General Hospital baptism records
The registers of baptisms conducted at Jersey's General Hospital in the 19th century make for fascinating reading.
Children would be baptised at the General Hospital for a number of reasons, and records exist going back to 1838. For the first decade baptisms would have been conducted in a room set aside for the purpose, because the Hospital Chapel was not opened until 1848.
The records are all in French and have been translated for the A-Z index we have created for the 1838-78 register, and for extracts such as this linked to our family pages.
In the 19th century most mothers gave birth at home, but unmarried women would be admitted to the Hospital, which in the mid-19th century was more a poorhouse than a hospital in the modern sense, to give birth there.
Other single mothers did not make it to the Hospital in time to give birth, or chose not to go there, and the Hospital register contains numerous examples of babies abandoned by their mothers. The favourite place for such a desperate act was outside the Gloucester Street entrance to the Hospital. Other foundlings, as these babies were known, were abandoned on the doorstep of a doctor's house. In both cases the mothers knew that their babies would be quickly found and well cared for. But it was not unknown for other mothers to leave their babies on a park bench or in the corridor of a public house.
In the majority of cases the foundlings were just hours old, but some were left days, or even weeks, after they were born, the mothers, who would have been ostracised by society, and probably also their families, having given up the struggle to care for their child. The 1838-78 register includes several cases of abandoned twins, one set having been cared for by their mother for about three months before she made the desparate decision to leave them on the doorstep of a house in Georgetown.
The vast majority of foundlings were left in St Helier, although the register does include a handful of children abandoned in country parishes.
The Hospital management were responsible for naming the foundlings. Some were given the surname de Jersey, indicating only that they were born in the island. It is ironic that this surname, which has always been relatively common in Guernsey, to indicate somebody originating in the sister island, is present in Jersey only in families which originated in Guernsey or with a male foundling.
Other surnames found in the register include de Lundi, for a girl found on a Monday; April, Mai and Juillet, for girls born in April, May and July respectively; Augustin, for a boy born in August; Summer; Winter; Street, for boys found in a town street; Temple, for a boy found in Temple Crescent; Toussaint, for a child born on All Saints Day; Valentin for a boy born on 14 February; de l'Ile, de l'Isle and de Island, all having obvious meaning.
Other surnames were what might be called normal family names, and it is not clear how they were chosen.
All babies baptised at the hospital had a godfather and godmother. For foundlings, and often for illegitimate children, these were usually members of the hospital staff. Twins were accorded the same respect as they would have been at a normal church baptism, each having his or her own set of godparents. Sometimes a person who discovered a foundling child would volunteer to act as parrain or marraine. Although the literal translation of these French terms is godfather and godmother, in the majority of cases the volunteers were merely acting as witnesses to the ceremony, and would have had no further involvement with the child.
One interesting aspect of Victorian attitudes in Jersey confirmed by these hospital baptism records is that children conceived by a married couple but whose father died before their birth, were registered as illegitimate. Another term for illegitimacy found in these records is 'natural child'.
Some of the earlier records give an indication of which parish would be required to provide welfare support to illegitimate children and their mothers. These are shown in square brackets in Details - [St Helier], for example. Those shown as [island] indicate that the States would be required to provide support.
|Date||Child's name||Mother's name||Father's name||Details|
|12/11/1851||Ahier, James||Ahier, Mary Ann||James illegitimate son of Mary Ann Ahier born at the Hospital on 5 November 1851: Godfather, James Mahier; Godmother, Eliza Norman|
|02/09/1853||Ahier, Jane Hardie||Ahier, Jane||Jane Hardie illegitimate daughter of Jane Ahier born at St Helier 5 June 1853; Godfather, Charles Jeune; Godmother, Jane Le Breton|
|03/01/1849||Ahier, Philippe||Le Sueur, Mary Ann||Ahier, John||Philippe, illegitimate son of Mary Ann Le Sueur widow of John Ahier born outside the Hospital 28 November 1848; Godfather, Jean de Ste Croix; Godmother, Susan Babot|