Durell's 1847 guidebook
St Helier Harbour
- Visit to Harbour
- Improvements since 1841
- Wet dock
- Prospects of shipowners
- Historical origin
- Present importance
- Difficulty of access
In the forenoon of the next Monday our travellers made a small excursion to visit the harbour of St Helier. They had just been reading Ouless's explanations of his panoramic view of that harbour, and of the contiguous scenes, which they soon afterwards recognised on actual inspection to be correct.
The travellers were, however, informed that very great improvements had lately taken place, and that a new South Pier, which had been ordered to be built by the insular States, was but just finished.
This had been projected to render the port more capacious, and to give it a greater depth of water, or rather, as it is a tide harbour, that it might enable vessels to come in at an earlier part of the tide.
This has been accomplished by running out farther to sea, a massy wall of granite constructed on scientific principles. The first stone of it was laid with great ceremony by the Lieut-Governor, the late Sir Edward Gibbs, accompanied by the insular States, who followed in procession with a large portion of the native population of the island, as well as of the British residents. This happened on 29 September 1841.
The expenditure has been very great when compared with the limited resources of the country. The funds were mostly raised by loan, secured on the produce of a small duty raised on spirits for home consumption, and on the harbour dues, which have become very considerable. These two sources of revenue are now estimated at more than £5,000 a year each.
Enormous as the debt incurred comparatively appears, those resources are sufficiently ample to promise a gradual extinction, if properly administered. As to the work itself, it is not possible for us to pronounce any decided opinion. Whether the increase of wealth, and general prosperity of Jersey will be commensurate with the sanguine expectations of the projectors, time alone will show.
Many persons are not without their apprehensions that the commercial prosperity of the island has already passed its acme, and that an increase of shipping is but an increase of competition. The tonnage of every other part of the empire has also proportionally increased, and we have now to encounter the activity of rivals, which had never yet existed.
The trade of the island formerly found employment for its own shipping, or in other words the Jersey shipowner and the merchant were united in the same person. But now since the Jersey shipping has exceded the demand for the freights required for its own trade, the owners have lost their independence, and been compelled to look out for the employment of their vessels among strangers, and in other ports, whence have resulted many very serious losses, and other very grievous disappointments of some.
If we are to trust some of the knowing ones, notwithstanding the harbour is flourishing and thronged with shipping, the gains of the shipowners have been diminishing for some years, and are now in the way of still further reduction.
Order in Council
The States had obtained an Order in Council, to enable them to construct a wet dock, at the upper end of the harbour, and along the line of quays, which runs parallel to the road called the Commercial Buildings. The spot had been carefully chosen, and independently of the public utility of a wet dock, it would have caused an immense improvement in the value of all the property in its immediate vicinity.
It has, however, very unexpectedly happened that just as the excavation of the dock was going to be carried into effect, a new plan has been brought forward, recommending to form that dock at the south end of the North Pier, but outside of it, and to be more capacious than the one, whose plan had been officially adopted.
The new place therefore immediately became popular, and it is not unlikely that there is a large majority in its favour. The other party alleged the difficulty of retrograding after having obtained an Order in Council to sanction an Act of the States, but the unyielding pertinacity of men's opinions, and the silent, but sternly disavowed workings of selfishness are more difficult to be overcome, than to obtain the repeal or the modification of an Order in Council.
The delay which has thus been incurred has given rise to further inquiry, so that from the turn that matters have taken, the question now to be decided seems to be whether it would be prudent to have a wet dock at all. The expense, it is estimated, would amount to above £200,000, and in that case, it may next be asked whether it would not be highly rash and improvident to mortgage the revenue of the country to such an extent.
It is true that a grant of Charles II has appropriated that revenue towards the building of a Harbour; but it is evidently a mistaken policy to give so much to one particular object, however important it may be, and to suffer so many other improvements almost of an equal importance to be totally neglected.
