Popular History of Jersey Chapter 44

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Hospital fire

Patients rescued

In 1859 an event happened which is still remembered by many residents — the burning down of a portion of the Hospital in Gloucester Street, when the hurry and confusion of the moment were only exceeded by the promptness of those in charge: the patients being with the utmost celerity transferred to All Saint’s Church which, for the time being, was converted into a medical hospice. This disaster occurred on Saturday, 18 July. No time, however, was afterwards lost in converting the resultant signs of mourning into that of rejoicing, when Her Majesty the Queen paid a second visit thitherwards, in the middle of August of the same year.

Then, carrying matters so far as 1860, we find that the Victoria Pier was at last finished — a fact accomplished during a year which for other matters is well worthy of record, in so far as that Victor Hugo was welcomed back to the Island and received an undoubtedly warm reception when he once more appeared there publicly as an advocate for General Garibaldi's cause; the Town of St Helier to some degree making up for the slur it had cast upon this great writer's name a few years previously by now giving a public banquet in his honour.

Besides this, in 1860 the foundation stone of the new General Hospital was laid by Major-General Sir Percy Douglas, the newly-appointed Lieut-Governor (sworn-in 30 September), and there was also established the now well-known Crabbe Rifle Ground. During the same year, too, the Jersey Express came into being, and the Scotch Church first found a substantial footing upon the Island.

Bar thrown open

Perhaps the most interesting event of that year was in connection with purely legal matters, the importance of which will be more clearly seen when it is remembered that, notwithstanding the difficulties, and intricacies of the Jersey law to an Englishman (and it is safe to say that no English lawyer, however thoroughly well up in his own work, but without special training, could profess to understand it, simple though the whole may appear to one, as it were, born and bred to the work on the Island), and also notwithstanding the number of English residents, merchants, landowners, tradesmen, and others at that time resident, the English population, so far as concerned legal affairs, was, up to that year, without a representative at the Jersey Bar, for the simple reason that none but native-born gentlemen were allowed to practise there — a remnant of conservatism so inherent in the Island that had to give way by the force of circumstances and the advance of the times.

And it was not without much hard fighting, many hard words, and many a vigorous debate, that this (at the time) so-called "justice to Englishmen" was achieved, though the credit of it was by no means entirely due to English influence, for more than one prominent Jersey advocate took up the cause, the outcome of the whole being that by an Act of the States the Jersey Bar was first thrown open in this truly noteworthy year.

Court reform

In 1861 there once more arose an effort to reform the Royal Court, in connection with which Serjeant Pigott's name stands foremost as having introduced a Bill into the House of Commons for that purpose, the debate on the motion for the second reading of which took place on 29 June 1861. The evident necessity for such reform may be summed up in the report of the Commissioners — Sir John Audry, the Earl of Devon, and Richard Jebb — appointed in 1859, and quoted on the occasion by the worthy Serjeant to the effect that: Whatever might have been in earlier times the merits of the very ancient Tribunal of Jersey, it was the Commissioners' opinion "that the Island with its great resources of wealth, its large foreign commerce, and the all-important interests that had arisen in it", had at that time "so outgrown its judicature that any reform which should leave the duties of the Superior Court in the hands of a numerous body without professional education, whose attendance was precarious, and for whose nomination no one was responsible to public opinion, was absolutely nulitary", the Commissioners in their report further remarking: " We are bound to state that whatever difficulties may stand in the way of reform, the practice of the Royal Court is in fact intolerably dilatory and vexatious."

Strong language, it is true, but to the point, and of extreme value as showing how matters stood in Jersey up to that date. Petitions were presented by several well-known English MPs in favour of the Bill, whilst Serjeant Pigott presented one signed by 128 landowners of the Island to the same effect. One also was presented by Mr Dodd, a resident, complaining of the maladministration of the law in Jersey, and, through Mr Hadfield, Mr Abraham Jones Le Cras also presented a petition in its favour.

