Jersey's abundant agriculture

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This article by Philip Stevens, published in the 1982 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise records the views of Jersey agriculture expressed by a succession of 'experts', both visiting and local, from the 18th century onwards

"You cannot go 100 yards in the interior without being compelled to admit that you are among past masters at farming", wrote Dubost, a Frenchman who studied Jersey's argiculture in 1871. The English writer William Bear was in no doubt that, even if potato culture were eclipsed, Jersey would continue to hold a foremost place in the agricultural world. Now that Jersey's agriculture is threatened on all sides, as the fingers of creeping suburbanisation reach to every corner of the island, it is as well to remember that, particularly in the 19th Century, Jersey was held up as a model of successful farming.

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Fertile islands

The compiler of Magna Britannia (1720) found the islands fertile, Jersey more so than Guernsey, whose inhabitants neglected the land, to "follow Navigation and Commerce for a more uncertain gain, with much toil and application". Inglis (1834), though he thought Jersey's farming methods backward, had to admit that its productivity, reflected in the high rental of land, was greater than that of England. Lavergne (1855) claimed that Jersey was three times more productive than the adjacent departments of Manche and Cotes du Nord, although climat, sol, produits, race d'hommes, tout se ressemble. Charassin, a French agronomist, calculated that if France were as well cultivated as Jersey, it could support 70 million people, all of Europe (Hugo).

With the introduction of glass and potatoes, produce became even more abundant. On a visit to Jersey in 1886, Bear recorded that the monetary returns of Mr Bashford's 13 acres of vineries in St Saviour 'greatly exceed those of an ordinary English farm of 1,300 acres'. Prince Peter Kropotkin, the Russian revolutionary, referred to Mr Bashford's vineries, which he visited in 1890, as 'the glory of Jersey'.

"In 1890, on 3 May, exquisite grapes began to be cut in Mr Bashford's vineries, and the crop continued till October. In other houses, cartloads of peas had already been gathered, and tomatoes were going to take their place after a thorough cleaning of the house. The 20,000 tomato plants, which were going to be planted, had to yield no less than eighty tons of excellent fruit (eight to ten pounds per plant). In other houses melons were grown instead of the tomatoes. Thirty tons of early potatoes, six tons of early peas, and two tons of early French beans had already been sent away in April. As to the vineries, they yielded no less than twenty-five tons of grapes every year. Besides, very many other things were grown in the open air, or as catch crops, and all that amount of fruit and vegetables was the result of the labour of thirty-six men and boys only, under the supervision of one single gardener - the owner himself."

Kropotkin thought that the example of the Channel Islands weakened the argument of Malthus that productivity cannot be accelerated to keep pace with population, but only increased arithmetically.

Henry Rider Haggard, the author of ing Solomon's Mines, was also amazed, on his visit in 1901, that so small an area as Jersey could produce so much wealth.

"It is true that the inquirer hears some grumblings and fears for the future; but when on top of them he sees a little patch of twenty-three and one third acres of land, and is informed that quite recently it sold at auction for £5,670, to be used, not for building sites, but for the cultivation of potatoes, he is perhaps justified in drawing his own conclusions. Even on the supposition that these values have touched high-water mark, and that the tide of agricultural wealth may be expected to recede to some extent, the industrious husbandmen of Jersey are, he feels, in no danger of immediate ruin".
1914 potato harvest at Three Oaks Farm, St Lawrence


Agricultural productivity does not necessarily mean prosperity: for general prosperity depends also on how many people producers have to support and what other sources of income the whole community has. This point is well illustrated by Solicitus, a contributor to the Guernsey and Jersey Magazine:

"In England, they break up all the small farms, depopulate the country, and then cry up the surplus produce, as if that produce, consumed by a vigorous race of happy yeomen, did not tend to the welfare of a kingdom as much as when carried to large towns to feed a miserable, feeble population, living by the precarious returns of manufacturers, instead of the certain rewards of agriculture".

But, whatever their reservations, most writers were agreed that Jersey and Guernsey were agriculturally productive and also - though not necessarily for this reason - prosperous islands.

