Currency devaluation and riots

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Currency devaluation
and riots


To stop the island from being flooded with French liards
(half-farthings), in 1720 the States reduced their value
from a quarter of a sou to one-sixth of a sou

Fierce riot

This reduction in value of the poor people's money caused a fierce riot. The country people marched on the town with the Militia drummers at the head.

The States hurriedly restored the liards to their former value, but the people were not satisfied. They broke open the doors of the Court House, where the States were sitting, and members had to escape by a back door to Elizabeth Castle.

The Privy Council refused to sanction the repeal of the earlier Act, but Jersey ignored it. In all commercial dealings, liards were still reckoned as four to the sou, but in official documents sums of money had to be stated as six liards to the sou.

Ragg history

This narrative of the events of 1720 onward is taken from the Rev Alban E Ragg’s 19th century history of Jersey

“We find the Island in one of the greatest monetary straits she ever experienced, so great, indeed, that it necessitated the still further prohibition of taking or sending even copper coinage over the amount of 5 livres tournois from her shores—it being on record that by 3 May 1720, there remained neither gold nor silver in circulation, the only metallic currency at that time being liards. Then it was that paper money seems first to have been decided upon. The individual value of the notes, however, was very small, amounting from only 20 sous (10d) to 50 livres; the aggregate value of the whole issue decided upon being 50,000 livres.

This evidently did not improve matters very much, for in 1726 ‘free trade’ was allowed with regard to the liards, and a recommendation sent to the King (George I, and during the last year of his reign) in Council, regarding the relative value of coins on the Island, the ulterior sanction of which by an Order in Council, 21 May 1729, led to serious disturbances, the actual outcome of the whole being that the French liards were reduced to their original value of 2 deniers (7 deniers being equal to a British halfpenny); so that 6 liards had to be given for a sol (centime)-instead of 4; the proportion of the livre and the sol - in which values all accounts were made out - remaining the while at their old proportion.

Six months, it is true, was allowed before the Order should come into operation, but it followed that if a man could not meet his liabilities within those six months they would increase 50 per cent, unless he could pay them otherwise than in liards. Another strong piece of evidence of the poverty of the Island at this period comes out in connection with the appointment of a successor to General Lumley as Governor of the Island in 1729 - the patent of office being this time bestowed upon Sir Richard Temple, Viscount Cobham, to whom, as emolument, there was allowed the whole of the Royal revenue of Jersey (minus a small portion for fees and salaries of officers) estimated at 15,000 livres turnois per annum, a sum which in olden days would have been equivalent to as many English pounds sterling, but at this time were only worth one-tenth their former value.

'Legalised robbery'

The result of this state of things (which it was ineffectually sought to remedy by appeals to the new King George II (1727-1760) in Council and all other known legitimate devices) - legalised robbery it was called - was a riot, which occurred on 29 August 1730, in which Mr Philip Le Geyt, Lieut-Bailiff, narrowly escaped with his life, and fled to Elizabeth Castle, resolving to leave the Island where he was no longer safe; a letter to which effect he addressed to the States of Jersey on 8 September following. Jersey thus lost, for the time, one who was better versed than any man of his day in all its laws and customs.

The direct result of the flight of Mr Philip Le Geyt from Jersey was to leave the Island minus both Bailiff and Lieut-Bailiff (the former, Earl Granville, being resident in England), whereupon the members of the States of Jersey at once proceeded to elect "juge delegue", which proceeding took place 10 September 1730, immediately subsequent to which the then Lieut.-Governor, Colonel George Howard, issued orders to the constables of the 12 parishes to remonstrate with the people with a view to restoring something like order and quietness, though the report of the constables was that the inhabitants of the country parishes seemed at that time to be well disposed and peaceably inclined.

Then followed what had only once before taken place in Jersey. The Lieut-Governor was dismissed from office, or, in other words "removed from his post" by the King for neglect and disobedience. The way it came about was this: A report on the state of affairs then existing was made to the English Government, and an inquiry held before the Privy Council, during the course of which Philip Le Geyt (Lieut-Bailiff), William Dumaresq (Jurat and His Majesty's Receiver of Customs), John Le Hardy (Attorney-General), and the Rev Francis Payne (sworn in as Dean, 3 July 1729), being examined, amongst other things, alleged that they had left the Island in consequence of the insults and threats to which they had been subjected by the mob.

They also complained that the States of Jersey and the Royal Court had, under pressure brought upon them by the mob, been forced into signing Acts directly contravening His Majesty's Order in Council, and legalising what was contrary to law : which Acts, being deemed a high insult to Royalty, were erased from the records, 30 August 1730. The Lieut.-Governor was then charged by Philip Le Geyt with having neglected his duty and acted with disobedience by not having upheld the States of Jersey and the magistrates sufficiently in supporting them to carry out the Order in Council of 21 May 1729, relative to the currency, and in not being active enough in suppressing the riots. Colonel Howard was accordingly summoned to appear before the Privy Council to answer these complaints - Colonel William Hargrave being sworn in as Lieut-Governor, pro tem, on 14 November - and the charges being confirmed against him, Howard was removed from his post by an Order in Council dated 8 April 1731.

The same Order signified, as well, high displeasure at the conduct of several members of the States (amongst others Philip Patriarche and other members of the Royal Court, and also Elias Dumaresq, His Majesty's then Deputy Advocate), and severely reprimanded them; whilst, on the other hand, Le Geyt, William Dumaresq, Charles de Carteret, John Pipon, John Le Hardy and the Rev Francis Payne were applauded for having given ‘due obedience’ and shown ready compliance in carrying out the said disputed - and, to the generality of the people - hateful law. The whole thing, it seems, resulted in bitter feuds, cliques, personal animosities and party hatreds that were kept up for years after.

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