The French attempt to land in 1779
Two years before the Battle of Jersey the French made an unsuccessful attempt to invade the island. The landing was attempted in St Ouen's Bay, but in rough seas the French vessels were unable to get close enough to the shore to disembark the troops they carried.
From the Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol 49
- "By letters to the admiralty in the same Gazette, from Moses Corbet, Lieutenant Governor of Jersey, and Admiral Arbuthnot, it appears that that five large vessels, and a great number of boats, appeared on the coasts of that island on the 1st instant, in order by a coup de main to effect a landing; but that, by the spirited march of the 78th regiment, and the militia of the island, with some few of the artillery which they were able to drag through the heavy sands, the enemy were beat off, and obliged to pive up their hostile intentions without any other loss on our side than a few men wounded by the bursting of a cannon.
- "Upon this intelligence, however, orders were instantly dispatched to the commanding officers of his Majesty's ships at Portsmouth and Plymouth to send a number of frigates and sloops for the protection of the islands of Jersey and Guernsey; and in the mean time Admiral Arbuthnot had quitted his convoy, and advanced to their relief; but on finding a force sufficient there, under the command of Capt Ford of the Unicorn, for their security, he was proceeding, at the time his letter was dated, to rejoin the trade, in order to pursue his voyage.
- "In this situation things remained on the 8th instant. A private letter takes notice that the first and only vessel that attempted to land, either was struck with a shot, or dashed upon a rock, and 15 or 18 were drowned; 20 got ashore and surrendered, the rest got off safe."
Lieut-Governor Moyse Corbet was highly commended for his actions. He had been forewarned by his intelligence network of a pending French invasion and sent some 150 prize vessles, which had been captured by Jersey privateers, away to safety on the English coast.
More recent reports, including that in George Balleine's History of Jersey, contradict the summary above in the Gentleman's Magazine and suggest that no French troops alighted during the attempted invasion:
- "In 1779 permission was given to that gallant adventurer, the Prince of Nassau, who had sailed round the world with Bougainville, to raise a legion for this purpose. On 1 May the enemy was sighted and Corbet hurried to St Ouen with his Highlanders and the Militia. A portrait of him by Philippe Jean shows St Ouen's Bay in the background. There he sat all day watching an absurd fiasco. As the tide was ebbing, the French warships refused to come close enough inshore to cover the landing with their guns. The captains of the transports would not take their ships within range of the Jersey cannon. After hours of frantic threats and arguments, the Prince was forced to sail back to St Malo, where five of his vessels were destroyed at anchor by a visit from the British Fleet."