Thus, the astronomer, Earl of Rosse, found agriculture in Guernsey

"reasonably good, where the soil was good; and the bad land very much in a state of nature. This rather surprised me, considering the high rent of land, four pounds an acre; but I soon found the people had other employment much more profitable than improving bad land. Many were engaged in fishing for the London market; others were quarrying stones for the London streets; the harbour of St Sampson was full of shipping waiting for a freight of stone; others were engaged in shipbuilding, and there were several fine ships on the stocks."

William Thornton, on the other hand, attributed the well-being of Guernsey to 'the small yeoman proprietor'. The average wheat crop in Guernsey 'has never been stated at less than thirty-two bushels per acre; that is to say, considerably more than two-fifths above the English average', and it was these sort of results that made the island prosperous.

Some writers, like Thornton, tended to exaggerate the fruitfulness of the islands in order to account for their prosperity solely in terms of agricultural output. As far back as 1785, however, Richard Valpy, the Master of Reading School, disclosed that Jersey was able to grow only half the corn it needed, with the increasing population and conversion of arable to orchards. Charles Le Quesne noted in 1837 that Jersey imported corn from the Baltic, wheat from England and oxen from France, though tillage was now on the increase, helped by the new roads, and dependence on alien corn was probably decreasing. But by mid-Century, according to Thornton himself, the islands did not produce a quarter of the corn they consumed. Lewis (1849) recorded another decrease in tillage, though he claimed that Jersey produced two-thirds of its corn needs. Rosse (1867) showed that the islands imported more of certain foodstuffs than they exported.

The reasons given for the success of farming (even if it was not as great as some claimed) were many. The climate of the islands was mild, owing partly to the effects of the Gulf Stream. Jersey, sloping to the South, was slightly warmer and had less frost than Guernsey, which slopes to the North. This climate, beneficial for most crops, gave potatoes a vital competitive edge. Potatoes exported in early May raised about ten times as much, per ton, as those in mid-July. It cost at least £20 a vergee to prepare land for potatoes, and Jersey farmers could not have afforded to produce them for the price obtained for the bulk of the English supply. They had to export as much as possible before their competitors from Cornwall, and elsewhere, did so. (Bear, Coleman).

Queues of farmers waiting to export their potatoes were seen as a sign of prosperity in Jersey for a century or more
Exporting potatoes


Talking to Rider Haggard, Captain Le Brocq, of St Mary, referred to Jersey as the 'Isle of White Slavery', since 'during the potato season men worked from 3 am to 10 pm. I gather, however, that he referred to farmers slaving on their own account, since he said also that where there is money to be earned, capitalists with from £1,400 to £1,600 a year are to be seen toiling in their shirt-sleeves'. The rush to get early potatoes to the Weighbridge was such that, Coleman was told, 'vehicles conveying early potatoes to the quay for loading make a procession extending for miles, and the order of their proceedings are looked after by the police'.

Jersey's potato acreage had expanded threefold between 1867 and 1887, when its cultivators were exporting 50,000 tons, more than the whole of France did, to England. (Bear). Rider Haggard found that the very early land had greatly increased in value.

"The land at L'Etac, which sixty years ago was the poorest in the island, is now the most valuable, owing to the extraordinary earliness of its potato yield. From such soil as we saw on the farm of Mr Hacquoil, which we visited, three crops can be taken in a single season, one of potatoes, one of barley - which is reaped in June - and one of roots. The subsoil, that lies about 3 feet from the surface, is red gravel or decomposed granite, which is very favourable to the growth of potatoes. The situation may be described as a flat plain running down to the sea, swept with the mellow ocean air and bounded to the north and east by high granite hills. It is the existence of these hills that makes it so early, since if frost falls on the land at the foot of them, it melts before the sun strikes the sheltered fields. On lands that lack this advantage the hot rays of the morning striking the frost-covered foliage burn and kill the plant. Thus it comes about that such lands will fetch a rent of £17 lOs per acre, and increase yearly in value."

