Popular History of Jersey Chapter 50

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1886 - commercial crisis

Two banks collapse

A dismal year again opened out for Jersey in 1886. It is true some dark rumours of forthcoming disaster had been afloat for a short time previously, given rise to in some mysterious manner; nevertheless, it was with the startling effect of a thunder-clap that the news went forth on January 11th that the Jersey Banking Company, commonly known as "The States Bank", had suspended payment. This was followed on the morrow naturally, though to the consternation of the whole island, by the failure of another local bank and the suspension of one of Jersey's leading firms of traders and shipowners; and to add to the general dismay, it became known on the 14th that the States Treasurer and Manager of the Jersey Banking Company had been arrested.

On the following day a crowded and excited meeting was held in the Town Hall to discuss the position of the bank, and a climax was in some sort reached when, on the 16th désastres were adjudicated against the Treasurer of the Impot, the Treasurer of the States, and two trading firms, up till then looked upon as being "as safe as the Bank of England"; the primary cause, or, at any rate, the active cause of the whole being not so much the state of business in Jersey at the time, but the commercial depression which had spread itself in Italy and other foreign business centres.

On Sunday 17th, references were made to the crisis in nearly all the places of worship on the Island , whilst the States took up the matter in a rigorous and searching debate the next day. In brief, the whole of Jersey was bowed with woe.

Criminal charges

But the far-reaching consequences were even then not fully known. During that sad year alone claims were registered against eight insolvent firms, to the amount of £589,816, of which the Jersey Banking Company's share was £324,816 and some odd shillings. The immediate result, however, over and above the arrest of the manager, was a charge of issuing false balance sheets, etc preferred against three of the managing directors of the bank, and also the committal to the Criminal Assizes of the sub-manager. Happily the latter, together with the directors, were honourably acquitted, though the manager himself, after a six-day trial, was condemned to five years penal servitude for embezzlement and misapplication of public money and fraudulent misappropriation of bonds.

But to return. The need of an increase in the representation of St Helier seems to have been one of the foremost things in the minds of its inhabitants, other than the commercial crisis through which the Island was passing, and the States having thrown out a Bill to this effect on 15 February, a crowded meeting of the constituents was that day held to consider the rejection, with the result that an appeal to Her Majesty in Council was resolved upon. In fact, Jersey at this period seems to have been suffering from a ferment of thorough and unhappy discontent, undoubtedly due, in a great measure, to the reaction caused by its financial sickness; and signs of it were present on almost every hand.

Military service opposed

It was on 25 February of this year, for instance, that the Bailiff considered it his duty, as not long before mentioned, to record his dissenting voice in connection with the Market Regulations. Then, within a few days, on 4 March, we find an anti-compulsory Militia League springing into active force, and resolving to petition Her Majesty against the existing enforced military service; whilst on the seventh of the month there was an attempted demonstration of the numbers then unemployed. This latter question, however, was in part immediately and judiciously solved by the States authorising the Harbour Committee to spend £800 on relief work, on 8 March, and the Bailiff's dissent to the Market Regulation was acquiesced in by the States on 5 April. The League held its first anniversary in Jersey on 10 May, and on the 13th a disturbance occurred in St Helier, the outcome of which was that on the 18th three persons were fined at the Police Court £10, £2 10s, and £1 respectively.

Meanwhile, on the good old principle, perhaps, of locking the stable after the horse is stolen, the States adopted a regulation in connection with the banking affairs of the Island, which was undoubtedly a step in advance, whereby Article 44 of the Act of 16 May 1881, was so modified as to include banking concerns in the Limited Liabilities Act.

Damages for injury

Not that by any means legislation on other very important matters had been neglected during the first period of the Island's commercial depression of 1886, for even in the throes of its darkest days we find the Act passed (25 January) whereby it was provided by law that damages for injury could be claimed in case of death caused by negligence or carelessness, whether the act causing death was felonious or otherwise, if such death ensued through facts which would justify an action at law. On 1 February stringent measures were put forth for the prevention of adulteration; and on the same day, chiefly through the influence and energy of the present Constable of St Helier (Advocate Baudains), there was enacted (and afterwards confirmed) the ordinance which limits the imprisonment for debt (other than in case of debtors committed for contempt of Court) to one year, and frees such debtors from liability to imprisonment for any debts due upon their release; then, on 4 February, the Law concerning the prohibition of lotteries, raffles, and the like, was made a permanent one.

Public finances

The question of public finance was also at this time thoroughly gone into by the States, which, on 29 March, passed a Bill (confirmed 26 June) regulating the times when claims connected therewith should be paid, appointing a treasurer for a term of three years only — such officer to give surety in securities and deposits to the amount of £10,000, and not to be an officer, manager, or servant in any commercial undertaking — and also providing for the establishment of a Treasury Office and the appointment of a Finance Committee; whilst on 22 June the States at length passed the long-pending regulations for the market. These, together with an Act dated 28 October, authorising the re-introduction of Jersey cattle which had been exhibited in England formed the most important legislation of the year.

In more social matters we find that 1886 has to its credit the first handicap, at La Collette, of the Jersey Swimming Club, held on 17 June; and the first race of the Caesarean Homing Pigeon Society's birds on 1 July. The year, however, which commenced with such dire consequences, from monetary point of view, was also destined to experience towards its close, a series of disastrous storms.

Violent gale

A violent gale from the west set in on 14 October, and prevailed more or less, from nearly the same point, throughout the remainder of the month. Mails were delayed inordinately, damage to a serious extent done to houses and other property, the sea wall at the Esplanade was breached, railway traffic was interrupted, whilst shipping generally felt its full force.

One good result, however, followed the general havoc caused, in the establishment, by order of the States, 28 October, of telegraphic communication between the Corbiere and Fort Regent. And a bright and memorable event which it is a pleasure to record, took place with which to close the year, in the opening, on 1 December, of the splendid and most excellently fitted new buildings of the Public Library, originally founded, in 1736, by the Rev Philippe Falle, and which now contains, besides some 30,000 volumes, both books and missals of almost priceless worth.

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