George Julian Harney in Jersey

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George Julian Harney
in Jersey


This article by G I T Machin was first published in the 1983 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

George Harney, a leading Chartist of the 1830s and 1840s, spent over seven years in Jersey and was a central figure in its radical politics. But his residence in the island has been little noticed. Professor G D H Cole mentioned his presence, and some account of his activities in Jersey was given by A R Schoyen in his biography of Harney. Compared with Victor Hugo's celebrated stay in Jersey, however, Harney's almost contemporaneous one is little known. Still more value would have been added to George Balleine's History of the Island of Jersey if it had mentioned Harney or even his popular and influential newspaper The Jersey Independent. This article seeks to explore Harney's sojourn in the island, and his aims at an important time in its political and social development.


The collapse of Chartism after the 'year of revolutions' of 1848, and the failure of his various newspapers, left Harney, by 1855, without a flourishing popular cause to champion in England. Having left London for Newcastle-on-Tyne in December 1853, he apparently lost his regular means of support when his latest paper, the Northern Tribune, ceased publication in March 1855. Events conspired, however, to take him to a new life in Jersey.

A speech attacking Queen Victoria's state visit to 'the bloody usurper and assassin' Napoleon III was delivered in Jersey by Felix Pyat and published in L'Homme, the journal of French exiles in the island. There was much indignant loyalist reaction, and enough orchestration between the British and French Governments to suggest that they were glad of a pretext to expel troublesome French refugees from Jersey. Armed with instructions from the Home Office, the Lieut-Governor first expelled the staff of L'Homme. Then Victor Hugo and 35 others, who protested at this act, were also bidden to leave.

British radicals denounced this breach of sanctuary performed at the behest, as they surmised, of an unpalatable foreign ruler. Harney, doubtless because he had marked international interests, was sent to Jersey by the radical Newcastle Foreign Affairs Committee to try to protect the rights of the refugees. Then aged 38, he reached St Helier at the end of October only to see Hugo and his confreres sail away on a rough sea. Some weeks later Harney visited Guernsey, where Hugo was settling, to present the poet with a much-publicised address from the Newcastle committee.

Newspaper appointment

Becoming ill in Jersey, Harney stayed to recover and then took a long rest. During this time he apparently decided to remain in the island for a period, rather than return to face an unpromising future in England. When journalistic employment was offered, he was no doubt eager to accept, and on 5 July 1856 he became editor of the Jersey Independent, published by Thomas Thorne, in which Harney had bought a third share. The Independent, which had commenced in August 1855, had been hitherto a rather ponderous and cloudy reforming journal, but its editorials were immediately transformed by Harney's vigorous polemics.

As well as obtaining a regular occupation, his condition as a childless widower was changed when he married a young Jerseywoman, Marie Metivier (nee Le Sueur), widow of a draper. The couple settled down with her son James in comfortable style at Bay Tree House, Ann Street, St. Helier. Thus Harney was fulfilled again in Jersey, finding a congenial post, a new wife, and family life. He assumed the dignity of 'esquire' after his name and enjoyed a degree of material prosperity to which he had not often been accustomed. But at times he probably felt hemmed in. 'I am glad that, on the whole, you like Jersey', he wrote many years later to Friedrich Engels. 'It is a very interesting place to visit, to stay some weeks, or even months; but after a time one feels cooped up and longing for at least a wider prison'. Among Harney's concerns in Jersey, his radical international dedication was maintained in the Independent and he associated with the continental refugees in the island. But there were also important local reforms to strive for, and he must have felt that he was helping to sweep out a little augean stables.

It may seem curious that a militant and well known radical like Harney should have found fertile soil for his labours in Jersey. His militancy had been amply displayed in his early Chartist period. His impressive talents, which managed to emerge through self help from poor social origins in Deptford, did not include a natural gravity. He had appeared the reckless young firebrand of the Chartist movement, who waved daggers before an audience, exhorted the workers to 'Arm! arm! arm!', and repelled more cautious colleagues.

'Vanity was one of his prevailing weaknesses', wrote his fellow Chartist R G Gammage. 'In the early part of his political life he aspired to be the Marat of the English revolution. His talent was best displayed when he wielded the pen; as a speaker he never came up to the standard of third class orators'. G J Holyoake, another contemporary radical, was more favourable: 'His fervour of speech and his ubiquitous activity made him widely known and popular'.

Harney could swing from extreme to moderate language whenever it seemed appropriate, and his political and social ideas were volatile. He was the pragmatic, unstructured Jacobin, avoiding the ideological conformity to 'scientific socialism' demanded by Marx and Engels, despite the fact that, in his paper The Red Republican, he published the first English translation of the Communist manifesto in November 1850. Marx and Engels became exasperated with Harney for his eclectic radical associations - not least when, in the early 1850s, he abandoned his firm proletarian independence in favour of collaboration with middle class radicals. This was Harney's mellower attitude by the time he reached Jersey, and it probably enabled him to fit more smoothly into his new environment than would have been the case ten or 20 years before.

