The Jersey Chamber of Commerce - the early years

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Inside the Chamber of Commerce building in 1930

In February 1968 the Jersey Chamber of Commerce celebrated its 200th anniversary. By a few months it achieved the distinction of being the oldest Chamber in the English-speaking world. The following account of its early days, compiled from the first minute books of the Chamber, show that, in what were troublous times, the newly formed association dealt with a succession of problems with little assistance from those in power in the island.

Maritime trade growth

By the middle of the 18th century the maritime trade of Jersey was growing rapidly, but the government of the island was still in the hands of a "governing class" which was little interested in assisting its merchants, shipowners, and traders to overcome the many difficulties which beset them. The war with France and the period of uneasy peace was an obvious bar to successful and profitable trade, for ships were seized and their crews thrown into prison, but also the islanders were subject to many frustrations by the edicts of the agencies of the British Government.

The constitutional independence of the island was not at this time even as well defined as it is today. Jerseymen and Jersey shipping found themselves subject to many of the regulations, taxations and restrictions enforced by officers of the British authorities at ports not only on the British mainland, but also in overseas territories, more particularly in North America, which was the focus of much of the island's trade. The States of Jersey did practically nothing to help with the troubles with which their fellow islanders were beset overseas, nor did they provide even the most elementary facilities and assistance for traders in their own island. The volume of Jersey shipping had far outpaced the growth of the harbour accommodation which was of the most elementary.

It was against this background that a body of the more public-spirited merchants decided to combine and to establish an organisation for their mutual protection and to forward their case for greater consideration from their rulers.

The first recorded meeting of the founders of the Chamber of Commerce was held at Peter Lys' " King's Head" on the 24th February, 1768 and three days later a general meeting was called to ratify their recommendations, at which a large number of the prominent merchants of the island were present.

Officers elected

The election of Mr George Rowland as president and Mr James Hemery as secretary was approved and the following were selected to form the first committee: Thomas Durell, Matthew Gosset, John Hue, W Patriarche, Thomas Pipon and Philip Robin. They confirmed rules for the regulation of their newly formed society commencing as follows:

" We the subscribing members composing the Chamber of Commerce in the Island, do confirm and vow and direct the following regulations to be a guide for our proceedings, and we direct and require the president and committee by us appointed for the time being to attend to and follow the same; and we confirm the said president and committee in the authority vested in them agreeable to the intention and meaning of these regulations."

Thereafter follow rules governing the convening of monthly meetings, election of the president and committee and rules for the conduct of meetings and voting. Rule 13 fixes the subscription as follows:-

"And in order to forward this very essential purpose, to the well being of trade, and to support and keep the merchants upon a respectable footing (in unity) a fund of three pence Sterling per Ton per ann. is hereby agreed upon to be raised upon the tonnage belonging to each respective member, and the vessels to be measured by direction of the committee." Article 36 "Members not concerned in Shipping may subscribe for what tonnage they think proper - not less than 30 tons."

Provision was made in the rules for the Chamber to make funds available to "relieve distress'd families of seamen, dying or meeting with accidents so as to be disabled in the service of a subscribing member, being recommended to the com¬mittee by a member, certifying the same in writing, and producing vouchers of the nature of the accid't signed by the master; and of the man being sober, good and diligent man, and that he was in every particular equal to the trust." Special attention was directed to the state and condition of the Harbours. The meetings were followed by a dinner. The meetings were private but merchants from over¬seas were to be admitted to the dinner as guests.

By the end of the century the Chamber had achieved a great deal and its rules had been revised and reconstituted no less than five times.

Troublesome times

The 1770s were troublesome years for the Island and the civil strife of the time resulted in the reform of Jersey affairs which resulted in the Code of 1771.. During this period the Chamber met somewhat irregularly and in 1785 it was decided to reconstitute the rules with certain modifications. Article 1. fixed two general meetings each year on the first Wednesdays in March and December, at which there would be a dinner at the expense of the Chamber. The subscription for members not owning shipping was increased to 60 tons and it was also decided that members should be fined for non-attendance. Mr Wm. Patriarche, one of the original committee, was elected president and Mr Philip Hamon became the secretary. At the meeting of the 2nd March it was resolved that the Articles of the Chamber should be printed,

In I787 the Chamber decided to seek a Charter of Incorporation and at the General Meeting held on 26 October the Chamber approved the recommendation of its committee and authorised the president to present a petition to the Governor, Bailiff and Jurats that "An application to His Majesty on the Subject of a Charter of Incorporation having been judged essential to the welfare and prosperity of the Chamber and the Trade and Navigation of your Island"

The Chamber had however made enemies and they were astonished to hear from one of their agents in London that a caveat against the granting of the Charter had been lodged with the Attorney-General. The effort to obtain the Charter was pursued intermittently for several years.