The expansion of potato growing and the improvement in communications that made it so profitable had, however, an inflationary effect. A letter to John Ruskin from one of his disciples, living at Mont a l'Abbé in 1873, shows how this came about:

"Dear Master - The lesson I have gathered here in Jersey as to the practical working of bodies of small land-owners, is that they have three arch-enemies to their life and well-being. First, the covetousness that, for the sake of money increase, permits and seeks that great cities should drain the island of its life-blood - their best men and their best food or means of food; secondly, love of strong drink and tobacco; and thirdly (for these two last are closely connected), want of true recreation.
The island is cut up into small properties or holdings, a very much larger proportion of these being occupied and cultivated by the owners themselves than is the case in England. Consequently, as I think, the poor do not suffer as much as in England. Still the times have altered greatly for the worse within the memory of every middle-aged resident, and the change has been wrought chiefly by the regular and frequent communication with London and Paris, but more especially the first, which in the matter of luxuries of the table, has a maw insatiable. Thus the Jersey farmer finds that, by devoting his best labour and land to the raising of potatoes sufficiently early to obtain a fancy price for them, very large money gains are sometimes obtained, subject also to large risks; for spring frosts on the one hand, and being outstripped by more venturous farmers on the other, are the Jersey farmers' Scylla and Charybdis.
"Now for the results. Land, especially that with southern aspects, has increased marvellously in price. Wages have also risen. In many employments nearly doubled. But food and lodging have much more than doubled. Fruit, which formerly could be had in lavish, nay almost fabulous abundance, is now dearer than in London. All work harder, and all fare worse; but the poor expecialiy so.'

Bear was told by experienced farmers in Jersey that 'many of the small-holders of land devote too much of it to the potato crop, and frequently lose by doing so. For instance, they have to pay considerable amounts for hay and straw imported from France for their cattle. Many of them grow potatoes year after year for several years on the same land, which is only saved from deterioration by a heavy expenditure in manures'.

Sheep were once as important as cattle in Jersey

Tree felling

There was another price to pay for this lucrative crop: in about 1883 Professor Blackie heard 'great complaints everywhere of the disfigurement of the country by the cutting down of trees, and the supplanting of the ancestral apple culture by the potato, to satisfy the insatiate demands of the herbivorous purlieus of Covent Garden'. From these effects of potato culture (which were compounded by the German Occupation) the island's hedgerows are only just beginning to recover.

The climate, often thought to be responsible for Jersey's productivity, was denied that role by some writers. Thornton thought it no better than that of Southern England, and Kropotkin said that though Jersey was more sunny than England, its climate 'offered many drawbacks on account of the small amount of sun-heat during the summer and of the cold winds in Spring' (quoting from Ansted and Latham).

Was the success of agriculture down to naturally fertile soil or was the magic vraic the real answer?

Soil fertility

Writers were divided on the question of the fertility of the soil. Nathaniel Spencer's Complete English Traveller said that the soil of Jersey 'is generally esteemed fertile, and produces great quantities of fruits, with all sorts of herbs, corn, roots and many different sorts of trees'. Rider Haggard and Bear thought the soil partly responsible for the success of Channel Island farming and horticulture. Thornton, much as he approved of island agricultural methods, found the soil naturally rather poor, not suitable for wheat. Lavergne wrote that though the soil of Jersey is granitic and thin, the island looks ravishing, a forest of fruit trees. Kropotkin adds that 'Most of my readers will probably be astonished to learn that the soil of Jersey, which consists of decomposed granite, with no organic matter in it, is not at all of an astonishing fertility'.

Ansted and Latham clarify the issue by saying that, however well the soil may look,

"there is clearly no natural and large supply of certain ingredients essential for food crops. All these must be supplied from without in the form of manure, either animal, vegetable or mineral. The latter not being available, it results that without a large and constant supply of animal and vegetable manures, the soil of the islands could not be kept in such a state as to yield large crops of the most valuable kinds of vegetable produce".

In other words, the cultivated soil was fertile rather than intrinsically rich. Rider Haggard noted later that potatoes live off manures rather than the soil itself'.