In the end, however, Serjeant Pigott consented to a withdrawal on consideration that the Royal Court undertook its own reform. The whole fight in the English Parliament, it may he added, was the old one, centred upon the question of whether or no it could legislate for Jersey, the opinion of many of the (then) leading advocates of the Island being that it had such power, though it was but seldom enforced.

Governor's veto

Another matter of no small importance came to the fore in 1861, and this was no less than a conflict between Major-General Sir Robert Percy Douglas, Lieut- Governor, and the States, with respect to his right to exercise his veto in connection with the selection of a site for the Public Lunatic Asylum - a matter which was finally argued before the Privy Council, and which, as giving an insight into the peculiarities of such quarrels as could scarcely happen elsewhere, and showing how much to be valued in Jersey is a judicious Lieut-Governor, is worthy of some detail, and more especially so perhaps in the proof it gives of how well the Islanders both know their rights and privileges and are ever on the watch to ably uphold them.

The facts of the matter are probably most clearly put forth as they originally were in the case for States and the case for the Lieut-Governor, and as presented to the Privy Council.

The question the States wished to solve was whether Major-General Sir Percy Douglas, Lieut-Governor, had a right to use his negative voice in respect of an Act of States of 26 July 1861, by which the selection of a site for a Public Lunatic Asylum was postponed for a year, and only provisional arrangement made for the care of pauper lunatics. Their chief reasons given in pleading against it were that the Order in Council of 19 July 1619 (intended to set at rest all disputes), expressly restricted the Governor from using any negative voice except upon points specially connected with the Crown, a limit which had, they argued, never been annulled or modified, and that the Act in question of 26 July 1861, respecting the Asylum, did not in any way concern the special interest of the Crown, being only an administrative one.

The case for the Lieut-Governor was chiefly based upon the argument that the ordinance of 19 July 19 1619, merely operated as a rule for guidance in the exercise of general power and not as a limitation thereof, and that the exercise of his negative voice in the case in point was authorised by ordinances of 15 June 1618, 19 July 1619, and an Order in Council of 28 March 1771.

The sentences in the Orders in Council upon which each side based their pleas, and so fondly clung to, are as follows, and reveal how small a spark can kindle a great fire, whilst at the same time they are of vital moment as defining the Lieut-Governor's power.

  • Order in Council, 15 June 1618 : "It is ordered . . .. that there be no Assembly of the States in the Isle without the consent of the Governor, or his Lieutenant in his absence, in which it is to be understood that the Governor or his Lieutenant in his absence has a negative voice, to the end that it may be provided that no ordinance may be agreed upon prejudicial to His Majesty's Service or the interests of the people"
  • Order in Council, 19 July 1619: "And concerning the Governor's negative voice in the making of ordinances it is now ordered that he shall not use his negative voice but in such points as shall concern our special interest, the rather in regard that such Acts as are made in their Assembly are but provisional ordinances, and have no property of Laws until they be confirmed by us."
  • Order in Council, 28 March 1771 : " . . . in case it should happen that the Governor, Lieut- Governor, or Commander-in-Chief of the said Islands should not be present at the Assembly of States, then before any acts or matters determined therein shall be effectual, application shall first be made to the Governor, Lieut-Governor, or Commander-in-Chief, to know whether he chose to make use of the negative voice which he hath."

The whole matter caused, as may be imagined, the greatest commotion throughout the Island, and in the end the Lieut-Governor won the case on the consideration that lunatics were under the charge of the Crown, and therefore, according to the Order in Council of 19 July 1619, did "specially concern" the King. The chief result to Jersey, however, was not satisfactory in so far as the Asylum was concerned, as is shown in the fact that the foundation stone of that Institution was not laid until some four years afterwards. 1861, it must he added, is also locally notable for the founding of the Jersey National Rifle Association, and as the year when the "Jersey Armorial" — containing an elaborate account by J Bertrand Payne, heraldic and antiquarian of the chief native families — was published.

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