Jersey politics

The Jersey political scene, moreover, had much to interest him. There was not only a good deal to reform, but a strong radical tradition in which Harney could take his place. The party warfare of Rose (reform) against Laurel (conservative) was fading by the 1850s. But there was still an intensive political life, sustained by the frequent use of a fairly wide elective franchise and by a voluminous and quarrelsome press. Since 1784, when printing began in Jersey, some 40 newspapers had been launched, though most of them were short-lived. In 1859 eight newspapers were being published, four in French and four in English. A British observer, H D Inglis, had reported of the early 1830s that on Saturdays a paper 'was seen in every market stall. The fishwoman, the butterwoman, has each her newspaper. The circulation of the island papers is very considerable. The acrimony, invective and personal abuse extremely surprise a stranger who has been accustomed to the more gentlemanly tone of the English press. An addiction to such papers betokens not only a high degree of popular literacy but a relish for personal disputes'.

The more constructive aspect of this political involvement was a demand for constitutional and legal reform. Constitutional change had been demanded sporadically for many years, but so far these efforts had not succeeded. There was concern that the States consisted only of officials - the twelve rectors, who were nominated by the lieutenant-governor on behalf of the Crown; the 12 Jurats, elected for life by male ratepayers who reached a fairly low property qualification; and the twelve constables, elected triennially on the same suffrage within the parishes. There were no representatives elected as such, and there was a call for popular deputies. The position of the Jurats in the States was criticised as combining the judiciary with the legislative, and their position in the Royal Court was opposed on the grounds that non-professional and elected persons could administer the law neither expertly nor impartially. Similarly, it was alleged that the presence of the elected constables in the States interfered with the impartial performance of their parish duties. Another target of Jersey reformers was the remaining feudal dues levied on tenants by seigneurs. Very few of these ancient rights were still exercised by the mid-nineteenth century.!' But one which was still operated was the annee de succession, the seigneur's right to enjoy all the fruits of a tenancy for a year and a day if the occupant died without heirs of his body.

Abraham Le Cras

A foremost Jersey critic of feudal rights, the States, the laws, the Royal Court, the honorary police, and the exclusive official use of French, was Abraham Le Cras (1798-1869), a former newspaper proprietor. Le Cras' liking for English methods may have resulted from the fact that, while having Jersey parents, he was born and brought up in England. He wanted to abolish the jurats and honorary police, and to minimise the powers of the States. The island 'parliament', he claimed, was not entitled to the substantial legislative role which it exercised, and was really no more than the equal of an English municipal council. The Westminster Parliament, though it contained no Jersey representatives, was entitled to legislate directly for the island. This suggestion would have transformed the customary practice, whereby Westminster legislation applicable to Jersey had usually to be approved by the States and registered by the Court.

Le Cras had some small successes. In 1853, for example, a paid police force for St Helier was introduced, but only to supplement and not replace the honorary police. Harney supported many of Le Cras' objects, but did not wish to curtail the powers of the States. He wished to preserve the legislative rights of this body, though he was anxious to reform it by making it properly representative.

Le Cras found considerable support among the numerous British immigrants who, attracted by the mild climate or the absence of income tax (restored in Britain in 1842) had been coming to live in Jersey in recent decades. Most of the immigrants were half-pay naval and military officers and their families, and by the 1850s the British residents numbered about 5,000, approximately an eleventh of the population. Besides forming a self-contained social enclave, they had little respect for many aspects of the Jersey law and constitution and provided a natural public for campaigners like Harney and Le Cras. Many readers of the Independent were no doubt British immigrants. This is suggested by the lists of military promotions given in that journal - not the first characteristic to be expected of a paper edited by Harney - and by the fact that its full title from October 1856 to September 1858 was The Jersey Independent, British and Foreign Journal, and Naval and Military Record.

Harney's considerable immigrant readership as well as his own experience caused him to apply, in some respects, an English example to Jersey reform. He called for an end to the exclusive use of French in the States and Court, and had a rather patronising distaste for Jersey-French, which was still widely spoken. English was frequently proclaimed in the Independent as progressive and French as retrogressive. But this was partly a reflection of Harney's deep hostility to Napoleon III, whose realm was only 14 miles across the straits. He even suggested that the official use of French might encourage Bonaparte to annex Jersey." But a demand for the exclusive use of English would scarcely have impressed the proud descendants of the victors of 1066. Harney did not propose to abolish entirely the official employment of French, but merely to give equality of legal status to English: each member of the States should be able to speak in either language in that asembly; bills introduced should be printed in both languages; and when defendants in the courts were English, the whole proceedings should be in that tongue.

Jersey traditions supported

Harney was ready to defend the Jersey traditions which he considered worth preserving. On 8 September 1860 he wrote that his paper would not 'join in hostility against everything "Jersey", no matter whether good or bad, simply because it is "Jersey.

