French workers and the Jersey population
By Mark Boleat
The links between Jersey and France are strong and many. Geographically Jersey is closer to France than it is to the UK; until the 13th Century Jersey was more part of France than of Britain; trade links between Jersey and France have always been strong, and Jersey has experienced several waves of immigration from France.
From the 16th century to the early 19th century Jersey became the home for French religious refugees. There is no way of knowing how many French refugees there were in Jersey at any one time. One estimate spoke of between 3,000 and 4,000, which would be a significant number when compared with a population of around 20,000.
From the early 19th Century to the middle of the 20th Century there was a different type of migration, agricultural workers from Brittany and Normandy. Most probably intended to be short term migrants, planning to return to France. But some decided to settle in Jersey, with many of today Jersey’s population being descended from them.
This article analyses the available information on the nature of that migration - who were the migrants, where did they come from and why did they come. In doing so the article draws heavily on a recent and important study of Jersey by a French academic Michel Monteil (‘’L'émigration française vers Jersey, 1850-1950’’, l'Université de Provence, 2005).
Between 1851 and 1921 the population of Jersey fell by nearly 13%, the decrease being particularly marked in the 1870s, and between 1911 and 1921; in this latter period largely a consequence of the Great War.
Immigration from France occurred largely during this time of falling population. Between 1851 and 1891 the population of Jersey fell by 2,500 while the number of people recorded in the Census who were born in France increased by over 3,000.
Table 1 French-born population of Jersey
|Year||Population||Born in France||% French|
Source: Census Reports and author’s estimate for 1841
Unfortunately the 1841 Census does not give a figure for the French-born population. However, it does give a figure for total “non-British” of 3,032. In 1851 just 204 people non-British people were recorded as having a place of birth other than France, suggesting that most of 3,032 “non-British” in 1841 were French born. In turn this suggests that the French-born population may have declined between 1841 and 1851.
The earliest French economic migrants probably worked in constructing the harbour in St Helier and in the quarry at Ronez. However, they were heavily outnumbered, particularly in the construction industry, by the Scots and Irish, and most of them probably returned to France when construction work was completed in the 1840s.
The migration of agricultural workers began in the 1840s and accelerated throughout the remainder of the Century. There was a fairly steady increase in the French-born population of almost 4,000 between 1851 and 1901, a period when the total population fell by 4,500.
As a consequence the proportion of the population born in France rose from 3.5% to 11.4%. In addition, as the 1891 and 1901 Censuses show, many of the French immigrants settled in Jersey and had children who, although Jersey-born, were part of the French community. (In 1901 30% of all children born in Jersey had French-born fathers.)
The experience of the second half of the 19th Century in Jersey is that a high level of immigration to serve a sector of the economy is compatible with net emigration. In the second half of the 19th Century the number of Irish-born people recorded in the Censuses fell from a peak of 2,704 to just 623, while in the same period the number of people born in Scotland and England and Wales more than halved. There was also significant emigration of young Jersey-born people.
Monteil reviews the available evidence on the number of French workers in Jersey. Censuses are not reliable, particularly in capturing foreign workers, so the Census figures probably understate the true numbers quite considerably.
This is even more significant in respect of French agricultural workers, many of whom were seasonal and therefore would not have been recorded on Census night which generally was in April just as the potato season was beginning. Monteil quotes the French Consul in 1871 that there were 5,000 French people in Jersey. His successor in 1873 suggested the figure was 8,000. In 1882 the Consul said that there were not less than 10,000 French people in Jersey of whom 2,000 had become naturalised Jersey people.
The following year the Consul quoted a figure of 8,000 French citizens. Monteil notes that these figures are some two to three times the Census estimates. He suggests that the Consul’s estimates may well be exaggerated, perhaps to emphasis the importance of their own positions. Having said this, it is probably the case that the Census figures understand the number of French workers and certainly do not capture the full extent of short term seasonal workers.
Why there were French migrant workers in Jersey?
Monteil analyses both the economy of Jersey and its need for migrant labour, and the economic situation in Brittany and Normandy which led to emigration in search of work. He notes Jersey’s fiscal advantages which contributed significantly to its economic prosperity in the 19th Century, also the key decision in 1786 to ban the import of cows which proved to be the stimulus for the cattle industry. French migrant workers are closely tied the growth of the new potato industry. Jersey established a market niche through the breeding of the Jersey Royal and the favourable climate meant that Jersey new potatoes were first into the market each year, and could command a premium price. Exports increased from 1,400 tonnes in 1810 to 17,670 tonnes in 1840.
