The Corsairs of Jersey

From Jerripedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Societe logo.png


Pirates and privateers

This article by respected 20th century historian A C Saunders, honorary librarian of La Société Jersiaise at the time, was published in the Annual Bulletin of 1930. [1]

Wonderful sailors

One often hears remarkable stories of adventure in connection with the sailors who manned our privateers, but very scant information is available about those wonderful sailors who, facing the dangers of the sea, fought their country's enemies in vessels of small size and very often ill found.

We hear tales of grandfathers who, as privateers, found much profit in their enterprises, but there are few details of the deeds done and how the gold was acquired. Stories handed down from father to son when often repeated, differ very materially in details and it is surprising that in an Island like Jersey, with a population directly or indirectly connectod with the sea, so little is known about those brave sailors who left their Island home to adventure abroad in foreign parts.

We have to remember that printing was only introduced into the Island in 1784 and that with the exception of private letters, now non-existent, few records were left.

Jerseymen in former days were always noted for their spirit of adventure and were recognised all over the world as belonging to the first rank of seagoing men, always brave and capable, and it is to their sailors that Jerseymen owe their place among the discoverers of the New World. They were willing to go anywhere where ships were to be found, and all along the coast of America and Canada there are traces of our brave forefathers who ventured abroad in their small craft.

A model of the US ship Snipe, captured by the Jersey privateer Vulture

New regulations

It is not therefore surprising to find that, when privateering was adopted in Jersey in the year 1689, Jersey merchants and sailors were eager to take advantage of the new regulations and fit out their vessels to make reprisals on enemy countries.

We must not suppose that Jerseymen had hesitated to act before privateering was legalised, but prior to 1689 the corsairs of Jersey could hardly be distinguished from the ordinary pirate. They had few scruples and often made war not only on vessels belonging to an enemy but sometimes, when favourable opportunity offered, failed to recognise the rights of their fellow countrymen.

When caught, justice was tempered with very little mercy so the actions of these pirates, though often successful, sometimes left sorry tales of woe behind them.

Three pirates

Thus in the year 1550 we hear of three noted pirates who were caught and condemned to death. One was an Englishman named Wite and the other two Jerseymen named Barnabe Le Quesne and Sebastian Alexandre. The Court condemned Wite to be hanged in chains on the hill overlooking St Catherine's Bay and Le Quesne was dealt with in the same manner on a gallows erected on Noirmont Point. Alexandre was reprieved. The Justices hoped that by such warning, others might be dissuaded from continuing such evil practices.

But we were not alone in acts of piracy for on 26 March 1599 Sir Thomas Leighton, writing to Secretary Cecil, stated that there were five Spanish men-of-war on the Coast of Brittany, three at Roscoe and two at Cancale to distress merchants trading to these ports and to spy on the Islands.

Again on 9 October 1625, Sir Philip de Carteret, the Lieut-Governor, wrote to the Privy Council and told them that the seas around the Islands are infested with pirates and suggested that a small ship of war should be sent to scour between the islands, and he was prepared if his petition was granted to provide a skilful pilot for the vessel. So the Privy Council directed the Duke of Buckingham to send a ship for this service.

As privateering became a recognised occupation, history relates many captures of Jersey vessels by French, Spanish and American privateers during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Jersey sailors often helped to man Guernsey vessels, and, by many captures, helped to fill the coffers of Guernsey owners.

Letters of marque

At first letters of marque were issued to persons whose property had been seized by an enemy in order that the owners of such seized property might have a chance of recouping themselves for the losses they had sustained. Later on commissions were issued to vessels authorising their owners to attack and plunder the King's enemies during wartime.

These privateers were more or less independent, but were looked upon with scant respect and received but little consideration from the Navy during wartime. If the powers granted under the commission were exceeded, the commissions were immediately withdrawn, but, on the whole, they were very enterprising and successful and were of considerable value to the British Government, by obtaining valuable information about the enemy's movements.

The advantages of privateering were not all on one side, for during the first two years of the Napoleonic wars, 42 Jersey vessels were captured by the French and some 900 Jerseymen were prisoners of war in French prisons. Between the years 1793-1814 no fewer than 10,871 British vessele were captured by France, and in two months of the year 1807, the celebrated Breton corsair Surcouf took prizes to the value of £291,250.

