Popular History of Jersey Chapter 17

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Under Cromwell

New Court

General Haines' control over the affairs of Jersey ceased as soon as he had placed the Island in Cromwell's possession, and the same day (17 December 1651) that saw Michel Lempriere reinstated in his office of Bailiff saw, too, the appointment of Colonel Sir Robert Gibbons as Governor, with one Yeardley as his Lieutenant. And the former - finding the bench of Jurats practically deserted, only one, "like the last rose of summer", remaining (the cause of which desertion has been differently attributed to the extortions of Sir George de Carteret on the one side, and a want of vital interest shown at the time on the other), whilst, as a consequence, no Court could be held — with Michael Lempriere, who still held the position of Bailiff, together with Abraham Herault , the ex-Jurat, constituted themselves a Court on 2 May 1654, and swore in as Jurats, on the personal recommendation of Cromwell, Philip Messervy, James Lempriere, John Le Rue, Philip Le Feuvre, Simon Sebriel, and Thomas Le Marinel, some of which names are still held in honour on the Island, and in such manner formed a Court, though not of full number, owing to the fact that others recommended by Cromwell were at the time absent from Jersey. It was thus hoped that by this means prosperity might once more shine; and justice being done, that popular opinion would record its voice in favour of the " Commonwealth".

Allegations against Governor

Whatever chance there might have been of this occurring was, however, cut in the bud by the actions of Colonel Gibbons and his Lieutenant, Yeardley, who appear to have brought troublous times with them, and by their actions turned the majority of the Islanders against them. Amongst other things, charges were laid against Sir Robert (and alleged to have been connived at by Yeardley) of the most distinct partiality in granting licenses peculiarly to his own relations and personal friends for the importation of wool, leather, and other commodities, and this for his own special benefit. Extorting money from traders for passes was likewise laid to their charge, as also "compelling the people at Elizabeth Castle to work beyond the time allowed by law and not even paying wages when lawfully earned".

And Sir Robert personally seems also to have gratified his private spirit of revenge, contrary to all right and justice, by bastinadoing (beating with a stick or cudgel) several well-known inhabitants, and "committing them close prisoners at his will and pleasure without the consent or knowledge of the jurisdiction of the Isle, amongst others Mr Clement Gallys, High Constable of St. Saviour's, of about sixty years of age, and one Abraham Beckett, merchant, both which persons lost their estates", and, at the same time, suffered both imprisonment and exile.

Rights and privileges disregarded

Another thing, too, comes in very prominently at this time, as showing the unsatisfactory state of affairs. The rights and privileges of the people generally seem to have been totally disregarded. Impressment for military or naval service was quite unallowable according to the privileges granted the Island; yet we find amongst other breaches of this right that one Francis Marres, of St John's, was shot by a party of Parliamentary soldiers for merely asking on whose authority he was "pressed", whilst more than one instance occurred of young people of good families being seized upon and only being released on the payment of a round sum of money. Ships, too, bound for England, were diligently searched for letters, and on the plea of finding one such letter, the contents of which were favourable to Royalistic opinions, a Mr Marett was imprisoned in Mont Orgueil Castle for some 16 months, and "allowed neither companion in his solitude, nor pen, ink, or paper" during that period, his case eventuating in his estate being confiscated, and only redeemed after the payment of a considerable sum.

About the same period, too, a system of privateering, or rather piracy, seems to have been practised upon the shipping of the Island, and this without apparent check, the French picaroons doing much damage round the coast, no doubt in part retaliation for what had been formerly done by Sir George de Carteret's vessels. To such a pitch of boldness had they got, indeed, that one Captain Chamberlain sent word to the Governor that "if Jerseymen did not contribute towards his maintenance, he would throw all of them with whom he came into contact into the sea". This letter, by-the-bye, was dated 1652, and consigned to General Haines, though it nevertheless serves to show the state of the maritime affairs of the Island during the Commonwealth.

In 1655 articles strongly representing the rapacity and tyranny of the Governor and his Lieutenant were drawn up, but were never investigated, owing chiefly to the fact that, amongst other things, the restoration of the monarchy occurred soon after their transmission to England; and when that event took place, both Sir Robert Gibbon and Yeardley were deprived of their office, "amidst", says Le Quesne, "the joy of all the Jersey people."

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