One obvious explanation for this was given three months later: 'We have a numerous and increasing number of Jersey-born subscribers'. But long before this Harney had been associating with reforming Jerseymen, most of whom probably belonged to the merchant and trading class in St. Helier. They had no doubt been supporters of Pierre Le Sueur, leader of the Rose party and constable of St. Helier, who had died in 1853 and whose reforming efforts and achievements were praised by Harney in his paper. Harney promoted their societies and addressed their meetings, even if he was inclined to view some of their valued Jersey 'liberties' as hindrances to progress. His firm connection with local reformers is indicated by Engels' description of a meeting with him in Jersey, whither Engels when to recuperate from an illness in October 1857. The bitterness between them had not yet healed, though it was to do so considerably in future years. Engels sent to Marx a contemptuous account of Harney's current state:

"He has acquired a strange appearance with a large, pitch-black beard, somewhat like the greasy Jew who travelled in the same boat which landed us from the steamer - certainly an improvement. He regards his Jersey politics from the humorous point of view, saying he got a 'great deal of fun' from it, etc. Later I went drinking with him. For the moment he seems damned glad to have retired from high politics to his little kingdom of the blind. As a oneeyed man he is king of the opposition: on his right the first grocer, on his left the first tallow-chandler in the town. "

A fortnight later Engels was even clearer: 'He is terribly stupid and feels most comfortable here in his petty critical role... He is busy, but busy doing nothing.'

The Independant

'Nothing', however, can be a relative term, and many would have said that Harney was usefully employed. His public concerns in Jersey are fully displayed in the Independent, which in the absence of substantial surviving correspondence is the major source for his life in these years. The Independent expanded under his direction. Originally a weekly, it began to appear twice a week from 1 October 1856, only three months after Harney became editor. On 8 September 1858, immediately after the electric telegraph was opened between England and the Channel Isles, the Independent became the only daily paper in the islands, its price being reduced from 1½d to one penny.

It was now to be printed on a new 'Caxton printing machine', which would greatly quicken production." Daily printing boosted sales further, and Harney claimed a year later that the public had 'come to regard The Independent as an indispensable accompaniment to the breakfast table'. The paper had now a leading position among island journals, thanks to the daily receipt by telegraph of news which could be published at the same time as the London morning papers. Appropriately, the sub-title of Daily Telegraph was added to its name.

The Independent held many attractions for its diverse readership. As well as giving much space to British news, the paper sought world coverage and gave detailed attention to the Italian war of independance, the struggles of Polish and Hungarian nationalists, and the American civil war, and defended the independence of Switzerland. No opportunity was lost of condemning Napoleon III. 'Daily he becomes more and more committed to the policy of terror', Harney wrote in 1858. In August 1859 he noted that the French were fortifying not only Cherbourg but the Chausey islands, only eight miles from Jersey.

Local matters, however, were the paper's chief concern. Harney's liveliest editorials, and his longest ones, were devoted to island affairs. Apart from his constitutional and legal reforming interests, which will be examined in detail, he supported a variety of other local causes.

'Though English-born', he announced, 'we yield to no "nationalist" in ardent good wishes for this Island's progress and our fellow citizens' happiness.' His concerns to this end included the completion of St. Helier harbour and further sanitary improvements; the advancement of agriculture and tourism; the provision of a fire brigade, a lunatic asylum, and free use of the library; an improved system of outdoor relief for the poor; and an attempt to close shops earlier so that the assistants could acquire more education (a subject on which he addressed a meeting along with William Le Breton, dean of Jersey)."

Though it is fairly certain that he was not an orthodox believer, he commended evangelical services which attracted the working class, and co-operated with clergy and ministers if they were suitably progressive. Dean Le Breton (the father of Lillie Langtry) was especially praised for his eloquent advocacy of social reforms. There was little sign of the anti-clericalism which had led him to denounce, as a candidate in the British general election of 1852, 'the fights of rival Churches and rival oppressors;"

But he hoped that Jersey's ecclesiastical court would be 'consigned to the limbo of mediaeval monstrosities', and condemned the system of purchasing pews as 'an odious invasion of the rights of the parishioners, the poorest of whom have as good a right to seats in the church as have the richest'.

Julian Harney was editor of the Jersey Independent in 1862, when this almanac was published

Harney's main internal concerns in Jersey were three: to turn the States into an assembly fully representing the people; to remove the feudal rights of the seigneurs; to reform the legal system and disentangle the Royal Court from the States. None of these aims was original. All of them had been long if intermittently demanded, notably at meetings in the 1830s. Only in the first of them, the representative character of the States, did Harney see some real success.

Scant regard for States

It was obvious from the first that Harney had scant respect for the States - 'our ruling Solons' as he sardonically called its members. As soon as he took up the editorial pen he was demanding the enactment of the 'Jersey Reform Bill', which sought to add fourteen elected deputies to the States as the first direct representatives to sit there.