Most writers mention the intensive use of manure in insular agriculture. Inglis showed that vraic, costing little more than its transport, was much used; and the new roads of Generals Don and Doyle made the collection considerably easier. Kropotkin mentioned not just vraic, but also artificial manure made at Blaydon-on-Tyne, and all sorts of refuse, including bones from the murderous battle of Plevna (between Russia and Turkey in 1877), and mummies of cats shipped out of Egypt.

To French writers like Lavergne, Dubost and Galichet, 'home rule', stability and the lack of taxes were crucial to the prosperity of the islands and their farming; but more common was the view of Charles Le Quesne, who praised the industriousness of the farmers. Thornton thought that the islands could maintain agricultural and non-agricultural populations much denser than in England, because of the 'assiduous care' of the farmers, and Bear found the 'garden farming' of the Channel Islands the most successful in the United Kingdom because of 'untiring labour'.


It was also shown that farmers were very ready to invest profits, rather than consuming them: Savings Banks prospered. In his book on Thrift, Samuel Smiles quoted with approval the findings of Edward Denison, an MP who had read and admired a pamphlet on land tenure by the anonymous Guernsey author. Denison went to Jersey and Guernsey, where he met the author. He found that Guernseymen lived in 'a style of frugality which a landlord would be hooted at for suggesting to his cottagers.

"The principal meal of a Guernsey farmer consists of soupe a La graisse. This is the daily dinner of men who own perhaps three or four cows, a pig or two, and poultry. But the produce and flesh of these creatures they sell in the market, investing their gains in the extension of land, or stock, or in 'quarters'."

Land tenure

The subject which most divided writers was the effect of the related factors of land tenure and small farms on productivity. Property in the Channel Islands could be sold, but not devised at will, and the system of partage between heirs was a compromise between the primogeniture of England - which preserved large estates - and the equal division of a man's property among his sons (gavelkind) which was more common in France. The islands had a sort of limited primogeniture, which gave the eldest son the house and some, but not all, of the land. Professor Blackie thought that partage was the golden mean between the petty parcelling of France (morcellement) and the monstruous accumulation of England.

The dispute between supporters of large and of small properties was fundamentally a political and moral, not an economic question, and not surprisingly some very partisan and unempirical arguments were used.

In point of fact, an Order in Council of 1635 had enabled the entailing of property upon a single line of succession because 'the island is much weakened by partition'. But the Order seems to have had little effect: a century later Faile was gloomily asserting that 'Gavelkind destroys many an inheritance, by mincing it into several parcels; which peradventure in the next generation shall be divided again into still lesser portions, and so on, till an Estate is reduced almost to nothing'.

A hundred years later again the Manxman Quayle (1815) was saying much the same as Faile.

"The effect of the insular tenures for so many generations, having necessarily been to produce a minute division of property, the same cause constantly operating may be expected, if not to reduce their size still more, at least to prevent the accumulation and the continuance of any considerable landed property in one family. The farms themselves, in the possession of one person, are not only small, and the fields diminutive, but the property in these fields is frequently again sub-divided into minute portions, called in the Jersey dialect, camps; which are the property, and in the occupation of two or more persons ... In consequence of this minute division of property, the influence of a large capital on an extensive area is here unknown. Little progress, exertion, or improvement, can be expected in small holdings. The adherence of the Jersey farmer to his forefather's practices is generally remarked, but ought by no means to incur blame. His first object is not so much gain, or to raise a disposable produce, as it is to manage his small domain in such a mode, as to secure through the year a supply of those articles which his family exigencies require. When pursuing the track which his forefather's experience has proved to be best calculated to attain that end, he is on safe ground. Experiments which farmers of greater experience, capital, and extent of holding might make, it would be unsafe for him to repeat."
Was too much effort being put into potato growing?