However, the new potato season lasted just six weeks and required substantial labour. Monteil commented – “Jersey ne possédant pas de reserve de mains-d’ouvre suffiscante pour l’arracharg des pommes det terres primeurs, la seule regulation de la population existant depuis toujours sure l’ile étant l’émigration il etait donc necessaire de faire appel ‘a une force temporaire de travail venue de l’éxterieur. Ce que firnt en effet les agriculteurs de Jersey en faisant venir des travailleurs agricoles francais’’.
In short Jersey did not have a supply of workers able to harvest the new potato crop so French agricultural workers had to be imported.
Monteil analyses why workers were sought from France rather than England. The answer was that French workers were cheaper and also the new potato season coincided with the time of year in Brittany and Normandy of least agricultural activity. Migration depends on conditions in both the host and the home country. Monteil explains the severe economic conditions in Brittany in particular in the second half of the 19th century.
Between 1866 and 1946 more than 115,000 people left the Department of Côtes du Nord (now called the Côtes d’Armor), emigration being particularly strong in 1872 and between 1911 and 1921. Economic migrants from the Côtes du Nord went either to Jersey, the French colonies, Canada or Paris. Monteil notes that agriculture was backward in the Côtes du Nord and he mentions the famine in 1847 when 20,000 people died. Pay rates in the Côtes du Nord on average were half those in France generally. By working for just a few months in Jersey French workers could earn far more than would in a year in Brittany.
The department of Manche, including the Cotentin peninsular, was in a similar position. Manche lost 155,000 inhabitants through emigration between the middle of the 19th Century and the middle of the 20th Century.
Monteil describes what happened in the 1930s when Jersey responded to a request from the British Government to employ workers from England rather than France. In short, the English workers were found to be unsatisfactory compared with the traditional workers from France.
Monteil’s important study deals in detail with how workers were recruited, their living conditions and their impact on society in Jersey.
The origin of the French agricultural workers
This section seeks to provide a more accurate analysis of the origin of the French immigrants. It is based on an analysis of alien registration cards of people born in France. Under the Alien Restrictions Act 1920 all aliens over the age of 16, no matter how old they were or how long they had been living in Jersey, were required to register with the Immigration Officer. Around 2,000 individual records of aliens born prior to 1908 are available.
The registration documents are held in the Jersey Archive and can be accessed from http://www.jerseyheritagetrust.jeron.je.
Some words of caution are necessary. Interpreting the wording of the records is not always easy. The place of birth is recorded, but this not necessarily where the migrants were when they decided to move to Jersey. There is also a risk of some double counting.
Table 2 Birthplace of French-born people registered as alien in Jersey by Department
|Department||No of communes||Number of people|
|Côtes du Nord||305||1,067|
|Ille et Vilaine||32||93|
The table shows that just over half the migrants were from the Côtes du Nord, 20% from Manche and the remainder from other departments. But perhaps what is most striking about the table is the very large number of communes recorded. 169 communes in the Côtes du Nord and 94 in Manche appear just once in the records.
Most of the migrants from Brittany travelled to Jersey from the port of St Brieuc.
Table 3 shows the communes most often recorded as places of birth in the Côtes du Nord. Again, this must be qualified, as there some communes may be little more than suburbs of larger towns. This is particularly true of Langueux, which is a suburb of St Brieuc.
The approach has been to analyse the place of birth as named on the alien registration certificate and not to seek to make any corrections.
Table 3 Birthplace of French-born people from the Côtes du Nord registered as alien in Jersey by commune
|Commune||Births recorded||Distance from St Brieuc km|
|Pommerit Le Vicomte||38||17|
One commune stands out – Ploeuc, or more fully Ploeuc-sur-Lie. This is a commune now with a little under 3,000 inhabitants. It is about 20km south of St Brieuc. Its neighbouring communes - Plaintel, St Carreuc, Henon and Plemy - are also in the table.
Ploeuc can be easily confused with Plouec, which was renamed Plouec-de-Trieux in 1980, which is nearly 40km north west of St Brieuc, and which also features in the table.
With the exception of the large town of Lannion, all the communes listed are within 45km of St Brieuc. With a few exceptions they are also all inland. Generally, the agricultural workers did not come from the coastal towns such as St Quay Portrieux and Etables.
St Brieuc, including its suburb of Langueux, is the exception to this. However, it owes in place in the table to the fact that it was by far the largest town in the area, and much of the town is in fact inland.
The communes in Manche are, for the most part, in a 15km strip between Carteret and Lessay, Carteret probably being the port of embarkation. There are a few exceptions – Granville and Muneville-sur-Mer, 60 km to the south, and Bricquebec which is north east of Carteret, some distance away from the other communes listed. As in the Côtes du Nord most of the communes are inland. Table 4 shows the position.
