Marie Bartlet

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It took 57 years from Marie Bartlet's death before the poorhouse she bequeathed to the island, and which became its General Hospital, opened its doors to Jersey's poor. In 1859 there was another setback when a serious fire swept through the building

Marie Bartlet (1677-1741) - founder of the General Hospital

Marie Bartlet was born in late 1677 and baptised on 2 January the following year. She was the daughter of Capt Jean Mauger, of St Brelade. She married Englishman Francis Bartlet on 24 September 1704. Bartlet was a merchant and they settled in St Aubin, then the island's main port. He was undoubtedly one of the most successful merchants of his time and won the right to collect import duties and anchorage fees in 1725, 1726, 1728 and 1732. When he died childless in 1734, he left everything to his widow, who continued his business, which mainly involved the importation of spirits. In 1738 she was "farmer of the customs" in partnership with Thomas Pipon.

Some of the other merchants did not take kindly to her success and she became embroiled in a legal action with Jean Le Hardy, claiming that he had accused her of holding undeclared brandy in her cellars and having them sealed by the Constable, and also accusing Le Hardy of "pushing his violence so far as to raise his stick several times threatening to smash her head, and abusing her in most atrocious language". This dispute, and another involving a cargo of coal for New England, had not been resolved when she died on 24 August 1741.

Will

She died a very rich woman, worth 91,567 livres tournois, approximately £7 million at today's values. She made a number of personal bequests and gave money to the parishes to look after the poor, but the bulk of her estate - 50,000 livres tournois - was earmarked for the States to build a poorhouse.

"I bequathe to the Poore of Jersey on Honder livers Franche money to Iche Parihe to be distributed after my buriale: i give morear to the Poore of the Ilande Fifteay thousent livers turnois, taigne thousent to build them a house and forty thousent to beay a Reivenu to mantaigne the Poore that shall be Pouite in the House, wiche shall be Poore widows and Fatherlaise Childrane and Enchant Piple of the Ilande, and shale alwaise be quipe Foule; and shale the saide House be built in St. tobins, and Everything be ordred as my Execrs hear after named and the Staites of the Iland shall judge Fiting".

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the sums involved and Marie Bartlet's poor spelling, it took 24 years and numerous legal actions before work actually started on the construction of what is now Jersey's General Hospital, and another 33 years before it opened its doors to the poor of the island whom Mrs Bartlett had intended should have it as their home.

To begin with the Royal Court took three years to confirm the will "by reason of the wrong spelling thereof and many disputes among her relations". Attempts were made to overthrow it by her cousin, Jean Mauger, who had been left £10, and Philippe and Jean Shoosmith.

The committee appointed by the States to assist her executors with the project failed to find a suitable site at St Aubin and Privy Council approval had to be sought to build on land on sandhills outside St Helier offered as a gift by the Seigneur of Mélèches, Philippe Bandinel. The executors tried to have the project switched back to a field owned by Mrs Bartlett at St Aubin but the States eventually won the day and building started in 1765.

But the marvellous new building was coveted by successive military commanders to accommodate garrison troops in the absence of any barracks, and in 1779 it was requesitioned by General Conway. Four years later two-thirds of the building was demolished when gunpowder exploded and it took five years before the British Government paid the £2,000 needed to rebuild. It was not until 1793 that the poor of the island finally took possession of their rebuilt home.

Another 66 years went by before the Hospital was severely damaged by fire in 1859.

References

A Biographical Dictionary of Jersey by George Balleine

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