This resolution had been adopted by the States on 28 March 1856 after lengthy debates, and sent to London for sanction by the privy council and royal assent. Delay in accepting and returning the resolution caused Harney to grumble. The bill, he said, could hardly be thought too radical, for it was not radical enough. But it was a desirable first step, and should be supported.

Soon he was calling for popular organisation to defend the bill and frustrate the 'secret diplomacy' which might be trying to sway the privy council against it. A 'committee of vigilance' should be formed to 'give direction to the moral power of the people'; for 'the institutions, laws and customs ... under which the people of this island live, are ... antiquated, unjust, and absurd ... and detrimental to the interests of all but the privileged few'.

On 13 September he announced that a Jersey Reform League was being established. A meeting on 2 September had resolved to form an association; and a subsequent meeting had adopted an address to the inhabitants, declaring that 'soon will victory assure to Jersey a state of things in which Justice and Right shall take the place of Monopoly and Oppression, and our laws and institutions be made such as to develop the resources, and enhance the advantages so bountifully accorded by Nature to this beautiful but long misgoverned Isle'."

The Reform League existed to promote timely changes by 'every legitimate and constitutional means', including political organisation and efforts to obtain the election of League members as public officials. The League was to be run by a general committee, with a sub-committee in each parish; these bodies would confer together on united action. George Vickery was appointed secretary, and C. F. Ramie ('not only honest but wealthy') became treasurer. The subscription was to be one pound a year, but Harney suggested that workmen be admitted at a lower rate.

A meeting on 22 September drew a sizeable attendance at 'Mr. Phillippe de Sainte-Croix's large room in Library Place', including several former workers for reform. Elias Neel, chairman of the Gas Company, was unanimously elected president of the league. There was debate over the most appropriate language to use at the meeting. Neel mentioned the presence of 'a great number of our English friends', and suggested that 'the mother tongue' (by which he meant English) should be used. But possible embarrassment was avoided by the decision that each speaker could use either English or French as he chose. Nearly 50 persons became members at this meeting; and it was decided that, as soon as there were six members of the league in one parish, these should form themselves into a sub-committee.

A general committee of twelve was then appointed, consisting of merchants and ship-owners, two 'house and landed proprietors', and a lawyer. The initial success continued, and by 15 November the league had about 160 members.

The league's immediate concern was the reform bill, and on 29 September it adopted a petition to the queen. This asked that the bill be returned to the States, in order to remove a restriction which limited the deputies whom each parish could elect to persons residing in that parish. An address to the inhabitants adopted at the same meeting said that this restriction would make the question of locality 'more important than that of intellect and efficiency' A reform proposed by Advocate (and Constable) Francois Godfray - about whom Harney had a lot to say in another connection - had also to be resisted.

For this suggestion, though intended to remove electoral corruption, would do so (Harney claimed) by disfranchising at least a third of the island's voters. It was soon thankfully reported that the privy council had returned the reform bill un sanctioned because it disagreed with the parochial restriction on elected deputies. Privy council's agreement with the league's view on this matter was welcomed at a meeting on 3 November, which also condemned Godfray's proposal.

Godfray attempted in the States to reserve the reform bill for further consideration by lodging it au greffe, which Harney later described as 'that bourne from which so few things return'. But this move failed, for the States decided to return the amended bill to Council for the royal assent.

The Independent thenceforth urged the league to campaign hard, by forming an election committee in each parish, to return reformers at the first election of deputies. If only, wrote Harney, the States could consist entirely of elected deputies, if only 'the parsons would attend to their churches, the jurats to their judicial duties, and the constables to municipal government', if only a wider suffrage could be established and the States could have regularly appointed sessions, then 'Jersey would have something like a reform, and the march of Progress would be assured'. But the electors must do their best with what the bill gave them, and make sure that all 14 deputies (three for St Helier and one each for the other parishes) were sound reformers."

At the beginning of 1857 it was announced that the amended reform bill had received the Royal Assent, and that the first 'general election' would take place on 13 January. The voters, said Harney, must use the provisions of the new Act to press for further democratic steps, otherwise the measure would be as disappointing as the Reform Act of 1832 in Britain. Candidates should be persuaded to pledge their support to the league's programme, which included changes in land tenure, reform of the bankruptcy laws and of the methods of the Royal Court. Harney also wanted candidates to support greater justice for the British residents, especially in regard to the use of English in legal proceedings. The deputies should not be a mere addition to the 'Old Fogy Interest', and any candidate 'having little or nothing but his purse to recommend him, should be set aside and left to the support of ... the crouching crawling worshippers of wealth'.

A letter sent to Julian Harney's wife from Pittsburgh in 1863

Three candidates were nominated for St Helier at the instance of the league, including George Vickery, but very few reformers stood in the country parishes. The results were no more encouraging. Two of those elected as St Helier deputies, Vickery and A J d'Allain, seemed sound reformers, and Elias Neel's return for St Saviour's was gratifying, but among the other eleven deputies Harney could name only two who might be satisfactory. The league held a dinner to celebrate its limited success, and among the speakers was 'the editor of the Independent, who was loudly called for by the meeting'. In a somewhat rambling speech, Harney could only express the hope that a more convincing victory would be won at the next triennial election in 1860.