Table 4 Birthplace of French-born people from Manche registered as alien in Jersey by commune
|Commune||Births recorded||Distance from Carteret km|
|Haye du Puits||29||20|
|St Lo d’Ourville||22||9|
|St Nicolas de Pierrepoint||8||15|
Today, Jersey’s links with France are predominantly through St Malo. However, the registration cards record just 19 people born in St Malo and 17 in neighbouring St Servan. Other communes with more than a few records are Cleguerec (7), Berne, Guern and Silfiac (4 each) in Morbihan and Quimperlé (5) and Brest (4) in Finistère.
Comparison with Monteil’s analysis
Monteil analysed passport applications by Bretons wishing to travel to Jersey in the 1920s and observed that the following communes were most frequently mentioned (in alphabetical order): Gomenech, Langeaux, Plaintel, Pledran, Plerin, Ploeuc-sur- Lie, Plouha, Quintin, Saint Brieuc, Trimerven, Vieux-Bourg and Yffiniac. There is a reasonable correspondence between this list and Table 2.
Monteil also analysed the geographical origin of French people married in the Parish Church of St Martin between 1850 and 1940. 25% were recorded as coming from Brittany, 37% from Manche, 1% from Paris and for 38% the region was not stated. The communes most frequently mentioned were St Brieuc (11 times), Portbail (9) and Saint Lo (5).
Longer term issues
The size of the French-born population fell steadily during the 20th Century from 6,011 (11.4% of the population) in 1901 to 1,093 (1.3% of the population) in 2001.
This reflects the gradual decline in the importance of the new potato industry and its replacement by tourism, and then finance, and more importantly by the growing prosperity of Brittany and Normandy, such that working for a season in Jersey became increasingly less attractive.
Jersey’s need for manual workers was gradually met by the Portuguese, mainly from Madeira, and more recently by the Poles. However, the French migrants have left their mark in the island – thousands of people who would describe themselves as being “true Jerseymen” being descended from an army of Breton and Norman agricultural labours whose wish to increase their earnings coincided with Jersey’s need for migrant labour to sustain its economy.
French nationals born in Ploeuc, registered in Jersey as aliens, under the Alien Restrictions Act 1920
Under the Alien Restrictions Act 1920, all aliens over the age of 16 had to register with the Immigration Officer no matter how long they had been living in Jersey. The largest commune recorded as a place of birth for those who registered was Ploeuc, 20km south of St Brieuc, which was the port of embarkation for Bretagne workers travelling to Jersey.
Following is a list of all those who registered together with their dates of birth. The information is taken from the Registration Records in the Jersey Archive, which only record those born prior to 1908.
|Jean Francois Marie Allo 04/06/1894||Jean Marie Allo 12/09/1863||Pierre Francois Marie Allo 19/07/1876|
|Pierre Marie Allo 26/07/1883||Rosalie Allo 28/05/1870||Leon Busson ?/07/1862|
|Perene Cabaret 22/05/1874||Anne Marie Ballay 01/05/1889||Louis Marie Bannier 10/02/1879|
|Marie Baudet 06/06/1844||Josephine Belloeil 13/10/1852||Jeanne Bainard née Besnard 20/07/1872|
|Auguste Francoise Marie Bichard 17/08/1888||Victoire Francoise Bienvenu 04/02/1881||Victorine Francois Bienvenu 09/07/1851|
|Rosalie Le Blanc 06/06/1852||Louis Francois Blanchet 03/07/1870||Marie Rose Blanchet 22/03/1869|
