Popular History of Jersey Chapter 31

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Dawn of the 19th Century

The 19th Century, so momentous and eventful in the history of the world, and full to overflowing with matters connected with the Island, appears to have opened quietly for Jersey, though with every sign of a determination to be prepared for whatever contingency should arise.

Rocco Tower

Field-Marshal the Marquis of Townshend was still Governor, and acting as his lieutenant was Lieut-General Andre Gordon, to whose skill and devotion to its interests the Island owes a debt of gratitude, and under whom during the first two years of the new century we find peaceful alterations and warlike preparations mingled. In the year 1800, the small fort known as Rocco Tower, in St Ouen's Bay, was built, which, surrounded by the tide at high water, would in those days have proved of no mean efficiency in keeping off a foe; whilst during the same year the Town Hill was purchased by the Government from the commonalty of the Vingtaine of St Helier for £11,280 for the purpose of erecting thereon the present Fort Regent; it being worthy of note that the interest arising from such purchase-money — invested in the hands of three trustees, and amounting to about £680 12 per annum — was, and is still, devoted to the paving of and other improvements in the streets of St Helier.

In the following year, with the aid of the States, buildings for a new market were constructed on the site of the present vegetable market, and the market, until that date from "time immemorial" held in the present Royal Square, was removed there; after which the Square began more prominently, and at last exclusively, to assume its present name, evidently deriving it, in the first place, from the statue of George II erected in it, and from which, by the way, all distances on the Island are now measured.

Custom House

In the same year, too, another innovation was made in Jersey, though undoubtedly it was not accomplished without long and strenuous opposition from both the merchants and inhabitants of the Island, who freely subscribed towards a fund to thwart it. However, it seems to have been His Majesty George III's royal will, and hence, in place of only a resident officer appointed by the Customs' Commissioners to register matters concerning the same, a Custom House was finally established.

In the meantime the matter of insular revenue was again a very vexed one, for it still continued to be inadequate to the public exigencies of the Island; the fact being that until the year 1799, the States, as apart from the Assembly, had actually no money to call their own. A petition was therefore sent to His Majesty in Council, in 1803, concerning the whole matter, which eventuated both in the duties on spirits being raised from 3 to 4 sols per pot (such being allowed to be in force until the conclusion of the French war), and a most important change being made in the mode of levying and appropriating the revenue.

Revenues shared

Hitherto that portion under the direction of the Assembly of Governor, Bailiff, and Jurats, had been farmed separately from that under the administration of the States, a mode of procedure very inconvenient, and, as it would seem, one which had been productive of not a little fraud. An Act of States was therefore passed, 14 September 1803, and subsequently confirmed, whereby it was ordained that all impots whatsoever were to be farmed or levied together, and the income arising from them equally divided between the States and the Assembly — to be utilised by the former body for the defence, improvement, and other necessities of the Island; by the latter for the completion of harbours, piers and the like (a l'accomplissement, entretien et besoins des havres et des chaussees), with the result that the revenue immediately showed a considerable increase.

Disaster avoided

Midsummer Day, 24 June 1804, was signalised by the nearly total destruction of the greater portion of the town of St Helier, and which, but for the gallant and intrepid action on the part of three brave men — Philip Lys, a signalman, Edward Touzel, and one Penteney, a private in the 31st Regiment, then stationed on the Island, to each of whom the States, as a reward, presented a gold medal and a well-filled purse — would have been un fait accompli. According to the best accounts a royal salute had been fired in the morning from the Town Hill in honour of George Ill’s 66th birthday, and the slow matches then used in the operation, after (as it was thought) being thoroughly extinguished, were as usual stored away in the magazine, which, besides cartridges, bombs, and other combustible and inflammable materials, seems to have contained some 400 barrels of gunpowder.

Nothing unusual, however, occurred until about 6 o'clock in the evening, when smoke was observed issuing from the magazine door, when, with every risk of being blown to atoms in the general calamity that must have followed, these three heroes entered the building, snatched away a burning match which had been the cause of all, and extinguished the fire with water hurriedly conveyed in their hats just as it appeared to be taking an unquenchable hold, for the envelope of a parcel of powder and two boxes of cartridges adjoining a powder barrel wore already ignited. This incident occurred some two years prior to the laying of the foundation-stone of Fort Regent.

General Don

Passing on to 1805, there is but little to record worthy of notice, unless it be that Jersey, on 16 November of that year, joined in the universal rejoicing for Nelson's victory in Trafalgar Bay. The following year, however, must ever be held as of the highest importance to the Island, for during it, on 26 April (Lieut-General Gordon having died on the 17th of that month; being subsequently buried, amidst universal regret, in St Helier's Parish Church), there was sworn in as Lieut-Governor one whose name will always stand out as "amongst the best of all", in the person of Lieut-General Don, to whose untiring devotion and remarkable energy the Island owes the greatest of its improvements, and who certainly, with regard to its roads, means of communications, and other conveniences, converted it from a wilderness into a decently habitable spot; besides taking care of its defences, and keeping always to the fore the bettering of the condition of its inhabitants.

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