Colonel Le Couteur

Colonel Le Couteur was of like mind:

"The too minute sub-division which takes place, frequently drives several branches of a family to beggary; and the elder branch, by being deprived of too considerable a portion of the land, instead of being able to carryon improvements, purchase manure, or work the land properly, can scarcely extract a miserable subsistence from his estate'. Inglis thought that division leads to backward agriculture, because 'there is little spur to exertion - and limited means of improvement. One left with an inheritance of only three or four vergees of land, is rarely in a condition to purchase the proper manure necessary to ensure a good crop; and even where farms of ten to twenty vergees, are possessed by persons destitute of capital, little by the way of improvement can be expected.' Inglis, however, was forced to admit that, with recent increases in wealth, an 'improved and more experimental husbandry' had been introduced."

Another who found land too sub-divided was Robert Mudie (1840); there were more hedges than were necessary for protection from the weather, and the number of roads was immense; and the only limit to sub-division was the population the land could support. Even stronger was MacCulloch (1848). Subdivision 'forms an invincible obstacle to the introduction of an improved system of cultivation. Potatoes, parsnips, and cabbages, are extensively grown, and form a large portion of the food of the people. The latter, notwithstanding their penurious habits, the valuable privileges enjoyed by the islands, and their advantageous situation for fishing and navigation, are for the most part exceedingly poor; and they are all but universally proud, litigous, and attached to routine practices. Much ground is lost by the numerous divisions between the different properties, and by the necessarily great extent of the roads'. It is extraordinary that MacCulloch could make the superficial claim, in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, that the islanders were 'exceedingly poor'; and surprising that writers from Faile to Mudie could claim disaster from the effects of partage, while farming in these supposedly attenuated properties was getting more and more efficient.

There were also those who thought that partage had longer-term effects. Denison met two people in Jersey, 'M R' and 'Lernpriere', who admitted that there was a far more 'diffused well-being in Jersey than in England', but thought that sub-division in Jersey 'engenders a stolid, obstinate contentment with a low general standard of material welfare, and it absolutely kills all upward tendency to refinement and mental culture. It seems also - at all events the law compelling the division of property does - to discourage the accumulation, and unreasonably to dissipate when accumulated, of those large masses of capital which are really essential to the successful prosecution of undertakings, and highly conducive to the advance in civilisation of the whole human race.'

There are really two questions here. One is whether farms were indeed getting smaller; and the other is whether the increasing productivity of the farms was because of, or in spite of any sub-division. It seems that, although in principle partage would lead to farms getting smaller, in practice it was self-correcting. As Edward Durell said 'Where the shares are small the younger children do not think of farming them, but sell them to the elder brother for money or rents, and go into business'. But, Durell adds, 'If the pride, the industry, or the good fortune of one man has raised a large fortune, it is scattered again in the next generation, and his descendants are restored to that enviable mediocrity, which is the source of liberty and happiness'.

It is possible that farms, on average, decreased in size (only the most careful quantitative analysis of records could test this); and it is probably significant that there are a great number of 18h Century farmhouses in Jersey, not built on the site of older farm buildings, which suggests that there was some division in that century. Whether or not that division, by itself, affected productivity positively or negatively, is extremely difficult to show: but the point will be returned to later.

Irish potato famine

The debate on tenure was given new impetus by the calamity of the Irish potato famine, which was in full swing by 1846. Charles Le Quesne thought that in the Channel Island system of land-holding he could see the solution to Ireland's problems. He thought that the 'moral influence of the possession of land' encouraged industry and economy. Furthermore, in the islands it was possible to acquire land by a system of mortgage; and conveyancing was cheap and easy, for only a quarter of the value of land had to be paid on acquisition, and the occupier had the right to the land as long as he paid the wheat rentes. So there was every inducement to save and add to the security of the rentes. As Coleman said, also of Jersey, 'the comparative facility of acquiring land has greatly stimulated habits of thrift and economy, and allowed hard-working, careful occupiers to eventually become proprietors, and often amass considerable wealth, whilst the original owners live comfortably on the income derived from their property.' At the time he was writing (1886) more than half of Jersey's farm-land was owned by those who worked it. In Ireland, outside Ulster, the tenant had no rights to, or interest in the land he worked, and the contrast was there for all to see, as Le Quesne, Shaw-Lefevre and others pointed out.

