Jean de la Croix
Jean de la Croix 1796-1869 Journalist and historian
The son of French parents, ironmonger Claude Marie Lacroix and Marie Marguerite Berthé, de la Croix added the 'de' to his surname. He was born in a house in the Royal Square and baptised as an infant in the French Roman Catholic Chapel and the Town Church.
After his education at Plees' Academy and an unknown college in England, he tried his hand at tailoring, farming, teaching, editing, writing and other occupations, before settling as a writer and editor, if it could be said that he ever settled.
His vitriolic and abusive writing style caused him to fall out with many of the people he wrote about and with his own editors. He described the editor of the Chronique de Jersey as "a demoniac whose mind is quite unhinged", the editor of Impartiel as "a beardless young imbecile", the editor of the Jersey News as a "vile bankrupt who, while boasting of the number of his subscribers, is trying to persuade his English creditors to accept a 50 per cent loss" and the editor of the Jersey Times as a "venemous reptile, which drives its fangs into the hand that feeds it".
He would write for whichever publisher would pay the most, and remarkably he returned to the service of several he had vowed never to work for again, editing a number of newspapers himself, and by all accounts, working for two rival publications at the same time.
The public victims of his vitriol did not take his insults lying down, and he was once horsewhipped in the street in front of his schoolchildren, and occasionally fought in public with his opponents.
Doubtless history would have ignored him had he not himself been a historian of considerable repute. He was a painstaking researcher and based his work on original authorities, rather than copying authors who had preceded him.
He wrote and published La Ville de St Helier, Les Etats, Guide du voyageur francais a Jersey and then the first three parts of Jersey, ses Antiquites, ses Institutions, son Histoire, which covered the history of Jersey to the reign of Queen Mary. The fourth part, on which he was working, was never published.
He died in 1869 in the General Hospital.
The following is the entry for Jean de la Croix in George Balleine's Biographical Dictionary of Jersey
Jean Nicolas Rene de la Croix (1796-1869) was a controversial journalist and important historian.
Born in a house in the Royal Square on 25 November 1796, of French parents, Claude Marie Lacroix, ironmonger, and Marie Marguerite Berth, he added the ‘de’ to the family name which his father and brother continued to use.
[Editor’s note: We have been unable to find any record for a brother of Jean Nicolas, whose baptism record names him simply as Jean, but a sister, Jeanne Henriette, was born in 1801.]
He was baptised as an infant by the priest in charge of the French Roman Catholic Chapel and again in the Town Church, at the age of nine.
He was educated at Flees Academy, and later at a College in England. He then tried many ways of earning a living.
"He has been in turn", said the Impartial in 1846 "tailor, farmer, schoolmaster, editor, author, musician, sacristan, second-hand dealer, then once more editor".
In 1832 he compiled for the States a catalogue of the Public Library. In 1847 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the post of Librarian. But his large and rapidly increasing family kept him poverty-stricken.
[Editor’s note: Despite George Balleine’s reference to ‘a large and rapidly increasing family’, we have only been able to identify four children of de la Croix and his wife Harriet Cleverly – Alfred Augustin, Amelia, Charles and Frederick.]
His house was in Hilgrove Lane, then the worst slum in the town. Once, when someone whom he had libelled went round to break his windows, he failed, because he could not find a whole pane of glass in them.
Journalism was clearly the work in which he was most at home. He wrote French fluently and forcibly, and his mind was well-stored and nimble, but two things wrecked his influence: the violence of the personal abuse in which he habitually indulged — he described the editor of the Chronique as "a demoniac whose mind is quite unhinged", the editor of the Impartial as "a beardless young imbecile", the editor of the Jersey News as a "vile bankrupt, who, while boasting of the number of his subscribers, is trying to persuade his English creditors to accept a 50 per cent loss", and the editor of the Jersey Times as a "venomous reptile, which drives its fangs into the hand that feeds it" - and the fact that he was ready to write for whichever side paid best.
"During the ten years we have known him", said the Impartial, "we have seen him serve both parties in turn; we have seen him pass to the service of men he had previously insulted; we have seen him sacked for trying to serve more than one master at a time".
First he edited for some time the Gazette de Cesare, then he moved to the Chronique, the leading Rose paper; then to Mourant's Gazette. For ten years (1833-43) he edited the Constitutionnel, the organ of the Laurel Party. But in 1843 the Chronique declared that it held proof that he had also been secretly editing the Gazette, and inserting articles in one paper, which he answered in the other.
This was too much for the owners of the Constitutionnel, and they dismissed him; but good journalists were scarce in Jersey, and three years later they took him back again.
He was constantly in hot water. In 1838 he was horsewhipped in the street in the presence of his schoolchildren for an article he had written. In 1840 he demanded an explanation from H L Manuel, who had called him a "penny-a-liner", but retired with "two black eyes and a bloody nose". The fight is described with great gusto in the Miroir of 4 April.
In 1842 Harriet Cleverly, his wife, complained to the police that he beat her, and he was bound over to keep the peace, and had his whip confiscated. In 1846 a stolen axe was discovered in his second-hand store, and he was arrested as a receiver of stolen property.
He was a grubby, disreputable little man. Yet the island owes much to him. He had a genius for patient, painstaking research. For more than twenty years - so he tells us in Ville de St Helier he had been pertinaciously searching fof material for his histories. It was not easy work. Country folk did not welcome this inquisitive little stranger, who asked permission to examine their family parchments.
They suspected that he hoped to find something wrong in their title-deeds. But in spite of snubs he persisted. He discovered and printed many documents that have since disappeared. In one farmhouse, for example, when a woman emptied out for him a sack full of contracts, he found among them the original ordination-certificate, dated 1497, of Jean Hue, the founder of St Mannelier.
Previous books on the history of the island, like that of his old schoolmaster, Plees' Account of Jersey, had been mainly Falle and water.
De La Croix's writings are based on original authorities. They are, of course, far from perfect. Pioneer work is almost bound to contain inaccuracies, and, as he pleads, they were "written in haste amid grave preoccupations", with the printer's devil always at his elbow demanding the next instalment.
They are not well-planned or balanced. It was absurd to devote ten pages to Victoria's drive through the Town. Occasionally he lapses into the worst type of gutter-journalism, as when he interrupts his account of the Reformation by an attack on two contemporaries, "a rich and narrow-minded public functionary" (probably Charles Allier, the Greffier), and "a metal-worker whose name is the opposite of a circle" (obviously George Square), whom he accuses of having plotted to burn the two Roman Catholic Chapels.
But with all their faults De La Croix’s books were the most valuable contribution yet made to Jersey history. And, however arrogant he might be as a journalist, as an author he was becomingly modest. He merely claimed that he had "collected for some future historian much scattered material, and laid foundations for an edifice yet to be built".
First, in 1845, came La Ville de St Helier, published in six shilling parts of 40 pages each. This was followed by Les Etats, also in shilling parts, in 1847. In 1851 he published Guide du Voyageur Francais a Jersey. Then in 1859 appeared great work, Jersey, ses Antiquites, ses Institutions, son Histoire in three twelve shilling volumes. This carried the history he island to the end of the reign of Mary. He began to prepare a fourth volume, which was never completed.
Reprints of this work can be found today at online booksellers. The first two volumes can be found in digitised form online but we have been unable to find any source for the third volume.
One work of his fortunately never saw the light of day. In he announced that he was about to publish The Black Book of Jersey , in which he would reveal hideous scandals in the lives of all his enemies. He published the Preface in the Constitutionnel, but no one saw any more of it.
He died on 16 August 1869 in the General Hospital, and according to the Hospital records, was "buried by his relations", His was not a pauper's funeral.