Banknote forgery in the 19th century
In the 1800s the tremendous growth in the economy of the island led to all manner of establishments issuing banknotes, including several parishes and numerous banks, some of dubious standing.
Over 100 different establishments were involved at some point and the lack of any real control meant that forgers were quick to jump on the bandwagon and produce copies of the official notes.
In 1797 Hugh Godfray, a wine merchant, founded the first Jersey bank which was to become known as "Old Bank" as it was followed by many others. It operated independently in Hill Street for nearly a century, and survived the banking crashes of the 1880s and was amalgamated with the Channel Islands Bank in 1891. That bank was then subject to a further takeover by the Midland in 1898.
In its early days Hugh Godfray and Sons suffered from at least one outbreak of forgery.
The Jersey Argus of 22 November 1836 reported on a forger, Frenchman Ambroise Chatelier, who had been taken to the pillory for punishment three days earlier. This would be the last time this punishment would be used in Jersey, although that was not known at the time.
Chatelier was found guilty of forging Hugh Godfray and Sons banknotes and had been ordered to suffer one hour in the pillory.
He was marched at 2.30 in the afternoon to the market place with an escort of 100 halberdiers, who formed a circle around him as the Sheriff read aloud the judgment of the Royal Court.
The newspaper report claimed that 2,000 people were present in the square to witness this punishment, but the police arranged themselves in such a way that no one threw anything at the prisoner. He was left there for an hour in the cold and then taken back to jail where he was put to "hard labour for 12 months and then banished from the Island".
Two other men, David Chatelier and Edward Chapotte, were involved and on 1 October 1836 the three of them appeared in the Royal Court. As was quite common at the time, cases involved a large number of witnesses, and several hearings before separate juries.
At the 1 October hearing the witnesses were, Louis Poingnard; Francois Godfray, son of Philip; Jacques Quesnel; Sebastian Le Fortier; Marie Elizabeth Hamon, wife of Jean Talbot; Sophie Payn; Anne Hamptonne, wife of Charles Allier; Jean Batiste L'Amy and Anne Stevens, who all informed the court that the prisoners had attempted to pay them with counterfeit money.
On 17 October the officers of the bank, Hugh Godfray, Philippe Godfray and Francois Godfray, son of Hugh, gave evidence. Nine days later more evidence was heard and on 2 November the Constable of St Helier, Pierre Perrot, charged the three men with "circulating in this Island and offering to give in payment to different people, false bills which they knew were counterfeit and also to aid and assist and participate in the counterfeiting of the aforementioned bills and the signatures and circulating them in the public to the profit of the aforementioned men".
The jury at this trial were Philippe Mauger, Henry Edouard Le Vavaseur dit Durell, Philip Tocque, Jean Alexandre, Nicolas Gallie, Jean Le Cronier, Jean De Ville, Thomas Sorel, Jean Bailhache, Charles Fauvel, Francois Romeril and Pierre Le Bas. Both the Chateliers were found guilty and they pleaded that charges against Edward Chapotte be dropped and that he be freed from prison as he had not known that the money he handled was forged.
The final hearing, the Grande Enquete, was held on 16 November, before Bailiff Jean de Veulle, and Jurats Charles Le Maistre, Philippe Mallet, George Bertram, Nicolas Le Quesne, Philippe Le Maistre, Edouard Leonard Bisson, Edouard Nicolle and Jean Le Couteur. Jurats Philippe de Carteret, George Philip Benest and Philip D'Auvergne were absent through illness.
The forged notes were to the value of 28s 6d Sterling and they included forged the signatures of Hugh Godfray and Francois Godfray.
The jury was made up of eight men from each of three parishes. St Helier was represented by George William Le Geyt, Clement Quetteville, Philip Bouton, Philip Moran, Edward Seward, George Fauvel, Jean Sorel and Thomas Mallet, son of Nicolas. Trinity by Thomas Gallichan, Jean Emily, Clement Mattingley, Jean Nicolle, Philip Perchard, Jean Perchard, Charles Hamon and Francois Pirouet. St Saviour by Thomas Durell Hamon, Jean Pelgue son of George, George Godfray, Clement Nicolle, Jean Moran, George Collas, George Buesnel and Daniel Le Geyt.