In 1790 the General Meeting in March reconstituted the Articles of the Chamber for the third time, with some minor alterations, for a further period of five years. They were again revised in I795 and for the fifth time in I800. The changes in the rules over the years seem to have been designed to broaden and strengthen the basis of the membership of the Chamber.

Throughout its early years the main work of the Chamber was the promotion and protection of shipping, as was natural in a society chiefly composed of ship¬owners. It was also natural in these circumstances that the Chamber should be active and forward looking, for in the world of the eighteenth century the ordinary Islander, whatever his class, had little contact with the outside world, but the mem¬bers of the Chamber, in contrast, were citizens of the world.

Ships seized

In I769 the Chamber took action against the rule that Jersey ships proceeding to North American ports should obtain clearance in Britain. InJune I768 HMS Glasgow had seized two vessels belonging to Messrs Robin, Pipon and Co. The Sea Flower and the Recovery who had only been able to produce Jersey certificates of clearance. Mr Charles Lempriere was deputed to go to London to try to obtain redress, a mission in which he was successful.

The minutes of a meeting of 4 July 1785 record the thanks of the Chamber to a Guernseyman, a Mr Le Masurier, who had been deputed by the merchants of that Island "for his active exertion and zealous co-operation in the promotion of the commercial interest of the Island."

Throughout the following years there were numbers of incidents between Jersey and French seamen. As the result of these encounters the Chamber was called upon to assist in redressing the wrongs of their fellow Islanders. A typical incident concerned the employees of a Mr John Giffard, who had been subject to interference on the coasts of Newfoundland, their nets having been seized by a French frigate. The Chamber took up the matter and through the good offices of their agent in London at that time, John Dumaresq, brought the matter to the notice of the British Government with the result that the French Government ordered the restoration of the nets,

Industrial unrest

Industrial unrest is no new phenomenon and in January 1786 the Chamber was faced with a situation which is all too familiar today. Ships' carpenters had demanded an increase in their wage and in the minutes of the meeting of the com¬mittee on 21st January we read

”The Master Carpenters having been invited to attend the committee this day in consequence of their intention being made known to the committee by a member of this Chamber of raising their wages the said carpenters not having appeared it has been resolved to call the Chamber on the 28th Inst at 12 o'clock, the object being deemed highly interesting."

At the General meeting of 28 January 1786 the Chamber was far from conciliatory and, after fining four members for non-attendance, they passed the following resolution.

"It appearing by the report of the Committee that the ships carpenters insisted in an increase in their wages,it has been unanimously resolved that their request should not be granted and that any member found guilty of giving the said carpenter inhabitants more than the wages they had heretofore or by the job for the purpose of brimming shall forfeit the sum of three hundred Livres French currency for every vessel on which workmen so paid shall have worked, such sum will go to the general stock, It is further resolved that should they persist that workmen must be procured from England or elsewhere, whatever expenses any member may be liable to above the usual wage to those of the Island, will be made good by the Chamber."

On 7 March 1786 the general meeting agreed that the foregoing re¬solution had proved difficult to administer and it was agreed that the matter should be referred back to the committee for re-consideration and a report to be made to a general meeting in a year's time. In labour relations, in these times the employers seem to have had little to fear from action by their employees, as this matter seems to have been lodged for some time longer than the year prescribed by the minute.

Knitting industry

In the 18th century the knitting industry of the Island was an important feature of the economy. At their meeting of 5 March 1788 the attention of the Chamber was drawn to a threat to their prosperity from this trade.

"Whereas it appears by the last papers come from England that Parliament are taking measures to prevent the fraudulent exportations of English wool to foreign ports, and that it has been expressly declared by a member of the House of Commons that this illicit trade is carried on to a considerable extent from these Islands. The committee, considering this subject to be of the utmost importance to the Trades and General Welfare of this island have resolved that the president be desired to write a letter to the Lieut. Guv'r and one to the Lieut Bailly informing them of the danger, which the com¬mittee apprehends on this aubject unless some measures are speedily taken for preserving the privilege of importing the usual quantity of wool from England and that they may be pleased for that purpose to assemble the States of this Island."