If it should be asked what have the States done to improve or to decorate the country, what architectural monuments they have reared, what churches have they built, what colleges have they founded, or what literary institutions have they fostered. The answer must be that of expressive silence, or it must be mixed with the bitter sarcasm that they have done as little in any of those respects as any of their predecessors ever did in the darkest times of ignorance and poverty.
It is true, however, that Jersey has within the last 50 years been astonishingly improved; but this in almost every instance has been effected by public subscription, or at the expense of public spirited, or even of privately interested individuals. Of course this observation does not apply to the sums which the States have suspended on roads, and on other works of a similar nature, which might be more or less connected with the defence of the island.
This cursory view of the matter is suggested by an inspection of the harbour, and by the recollections of its history. Before this little work can be published, these very thoughts may have lost all their novelty and importance by a final decision, about which of the two plans is the more eligible.
Be that decision, however, what it may, let us hope that whatever may be done, it will be for the advantage of the country, and that good sense, calm reflection, and a total absence of party feelings on the one hand, and of selfishness on the other, will mark the final determination.
But though objections may be raised, and though vast sums of money may have been frequently squandered on this, as well as on some of the smaller harbours in Jersey, it must be owned that even that improvidence has not been without some advantages, were it only for the encouragement, which that expenditure gave to the working classes, and for that general spirit of enterprize, and of progressive improvements, which it kept alive.
The appearance of the harbour is highly pleasing and interesting to a stranger, for every part of it displays a degree of bustle, industry, and animation, which was never surpassed in any part of Great Britain. At a period like the present one, when navigation was making such rapid strides in England, it was but right that this small island should also have her share in the general race of improvement, and that when our neighbours and rivals at Granville, and at St Malo, are doing so much to ameliorate their ports, we might also not be inferior to them in that respect.
The harbour of St Helier is likewise to be considered as the greatest artificial curiosity in the island. Nature seemed to have formed insurmountable obstacles to its creation, and where 150 years ago there was scarcely a sheltering creek for fishing boats, there is now a crowded forest of masts, floating at high water in a magnificent basin. But what difficulties will not human industry and perseverance surmount.
A deep and capacious harbour has at length been created out of the resources of Jersey herself, and without the aid of a single shilling from the British Government. It is to her harbour that Jersey is indebted for her present commercial wealth, and for the developement of the agricultural resources of her fertile soil.
It is to this that we must trace the cause, which at this moment renders her the most thriving, the most commercial, and the most important of the Channel Islands.
This state of things has tended to increase a happy and enterprising population, which in its turn supplies a surplus of individuals, who crowd for employment in the merchant service. It is thus that the port becomes a nursery of seamen, to carry on the peaceful purposes of navigation, to the most distant regions of the earth, or to train a large proportion of the brave men, who might be wanted for the protection of the empire in time of war.
It is another consequence resulting from the great number of Jersey shipping, that many of those vessels now resort to the most distant ports, and that places which were formerly but barely known to the scientific geographer figure frequently in Lloyd's List with the arrivals and departures of vessels belonging to this little island. Add to this that a great number of vessels are also built in Jersey.
It has finally resulted from the operation of all those causes that the port of St Helier in its aggrandised state, is said to be now the sixth for tonnage and importance in the British dominions. This is indeed a singular distinction to have been acquired by the industry and the good fortune of a little island, only a few square leagues in extent, and of which it may indeed be proud, since it makes it vie with the most striking efforts, and the eventual success of any maritime place, either in ancient or in modern times. Great as are the advantages of this port, and admirably calculated for the commerce of its flourishing town, it must be acknowledged that it is of difficult access, that the coasts of Jersey are rocky and dangerous, that the route from England to St Helier, is circuitous, and that the latter cannot be approached, but with the greatest precaution.
Some other stations as Bouley Bay, on the North Coast, offer many local capabilities, and a shorter and easier communication with England. But the central position, as well as the beauty and the fertility of the adjoining district, evidently influenced the choice of having the town and the port at St Helier.
|St Helier - Chapter 1||St Helier - Chapter 2||St Helier - Chapter 3|