Perhaps the most committed statement of the value of small proprietorship came from William Thornton, a disciple of John Stuart Mill. Mill, in his Principles of Political Economy, cited Thornton's observations in the Channel Islands as decisive in favour of small farms worked by their owners. Thornton had concluded that the productivity of the islands was due to the assiduous care of proprietors and the abundant use of manure, which the system of tenure encouraged. The same point was made, somewhat later, by Zincke. 'In 1873, Jersey sent to London £300,000 worth of early potatoes, and Guernsey fifty tons of grapes grown under glass, an article of export the amount of which increases every year. Without the division of land which obtains throughout the islands, these astonishing amounts could not have been produced. The temporary occupiers of other men's land cannot plant orchards or build vineries; and as to the potatoes, which must be forced into maturity by the middle of May, the culture they require is so costly - it amounts to about £40 an acre - that, as a general rule, it will not be applied on a large scale, or to land of which the cultivator is not also the owner.'

Thornton thought that if the facts of Channel Island agriculture had been known to Arthur Young, he would have ceased to advocate large farms. (Young said that small farmers do not have the capital or the scope for experimenting with new methods of farming: they would not hire a ram for a season at 1,000 guineas to improve a breed of sheep, or send across the kingdom to distant provinces for new implements, and for the men to use them.) It is likely, in fact, that Young was aware of Jersey's agricultural system and results: Richard Valpy was his friend, and his secretary was a de Ste Croix. In any case Young's arguments (or Quayle's for that matter) are weak for, as Thornton says, it is possible to pool or barter services - he quotes the example of the communal use of la grande charrue - and because, if the profits of a small farm are small, so are the expenses. Against Young's arguments - for what we would now call economies of scale - the words of Adam Smith are still apposite: 'A small proprietor, who knows every part of his little territory, views it with all the affection which property, and especially small property, naturally inspires, and who, upon that account, takes pleasure not only in activating it but in adorning it, is generally, of all improvers, the most industrious, the most diligent, and the most successful' (quoted by Le Quesne 1837).

To the Irish landowner Rosse, there was no necessary connection between small farms and prosperity. On a visit to Guernsey in about 1867, he realised that few of the elegant houses on the outskirts of St Peter Port could possibly have been supported by the little 'estates', none more than 40 acres. He adds that it is in Alderney that one can see peasant proprietorship pure and simple, with 'the Guernsey farmer occupying and tilling the land of the Alderney peasant proprietor ... Even with the help of the Guernsey farmer they do not grow wheat sufficient for their own consumption, and all their meat comes from France. They seem to spend their time tending their Alderney cows ... ' Rosse went on to quote statistics of food imports and exports for Jersey and Guernsey (1857 and 1858) and showed the islands were net importers of corn, meat and other foodstuffs. In concluding his passage on the Channel Islands he gives a hint of his fears. 'The peasant proprietor is often employed as a lever, by those who seek to turn society upside down; we see how weak that lever is when the truth is known'.

Could Breton farmworkers make as great a success of rented fields as Jersey farmers who owned their own land?

Freedom from legislation

In the 1871 Quarterly Review, John Wilson uses Rosse's figures and arguments to belabour Thornton, who had claimed, on the basis of 1835 statistics, that Jersey and Guernsey agriculture maintains 'populations respectively four and five times as dense as that of Britain'. Anyone who believes that, says Wilson, must himself be fairly dense. He also pours scorn on Professor Cliffe Leslie, who said that Jersey carried on trade with every quarter of the world, because its proprietors, having small farms, were rich and thus able to support a large commercial and maritime sector; while the Isle of Wight, with its larger farms, had scarcely any commerce or shipping. Wilson concludes that the Channel Islands have maintained populations so much larger than their agriculture could support because their commerce was not subject ot the Corn Laws and the Navigation Laws.

Thornton himself, in Over-population (1846), had recognised that the islands did not produce a quarter of the corn they consumed, and attributed the cheapness of imported corn to Free Trade. Yet when he came to write his Plea for Peasant Proprietors (1848), he made extravagant claims for the islands' agricultural productivity, by not allowing for their commercial activities, which gave them the means to import quantities of food.