|Yves Marie Francois Blanchet 20/07/1867||Anne Marie Boqueho née Nourry 20/11/1877||Anne Marie Buard 10/09/1897|
|Auguste Rene Buard 27/09/1867||Jeanne Marie Caurel née Blevet 28/03/1877||Jeanne Champion née Dominique 09/05/1897|
|Marguerite Chaperon née Lemeur ?/04/1921||Marie Louise Le Claire née Poisson 07/04/1867||Rosalie Le Cocq née Plevin 22/06/1872|
|Rosalie Collegny 16/12/1857||Rose Françoise Connan née Guillaume 26/06/1874||Anne Marie Cotard née Le Pape 19/11/1886|
|Victorine Coyen 07/08/1859||Melanie Marie David née Rault 07/07/1878||Pierre Marie David 08/05/1871|
|Anne Marie Davy 03/10/1853||Cecile Marie Rose Deffin 22/11/1878||Françoise Le Druillenec 11/05/1842|
|Jean Baptiste Marie Ecobichon 10/05/1875||Jean Marie Ecobichon 09/08/1870||Mathurin François Marie Ecobichon 30/06/1874|
|Victorine Ecobichon née Allo 23/07/1881||Josephine Françoise Etienne 01/01/1856||Jean Marie Eveilard 20/09/1860|
|Jean Marie Eveilard 20/09/1869||Rose Marie Eveilard 20/01/1861||Euphrosine Marie Le Feuvre 01/04/1864|
|Pierre Victor Marie Le Feuvre 20/01/1873||Yves Marie Le Gall 26/10/1842||Marie Francoise Gallais 08/09/1857|
|Honore Garnier 14/07/1861||Jean Baptiste Marie Garnier 13/11/1875||Honore Marie Georgelin 31/08/1869|
|Jean Baptiste Georgelin 09/03/1870||Jean Marie Georgelin 01/03/1894||Jean Marie Georgelin 23/02/1862|
|Joseph Marie Georgelin 25/04/1861||Rosalie Georgelin nèe Rimeur 09/05/1854||Jean Baptiste Gicquel 27/11/1883|
|Jeanne Gicquel 01/11/1848||Jeanne Marie Gorin 10/05/1874||Marie Anne Gorin 20/05/1837|
|Felix Marie Francois Gorvel 12/06/1879||Joseph Marie Gorvel 29/03/1871||Noel Francois Marie Gorvel 28/11/1859|
|Jeanne Marie Gouedard 03/10/1857||Pelagie Francoise Gouyet 18/07/1872||Anne Marie Guedard 19/05/1853|
|Victorine Guegon 24/06/1861||Jean Marie Guigo 19/10/1870||Pelagie Francoise Guivarch, née Le Pavoux 01/04/1872|
|Anne Marie Hamon 31/08/1855||Francois Marie Hamon 17/05/1873||Pierre Louis Marie Hamon 19/01/1854|
|Pierre Marie Hamon 10/06/1861||Yves Marie Hamon 15/05/1895||Yves Marie Guillaume Hamon 18/07/1885|
|Francois Marie Pierre Harzo 02/01/1871||Jean Baptiste Harzo 05/08/1889||Mathurin Victor Harzo born 14/08/1859|
|Emillie Marie Le Hegaret 22/02/1851||Francine Hennequin, née Gullierm 16/09/1878||Jeanne Marie Herve born 15/02/1851|
|Julien Herve born 01/07/1865||Marie Louise Herve 23/01/1850||Pierre Herve 03/03/1850|
|Josephine Marie Hidrio, née Bouvries 18/10/1883||Cecile Hillard, widow Quesnel, née Hello born 26/04/1895||Victor Hirel 05/07/1879|
|Marie Francoise Houssin born 18/04/1864||Louise Huet, née Darcel born on 12/06/1857||Marie Jacob, née Hamon born on 18/07/1885|
|Marie Louise de la Lande, née Le Borgne 06/07/1895||Marie Francois Marsoin 20/02/1860||Marie Francoise Martin 16/06/1851|
|Anne Marie Mauger, née Melette 04/07/1900||Victoire Marie Meheux, née Ruellan 02/09/1874||Jean Marie Mercier 10/05/1872|
|Joseph Marie Stanislast Mercier 07/05/1867||Josephine Marie Mercier 12/05/1866||Louis Marie Mercier 27/11/1867|
|Yves Marie Mirabel 23/06/1878||Marie Francoise Moisan, née Therin 31/07/1874||Victor Moisan 16/04/1858|
|Victor Marie Moisan 19/07/1872||Francois Marie Morel 11/09/1873||Pierre Marie Morel 19/09/1875|
|Aimée Marie Morin, née Gorvel 19/09/1876||Louis Marie Francois Morin 03/01/1985||Pierre Marie Morin 02/06/1862|
|Rose Morin 14/02/1855||Jean Baptiste Francois Moulin 11/07/1861||Marie Rose Pasturel 01/11/1875|
