Durell's 1847 guidebook
Refugees to Fort regent
- Protestant refugees
- Effects of British conneetion
- Druidical temples
- French emigrants and clergy
- Fort Regent built
- The Powder Magazine of Fort Regent nearly blown up
- Messrs Lys, Touzel, and Penteney rewarded
- Probabilities of that panic examined
We had omitted to mention in the last chapter that after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1680 the islands offered a welcome asylum to the great number of French Protestants who fled from the religious persecutions exercised against them in their own country. They were a peaceable and industrious race, and having been well received in Jersey, they prospered, so that their descendants have been so totally assimilated to ourselves that they cannot any longer be distinguished from the general mass of the population.
The internal effect of the connection with England may be contained in a very short description: a large naval and military establishment and fortifications made, altered, pulled down, and then rebuilt, either at the times required, or rather as the views of the different Lieut-Governors either disapproved of, or recommended, as they were led by their desire of novelty, and of being distinguished each from his predecessor. From these, however, we may except the administration of the late General Sir George Don, from 1806 to 1814, who was the first to introduce the construction of good roads in Jersey.
It has been also a feature of recent times that the inhabitants have ever been most anxious for the preservation of their immunities and privileges, and have always shown themselves particularly zealous of anything, which might he construed into an encroachment or an abridgement of them by the British government.
The events of 1781 were followed by the peace of 1783, and a renewal of friendly and commercial relations with France. During that interval of peace Field Marshal Conway, the Governor, and the Duke of Richmond, then at the head of the Board of Ordnance, visited the island, and many improvements were adopted in consequence of their suggestions. In 1785, a large Druidical temple was found on the Town Hill, which now forms the site of Fort Regent. That monument was soon after presented by the States to Marshall Conway, who carried it to his seat at Park Place, near Henley; but we shall resume the subject in another place.
A few years afterwards the French Revolution burst out in all its violence, and was soon after followed by an obstinate and destructive war, which lasted more than 20 years. In 1814 the Duke of Berry made a short stay in this island on his return to France.
At the time of the death of Louis XVI in 1793, the island was crowded with French emigrants, many of whom were persons of high rank and distinction who had found here hospitality and protection from the daggers of the midnight assassin, and the lifted axe of the mockery of justice.
It is also to the honour of this island that the persecuted and distressed French clergy were welcomed with open arms within its limits. Misfortune allays the venom of religious acrimony, and men are reminded that a common nature has imprescriptible claims to charity and humanity, which even superstition and intolerance cannot destroy. At one time four French prelates had made this island their temporary abode; the bishops of Bayeux, Dol, Treguier, and St Paul de Leon. The first of these died here and, like many of his exiled countrymen, was buried in St Saviour's Churchyard; but no stone or inscription points out his grave to posterity.
The deportment of that clergy was mild, inoffensive, and pious, such as became their holy profession in a state of affliction and suffering. It was then computed that at one time the French emigrants and clergy amounted at least to 5,000.
The last event of a military nature which has happened in Jersey has been the construction of Fort Regent, on the Town Hill, an almost impregnable fortress, which at once protects the harbour and commands the harbour, and Elizabeth Castle. The Duke of Somerset, during the reign of Edward VI, about 300 years ago, had intended to build a citadel upon that hill; but the design was soon after laid aside as impracticable, owing to the actual deficiency of the hill in the requisites of spring and well water. The hill, which was a common belonging to the Town of St Helier, and on which Fort Regent is now built, was sold to Government in 1801, for £10,600, which has since been applied towards creating a fund for the paving and improvement of the town. That Fort, or rather citadel, was begun in 1802 and was not completed till soon after the peace in 1815. The labour and the perseverance, which it required, have been immense, and it has been calculated that the expenditure which it occasioned, has not been much under a million sterling.