Privateering continued until the Declaration of Paris in 1850, when, by Article 1, the granting of letters of marque was abolished.

Snow and Mauger families

There are many letters of marque still in the possession of Jersey families. They were granted to ancestors who laid the foundation of the fortunes which their descendents still enjoy. The old house, pulled down and rebuilt by the late John Laurens and now known as Lansdown House, was built by a celebrated privateer named William Snow in 1704, and in one of the outbuildings there used to be a stone marked WS MM. Snow’s brother-in-law, John Maugier, was another privateer and his letter of marque for the Jersey Sloop, 30 tons, granted in 1692, is the oldest known commission in existence. It belongs to Miss Clements of Millbrook.

Maugier lived in Les Prairies, Millbrook. A descendent of his was Capt John Clements, who in 1836 was in command of the celebrated barque Eliza, owned by Mr Nicolle, and one of the oldest vessels afloat. This vessel had been captured from the Americans in 1807 and was lost at sea on a voyage to Brazil in 1891, when she was reputed to be 135 years old. Another Snow commanded the privateer Marie in 1692.

We can imagine the sailormen of the old privateering days, blustering, noisy, often quarrelsome, especially when under the influence of drink, and the excitement of an argument, strutting about the town followed by an admiring crowd who were always ready to praise deeds which they dared not do and take advantage of the generosity of any gallant sailor who had returned from a successful cruise.

Generally speaking the privateer was a brave man and a good sailor willing to gamble his life against a possible prize.

The arrival of a Jersey-owned vessel in the Bay with a prize always meant great excitement. Crowds flocked to the shore, some anxious for relatives or friends who had sailed in the Jersey vessel, and others, interested in the venture, wondering what return they were to get for their outlay.

By no means all privateers were large ships

States Order

And when news of the capture spread abroad and the captain and his merry men came ashore, there was no restraint to the enthusiasm of the crowd. Bells were rung, flags flown, drums beaten, and guns fired and the boisterous enthusiasm was such that eventually the States, by their order of 30 April 1779, directed:

”Seeing the disorder caused by the beating of drums and the firing of guns and the inconvenience caused by the noisy demonstrations in the public market and the derangement of the public in general and also the interruption of Justice, the States forbade such actions by the public on the arrival and despatch of corsairs.”

On 8 May 1779 they added to their order ‘that no guns shall be fired by Corsairs in the roads’.

But enthusiasm is very difficult to suppress and people who had ventured life and money would not be restrained from showing their feelings by any States Order on the arrival or departure of these little ships of adventure. Possibly some members of the States were interested in the welfare of these privateers and so the States took no further action until 1 June 1793, when they directed that any corsair firing cannon or gun on arrival or departure at or from the roads shall be fined 100 livres ‘as such firing is apt to frighten the inhabitants’.

Volunteer sailors

There were always volunteers to man the vessels. Risks were great but Jerseymen were never wanting in courage, and a successful cruise meant a great deal to those who had a share in it. So many men were seized with the glamour of privateering that they forsook their usual occupations for the sea, much to the detriment of the Militia necessary for the defence of the island. When Capt Clement Messervy, of the Guernsey corsair Dragon, engaged Jerseymen to man his vessel, the States fined him 200 livres for recruiting men from Jersey without the sanction of the Chief Magistrate.

But all Jersey ventures were not successful for in December 1757, the corsair Duke of Northumberland returned to Jersey after a desperate fight with a French vessel. The vessel was much damaged and 12 of the crew were killed, including Jean Arthur and George Marett, evidently persons of some importance at that time. They had volunteered for the cruise.

It is surprising how small some of these privateers were. I have in my possession a letter of marque granted on 7 September 1759 to Captain Peter Labey for a ship called the Fox, a row boat, lug sail rigged, carrying two swivel guns and 20 men. This letter of marque authorised Labey to attack, surprise, seize and take any place or fortress on the land or any ship at sea belonging to or possessed by any of His Majesty’s enemies.