It is an indication of the position that the Chamber of Commerce had by then achieved, that they felt themselves sufficiently powerful to be able to request a meeting of the States. The information presented by the Chamber on 5 March was reinforced by a letter from a Jerseyman, the Reverend R Valpy of Reading, who through a member of the Chamber, Matthew La Cloche, advised haste in represen¬tations to the British Government. He wrote as follows

" Early in April (the 9 th or l0 th) the wool business will be agitated before Parliament. In the report of the Wool Committee there is an account of a great import of wool into St. Maloes etc. from Jersey and Guernsey to the amount of more than 200,000 per annum in 1783-86 as there are but 600 tods allowed to both islands I know it is impossible that that such an export from them can take place. But this account will weigh with Parliament and an Act may pass in consequence, very detrimental to the trade and manufactures of the Island"

He asks for information to disprove these assertions and concludes" The matter is indeed of such consequence that a deputation ought to have been sent from the Island on that occasion."

The States took notice of the representation of the Chamber in this matter and again John Dumaresq was sent to London, this time as an emissary of the States. He lobbied everyone of consequence and was eventually allowed to give evidence at the bar of the House. His advocacy was successful and the continuance of the wool allowance was approved.

Tobacco trade

In 1791 the Chamber was similarly notified that restrictions were to be placed on the Island tobacco trade and immediate representations by the Chamber, through their London agent, were again successful.

At the meeting on 14 March 1768, the Chamber took up the question of harbour accommodation with the States and recommended the building of a quay from the town pier "round the rocks turning into the Havre aux anglois". At the same time they were concerned about the levy of a tax of sixpence per ton on merchant shipping for the upkeep of Greenwich Hospital and representations against this tax were made to the Lords of the Admiralty.

This early interest in the subject of harbour improvement was a recognition of the relative importance which they gave to the subject.

On 18th October 1787 the committee of the Chamber resolved that the States should again be petitioned on the subject of provision of adequate harbour accommodation. The committee met again on 3 November and

"The President having informed the committee of his having presented to his Excellency General Conway and the Lieut. Bailly the petition of the Chamber on the subject of the Harbours, on the same day that the said petition was approved and signed at a general meeting; and that on the rst Instant the Gov'r, Bailly, and Jurats met in consequence and resolved to meet a committee of the merchants in order to hear what they had to allege on the subject and Monday the 5th Instant fixed upon that purpose. The committee have unanimously decided to present the several plans which have been prepared for both harbours but to recommend that of Mr Clem Hcmery for the harbour of St Helier as in their opinion the best calculated to answer those ends for which augmentation of that harbour is designed."

A minute of 5 November records "attended his Excellency Gen Conway, Bailiff and Jurats, in consequence of their appointment:-the business respecting the harbour not being finished the committee is again appointed to meet there on Monday next at nine o'clock and to meet previouslyat eight at Mr Lys".

Engineer's advice

The States obtained expert advice from Smeaton, the designer of one of the Eddystone lights, who was the most prominent marine engineer of his day. After considering the reports on St Helier and St Aubin harbours, it was decided that both should be extended. In April 1790 at a meeting of the committee of the Chamber it was resolved

" the new work of the pier of St. Helier being appointed to begin the 19th Instant at which the Members of the States are supposed to attend, the committee are of opinion that it is advisable that the Chamber should give a dinner to the members of the said Royal Court and States on that day for which purpose the secretary is directed to summon the Chamber to meet on Saturday next the 10 th Inst. at 10 o'clock to deliberate on the subject, when the members of the committee are bound to attend without summons except Mr James Pipon who is absent."
"The Committee is likewise of opinion that when the new works are begun at St. Aubin the same compliment should be paid to the above said members by the Chamber."

This was the first of the improvements, which completed in 1846 by the erection of the Victoria Pier, gave us St. Helier Harbour as we know it today. Much of the money for the Harbour works came from States lotteries, in the organisation of which the Chamber of Commerce played a significant part. In 1790 the Chamber contracted to sell 6,000 tickets in the current lottery on the understanding that

"One half of the profit arising from the said lottery shall be applied towards con¬tinuing the new work at the Harbours of St. Helier and St. Aubin."

French problems

The French Revolution, preparations for war, war, and the aftermath of war troubled the shipowners of Jersey continually and there were continuous representations on the subject of convoys for the protection of their vessels against enemy men-of-war, privateers and pirates who took advantage of the situation. Escorts were requested for voyages between the islands and England as well as for vessels proceeding direct to Newfoundland and the other North American colonies. In spite of the dangers and losses this was a golden age for Channel Islands shipping and many islanders founded fortunes by fitting out vessels as privateers, having been granted "letters of marque" authorising them to act as licensed pirates against the King's enemies.