No great era of reform, then, commenced with the appearance of deputies in the States. The radical minority in that assembly must have become discouraged by the opposition to their projects. The Independent condemned 'the anti-reforming majority', called for further change in the assembly's composition, and exhorted the Reform League to be more determined. Two years after the 1857 election, however, hardly anything had been achieved and the league was defunct. The reform spirit in Jersey needed reawakening, wrote Harney in January 1859: 'There was once a Reform League; it has become a myth. It proposed to do too much; it ended by doing nothing... Beyond one or two trifling provisions absolutely insignificant, the States during the last two years ... have done absolutely nothing. '

Land tenure and seigneural rights

But the Independent had other local fish to fry besides the composition of the States. Land tenure and seigneurial rights needed, in Harney's view, thorough and rapid reform. Even though most of the feudal dues and services were no longer levied, the unpopular annee de succession was still exercised. Over this practice Harney came into conflict with Francois Godfray, who, as already noticed, had aroused his ire by proposing that the electorate be reduced. Godfray (1807-1868) became Harney's bete noire without altogether deserving that status.

He had long been a prominent and widely trusted lawyer and politician, known for his able and impassioned oratory. He would try to beat down opposition, said Balleine, 'with whirling arms, a voice of thunder, and tempestuous rhetoric'.

Godfray had wanted radical constitutional reform in the early 1830s, but had since become more moderate, a leader of the Laurel (conservative) party, and a great antagonist of Pierre Le Sueur." But he was not such a traitor to reform as Harney liked to present him; indeed he was still ready to propose modest changes. The paper he owned, Le Constitutionnel, was less conservative than has been suggested. It was prepared to admit that 'la Cour et les Etats ont besoin d'etre reformes'.

It even called for the abolition of the annee de succession and other feudal rights, while holding that as long as they existed it was justifiable to enforce them. Perhaps Godfray needed to insist on payment of his dues whenever he could because he was in financial difficulties. Be this as it may, Harney impugned Godfray as an upstart, parvenu seigneur who had amassed about twenty petty fiefs and was much more rapacious than the gentlemanly seigneurs of long and august lineage."

Harney attacked Godfray in the Independent on 1 October 1856 for claiming annee de succession rights; and thenceforward made continual vituperative onslaughts on him, even after he had to defend himself in court against Godfray's charge of calumny. Godfray himself was not unused to hurling abuse. His fits of violent anger made him the centre of explosive scenes in the States, the Royal Court and elsewhere. Godfray's well known irascibility (he was to die of apoplexy) invited the shafts of provocation which Harney knew so well how to aim.

In December 1857 the Independent launched its main attack on Godfray over his use of the annee de succession. The elderly widow of a Mr Bond could not obtain the rents on a house which her husband had owned because Godfray, as seigneur, claimed them for a year and a day. Mrs. Bond, who had to meet the claims of creditors, was forced to earn a living as a seamstress, and it was said she might be driven into bankruptcy. If this happened Godfray could make further demands on her property, and she would become a pauper. As she was born in England, she could be refused poor relief in Jersey and might have to 'end her days with strangers in an English workhouse. " In repeatedly stressing these particulars and prospects Harney made the most of the 'Widow Bond case', using it to stir the dying embers of radical agitation. The moribund Reform League had been replaced by the Anti-Feudal League, founded at a public meeting on 9 November 1857 which resolved that 'it is a duty to oppose by all legitimate means the unjust claims and exorbitant demands of the Seigneurs'. At a gathering held by the league on 4 January 1858 at the Temperance Hall, Harney spoke at length against feudal rights (to 'thunderous applause', his paper retorted), concentrating his remarks on Widow Bond and calling for her protection. A collection was taken at the door for her support, and next Christmas the Independent, after fund-raising efforts, was able to present her with twenty pounds.v' But the Anti-Feudal League, like its predecessor, does not seem to have lasted; and by September 1858 a fresh attempt was afoot to establish a society to reform the law of tenure.v The stops and starts of Harney's radical career were as much in evidence in Jersey as they had been in England.

'The records of powerful rapacity contain no worse example of unmitigated inexcusable iniquity', wrote Harney on 6 January 1858 of Godfray's seigneurial claims. This came in a series of condemnatory editorials on the Widow Bond case. But Godfray was ready for counter-attack, basing his action on an Independent editorial of 30 December 1857 which came very near to accusing him of theft. At the beginning of February Godfray entered a remonstrance in the Royal Court against Harney as editor of the Independent, and Thomas Thorne as printer, claiming damages of five hundred pounds for defamation. The hearing commenced on 13 April. The Independent gave it full coverage, and the case enabled Harney to complain about the process of justice, especially that the suit had to be heard in French. The proceedings did go Harney's way, however, with the Court accepting his claim that he had been referring to Godfray only as a symbol; and the case was eventually quashed." But in June 1860 Godfray successfully defended himself in an action brought by Mrs Bond.