The Fox cruised off the coast waiting for any small cargo boat making for the ports of St Malo or Granville. In those days all goods were carried by boat, as the roads in Brittany and Normandy were unfit for heavy traffic. Unfortunately there is no record of the activities of the Fox, but the 20 men with their two swivel guns must have had a very uncomfortable time in their open 9-ton boat.

Piracy was common all over the world prior to the 19th century and there are records of Jerseymen captured by pirates in the Mediterranean Sea. In 1674 a subscription was opened in Trinity to pay the ransom of Abraham Tocher, a prisoner with the Turks, and on 30 July 1700 the States authorised payment of a sum of money for the redemption of certain Jerseymen, slaves in the Kingdom of Morocco and Fez.


Jersey, during the later years of Charles I, and the early days of the Commonwealth, proved a great danger to English merchant vessels. Until the surrender of Elizabeth Castle, Sir George Carteret, Governor of Jersey, used his fleet to capture any English vessel trading in the English Channel and by that means he managed to obtain sufficient supplies not only to provision the island but also to provide for the wants of those Royalists who were defending Castle Cornet in Guernsey.

While Jersey remained loyal to the King, thanks to Sir George and his followers, Guernsey, except for those in Castle Cornet, took the parliamentarian side.

It is not surprising to hear of a Guernsey vessel, in 1645, capturing a French vessel loaded with wine for the Royalists in Jersey. Later on they captured another vessel loaded with hides and general cargo. These captures aroused the anger of Sir George, so he manned his galley with 30 men and went cruising along the coast of Guernsey and Sark. But the Guernseymen were waiting for him with greater force and they chased the Governor's galley until it got within the shelter of the guns of Elizabeth Castle.

Carteret had in his employ a very daring and successful captain named Bowden, who had all the necessary qualifications for a successful pirate. On 18 June 1645 he captured a London vessel loaded with oranges, lemons and six tons of iron. The oranges must have been very useful to the followers of Carteret, who bought the prize for 800 ecus. On 16 January 1646 Bowden captured a British vessel off Dover carrying 30 tons of rye for that port.

Bowden was cruising off the coast when the prize having, as the master thought, made a successful voyage from the Bay of Biscay, dropped anchor just outside the Port of Dover. As the sails were lowered, Bowden opened fire and sent a prize crew to take the vessel to Jersey.

Much was written about Bowden, and another captain named Baudains. The last was on 19 June 1681, when Bowden, an old man, applied for relief from the King, pleading that when in the Portland frigate he had lost the use of his right hand and had "suffered much by great losses and crosses".

The King referred the matter to Trinity House, who gave the old sailor 20 shilings and his further application for a post of Gunner in the Tower was referred to the Commissioners of Ordnance and lost sight of.

Another Captain was Geilph, who was very unfortunate. In December 1646, when chasing a British ship, his crew mutinied and refused to fire on their own countrymen, so the British vessel captured the Jerseyman and Geilph was sent prisoner to London, where he remained a very long time.

Sir George had to be very careful not to offend his French neighbours, so when Captain Schmit brought three French vessels to Jersey as prizes he refused to allow the discharge of the vessels, for, as he explained to Schmit, he was not at war with France and if the prizes were not liberated, he would find himself in ill favour with his neighbours from whom he obtained most of his supplies.

Then we have Capt Amy, not a Jerseyman, who came to Jersey in command of theLittle George, 160 tons, a vessel belonging to the Prince of Wales. He captured vessels with wine for England, coal from England and made many other prizes. Evidently he settled in Jersey and reports say that after his death a monument was erected to his memory in the parish church.

A privateer prepares to board a prize

English invasion

One has only to read Chevalier to realise what a wonderful period it was for privateering during the time Sir George upheld the cause of his King in Jersey. English vessels were afraid to start on voyages except under convoy, on account of the pirates of Ostend and Jersey. The damage done to the English mercantile marine by Sir George's ships aroused the anger of the Parliamentarians and in 1651 Admiral Blake arrived off the Island with a large fleet and some 5,000 soldiers.

These troops eventually landed at St Ouen, after a gallant resistance made by the Governor and his followers, and once landed Sir George was forced to take refuge in Elizabeth Castle which he defended, with 340 men, for over six weeks.

