Popular History of Jersey Chapter 20

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Harbours, currency and a riot

Shipping and commerce

Mention has more than once been made of St Aubin's pier, but the general scope of the work then intended to be undertaken remains to be mentioned, and gives a good general conception of the shipping and maritime commerce of the Island. As set forth by him, the whole of Sir Thomas Morgan's scheme, before alluded to, included a harbour capable of holding some 60 vessels, not that there were anything like that number then belonging to Jersey, but to provide accommodation for future emergencies.

On these points the manuscript of Philip Dumaresq, Seigneur of Saumarez (a small volume containing a survey or account of the Island at the time of the accession of James II, 1685, which, though never printed, was at the time — and for that matter must be still - considered one of the most accurate records Jersey then possessed), is highly interesting, throwing as it does light upon facts which otherwise could not now be gleaned.

From it we learn that at the time when he wrote, the pier "adjoining the north-east point of the small island whereon the fort was situated", and where the chief shipping of the Island resorted, was in an unfinished state, though the place was then the principal port of Jersey, "the convenience whereof", Dumaresq quaintly says, "had occasioned a small town to be built, consisting of about four score houses"; adding, that it was even then "daily increasing, and would do so more except for the high hilt that commands the fort".

Taking a broad view of the matter, it may be said that at that time Jersey had little or no foreign commerce. Altogether she possessed only "40 vessels with topsails and decks, together with about the same quantity of smaller craft", whilst, says the same authority, "20 were able to maintain the whole commerce, as well for importing from England the materials for the purpose of local manufacture as for exporting the same beyond the sea after being so dealt with: corn, salt, and a few other commodities, as we have seen, being chiefly brought from France.

At the same time, St Helier was badly off for a harbour, there then being only a shelter for boats situated "under the Churchyard", which, however,"with the help of the brook that comes down there might, at little cost, be made a secure place for greater vessels. This, Dumaresq adds, "would be a great convenience to commerce; it being a great expense to bring all the merchandise from St Aubin, there being no harbour nearer for vessels of any great burden, although there was in the bay another place where vessels sometimes unloaded in the summer time for the convenience of St Helier, close by Fort Charles at Elizabeth Castle, and also a small unfinished pier under the walls of the castle itself, where the castle boats were usually kept, though the entrance to it was narrow and somewhat dangerous except for good boats".

Support for King and Queen

Such then, it would appear, was the maritime condition of affairs in Jersey at the commencement of the joint reigns of William and Mary (1689-1694, after which latter date, Queen Mary having died suddenly of smallpox, William III reigned as sole monarch until 1702), whose accession to the English throne was hailed on the Island with every manifestation of joy and gladness. In proof of this, the inhabitants presented to the newly-ascended King and Queen an address of congratulation, setting forth, amongst other things, that though the language of Jersey was French, the hearts of the people were English and their swords entirely at the service of the English Crown; whilst William and Mary, in return, seem to have done their utmost to satisfy the desires of the Islanders, and especially so with regard to their religious tenets. The former garrison was replaced at Elizabeth Castle by the Earl of Bath's regiment under the command of Sir Bevil Grenville, and prompt measures were taken in all other matters to bring things into conformity with the views of the Protestant Church: "Everything", we read, "being accomplished without opposition and without bloodshed".

Taxes for harbour

The completion of the Charing Cross prison was effected in the year previous to the death of Queen Mary, and it being of no further use, four years later the old cage for the temporary detention of prisoners, situated in the market square, was ordered to be pulled down, and shortly after this the matter of a harbour for the town of St Helier was brought to a head by the States applying to His Majesty in Council, 24 October 1699, for authority to appropriate those dues (impot duties) formerly applied to the building of St Aubin's pier to the purpose of building a harbour at St Helier, the reply to which request, unclothed of its legal technicalities, reached Jersey in the month of December following, to the effect that such request would be granted when the work at St Aubin was completed, a feat that was achieved in the year 1700.

For the space of a century afterwards, it may here be added, the whole of the revenues of the Island were appropriated to harbour works; yet even then the actual receipts were so small that liberal donations towards these desirable objects were given by private individuals, and money had to be borrowed upon which no interest was paid. As an indication, however, of the small traffic of the Island about this period, the fact stands out that for some years, both before and after the reign of William III as sole King, payments for debts were in liards whilst several Acts of States passed at different times allude to the scarcity of money. So much so, indeed, does this seem to have been the case, that in October 1701, all persons were forbidden, under heavy penalties, to take or send out of the Island to foreign countries either gold, silver, or other coin to a larger amount than 30 livres tournois.

Bequest for poor

In 1704, the second year of the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714), on his demise Lord Jermyn, who had held the patent of office for 43 years — and who, by the way, left a considerable sum of money for the poor of the Island, which, by order of the States, was divided amongst the several parishes — was succeeded as Governor of Jersey by Henry Lumley, first a colonel, then a general of horse, who seems to have been chiefly noted for having been present at every battle and every siege with King William III, or the Duke of Marlborough, in 20 campaigns in Ireland, Flanders, and Germany, and for never having even once visited the Island of Jersey "excepting he did so on the map".