Godfray's suit did not deter Harney from continuing his attacks on his alleged depredations. In reply, Godfray's paper referred scathingly to 'un nouveau specimen de manliness Chartiste', and drew attention to the 'George Harney, labourer' ('qui nous semble avoir une fameuse ressemblance avec le present George-Julian Harney, "Esquire", de Bay-Tree House') who was found guilty of seditious conspiracy at Lancaster in 1843. 33Harney, said the Constitutionnel, 'semble avoir pris a tache ... sous le pretexte de reformer, de bouleverser le pays, et de detruire notre constitution et notre nationalite, pour elever sans doute sur leurs debris des institutions chartistes, ou peut-etre une republique dernocratique et sociale a la Marat'. As for the Independent, every single number was 'un tissu indigeste de grossieretes, d'ignorances, d'ordures, d'indecences, d'insultes, de sottises et trop souvent d'impietes, qui sont presentees au public dans un argot perfectionne, digne de Kirkdale ou de Newgate.w

Harney's feud with Godfray had become a major concern of the Independent. Many of its leading articles were given over to criticism of Godfray and his relatives. If seigneurial disputes were lacking, Godfray could be reprimanded for his 'despotic tendencies' and public displays of choler. Far from being welcomed, a bill which Godfray carried in the States for the commutation of seigneurial dues was said to be motivated by the hope of his own financial gain. Another reform introduced by Godfray, to ease the sale of landed property, was criticised as inadequate. However, Harney did find some praise for Godfray's amendments to a militia bill." One imagines that Harney's readers, if initially entertained and stimulated by the quarrel, must have grown bored with his almost unrelieved bombardment. Perhaps they developed a sneaking sympathy for Godfray. Harney risked elevating Godfray by victimising him, and killing his own cause by over-exposure.

Harney's wish to abolish seigneurial dues was linked to a desire for much wider legal reform. He was not unfavourable to all aspects of Jersey legal custom, and defended those elements he thought beneficial to the people. Such was the case with the Clameur de Haro: Harney clearly admired this ancient cry as 'a valuable privilege for the immediate arrest of oppression and spoliation'r= But he strongly disapproved of the lengthy delays in Royal Court business, and was fond of quoting examples. On 1 November 1856 he noted that a Mormon mechanic named John Le Cocq, charged with incorrectly registering an illegitimate child, had been held in gaol for sixteen weeks; four days later Harney claimed success for the Independent's publicity, for Le Cocq had suddenly been tried. 61 He also recorded that a case regarding shipping damages, ear-marked for 'special celerity', took three and a half years to reach a conclusion. 62 On 27 August 1859 Harney exclaimed that no fewer than 332 lawsuits were pending before the Court. In January 1858 he had warned that unless Jerseymen bestirred themselves and reformed their legal system they might have to witness English courts taking over their own Court's authority. But he emphatically disclaimed any wish for this drastic consequence: 'Warmly attached to local liberties, detesting the tyranny of Imperial centralisation, we should be sorry indeed to see Jersey deprived of one iota of her ancient freedom' .


The difficulty was that the ancient liberties of Jersey conflicted with the legal reform which Harney thought most necessary. This was the removal of the jurats from the Court and their replacement with paid professional judges. The jurats, he held, were the main cause of delays, for they were concerned with their own livelihoods and had to look after their farms or ships.' But the office of jurat was over six hundred years old, and in spite of its weaknesses it was still popularly esteemed. It was the main distinguishing feature of Channel Island administration, and election to it was a cherished historic right. 65 Most Jerseymen regarded the jurats as safeguards of their customary law and wanted to keep them in the Court, preferring alternative means of reform. Therefore, proposals to remodel the Court encountered strong resistance. A Royal Commission appointed in 1846 had recommended, first, the replacement of jurats by two paid judges who, together with the bailiff as president, would form the Royal Court; and secondly, the creation of a paid professional police force to replace the honorary police. But the majority of the States disliked such radical proposals and no action was taken. Consequently the privy council issued in February 1852 three Orders establishing a paid police force for St. Helier, a police court, and a petty debts court. But even reformers in Jersey did not relish the enforcement of change by outside authority, and a constitutional crisis followed the privy council's action. The Orders were not registered, and seven thousand people petitioned that they be withdrawn. A solution was reached nearly two years later. In December 1853 the privy council revoked its Orders, and confirmed six Acts which the States had passed in August 1852, meeting nearly all the requirements in the Orders.w Thus the principle of self-government was vindicated while at the same time reforms were enacted.