It was then simply a question of time and to quote Clarendon:

"The enemy brought mortar pieces of such an incredible greatness and such as had never been seen in this part of the world that from the highest point of the hill, near St Hillary, they shot grenades of a vast bigness into the Castle and beat down many houses; and, at last, blow'd up a great magazine, where most of the provisions of victuals lay, and killed many men."

Thus was destroyed the church of the old Abbey of St Helier and Sir George, finding that he could expect no further assistance from the King, accepted the satisfactory terms of surrender offered by the Parliamentary General and marched out of the Castle with all honours of war.

After this Jersey was no longer a happy headquarters for privateers and Sir George's former captains sought work elsewhere. Le Quesne’s Constitutional History records one of the old Captains who, evidently, was working on his own account:

"Privateering, or rather a kind of piracy, was practised upon the shipping of the Island: that Captain Chamberlain, an old pirate, sent a letter to Colonel Heane, Governor of Jersey, that if the Jerseymen would not contribute towards his maintenance, he swore by the heavens that be would throw as many as he met with into the bottom of the sea."

On 20 October 1652 it was suggested that two small frigates should be sent for the protection of the Island, as:

"Several pyrates or picaroons daily rowe about the said Island and have taken several small vessels of the inhabitants.”
Advertisement for a pending sale of prizes in Brittany

Protection vessels

In 1708 the States employed two corsairs and two boats for the protection of the Island and directed that '200 livres should be paid for the Capre, commanded by Captain Andre de Ste Croix, the said sum to be chargeable on the parish rates, and, on 28 February 1709, they directed that, owing to the shortage of bread and beef, no alien corsair would he allowed to ship stores in the island.

During the Spanish War Spanish privateers did a great deal of damage to Jersey shipping, especially among vessels in the American trade. These privateers ventured up channel as far as Dover. On 18 May 1742 William Connor, master of the Six Brothers of Cork, made a protest in Jersey that his vessel had been captured by a Spanish privateer 6 leagues west of the Isle of Wight.

Capt John Ahier

In a paper read before this Society in January 1928, I told the story of Captain John Ahier of the ship Maryof Jersey, captured while on a voyage to Virginia by the St Peter of San Sebastian. This happened on 6 August 1741 when the Mary was about 40 leagues west of the Lizards, six days after she had left Jersey.

Ahier was a plucky and capable seaman, so putting on all the sail his vessel could carry he did his best to escape. The St Peter was a larger vessel and after a chase lasting from 2 am to 2 pm the Spaniards managed to get within gun range of the Mary and only then did Ahier surrender.

The St Peter carried 20 guns and 160 men. They then made for San Sebastian, but the weather was stormy and both vessels had to put in for shelter at Bayonne. When the Spaniards were busy carrying out an anchor, Ahier managed to attract the attention of a Frenchman in a boat nearby. He got through the porthole of the cabin and escaped ashore, and in the course of time returned to Jersey.

On 7 September the Dolphin of Jersey, when on a voyage from Newfoundland to Poole with a cargo of fish and oil, was captured by a Spanish privateer with 14 guns. The Spanish captain appear to have treated their prisoners very courteously and we hear of a Captain Botier of the St Michel taking a captain of a Jersey ship, which be had captured, ashore and standing him a dinner only to be rewarded by a decided refusal of the prisoner to return to the ship.

Jerseymen were not idle and a Jersey corsair named Charming Betty made many captures. All the prizes were not brought to the home port. A Jersey privateer captured on 16 January 1744 the French barque St Charles of Pont L'Abbé in Brittany, but as the prize was in a very leaky condition, she was allowed to continue her voyage on a ransom of 2,000 livres.

As the master could not produce such a sum one of the crew, Thomas Garnier, was brought to Jersey until the ransom was paid, and, although the prize was allowed in the Admiralty Court at Quimper, Garnier wrote to the Armateurs at St Malo and complained that until the ransom was paid he would not be allowed to return to his home.

Advertisement for sale of prizes captured by French vessels

Profitable years

Captain Snow, of Lansdown House, was a very successful privateer and between 4 January and 27 May 1744 he captured no fewer than nine French vessels of the value of 127,600 livres, and then between July and October 1746 captured another nine to the value of 191,800 livres.