And four years after his appointment, in 1708, a dispute that had been going on between the Ecclesiastical and Royal Courts culminated in the latter condemning the Dean, the Rev Clement Le Couteur, and eight clergy forming the Ecclesiastical Court individually to a somewhat heavy fine. The truth of the matter is that in the first place, in l703, the Lord Bishop of Winchester, together with the Dean and clergy of Jersey, had complained to His Majesty in Council concerning the behaviour in certain matters of the Civil Courts, and subsequently had promulgated a sentence of major execution against one John Le Couteur for having broken some of the canons of the Church, whereupon the Royal Court immediately retaliated by passing an Act prohibiting the Ecclesiastical Court from carrying the same into practical effect. This Act was, it seems, entirely ignored by the Church party, who, in consequence, were fined for contempt of Court; the fine being sanctioned by Imperial authority, and the amount thus mulcted divided one half to the Crown, one quarter to the poor, and one quarter by way of recompense to John Le Couteur.

Poverty

For the rest, Queen Anne's reign appears to have been chiefly remarkable for the fact that a great amount of distress and discontent prevailed upon the Island, the inhabitants complaining of poverty, the high rate of rentes and the scarceness and high price of food and other commodities. One form in which they vented their grievances was the publication in England, in 1709, of a pamphlet containing the summary of them, though as complaints of this kind were by no means infrequent about this and subsequent periods, their effect for a time was practically nil. Nevertheless, a few years later (1716), during the second year of the reign of George I (1714-1727), an Act of Parliament was passed whereby the previous charters of liberties and privileges possessed by Jersey were confirmed, and the people at the same time enjoined to remain steadfast in their loyalty to the King and his successors; whilst in 1719 the privilege was granted the Islanders by the King of importing produce into England without payment of subsidies, customs, or duties, except on such articles as would be excisable were they the manufacture or produce of Great Britain.

Currency changes

Previous to this, though, an event happened which must not he overlooked, showing, as it does, the indirect influence Admiral Sir George de Carteret still maintained over the affairs of the Island. In July 1715, John Carteret, second Baron Carteret, of Hawnes, and first Earl of Granville — a direct descendant in the third generation of the Admiral in question, and described as one of the most eminent British orators, diplomatists and statesmen of the eighteenth century, and who was "one of the keenest wits and brightest classical scholars of his time, marrying the leading beauty of the day" — was appointed Bailiff of Jersey. Still, five years after he entered upon his term of office we find the Island in one of the greatest monetary straits she ever experienced, so great, indeed, that it necessitated the still further prohibition of taking or sending even copper coinage over the amount of 5 livres tournois from her shores — it being on record that by 3 May 1720, there remained neither gold nor silver in circulation, the only metallic currency at that time being liards. Then it was that paper money seems first to have been decided upon. The individual value of the notes, however, was very small, amounting from only 20 sous (10d) to 50 livres; the aggregate value of the whole issue decided upon being 50,000 livres.

This evidently did not improve matters very much, for in 1726 free trade was allowed with regard to the liards, and a recommendation sent to King George I, during the last year of his reign, regarding the relative value of coins on the Island, the ulterior sanction of which by an Order in Council, 21 May 1729, led to serious disturbances, the actual outcome of the whole being that the French liards were reduced to their original value of 2 deniers (7 deniers being equal to a British halfpenny); so that six liards had to be given for a sol (centime) instead of four; the proportion of the livre and the sol — in which values all accounts were made out — remaining the while at their old proportion.

Governor's income

Six months, it is true, was allowed before the Order should come into operation, but it followed that if a man could not meet his liabilities within those six months they would increase 50 per cent, unless he could pay them otherwise than in liards. Another strong piece of evidence of the poverty of the Island at this period comes out in connection with the appointment of a successor to General Lumley as Governor of the Island in 1729 — the patent of office being this time bestowed upon Sir Richard Temple, Viscount Cobham, to whom, as emolument, there was allowed the whole of the Royal revenue of Jersey (minus a small portion for fees and salaries of officers) estimated at 15,000 livres turnois per annum, a sum which in olden days would have been equivalent to as many English pounds sterling, but at this time were only worth one-tenth their former value.

The result of this state of things (which it was ineffectually sought to remedy by appeals to the new King George II (1727-1760) in Council and all other known legitimate devices - legalised robbery it was called — was a riot, which occurred on 29 August 1730, in which Philip Le Geyt, Lieut-Bailiff, narrowly escaped with his life, and fled to Elizabeth Castle, resolving to leave the Island where he was no longer safe; a letter to which effect he addressed to the States on 8 September following. Jersey thus lost, for the time, one who was better versed than any man of his day in all its laws and customs.

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