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Richard Benfield

The People’s Charter of 1838 included a demand for universal manhood suffrage, equal electoral districts, secret ballots, annual elections, payment of MPs and the abolition of the property qualification for MPs. On 4 November 1839, nearly 10,000 Chartist sympathisers armed with homemade weapons marched on Newport, intent on demanding the six points of the Charter. Among the marchers was 19-year-old Richard Benfield, a miner from Tredegar, who was born in Wollaston in 1819.

In his book, The Last Rising: the Newport Insurrection of 1839, David Jones reveals that in October 1838 the organisers held meetings in the Forest of Dean where Foresters promised assistance and that two men from the Forest were among the 35 delegates attending one of the final planning meetings at Blackwood on 1 November.

The rebellion failed when troops opened fire killing 22 Chartists. Benfield was among the men captured. In the aftermath, 200 or more Chartists were arrested and 14, including Benfield, were indicted for high treason. All three main leaders, John Frost, Zephaniah Williams, and William Jones, were found guilty and were sentenced at the Shire Hall in Monmouth to be hung, drawn and quartered. Following a huge public outcry, the executions were commuted to transportation for life. Benfield and four others were sentenced to transportation for life, later commuted to three years imprisonment with hard labour. Thirteen others were imprisoned with hard labour for up to a year.

Richard Benfield at his Trial

Richard Benfield and his comrades were transferred from Monmouth to Millbank Penitentiary. Benfield was granted an early release after a year and returned to Wollaston where he married and tried to scratch a living on a 6-acre plot of land. He then returned to Tredegar to work in the iron mines where he continued to agitate for the Charter. He married Mary Bray in 1944 and had six children. The family emigrated to America in 1866 where he died in 1885.

 

 

 

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