The years from 1757 to 1760 seem to have been very profitable for Jersey corsairs, although the great majority of the people of Jersey were always in fear of a French invasion. Rumours were continually being spread about the great preparations being made by their foes across the water, so, on 9 July 1759 Philip Lempriere, one of the owners of the corsair Charming Nancy, offered to lend to the States for a time — probably while the vessel was undergoing repair — the guns from the vessel for the better protection of the Island.

His offer was gratefully accepted and three guns of 6 lb each were sent to protect St Catherine's Bay, and six guns each of 12 lb distributed in other parts of the Island. On 16 July 1760 the States were informed that the French were ready to make the attack so they issued an order that no corsair or other vessel was to leave the island without the special permission of the Commander in Chief and the Chief Magistrate. Evidently it was a false alarm, for shortly afterwards the States chartered two small corsairs to sail along the coast of France and try to ascertain the intentions of the enemy.

La Defiance

On 30 June 1757 there were great rejoicings in Jersey and the people flocked to the shore to see the Defiance, of Jersey, in the roads accompanied by two large prizes. Captain Le Cronier was a happy man that day, for apart from a ransom of £1,200, which he had received for another prize, he was able to tell his owners that, with the assistance of the Charming Nancy, he had captured the two vessels on their voyage from Bordeaux to America with cargoes of provisions.

The vessels were loaded with flour, bacon, beef, etc. very valuable addition to the stores in Jersey, where provisions were scarce and good food was sold at prices beyond the purses of the poorer inhabitants.

The Defiance sailed again and captured a Swede valued at 8,000 livres. Then the owners ran the vessel onshore and lengthened her by 12 feet. During 1757 Le Cronier captured no fewer than nine vessels of the value of 486,440 livres.

Many lives were lost as would-be prize vessels fought back against privateers in bitter battles

We have an account of the good fortune of Captain Fiott of the Corsair Charming Betty carrying 71 men. He had been cruising about the Bay in company with another Jersey corsair Le Burnett, 27 men, when they came across a French corsair in charge of a prize. The Jerseymen gave chase and recaptured the prize, which proved to be The Adventurer of London, on a voyage from Jamaica to London.

On 20 May 1758 she had been captured by a French privateer and was nearing a French port when the Jerseymen came on the scene. She was a very valuable prize as her cargo consisted of 148 hhd of sugar, 22 tons spice, 20 tons of logwood, £1,000 worth of mahogany, 12 puncheons of double distilled rum, coffee, cottons and other goods.

It was a great day for the owners of the Charming Betty, especially as on the way to Jersey their ship captured a Dutch vessel carrying 200 tuns of wine from Bordeaux to St Malo. This also was a valuable prize and probably some part of the cargo went to help the welcome given to the privateers on their arrival in Jersey.

Captain Fiott must have been a very successful privateer, for in a letter dated 14 July 1757, George Bandinel wrote to his friend Daniel Messervy, then in London, to inform him that he had just heard of the good luck of the Charming Betty in capturing a French brigantine loaded with sugar from Dominique. On 3 March 1759 Fiott captured two prizes of the value of 30,000 livres.

Other Jersey captains with good records included Captain Pierre Labey of the Boscawen; Captain George Messervy of La Delevarde, Captain Charles Alexandre of the Revenge; Captain Jean Arthur of L’Ezabeth; Captain Jacques Balleine of L'Actif, and many others.

It was a very great period for the Jersey Corsairs. Daniel Messervy, writing to a friend in London on 31 August 1755. Stated that in addition to capturing some 700 French prisoners:

" I need not mention to you anything about the benefits reaped by having privateers out of this place either for the safety of the island, the hurt we do our troublesome neighbours, or the intelligence we have from them for the good of the service.”

We find that Captain Servard, of the Jersey corsair Cumberland, while on a cruise in the Bay of Biscay, sighted a large French vessel of about 600 tons and showing some 30 gun ports. This vessel was on a voyage from St Malo to Bordeaux to load provisions for America. The Cumberland immediately gave chase and the French vessel was gradually being caught up when the French Captain ordered his boats to he lowered and the whole of the crew, numbering 30 men, rowed away from the ship leaving her to be seized by the Jersey privateer.