But nothing had been done about the Commission's recommendation to remove the jurats from the Royal Court. In 1858 Abraham Le Cras petitioned the House of Commons that this proposal be put into effect, and that a fresh commission be appointed to enquire into all the laws of Jersey. He won the ear of at least one M.P. On 1 June 1858 in the Commons, George Hadfield (a solicitor and radical M.P. for Sheffield) asked the Conservative home secretary (Spencer Walpole) whether the Government intended to remove the jurats from the Court, to issue a commission of enquiry into the civil laws of the island, and to 'take any measures for assimilating the laws of Jersey to the laws of England'. Walpole replied that, although legal reform was needed in Jersey, recent experience - by which he no doubt meant the crisis of 1852-3 - had shown that change must be left 'more or less to the States and people of the island'. He did not favour an attempt to assimilate Jersey law to English law, and thought that a commission of enquiry would 'by provoking the jealousy of the island, do more harm than good'

Harney gave firm support to Hadfield's initiative, and Hadfield persevered. He gave notice early in 1859 that he would move for a Royal Commission to investigate Jersey laws and law-courts, the composition and powers of the States, and the condition of the prison. Harney, applauding this announcement, said he preferred that reform should be carried out by the inhabitants themselves; but since there was no strong internal reform movement 'the well-wishers of Jersey must look to Mr Hadfield and the British Parliament as their only hope'." After two postponements, a shorter motion was introduced by Hadfield on 17 March and carried without opposition. Harney was disappointed that the motion excluded enquiry into the States, but approved of its intention to examine the civil law and hoped that the commission would support his wish to abolish seigneurial rights.

Royal Commission

The Royal Commission was duly issued, the commissioners being Sir John Awdry (a retired Indian judge, who acted as president), the eleventh Earl of Devon, and Richard Jebb. The enquiry opened in Jersey on 11 July, and was welcomed by various newspapers including Godfray's Constitutionnel. Ten days after the opening Harney praised 'the plain, straightforward and unimpeachable replies of Mr. Abraham Jones Le Cras' during his two days' examinatiori.

At the end of August the commissioners left Jersey, having collected much evidence, but found they could not produce a report until they had returned to collect more. Meanwhile the second triennial election for deputies was held in January 1860. Harney campaigned for 'genuine reform' candidates such as Edward Nicolle, even against some of those (including George Vickery) whom he had championed three years before but had since found wanting. But again he was disappointed with the results: Nicolle was defeated while Vickery and other 'sham reformers' were elected." In March the commissioners returned to St. Helier to make further enquiries, and finished their business in Jersey by the end of the month. Le Cras wrote an account of the whole investigation for the Independent of 13 April, describing it as 'the most searching ever known in Jersey', and one which 'will prove a great and lasting benefit to the community'.

But such hopes were far from being fully realised. Extracts trom me commission's report were printed in the Independent of 5 September 1860. Of the seventy-seven recommendations, the main one repeated the opinion of the previous commission that the Court should be purged of jurats and consist of three paid Crown-appointed judges, including the bailiff." The office of jurat should be retained for the performance of other duties, but the commissioners felt that modern Jersey's chief court should no longer consist of unqualified persons having other occupations and attending irregularly. Harney said that the States should carry the suggested reforms themselves without Parliament having to intervene: 'Some of our readers will impatiently ask "Can any good come out of that Nazareth in the Royal Square?" ... But we owe it to ourselves as a free community ... to make an effort at self-help and self-regeneration.' Soon he was demanding again that the States should become a purely representative assembly.

Report rejected

But it was not the States so much as the Jersey electorate who were responsible for refusing the commissioners' main suggestions. The States referred the report to the parish assemblies, and all of these rejected it in January 1861. Harney had done his best to sway opinion, both through his columns and by addressing a meeting of St. Helier's parish electors, attended by over two hundred, on 2 January. In his speech he vigorously condemned the Court, but then trod delicately between 'ancient liberty' and desirable reform. He stressed that while the jurats should go, the popular suffrage should remain to elect professional judges. But the meeting was not very impressed, inclining to another opinion (given in French) that they should keep the old system 'that had worked well since the time that Jersey was first known'. Only about thirty hands were raised in favour of Harney's resolution, and a majority supported another motion that existing defects should be reformed without abolishing the popular constitution of the Court, which was 'still cherished by a great number of the inhabitants of the Island'.

Harney could only lament the defeat of his proposal and of the commissioners' recommendation. Public apathy, he said, was much to blame. The country parish assemblies which considered the matter were attended by only about a tenth of the electors, the St. Helier assembly by only about a fourth. But those who did attend had voted heavily in favour of retaining the ancient system, and this had to be accepted as the popular verdict. Such a demonstration, he said, would only encourage the States in their desire to reject the proposed alteration to the Court. The States did in fact take no action on the question. Harney had the misfortune to be attacking an 'abuse' which was also an age-old popular liberty. His vigorous offensive might have shifted a genuine oppression. But the defects of the Court, though considerable, were not thought grave enough to outweigh its assumed advantages and to warrant its radical reconstruction.