The Grand Enquete agreed with the findings of the earlier trials. Chapotte was acquitted and both Ambroise and David Chatelier were sentenced to "one hour exposed on the pillory and then to be imprisoned, serving hard labour for one year. All their goods to be confiscated to the King."
When he was freed Chapotte's belongings were returned to him. They are listed in the Court report as consisting of two watches, two neckties, a woollen garment and some loose change.
Ambroise Chatelier was not the only forger operating in 1836. About the same time as he was serving his sentence the Jersey Argus reported as follows:
- "Caution - We think it our duty to inform merchants and shopkeepers that there is now a number of fictitious notes in circulation and we therefore advise persons receiving paper money to read the notes before they take them or cash them. On Friday a note was tendered in payment by a young person in Halkett Place worded as follows: ‘I promise never to pay one pound of Spanish butter’. On enquiry the young woman said she had herself received the note in payment and, not being able to read, she thought it was a good one".
Blood on pillory
Although Ambroise Chatelier was protected from a crowd of 2,000 by the halbadiers and was not pelted while in the pillory, by no means everyone escaped so lightly. In 1821 two other forgers named as Dumaresq and Coutanche were not protected by the police and spent a full hour being pelted with oyster shells and rocks, as well as rotten vegetables. At the end of their session the pillory was covered in blood.
Bank offers reward
Evidently the forging of banknotes was a major problem for banks in the 1830s and banker Thomas Sorel was forced to advertise in the Chronique de Jersey on 14 June 1834 a £100 reward for anyone identifying those responsible for copying his 100 Louis notes. He asked that anyone who discovered that they had been passed forged notes should take them to the bank in Dumaresq Street, where they would be reimbursed their full value:
"Crime de faux 100 Louis de recompence.
"Des faux billets de banque, ressemblant a ceux emis par Mons Thomas Sorel, quant été mis en circulation, les soussignés offrons une recompense de 100 livres sterling a quiconque decouvrira l'auteur ou les auteurs de cette fraude de maniere à ce qu’ils soient convaincus en justice.
- Thomas Sorel
- Thomas Jarvis
- John Sorel
" Les porteurs de billets emis par les surnommes sont Priés de s'adresser au bureau, dans Dumaresq Street afin d'etre rembourses des dits billets."
Forgery was not a new crime in Jersey in the 19th century, as evidenced by an Order in Council of 11 August 1736 - 100 years before the Ambroise Chatelier case.
The Privy Council sat in the presence of Queen Caroline, the wife of George II as: "Guardian of the Kingdom of Great Britain and His Majesty's Lieutenant within the same" to hear the petition of Matthew Le Porcq:
- "The humble petition of Matthew Le Porcq, late of the Island of Jersey, setting forth that in the year 1732 an inditement was preferred against him in the said Island for forgery and he, fearing the rigour of the law, withdrew himself from thence, since which said prosecution was carried out against him and many acts of default recorded for non-appearance and the 25th of September last the petitioners stood adjudged, convicted and banished out of the said Island forever saving His Majesty's favour. That as it is the first and only crime the petitioner ever committed and he is very sorry for the same, he most humbly implores His Majesty to look upon him as an object of mercy and extend his royal pardon to him with liberty to return to his native home. So that the fact related only to a few shillings and the civil party attempted to be Injured thereby did forgo and would not prosecute him for the same."
The Privy Council asked for observations by the Royal Court which replied: "As the petitioner did not appear to take his trial the court had banished him out of the Island forever and all his estates real and personal are forfeited to the King".
They went on to say that as Le Porcq had now been banished from the Island for four years "this sentence is more severe than that which would have been passed upon him if he had appeared and taken his trial and also, in regard, they never heard that the petitioner had been guilty of any such fault before."
The Queen ruled in Le Porcq's favour:
- "Her Majesty doth hereby order that no further proceedings be had against the said Matthew Le Porcq and that he be committed to return to the said Island without any molestation on account of his said offence."