But Thornton's claims were only exaggerations. Since land sold and rented at such high prices, there can be little doubt that its produce was great, and this must have contributed to the general prosperity that most visitors described. It may have been true, as proponents of large farms asserted, that there was no great 'spur to exertion' for successive generations of Jersey farmers, but this was not the case for hired labourers who, through the system of rentes, were able to acquire property gradually.

Jersey labourers, it is true, were rare. Young men would go to sea, emigrate or work only for their parents (Quayle, Galichet). But in 1901, Rider Haggard was told that French labourers, who could earn about twice what they would have done in Normandy or Brittany, but would accept far less than Jerseymen, were gradually ousting them. Mr Pepin of Le Petit Ponterrin told Rider Haggard that 'the Frenchman is more thrifty, harder working and closer living. Moreover, he will work for a master, while a Jerseyman, as a rule, will only work for himself'.

"Rents have been forced up in an excessive degree', wrote William Bear, 'by the competition of the French labourers, who come over first to work for the Jerseymen, and, having saved a little money, become their rivals in the demand for land.' In fact, competition was greater for hiring land than for its purchase. French labourers, says Bear, 'may or may not be in a position to pay the small sum needed as a deposit on purchasing land; but there is a more serious difficulty in the way, for no foreigner can be possessed of land in Jersey until he has been naturalised as a British subject, and naturalisation is allowed only after several years' residence, and very charily even then.
"The authorities are not pleased at seeing the land more and more occupied by Frenchmen, and they are not at all disposed to facilitate the acquisition of rights of purchase by the foreigners. Young Jerseymen who inherit land are tempted to let it, and to supplement the income which they thus obtain by engaging in commercial or other pursuits. Many of them shrink from the unremitting and arduous labour in which their parents have spent their lives, and which they have shared during their boyhood. It may be suggested that those of them who own moderately large farms, or what are deemed such in Jersey, might farm the land without working constantly upon it; but the universal testimony in the island is that this would not do, as it is only by working with the few men he employs that the Jersey farmer can thrive'.

Coleman reported that French labourers with an eye on land in Jersey were 'looked upon as interlopers, and are not liked by the Jerseymen proper, who are very amiably disposed towards the English, who have rarely interfered in this way, for though now and again individuals have tried their hands at occupation, it has not been a success. We have not the frugality or industry of the French people, and we do not so readily take to la petite culture. One English success was John Gaunt of St Saviour but, as Bear says, he 'has succeeded by doing as the Jersey farmers do. On the occasion of my last visit to him he had been to St Heliers, nearly four miles distant, with one cartload of potatoes to be shipped, and was getting ready of a second journey.'

No single cause

In conclusion, it is difficult to assign the productivity of Jersey to any single cause. No doubt the unchanging factors - the climate, the stability of society and the commercial privileges - had much to do with it. The industry and providence of the farmers must, independently, have contributed their share. The intensive use of manure and glass, and the planting of certain crops and raising of cattle were the means by which the farmers' strengths were shown; and the system of land tenure must have been responsible for - or at least supported - these particular strengths to some extent, but it is not clear to what extent. Ownership gives the farmer an incentive to good and efficient husbandry; but a renter, particularly short-term, has perhaps greater need than an owner-occupier to get as much out of the land as possible.

Coleman quotes the case of a Breton who rented 12 1/2 vergees and a farmhouse for £74.15 and still managed to save £40 in the year (about 1885). He was about to rent more land at £5 a vergee, and at times would work for his landlord for 2s a day. It is evident, says Coleman, 'that this man must live on next to nothing'; evident, too, that he worked the land much harder than his landlord would have done. Colonel Le Cornu observed that 'a considerable portion of the land under cultivation is not as formerly tilled by the proprietors, but let to a thrifty class of persons, many of French nationality or extraction, who make farming a momentary speculation, and whose interest in the future of the land is nil.' Nevertheless, as Galichet showed, some long-established Jersey farmers, typically those specialising in a few crops with seasonal bursts of energy and hired labour, were more interested in profits; while others preferred the old system of mixed self-sufficient farming, putting home-produced meat, vegetables, bread, fruit and cider on the table>. In other words, there is no inevitable connection between ownership and sheer productivity.

