Popular History of Jersey Chapter 41

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Bread riots

A painting by de la Taste of the bread riots

Potato disease

The year 1847 seems at first sight to have been a disastrous one. To commence with, it saw the death and burial of Sir Edward Gibbs, Lieut-Governor, he being succeeded by Major-General Sir Henry Brynett. Then, again, the disease in potatoes, which had been the cause of so disastrous a famine in other parts of the world, seems to have affected Jersey also, and this, too, reaching a climax at a time when other things were scarce, road communication incomplete, and prices very high.

Men — military and civil, for instance — working on the way between First Tower and St Aubin, at the time were forced by circumstances to buy bread at St Helier at an exorbitant price — 1s for a 4 lb loaf, and 6d for one half that weight. This gave rise to what has since been known as the Jersey "Bread riots", which at the time seemed as though they would assume dangerous proportions. The mob, in fact, went so far as to overpower the attendants and workmen at The Town Mills, situated at Robin Hood, fetching from thence waggon loads of flour. The military, however, from Fort Regent were called into requisition and a stand made near the Robin Hood Inn; the result being that the rioters were quelled with but little injury ensuing, and the uprising at once, by stern measures, put a stop to; great credit, as it appears, being at the time due to the influence of the newly-appointed Lieut-Governor.

Victoria College

At the same time the year 1847 was not altogether a dark one concerning matters connected with the Island, for we find that on 6 May of that year, the Lieut-Governor, together with the Bailiff and Jurats forming the Assembly, finally decided on building Victoria College out of the funds then in hand under their administration. A committee for the purpose was formed, a site — the present one — chosen, and a contract for the whole agreed upon at an estimated cost of £13,000. During this same year, too, the breakwater at St Catherine's Point was commenced.

The years 1848 and 1849 present no remarkable features other than the death of John Le Capelain, the famous water-colour artist, and the founding of La Patrie newspaper, whilst, coming to the year 1850, the chief event evidently was the laying, on 24 May, of the foundation stone of Victoria College.

Shipbuilding

And it must not be forgotten that at this period Jersey was celebrated and won an almost world-wide fame for one or two industries that have since died out. Shipbuilding, for instance, was then a most thriving industry on the Island, or, to put it in the words of a quaint but graphic writer of the period: "In many parts at or near the harbour or along the Esplanade there was constantly to be heard the dockyard sound of caulking and other processes used in the building and repairing of ships." At other outlying spots, too, around the coast, such as St Aubin and Gorey, many (in their day) noteworthy traffic of from 40 to 60 tons and upwards were turned off the stocks — a Jersey-built vessel at that time, as it appears from the same authority, costing from 15 to 20 per cent less than a vessel built in any other part of the world, labour being cheaper and employment more constant.

And under this head comes in the interesting note that whilst at that time (1850) the arrivals in the harbour were 2,082 vessels, paying dues to the amount of £5,088 17s 5d, the debt on the harbour was close on £48,000. Another trade that once flourished, but which has since died out, was that of shoemaking, chiefly for export — the returns for 1850 showing as many as from 14,000 to 15,000 pairs of shoes and over 1,000 pairs of boots of insular make: these articles being principally exported to North America, and at the time being noted as "better made than any English goods of the like sold in the London market, though at the same, price."

College opens

Then, coming to the year 1852, we find another Lieut-Governor appointed in the person of Major-General James Frederick Love, who was sworn in on 30 April, and whose chief pleasing duty during his term of office was to witness, at last, the opening of the, at that time, chief seat of education on the Island, or, in other words, the long talked-of college, named after Her Gracious Majesty the Queen, the opening of which establishment by the Bailiff Sir Thomas Le Breton, occurred on 29 September of that year amidst great pomp and ceremony, and the first principal of it being the Rev William George Henderson.

For the rest, the year 1852 is chiefly noteworthy for the facts that Victor Hugo came over to settle in Jersey for a time, and that a conspicuous lawsuit was given rise to with the Crown in connection with the celebrated idea known as the Three Orders in Council.

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