In 1793 the Chamber petitioned the Governor for a convoy direct to New¬foundland. The British government refused to provide this and instructed the Jersey vessels to proceed first to Portsmouth to join a convoy which was sailing from that port to the New World. This the local merchants were reluctant to do, as their vessels were in great danger from French privateers while crossing the Channel. Their crews were also afraid to go to Portsmouth for fear of the press gang.

At the same time the Chamber tried to arrange for the Lieut-Governor to be empowered to issue letters of Marque to privateers in Jersey to avoid the delays occasioned by having to obtain them from the authorities in London.

Throughout the war the question of convoys was a constant preoccupation of the Chamber and its committee. With the growth of privateering on both sides all the shipping in the Channel Islands waters was in constant danger. Many Jersey vessels and their crews were taken and the Chamber made several attempts to arrange transfers of prisoners.

Petition

At their meeting on 9 November 1789 the Chamber petitioned the Jersey Authorities as follows.

"Your petitioners on this occasion beg leave to represent to the Royal Court that the several articles of the said Act of Parliament by which no vessels belonging to His Majesty's Subjects are allowed to sail without convoy. Your petitioners conceive that such an act cannot be carried into execution without great Injury and Prejudice to the Trade in general."

Several requests were made by the Chamber to Phillippe d' Auvergne, Prince of Bouillion, who was the commander of the British Naval forces in Channel Islands waters at that time, to assist with representations to the British Government for provision of a convoy or for an escort across the Channel to be provided from the Duke’s own forces.

The following letters are typical of many which passed between the Duke and the Chamber

Mont Orgueil Castle
19 March 1798
Gentlemen,
In reply to my application at your instance to the Admiralty for a convoy to be granted in the first week of April to see your trade to Newfoundland safely to the Longitude of 30 degrees west.
I have received their Lordships' command by Mr Secretary Napean's letter of the 15th instant to desire you will send your ships and vessels to Spithead where they will have the protection desired.
It remains only for me to request early intimation of when they may be ready to proceed to Spithead, that I may appoint them sufficient protection thither.
have the honour to be, with much consideration Gentlemen
Your very obedient humble servant
BOUILLION


St Helier,
20 March 1798
Sir
I was last evening honoured with your favour intimating that an answer to your application to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty for a convoy to protect our Newfoundland trade, it was their Lordships' command that our vessels should proceed to Spithead their would (sic) find the protection desired.
I beg leave to observe to your Serene Highness on this subject that the number of fishermen and passengers taken out in our Newfoundland vessels renders it im¬practical for them to join a convoy at Spithead without material injury to the owners and where they might perhaps, from a variety of unforseen circumstances be detained a considerable time. And I have therefore to request that you will have the goodness to renew your application to their Lordships for a convoy to come and protect them from our Road.
For want of time to write you on the subject before the sailing of the Packet, I mentioned the circumstances in a letter to Messrs Le Masurier and requested they would explain to their Lordships the impossibility of our vessels profiting by a convoy from Spithead.
The Gentlemen of the Chamber of Commerce having long experienced repeated proofs of your zeal and readiness to protect our trade hope that in case of refusal from their Lordships you will have the goodness to grant them a convoy from the cruisers under your command to go as far as you can possibly allow it.
I have the honour to be, Sir your most obedient humble servant
Aaron de ste Croix, president

Post Office

The Chamber of Commerce was instrumental in setting up the first Post Office in Jersey. It had been the practice for anyone wishing to send a letter across the Channel to entrust it to the master of one of the vessels plying between the islands and the mainland. There was no arrangement made for the delivery of the letters to the addressee at the end of the voyage. At the meeting of the committee of the Chamber held on the 11 May 1790 it was decided that some better arrangement should be made and Messrs Fiott and Laurens undertook to produce a scheme for a postal service to be presented to the States. The matter seemed to have dragged on over a number of years with various modifications to the original scheme. Eventually a new sub-committee of the Chamber presented a revised scheme which was presented to the States in the form of a petition. The authorities took a con¬siderable time to consider the proposals and the Post Office was not established in the Island until 1794.

As will be seen from the foregoing brief references to many of the subjects actively pursued by members of the Jersey Chamber of Commerce, in the first four decades of its existence it made a considerable impact, not only on the prosperity and welfare of the shipowners who were its members, but on the life of all strata of Island society.

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