Abraham Le Cras, however, could not yet say die. Seeking parliamentary support again, he found a new ally in another lawyer M.P., Serjeant Gillery Pigott, member for Reading. Pigott first asked, in the Commons in February 1861, whether the Government intended to introduce a bill to amend the Jersey legal system, and especially the Royal Court. In reply the Liberal home secretary, Sir George Cornewall Lewis, admitted that the system had serious defects, but said: 'No doubt the supreme power of legislation resided in Parliament, but it was not the practice of Parliament to legislate with respect to the internal affairs of the possessions of the Crown'. The Crown itself could legislate by means of Orders in Council, but as yet the States should be given more opportunity to consider and act on the commissioners' report. Many of the legal 'defects', he continued, were 'pleasing to the inhabitants of the island' .75 There being no prospect of Government action, Pigott moved on 7 May for leave to introduce a bill to reform the Royal Court. Lewis said it was very difficult to impose legislation on the island. Orders in Council might be resisted; for Jerseymen, though loyally attached to the queen and to Great Britain, 'were also strongly attached to their ancient laws, absurd and inconvenient as they might appear in the eyes of others'. The States should be allowed more time to deliberate before Parliament was asked to intervene. However, Pigott was given leave to bring in a bill 76

These parliamentary interchanges were of course intently watched by the Independent. This published an exclusive verbatim report of the Commons' debate of 7 May, 'double the length of the report in the Times'. The message from the debate to the States was clear: 'you must reform, or the Parliament will reform for you'. A few members of the States, such as Jurat Le Quesne and the rector of Grouville, were praised for taking the same view as the Independent. A 'national demonstration', held to oppose reform from outside, was ridiculed for the exaggerated statements made there and for its 'small' attendance of 245. Harney printed Pigott'S bill. He regretted that it did not proposed popular election of the three judges who were to form the Court. But he defended it against a deputation from the States which went to try and influence the Government, and opposed a petition to the queen against it which obtain 3,764 signatures.

On 18 June Harney said that Pigott'S bill would probably not pass that session, and in this he was correct. Pigott moved the second reading on 26 June, saying he had brought in the bill because he believed that the States would not pass an adequate measure. Lewis said that the delay by the States was not unduly prolonged; and in any case, there being no strong dissatissifaction amongst the islanders with existing conditions, he 'did not think it prudent for Parliament to interfere'. He therefore moved to reject the bill. After some 1863, receiving fifty gold sovereigns and a gold watch at a dinner in his honour. In May he sailed from Liverpool for New York, and was later joined by his wife and step-son."

Move to Massachusetts

After Jersey, Harney entered a larger sphere but ultimately in a smaller capacity.

Following a brief period editing The Commonwealth, he worked as a clerk in the Massachusetts State House at Boston until 1877. Thirteen years were thus 'misspent in the wrong kind of paperwork'. In 1888 he returned permanently to England, where he was remembered in radical circles and re-established contact with other old Chartists and with Engels. He resumed journalistic work with his old enthusiasm, severely criticising Gladstonian Liberalism and sympathising to some degree, but without his former idealism, with the new labour organisations before he died in 1897.

Harney's residence in Jersey was not the beginning of the long empty postscript to his busy life as a leading radical. His stay in the island was almost his last period of influence as a moulder of opinion, albeit in a more restricted environment than before. His local campaigns encountered the disappointment with which, as a Chartist, he was all too familiar. He saw the enactment of the Reform Bill of 1856; but this cannot be ascribed to the support he gave, and the reformers subsequently returned to the States were few. He did much to assist the foundation of the Jersey Reform League, but this decayed after achieving little. He supported other reforming bodies which were also generally ineffective. He battled against seigneurial rights, but did not see success. The last of the feudal rights, the annee de succession, against which Harney had particularly striven, was not abolished until 1966.

He supported, with an important modification, the Royal Commission's recommendation on reform of the Court, but saw this rejected by large majorities in the parishes. However, just as the famous six demands of the Charter for democratic government in Britain were realised eventually (except annual general elections), so too were many of Harney's Jersey aims. Social improvements have been numerous, and tourism, which he wished to encourage, developed remarkably after 1945. The secret ballot was introduced in 1897; the use of English was made optional in the States in 1900, 'in spite of furious opposition from diehards'; and the number of deputies for St. Helier was increased from three to six in 1907. In 1930 the franchise was extended to all British subjects of either sex over the age of twenty, provided they had residence qualifications. A major constitutional reform in 1948 removed the jurats and rectors from the States - a change much desired by Harney - and replaced them with additional elected representatives; though the constables (triennially elected) were retained ex officio. The jurats have continued to sit in the Royal Court, but another Act of 1948 transferred their election from the traditional popular franchise to an electoral college consisting of the bailiff and jurats, the States, and all advocates and solicitors of more than six years' standing.?' Harney made a significant contribution to the demand for such changes, even if most of them came long after he was dead.

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