1821 Letter from John Frost to Lord Tredegar

Letter from John Frost to Sir Charles Morgan, Bart.,

also to Rowley Lascelles, William Phillips, and Charles Morgan and others.


It is not from the respect which I feel for you, nor is it, because I think you deserve the appellation of Gentlemen, that I bestow it on you. It is not the possession of thirty thousand a year, nor is it a smiling countenance, with a heart harder than stone, which constitute the Gentleman. Nor is it, being in the receipt of a thousand a year of the public money, for which the receiver does nothing, that can give a fair claim to this title. I can hardly think, that a blustering, swaggering gait, a consequential important air, a head without brains sufficient to put two ideas together; these qualities, valuable as they may appear to you, are not enough, there must be something more to deserve the name. If these be sufficient to constitute the Gentleman, surely a whipper-in will never lay claim to the title. However, as you have I suppose no very clear ideas on the subject, I will try to enlighten you.

A Real Gentleman never values himself on his birth. A man of understanding knows that family pride, is family folly. He knows that the ancestors of those who call themselves noble, acquired their honours by rapine and plunder; and that the wealth of the great was acquired, in the same way as their honours; he knows too, that receipts for the property of the illustrious were written in the blood of former possessors, a real Gentleman is always civil and obliging; he never treats any one with contempt on account of his poverty. So far from thinking himself a superior being he is well aware of his own imperfections; and always inclined to view those of others with a favourable eye. This is but a short sketch, and feeling no inclination to lengthen it, I shall proceed to address you on your conduct as Commissioners.

In 1819, Morgan Harrhy, a Sawyer, residing at Newport, took the Machen turnpike gate, at the yearly rent of £126, and his brother William Harrhy became surety for the performance of the contract. At the expiration of the three years, for which the gate was taken, Morgan Harrhy was deficient of £30. Morgan expected that this sum would be allowed him, according to the promise of the trustees. When the time expired, the whole of the money was demanded, and because it was not forthcoming, an action was brought against Morgan and his bail. Now Messrs. Commissioners you shall hear the consequence of your being guided by Lawyers.

A bailiff was sent to take Morgan’s goods in execution, and the first thing he saw was, Morgan’s wife, far advanced in a state of pregnancy. The effect which the sight of the Bailiff had on the woman, you shall hear in the man’s own words. “If I had known” said the officer, “I would not have gone into that house for a Hundred Pounds, the woman’s belly is up to her chin, and SHE IS ALMOST FRIGHTENED TO DEATH.” The fright brought on a premature labour, and while the woman was confined, the Bailiff came to take her husband to prison. This finished the business, and Morgan’s wife became a corpse. The infant survived. I am now writing in good health and spirits; but if I thought that I should not see justice done for this deed, I really believe I should break my heart. If men can regard actions of this sort with indifference, there is nothing which they do not deserve to suffer. Can anyone think of a woman placed in that situation without feeling? We have as little reason to expect compassion from Sheriff’s officers, as from any men; but even the heart of a Bailiff melted before this scene. Would not men possessing anything, short of hearts of stone have waited for the recovery of the woman, before they sent the husband to prison? Or would they not have considered, how the wife was to be maintained in that situation if deprived of the labour of her husband? Oh no, wait aye? Morgan Harrhy and his brother were sent to jail, and they have left nine children behind them, to be maintained by someone.

If you suppose that folks cannot see as far through a millstone as you, you deceive yourselves. People know that bringing actions, and sending men to jail give work for a Lawyer: and it is also known, that if the persons sent to prison have no cash, the Lawyer will be paid out of public money. That is, the bill will be deducted from the proceeds of the turnpike gates. Here’s the evil. If there were no professional men connected with the trust the Machen gate would have been taken up, or at least Morgan and William Harrhy would not have been sent to jail. But, pray Sirs, what benefit will the public derive from sending these men to prison. They have no property, suppose they had. Suppose William Harry had by twenty years hard labour saved a little money, would you take it from his seven children? Would you pay the Lawyer’s bill out of the hard gotten earnings of this man? Yes, if he had seventy children, his shirt would be taken off his back. One moment and I have done. Morgan Harrhy’s wife is dead: she cannot be restored; she is waiting for you at the tribunal where Lawyers will be of no use. Morgan and William Harrhy are alive, they are able, active, resolute men, and they will have justice.

John Frost

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