They were near Bordeaux at the time and Servard, seeing the Frenchmen deserting their vessel, ordered 13 picked men to man their big boat and make for the prize. But the weather was very stormy and the sea very high and possibly the boat was somewhat overloaded and she began to take in water. No one knows whether the 13 men were drowned or not. Servard had enough to keep his vessel in hand and when he returned to Jersey on 1 June 1757 he could only show for his cruise a ransom of 10,200 livres for another ship he had captured in the bay; a very poor reward for the loss of 13 picked men.

Many Jersey vessels were lost to American privateers

American War of Independence

Then came the peace of Paris in 1763, and until 1775, when the War of Independence commenced, sailors had to return to their legitimate transport trade. At first during the American War Jersey vessels suffered badly. In Canada and Newfoundland the American privateer was always on the look-out for our inoffensive little vessels and privateers sailed up the St Lawrence and seized vessels and stores of Robin, Pipon and Company in the Bay of Chaleurs.

It must have been a very anxious time for our sailors as they neared the banks of Newfoundland. It was always a long journey and the American vessels were specially selected and armed for privateering work.

Sometimes the masters pretended to be French, making for the French fisheries, and as the Americans knew but little French, the ruse often succeeded. Charles Robin wrote to his brother and congratulated him on reaching Arichat in safety by adopting such means.

When the French war began, Jersey lost two-thirds of her shipping during the first two years. Nearly 900 Jerseymen were captured by French privateers and were facing the miseries of a French prison. It became difficult to find sufficient men to man the few ships which dared to cross the Atlantic and trade to Newfoundland and Canada was reduced to six vessels in a year.

At that time the population of Jersey, men, women and children, numbered some 20,000, but as the war went on Jerseymen gradually replaced the lost ships and fitted out all suitable vessels as privateers.


There were some wonderful captains, without fear and ready to tackle any vessel when there was a possible chance of sueeess. Peter Duval was captain of the Vulture, a small lugger rigged vessel of 100 tons, four guns, and manned by 27 men.

Under his command, this little vessel became the terror of the mercantile trade in the Bay of Biscay. His crew knew their captain and were ready to follow him anywhere. He was particularly well known about Bayonne and had done considerable damage to the trade of that port. So the Bayonne merchants put their heads together and decided to set a trap for the little Vulture.

They fitted out a brig of 180 tons, armed with 16 guns and manned by 80 men and when the report came in that Duval had been seen in the neighbourhood, the brig sailed out of Bayonne with her guns hidden and most of the crew kept below decks. Once in the bay the Vulture spotted her and easily came up alongside the brig when Duval demanded immediate surrender.

This was the French captain’s opportunity and immediately opening his portholes, the crew manned the guns and commenced firing upon the little Vulture. Contre-Maitre Le Feuvre then rushed to Duval and said "We are caught, we must surrender." "Surrender, be damned, said Duval, "as long as I have a leg to stand upon we'll fight, after that you can do as you like."

The French vessel was higher in the water than the Vulture and while the Vulture's four guns were firing into the hull of the French vessel, doing great damage, and killing and wounding many Frenchmen, the French guns could only get at the masts and rigging of the Vulture, and the French captain, probably not well fitted for the job, seeing that he was getting the worst of the battle, got away and made for his home port leaving Duval cursing and swearing that if he had had only ten more men he would have boarded and taken the Frenchmen.

Later the Vulture or Vauteur captured the American vessel Snipe on passage from Philadelphia to Bordeaux with a cargo of sugar, coffee, cotton, skins and other goods. The Snipe was brought to Jersey, renamed the Mars and sailed away as a privateer under the command of Captain Noe Le Sueur, when she met another American vessel, the Speedwell, and much to the disgust of the Americans, their vessel was captured by a ship they recognized as recently having belonged to their country.

The Vauteur was subsequently sold by auction by Janvrin and Durell with all her stores, guns and ammunition and thus ended the warlike activities of a very useful privateer.

The sailors were not always victorious, but they never failed for lack of courage, and they often attacked a vessel of heavier weight than their own.

