Popular History of Jersey Chapter 46

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Railway starts

Penal servitude

The principal events, in addition to the wreck of the ss Normandy, mentioned in the previous chapter, that make the year 1870 one very much to the fore in the history of the Island, are as follows: In the first place came a wave of that prison reform which had been agitating England for some few years under James Howard and others, one important feature in which — primarily given rise to, as no doubt everyone is aware, by the resolute refusal of the Colonies to receive any more convicts — was the cessation of the system of transportation and the substitution in its stead of the present form of punishment and prison discipline known as penal servitude.

In England transportation ceased in the year 1867, but it was not until July 1870, that the tide in favour of penal servitude reached Jersey, at which period, by an Act of States, the idea of transportation was abandoned and the more civilised method of "penal servitude" with its beneficial accompaniment of the "ticket-of-leave" system adopted in exchange.

Water supply

Another memorable thing in connection with 1870 was the successful carrying out of the scheme for a good water supply in and around St Helier, inaugurated, as may be remembered, in the September of the preceding year, though too late in the season for the full benefits of the undertaking to be realised. Hence it was not until the year in question that the public boon thus effected was made manifest, more especially in the fact that for the first time in its history since it had become thickly populated the town during the hot season had no scarcity of water to complain of, and no unsanitary and oftentimes foetid water for its main supply — a matter all the more noteworthy in face of the fact that from that period its notoriety as a health resort has steadily advanced.

Railway service

During the same year, too, the line from St Helier to St Aubin was first opened, 28 September having to its credit the fact that on that day the first locomotive was run on its rails. The first actual trip between these two chief towns of Jersey, with some 259 passengers, it is interesting to note, took place on the following day, whilst the formal opening of the line followed on 25 October.

Meanwhile, on 11 September, the Franco-German war, then raging, was forcibly brought to the minds of the Islanders by the arrival in St Helier's harbour of the ss Staperayder, Captain Alexandre de Jersey, with "1,600 stand of arms and about ten tons of gunpowder" on board, evidently intended for the French Government. The powder, it is scarcely necessary to add, was seized by the harbour authorities, and the sequel to the whole was that Captain de Jersey was heavily fined by the Royal Court.

Then, again, the trial trip of the first locomotive in Jersey was not the only important event which occurred on 28 September 1870, for we find that on that day the steamer Caroline arrived at Greve-au-Langon with the shore end of the Jersey and Guernsey direct submarine cable, and that on the same date its crew, in the presence of several leading electricians of the time, successfully made a connection between the two Islands, thus completing the direct telegraphic system as at present existing.

This, it may be added, was to some extent a revival of the work commenced twelve years previously, though it was a work necessitated by the defectiveness of the former cable and the consequent withdrawal of the Government guarantee from the first undertaking. The new cable, however, primarily due in every respect to private enterprise, was almost immediately purchased by the Government, and from thenceforward Jersey has enjoyed all the convenience accruing from the English postal telegraph system.

Channel Islands Exhibition

The following year chiefly stands out as being the year when the "Channel Islands Exhibition" was held, which most successful function was opened on 29 June 29. At the same time it is an interesting one as holding one of the records for the number of residents upon the Island, the census of that year giving a population of 56,627, an increase of 1014 over the previous census of 1864, and a figure that never before had been reached.

In brief, 1871 was a year of such prosperity as oftentimes (as in this case) precedes a commercial downfall. Prior, however, to the dark days that were in store for Jersey, several important undertakings were carried out. The Town Hall as it at present stands was opened on 3 January 1872, the first public use to which it was put being a meeting for the nomination of Deputies for the Island, which was held on the day of its inauguration; the foundation stone of a proposed new harbour (of which more anon) was laid on 29 August; and the first turf of the Jersey Eastern Railway was cut about three weeks afterwards.

This interesting ceremony, it may be added, took place on 17 September, in a field near Saumares, given for the purpose of the railway by Edward Mourant, chairman of the newly-formed Company, and in the presence of its chief officials and a few invited guests. And work in connection with maritime affairs seeming then to be also the order of the day, we find that at that period the harbours at Greve-de-Lecq and Bonne Nuit were constructed, whilst it was in 1872 that the building of the much-needed lighthouse on the dangerous coast at Corbiere was finally decided on.

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