, who kept the Royal Oak public-house in Mill Street, Newport, Monmouthshire, for nearly forty years. When about sixteen years of age he was apprenticed to a tailor in Cardiff. On his return to Newport in 1811 he commenced business as a tailor and draper, and shortly afterwards married the widow of a Mr. Geach, a timber dealer, by whom Frost had two sons and five daughters. In 1816 he began first to take an interest in politics, and from that time advocated the principles which were subsequently embodied in the People's Charter. In 1822 he suffered six months' imprisonment for libel. He took an active part in the struggle for reform, and when the Municipal Corporation Act came into operation Frost was elected a member of the town council of Newport. He was appointed a magistrate for the borough in 1835, and in the following year filled the office of mayor. In 1838 he was elected as the delegate to represent the chartists of Monmouthshire at the national convention of the working classes which met in London for the first time on 4 Feb. 1839. A few weeks afterwards he was removed from the commission of the peace by Lord John Russell, who was then home secretary, for using seditious language at local meetings (see the correspondence between Russell and Frost, given at length in the Annual Register, 1839, Chron. pp. 22–6). In consequence of this Frost's popularity among the chartists was greatly increased, and his name became well known throughout the country as one of the leaders of the chartist movement. During the course of the year a number of the more prominent chartists were convicted of sedition, and on 14 Sept. the convention, weakened in numbers by resignations and arrests, was dissolved on the casting vote of Frost, who acted as chairman on that occasion. Frost, however, was resolved to appeal to physical force, and on 4 Nov. led a large body of working men chiefly miners, armed with guns and bludgeons, into Newport. Two other divisions, commanded respectively by Jones, a watch-maker of Pontypool, and Williams, a beershop keeper of Nantyglo, were to have joined forces with Frost in his attack upon the town, but the men of Nantyglo arrived late, and those from Pontypool never came. Frost with his division attacked the Westgate hotel, where, under the direction of Phillips, the mayor of the town, some thirty men of the 45th regiment and a number of special constables had been posted. The ill-armed and undisciplined mob were easily repulsed, twenty chartists being shot dead and many others being wounded. Frost was captured the same evening, and was tried before Lord-chief-justice Tindal, Baron Parke, and Justice Williams at a special assize which was opened at Monmouth on 10 Dec. 1839. He was defended by Sir Frederick Pollock and Fitzroy Kelly, and after a lengthy trial was found guilty of levying war against the queen. On 16 Jan. 1840 Frost, Williams, and Jones were sentenced to be hung, drawn, and quartered. On the 25th and the two following days a technical point which had been raised during the course of the trial was argued before all the fifteen judges in the court of exchequer chamber. The conviction was upheld, but owing to the considerable difference of opinion among the judges the capital sentence was on 1 Feb. commuted for one of transportation for life. Frost was sent to Van Diemen's Land, where he spent nearly fifteen years working in the gangs, serving as a police clerk, and in other capacities. Several efforts were from time to time made, especially by Thomas Slingsby Duncombe [q. v.] in the House of Commons, to procure the release of Frost and his associates. In 1854 he obtained a conditional pardon, the condition being that he should not return to the queen's dominions. He thereupon went to America, but receiving a free pardon in May 1856, he returned to England in July of that year. On 31 Aug. he delivered at Padiham two lectures on the ‘Horrors of Convict Life,’ which were afterwards printed, and in the following year he published ‘A Letter to the People of Great Britain and Ireland on Transportation, showing the effects of irresponsible power on the Physical and Moral Conditions of Convicts.’ Though it appears from internal evidence that it was his intention to write a series of letters on this subject, no more were published. Frost went to reside at Stapleton, near Bristol, where he lived for many years in comparative retirement, and died on 29 July 1877, being upwards of ninety years of age. Some account of the general convention and a list of the delegates will be found in the Place MSS. (Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 27821).

[The Rise and Fall of Chartism in Monmouthshire (1840); the Dublin Review, viii. 271–85; Gurney's Trial of John Frost for High Treason (1840); Walpole's Hist. of England (1886), iv. 46–60; Molesworth's Hist. of England (1874), ii. chap. v.; Gammage's Hist. of the Chartist Movement (1854); Life of Thomas Slingsby Duncombe (1868), i. 288–9, 294–5, 301, ii. 108–9, 194–5; Ann. Register, 1839; Haydn's Dict. of Dates (1881), p. 554; Daily News, 31 July 1877; Bristol Times and Mirror, 30 July and 4 Aug. 1877; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

G. F. R. B.