Robert Gibbon, a much hated Governor

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From A C Saunders's Jersey in the 17th Century

Bully

Governor Robert Gibbon appears to have been not only a bully, but a very unscrupulous man. In his efforts to rule Jersey for his own benefit, he was assisted by Captain Richard Yardley and Mr Benjamin Dumaresq, the Attorney-General.

The protests of Bailiff Michel Lempriere were ignored, and he realised that it was in his own interest to keep quiet. It must have been greatly against his nature, for in the past he had shown himself as not wanting in courage, and when the government of the Island under Cromwell was under discussion, he proposed that the 12 Rectors should be excluded from sharing in the work of the States and deprived of their seats in the local House of Commons as they talked too much.

There was a pamphlet published during Gibbons' Governorship, giving an account of the crimes, and misdemeanours, of this man. There is no doubt that his conduct would have been inquired into, if it had not been for the death of the Protector, and the very uncertain condition of affairs in England at that time. He had been a man of very considerable importance, and was well in favour with those in power. We hear of him arranging for troops in the various expeditions which took place during the rule of Cromwell.

Evidently his unjust rule had become known at headquarters, for on 15 June 1659, Colonel John Mason was appointed Governor of the Island, and Colonel in command of the Militia, at the pay of 20 shillings a day. Gibbon was ordered to hand over to the new Governor the Castle, forts and all guns, ammunitions and stores.

During his rule the Islanders suffered much, and there was no discrimination between those who had been loyal to Parliament, and those who had fought against them. All were treated alike, and many must have been the comparisons between the period under Gibbons and the lighter rule of Sir George Carteret, when the young King warmed all hearts by his affability and good nature.

Gibbons as described in the pamphlet, was a monster of iniquity who ignored all the privileges granted to the Island, and simply made use of his power to further his own interests. He refused to allow any letters to leave the Island without being submitted for his inspection, and when Philip Maret wrote to a friend complaining about the troublous times they were suffering, Gibbons had him taken to Mont Orgueil Castle, and kept him there a prisoner for over 18 months.

Passports

No one was allowed to leave the Island without a passport which was in force for five days, and for which a charge of sixpence was made. This applied as well to fishing boats and those who went in boats to gather vraic. If the wind was unfavourable and boats were unable to start within the five days, another passport was required.

It had always been the privilege of the Island for the inhabitants to be free from the Press Gang, a privilege granted to them because they had to defend the Island as one of the keys of the English Channel. Gibbons ignored this privilege and sent his soldiers to get recruits to man the fleet. When Francis Maret of St John asked the soldiers for their warrant, one of the ministers of justice drew his pistol and shot Maret through the heart, killing him. No notice was taken of the outrage as the man was simply doing his duty according to his ideas and those of his superiors.

He made use of the inhabitants of the different parishes to supply labour for the repairing of the fortifications at Elizabeth Castle. He made them work long hours without pay, and those who objected were liable to imprisonment and possibly the bastinado.

It was certainly a reign of terror, and people, when they dared, talked about the good old times. We have read that the Government had continued the allowance of wool and leather to Jersey merchants, but Gibbons had ideas of his own on the subject. He allowed the supplies to be distributed among his friends, many of whom had no direct connection with the Island. This left but a small quantity for the local merchants, who had to obtain a licence to obtain what they were entitled to, and this at a substantial fee.

When a man was fined, and it was difficult to find the money at once, then Gibbons had soldiers quartered at the offender's house, and expense, until the fine was paid, and the soldiers adapting themselves to the times, required of the best.

It was a terrible time for Jersey, but eventually the Jersey people managed to get their petition to headquarters, and on 16 June 1659 Colonel John Mason was appointed Governor of Jersey and Colonel of the Militia. Circumstances prevented proper enquiry into Colonel Gibbons’ conduct, for on 3 September 1658 Cromwell died and Richard, his son, became Protector in his place.

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