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The Speech made by Sir Thomas Phillips (23rd September 1840)

Nearly a year after his wounding in the battle at the Westgate Inn, Sir Thomas returned to Newport to rapturous acclamation. He had been invited to attend a civic event at the National School (Girls) in Commercial Street to receive a very fine silver service valued at over £800, paid for by more than 600 grateful subscribers.

 

He arrived at 2pm to find a large crowd assembled to greet him in the hall, where the plates, dishes and vases of the service were laid out.

 

Attention focussed on the candelabrum which rested upon a triangular base - on the one side, represented in bas relief, they could see the attack upon the Westgate Inn and on the other side, the arms of Sir Thomas Phillips.

 

The great and the good of the county were there, many to make speeches expressing gratitude to Sir Thomas for his stand at the Westgate Inn. The tone of their speeches matched the triumphalist statement engraved on the candelabrum base. This gift was

 

TESTIMONY OF THEIR HIGH ADMIRATION OF THE FORESIGHT AND FIRMNESS DISPLAYED BY HIM DURING HIS MAYORALTY AT NEWPORT, MONMOUTHSHIRE IN 1839, AND ESPECIALLY DURlNG THE NIGHT OF THE 3RD AND THE MORNING OF THE 4TH OF NOVEMBER, WHEREBY HE WAS ENABLED, UNDER DIVINE PROVIDENCE, TO FRUSTRATE A TREASONABLE DESIGN AGAINST THE CONSTITUTlON, AND TO DELIVER THE TOWN AND COUNTRY FROM IMMINENT DANGER.

 

Sir Thomas’s speech was refreshingly different. During his time in London, he had taken seriously the preparation and training required in order to succeed in his new career as a barrister.

Once he was over the niceties, required to open his speech, he got into his stride and demonstrated a new tone of voice. He had become a man of high public service, adopting a manner of speaking that he had not hitherto evidenced.

 

He spoke highly of the role of the armed forces:

 

A large army garrisoning the mining and manufacturing districts of this kingdom may and will not only protect society against the violence of a class, but will protect the members who compose that class from the destruction to themselves...

 

But, and there was a but:

 

... force may restrain violence, and thus afford time for reflection to operate, it cannot change opinion. To influence opinion we require moral agency and where are the moral agents, in many districts of the kingdom, by which either government or society can be defended from the dangers to which both are exposed.

 

He placed his finger on the social problem of the time:

 

The present generation has witnessed a rapid growth of population hitherto wholly unexampled, and the formation of towns, villages, and densely-peopled hamlets... which did not, forty years ago, comprise 1000 inhabitants, are now more than 20,000.

He placed his faith in schooling, religious education and moral rectitude:

But so far from the means of sound moral and religious training for the people having kept pace with the growth of the population, there are not, in the parishes to which I allude, nor are there in other similar districts, any adequate means of teaching the young or the old their duties to God or man.

He blamed inadequacy of provision on:

 

Separated as is society in this country at the present day, by political and sectarian divisions, the active and effectual interference of the State to supply the moral void may be exposed to serious difficulty; but difficulties should neither limit nor obstruct the exertions of individuals; and if it be asked, What is the measure of their duty?

 

And called for:

 

… every man who is placed in the relation of master to others, is bound by the obligation which that relation creates, to see that all in his employment are furnished with the means to obtain sound moral and religious instruction, whether those servants are limited to a few domestics, or extend to the numerous and busy population which surrounds a colliery or an extensive iron-work.

 

For master and servant:

 

… that relation presupposes other duties on either side than the performance of a given quantity of work by the one, and the payment by the other of a stipulated price, and unless the moral duties which the relation creates are faithfully discharged, the future condition of this country must be a source of constant anxiety and serious apprehension. … it is to the hurricane alone that we can compare the violent passions of tumultuous men, ignorant of their duties, impatient of restraint, dissatisfied with their own condition, jealous of others, and resolved on change.

 

By such action, we:

 

… furnish to all the poor around us the means of sound moral and religious training. We shall thus certainly acquire for ourselves elevation of character, and may hope to communicate to others - insensibly it may be, but steadily - the feelings by which we are ourselves inspired.

 

Our united efforts, to show all men that neither selfishness in us, nor ingratitude in them, shall ever poison our kindly intercourse with the poor, will surely in time conquer hostility: and produce gratitude; and they will at least afford the strongest, the surest, means to restore to the poor man contentment with his lot, and to unite in the bonds of mutual affection and mutual interest the various classes of this great community.

 

Let us, by cherishing what is valuable, encouraging what is honest, praising what is of good repute, amongst the poor around us, strengthen good resolutions, produce kindly feelings, and restore that exchange of good offices between the rich and the poor which once formed the boast of our own, and must ever form the best security of every country

 

‘Dinner followed at the Westgate Hotel’ reports the Monmouthshire Merlin (26 September 1840).

 

What the audience made of the speech we are not told. Charles Octavius Swinnerton Morgan, leading magistrate and the youngest son of Sir Charles Morgan, along with his enforcer Thomas Jones Phillips, must have disagreed. His speech was clearly questioning the wisdom of public policy, as practiced locally. For during 1840 Morgan and Phillips were in hot pursuit of Chartists. They had successfully stopped the release of Henry Vincent and sent him back to prison on further charges. They had brought to book the O’Rorkes, both junior and senior and at that very time in September, Wright Beatty, another leading working class agitator, had been captured.

 

This is not to suggest that Sir Thomas opposed the punishment of Frost, Williams and Jones, but rather like the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Nicholas Tindal, he probably believed that these middle class leaders had misled the ignorant and therefore deserved to serve a serious punishment - probably preferring transportation to the barbaric sentence that the courts were obliged to inflict in cases of High Treason.

 

His week’s stay at Windsor Castle in December and his long sojourn in London after the January trials at Monmouth had had their influence. He had been circulating as a celebrity in a very rarefied atmosphere, compared with south Wales. He was engaged in a period of intellectual reawakening, placing his faith in education and religion. Faced with an intractably ‘disturbed’ Wales, schooling was now rising to the top of the Whig political agenda. He was, unwittingly, on a road heading to Brad y Llyfrau Gleision (1847)

 

For further reading on Sir Thomas Phillips, see CHARTISM eMAG no 17