A Jersey privateer returned home without captain and best part of the crew, these having been captured in an unsuccessful attempt to cut out a vessel anchored in a French port. Fighting often took place within a few miles of the Jersey coast, and people on shore could hear the firing of guns.

There was a splendid little fight off the coast of Alderney on 29 April 1810 when the Queen Charlotte, 8 guns, 25 men, was attacked by a French privateer carrying 14 guns and 100 men. The battle lasted two hours and Captain Thomas defended his vessel with such bravery and determination that the Frenchmen, having lost many of their men and received much damage to their vessel, sailed away leaving the cutter to continue the voyage with 14 sailors wounded and the boatswain killed.

The packet boats to and from the mainland were frequently threatened by French privateers and the misery of some of the passengers must have increased as they realised that their ship was being made ready to repel an enemy attack.

Sea voyages in those days were always spiced with possible dangers and on 10 September 1810 the Nelson arrived in Jersey from the Bay of Honduras with a cargo of mahogany and the mate reported that, when the ship was in the Bay of Florida, she had been boarded by men from a French privateer who had killed the captain and wounded several of the crew. After the vessel had been plundered the mate was allowed to continue the voyage as best he could.

Battles involving large privateers could leave prizes too damaged to be captured

American privateers

Sometimes American privateers proved to be better fighters than navigators. In January 1814 the celebrated American privateer Prince du Neufchatel, 325 tons, 20 guns, 180 men, captured the Brilliant when on voyage from Guernsey to Southampton. A prize crew was put on board and directed to take the vessel to La Hoque, but mistaking the harbour of Alderney for the French port, they were set upon as soon as they entered harbour and the prize was recaptured.

There was an extraordinary capture by Aaron de Ste Croix and a party of landsmen. He was walking along the shore at St Clement on 14 December 1809 when he saw a large vessel in difficulties in the bay. He manned a boat with four of his men and made for the vessel. Others followed his example and when he went on board he discovered that the vessel was the Calipso of London, recently captured by a French privateer the Grand Napoleon and in charge of a prize crew who were taking the vessel to a French port.

They had lost their way and were in great danger of being wrecked on the rocky coast, but de Ste Croix and his friends took charge and brought her safely into St Helier’s Roads. She was loaded with a most valuable cargo of coffee and sugar and five of the original crew still on board were well content to be able to return to their homes instead of having to face the miseries of a French prison.

On 9 January 1810 the Cumberland of Sunderland was captured by a French privateer when on a voyage from Quebec to London with a cargo of masts, spars and other timber for the British Government. In trying to make for a French Pport, the Cumberland struck a rock 4 miles from Rozel Bay and was abandoned by her captors. Later on she floated off the rock and A Le Huquet, Abram Richardson, Francis Aubin, Philip Coutanche, and Philip Neel, assisted by 15 other men, managed to beach the vessel in Rozel Bay.

When the matter was reported to General Don he directed two Government vessels to proceed to Rozel and at the next high tide they managed to refloat the vessel and tow her to St Aubin’s Harbour. Salvage was then claimed in the Royal Court and it was decided that the salvors were entitled to one quarter of the value of ship and cargo. The owners refused to accept this decision as the cargo belonged to the British Government, and so they went to the Privy Council, only to find the Jersey order confirmed and all parties were directed to govern themselves accordingly.

The war was coming to an end and Napoleon's star was on the wane. It had been a terrible struggle and the people of both countries were tired and anxious for peace. Our privateers had done great deeds, and fortunes had been made by the few at the expense of our French neighbours but the poor people had suffered much misery and privation.

Notes and references

  1. It is not clear why the writer chose to headline his article ‘The Corsairs of Jersey’, a word which is much more associated with piracy than privateering. There is a clear distinction, the former being illegal in any context, the latter legitimised by the granting of letters of marque authorising attacks on enemy vessels during times of war. Although ‘corsair’ covers acts of piracy and privateering in the Mediterranean, when Jersey vessels were involved, after privateering was legalised in 1689, there was a clear distinction and, although this article starts by covering the period during the previous century or so when Jerseymen were active in piracy, that is really just a prelude to the legitimate actions of islanders in the late 17th century onwards.
Personal tools
other Channel Islands
contact and contributions

Please support Jerripedia with a donation to our hosting costs