|Julien Marie Mathurine Le Pavoux 16/12/1869||Jeanne Marie Periot 06/07/1860||Joseph Marie Periot 14/03/1856|
|Marie Francoise Perrio née Allo 28/06/1880||Jeanne Marie Petra née Cadin 15/12/1881||Pelagie Pettiquin 01/04/1849|
|Jean Baptiste Peuch 26/11/1864||Jeanne Marie Peutequain 08/09/1855||Jean Marie Pleven/Plevin [?] 22/04/1864|
|Josephine Marie Plevin née Rault 15/02/1870||Mathurine Francoise Plevin 08/08/1874||Sainte Marie Francoise Plevin née Bienvenue 28/09/1868 /1920|
|Anne Marie Poisson née Riou or Heriot 11/02/1870||Rosalie Francoise Poisson 17/04/1857||Pierre Francois Marie Quemard 15/12/1868|
|Yves Marie Quentric 29/11/1869||Francois Marie Rabet 17/12/1852||Guillaume Rabet 04/1855|
|Jeanne Marie Rabet 04/09/1864||Marie Francoise Rabet 07/01/1867||Yves Marie Rabet 04/08/1854|
|James Roe alias Jacques Rault 1864||Louis Joseph Marie Rault 20/12/1863||Louis Marie Rault 31/10/1868|
|Louis Marie Francois Rault 10/12/1894||Mathurine Rault 14/06/1859||Sainte Rault née Rault 09/01/1870|
|Victoire Marie Francoise Rault née Hesry 08/01/1847||Yves Marie Augustin Rault 27/08/1883||Francois Mathurin Rebindaine 07/04/1859|
|Jean Marie Rebindaine 05/02/1859||Jeanne Marie Rebindaine 01/10/1867||Marie Louise Rebindaine née Plevin 27/03/1868|
|Marie Rose Rebindaine 24/03/1873||Pierre Marie Rebindaine 03/03/1863||Cecile Rebours née Beloeil 26/07/1856|
|Jean Francois Rebours 10/12/1859||Marie Louise Rebours 05/05/1857||Auguste Renault 12/05/1879|
|Euphrasie Marie Renouf née Jegoux 16/05/1897||Victorine Francoise Le Ribault 07/07/1867||Pelagie Francoise Richomme 03/09/1854|
|Jeanne Marie Rigoleur 13/10/1864||Francois Joseph Marie Rimeur 25/10/1866||Francois Marie Rimeur 29/05/1885|
|Marie Françoise Rimeur 30/05/1878||Jacques Marie Rimeur 18/03/1876||Jean Marie Rimeur 23/11/1864|
|Marie Francoise Rimeur 11/07/1867||Mathurin Rimeur 19/03/1872||Pierre Marie Casimir Rimeur 04/03/1864|
|Rose Francoise Rimeur née Ecobichon 06/03/1865||Rosalie Marie Francoise Rio née Therin 09/05/1887||Jean Joseph Riou 18/11/1881|
|Jeanne Marie Robert 20/05/1852||Yves Marie Rogon 23/05/1858||Euphrasia Marie Rolland née Rogon 06/06/1882|
|Julien Marie Rolland 01/03/1866||Victor Marie Rolland 16/03/1868||Rose Marie Rondel née Allo 10/09/1881|
|Jeanne Marie Ropert née Sangan 03/10/1866||Anne Marie Roscouet 28/07/1869||Victorine Marie Rouault 15/05/1880|
|Victoire Francoise Ruelland 01/06/1853||Anne Marie Saintilan née Milon widow Giard 25/08/1876||Isidore Marie Sangan 08/10/1875|
|A Marie Louise Sangan 25/04/1856||Marie Renne Sangan 09/10/1879||Pierre Marie Francois Sangan 01/02/1864|
|Anne Marie Soudet 13/11/1849||Euphrasie Tadier née Le Breton 29/09/1884||Pierre Francois Marie Talibard 04/04/1859|
|Jean Pierre Tanguy 03/02/1874||Jeanne Marie Tanguy 12/04/1874||Jeanne Marie Louise Teren 27/08/1849|
|Cyprien Francois Therin 20/09/1849||Eleonore Catherine Therin 06/06/1852||Jeanne Marie Therin 13/06/1870|
|Louise Marie Therin 11/07/1864||Pierre Therin 20/07/1887||Pierre Marie Francois Therin 04/06/1870|
|Jeanne Marie Thomas 02/05/1874||Anne Marie Jeanne Tirel née Herve 23/09/1859||Jeanne Marie Touzel 04/06/1851|
|Marie Treussard 18/05/1850||Anne Marie Francoise Turmel née Clairet 03/04/1872||Francois Marie Turmel 16/07/1865|
|Victor Marie Turmel 06/01/1885||Marie Therese Urvoy 16/10/1866||Catherine Francoise Le Vannais 18/09/1873|
|Pierre Marie Le Vannais 05/06/1875||Isabelle Francoise Vasselin 26/03/1855||Mathurine Marie Vauvert 24/12/1872|
|Pierre Francois Marie Visdeloup 15/03/1864|