A visitor in 1833-4, J B Murdoch envisaged that, at the cost of much misery, Jersey could be made yet more productive. 'Any man who would change the method of cultivation in Jersey - who would, with four horses and two men, do the work of several families, while he would assuredly save much money in labour, and thereby increase the wealth, would not thereby necessarily increase the happiness of the people. To accomplish this, several farms would require to be thrown into one, and the ejected native cultivators would be forced to take shelter in towns already overstocked by an ill-employed population.

'In fact, the system in Jersey struck a balance between productivity and good husbandry, thereby promoting the civic virtues. In the words of Shaw-Lefevre, the 'combination of landowner, capitalist, and labourer, in one person in the Channel Islands has produced so remarkable a result. It promotes the saving of capital, and therefore creates it; it promotes the efficiency of labour, and therefore multiplies its results; and as the most certain mode of creating capital is by the storage of the results of labour, it increases capital in this direction also; it spreads through a large class the pride of ownership, the feelings of citizenship, and the sense of equality. Nor are its results confined to the class immediately interested in the land; they permeate through every class of society and spread the habits of saving, thrift, and self-restraint'.


Some writers provided detailed accounts of different methods of farming. They also visited several farms each and gave enough information to allow most of them to be identified, with their owners. I am grateful to my mother, Mrs Joan Stevens, for suggesting the names.

Dubost (1871)
Dorey, C F East View, Trinity
Le Breton (Centenier) St Saviour
Le Gallais, Albert La Moye, St Brelade, and La Davissonerie, St Saviour
Le Templier Pontorson Lane, St Clement
Coutanche St Clement
Johanet (1885)
Dorey, C F East View. Trinity
Le Masurier, P Les Niemes, St Peter
Sausmarez, Admiral The Firs, St Lawrence
Amy,Philip l'Etacq, St Ouen
Dauvergne, Henri Philippe Northdale, St Ouen
Nicolle, Charles
Coleman (1886)
Le Gallais, Albert La Moye, St Brelade
Marett,J P La Maison de Haut, St Saviour
de Carteret, George Vale Fark, St Peter
Labey, William John Le Parcq, Grouville
Labey, Philip Carteret Farm, Grouville
Falla, Thomas jun Les Buttes, St John
Simon, Elias La Mare Ballam, St John
Bear (1888)
Le Gros, Joshua
Le Feuvre, Philip Millais, St Ouen
Gaunt,John St Saviour
Le Gallais, Albert St Brelade
Marett, J P La Maison de Haut, St Saviour
Denize, Edward Le Fief es Neveux, St Lawrence
Rider Haggard (1901)
Le Brocq, Capt Philip Broughton Lodge, St Mary
Perrée, A J Oaklands, St Saviour
Durell Augres Hall, Trinity
Pepin, R Le Petit Ponterrin, St Saviour
Bree, P J La Sente, Grouville
Duval, John La Caroline, St Peter
Duval, Philip Sommerleigh, St Peter
Hacquoil L'Etacq, St Ouen
Le Cornu, Col C P La Hague, St Peter
Galichet (1912)
Ahier, Philippe John Seymour Farm, St Martin
Mourant, E Le Boulivot, Grouville
Baudains dit la Gerche, J Gibraltar Farm, St Peter
Bree, P J La Sente, Grouville
Ahier, F L La Chasserie, St Lawrence
Duval, John La Caroline, St Peter
H St Clement's Farm
Luce, E Northdale, St Ouen
Ozouf, Philippe Le Tapon, St Saviour
Barbier and Schmitt (1931)
Bree P J La Sente, Grouville
LeBreuilly Highfield Vineries, St Saviour
Perree, A J Oaklands, St Saviour
LeRuez, E Westview, St Mary
Duval, John La Caroline, St Peter
Leonard, Maurice or Emile Southview, L'Etacq or Brampton Farm, St Ouen
Robert St Ouen
  • At this date Ernest Mourant was at Fair View, La Hougue Bie; John Mourant was at Le Boulivot.
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