A fatal catastrophe had nearly happened during the building of this Citadel, which if it had not been prevented would have involved the town in the same destruction. On 4 June 1804, after the guns had been fired in honour of the King's birthday, the match which had been used for that purpose, and which had been apparently extinguished, was carried back to the powder magazine, from which it had been taken. The door was then locked up; but soon after this, Lieutenant Lys, who was on duty at the signal post, and one Edward Touzel, a carpenter, who was then at work, observed some smoke coming through the keyhole of the powder magazine. These two brave men, with the assistance of William Penteney, a private of the 31st Regiment of Foot, who happened to be at hand, rushed to the door and with their axes burst it open, while at every instant they expected an explosion of the magazine. As soon as they came in, they saw the match was on fire, and had already consumed part of the outer covering of a flannel bag containing a charge of powder for a great gun. If the match had not been immediately removed, it would have reached the powder in a few seconds, and then the whole of the magazine would have inevitably exploded.
It is scarcely possible to calculate to what an extent the mischief might have been carried, if it had not been providentially averted, as above 100 barrels of gunpowder were then deposited in that store. The least that could have happened would have been the demolition of part of the town, and the overwhelming of the inhabitants under its ruins. Thus did the presence of mind of those brave men preserve the lives and properties of their countrymen, though at the imminent peril of their own.
The sensation which this heroic action excited was very great, and every individual seemed to vie in gratitude to those persons who had thus providentially been the instruments of such a signal preservation. A large subscription was set on foot among the inhabitants for Touzel, to which the Lieut-Governor, Lieut-General Andrew Gordon, contributed five pounds. But whether as an encouragement to others to do the same, or as a compensation for any further claims on his patronage, is uncertain. Lys was promoted in his profession, and died a Major. Penteney had a pension of 12 Pounds a year from the States of Jersey, and died at a great age, only a few years ago. Lys and Touzel, in addition to their other rewards, received a gratuity of about 300 guineas each from the States; but the latter did not long enjoy those advantages, having died within a few years, in the flower of his age.
The three actors on that scene, being dead, it is impossible to elucidate after a lapse of 40 years any doubts which might now arise. As George III had near completed his 66th year, a royal salute had been fired in honour of his birthday. The question would then be, if it was likely that the match without having been well extinguished would be carried back to the powder magazine. The name also of the individual who locked up the storeroom door has not been recorded. Nor is it known what he might have said in his own justification. In this state of things might it not be questioned whether there had been any real cause for alarm at all, and whether the coming of the smoke through the key hole might not have been imaginary; or lastly, how could the smoke, if any, when smothered up in a confined store, and without any draft, have thus come out through the keyhole?
Even if the match had been burning, would it not soon have been extinguished when it had no vital air to support combustion, as in houses on fire, which do not burn very fiercely till the doors have been opened, and given free admission to the external air. But admitting that a match should be on fire in a store, those precautions are generally taken that it might keep on burning without reaching the powder.
There must either have been an extraordinary negligence somewhere, or rather an unaccountable panic that seized the parties themselves, which made them to apprehend they had incurred a danger of the first magnitude. After it had passed over, they would still be inclined to persist in their belief that it had been such, either through that general feeling of mankind, which causes individuals to think highly of their own merits, and to exaggerate the claims which may be due to their services. It afforded a further facility in doing this that there were but few persons acquainted with the true state of things, and that those few were equally interested to increase their claims to remuneration by strongly impressing the public with a deep sense of the extreme danger to which they had been exposed, but which had been so happily averted by their intrepidity, and presence of mind.
If therefore we admit that there was no collusion, and that the conduct of those persons was as meritorious as it has been represented, it cannot be denied that after the favourable issue of that affair the most was made of it to turn it to their private advantage, and that the excessive zeal of some persons to bias the public mind on that occasion was not undeserving of reprehension. If after all, however, the rewards were more than adequate to the services which had been rendered, the Acts of the States in which they were conveyed, and other documents of the kind, are fulsome and ridiculous.
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