Durell's 1847 guidebook
- Excitement caused by the fear of Martial Law
- Jersey Militia
- Character of Lieut-General Gordon
- The States meet, and are adjourned till next day, a Sunday
- The measure is rejected
- State of the public mind
- General reflections
- Present Prosperity of Jersey
- Visit of Queen Victoria.
The conflagration from which the Town of St Helier, and the shipping in the Harbour, had so narrowly escaped, had been preceded the year before, in the spring of 1803, by a measure, which though it did not threaten to be so immediately fatal, was even more to be lamented because of its effects, which were mischievous and permanent.
That measure is what is commonly called in Jersey the "Martial Law", which at that time caused such a general sensation throughout the island that it excited open dissensions, and fostered the ranklings of suppressed animosities among those who had made themselves prominent on that occasion. More than 40 years leave elapsed since that ill-judged transaction; but a fair and impartial narrative of it has not, as I apprehend, yet appeared. While an event that has caused any strong excitement is recent, it is next to impossible to collect the materials for a true and impartial history. The present generation knows but little about it, except from hearsay, which the farther it recedes from its original date, becomes imperfect, disfigured, and contradictory.
Of the 36 members of the States who voted in that memorable sitting of their Assembly, not more than one or two remain, the rest, with their virtues or imperfections, have found a refuge in the peace of the grave. This silent rebuke given to the eagerness of human passions and to the vanity of all our pursuits is of itself a motive to impartiality, and therefore I shall consider myself in the following sketch as one who writes about the departed beings of another age, who are to be remembered but so far as they supply the characters, which are to be delineated on the great canvass of history.
Every man in Jersey within the military age is obliged to serve in the ranks of the Militia. Anciently they were trained in independent parochial companies, till the reign of Charles II, when all these were formed into five regiments of foot. They served without any pay and, till about 1780, Government did not even supply their clothing. As a privilege for all this, they are not liable to any courts-martial; but all breaches of discipline must be referred to and tried in the Royal Court of the Island, many of whose members are at the same time distinguished officers in the Militia.
The people are highly jealous, and justly too, about the preservation of that privilege. The introduction of Martial Law among them under any circumstances whatever was therefore contemplated with aversion and alarm. They had before them in other countries the summary rigour, which is inseparable from the exercise of Martial Law, and which is seldom adopted, except in cases of open disaffection or of an actual invasion. It had on that principle been proclaimed in Ireland a few years before; but at this very highest importance to the country. Of the several persons who were about his Excellency, it is not known that any was honest enough to remonstrate against the inexpediency of the intended measure.
The States met, and the Lieut-Governor proposed to them to place the island under Martial Law. The Members, though evidently taken by surprise, had still the presence of mind to ask for an adjournment to consider the matter. As the States were then held with closed doors, and the reports of that sitting were not published, it is impossible at this distance of time to affirm what was actually urged in the debates, except that after much difficulty, the States were adjourned to the next day, a Sunday, a thing, unprecedented before, never since repeated, and a precipitation which actual circumstances did not then require.
Everyone heads for town
As soon as the Lieut-Governor's intentions had transpired, a sudden panic and indignation spread with the velocity of the electric spark, through every part of the island. The feelings of the population were exasperated to the highest pitch, the greatest part of whom crowded the next day into the town of St Helier. As the Members approached they were surrounded by groups of their constituents, who asked, solicited, prayed, and intreated that they would not forsake the cause of their country. An affecting instance occurred — the Rev John La Cloche, a venerable old man, and Rector of Trinity Parish, was riding slowly on when he was accosted at a small distance from St Helier by several of his parishioners, some of whom affectionately reminded him to reflect on the important vote he was about to give, and conjured him not to stain by a pussillanimous conduct a long and honourable career.
He was moved even unto tears, but made no answer, and in a short time voted to support the rights of his country. The Royal Square in front of the Court House, where the States were held, was crowded to excess, and never had there been the excitement of a more intense anxiety. There was neither noise, confusion, nor any tendency to insubordination manifested on the occasion. All seemed to wait in breathless expectation for the moment which would announce the result of the debates, when all at once some of the Constables threw up the windows of the States Hall, and waved their hands in exultation to the assembled multitude, that the Martial Law question had been negatived.
There was instantly a universal burst of applause, which spread through every part of the town. Some of the unpopular members stood for a moment as they came out, as if intimidated at this manifestation, and as if uncertain how to proceed, when some of their political opponents, either with a good intention, or in derision at seeing their embarrassment, offered to conduct them safely home, which was gladly accepted, though perhaps neither outrage, insult, or molestation, were ever intended.
The question was negatived by 26, out of 36, only ten having voted for the Martial Law, thus leaving a positive majority of 16. All the Constables voted against the law. The minority was composed of four jurats, and of six ecclesiastics, on the latter of whom the public odium principally fell. Although this passed off without any open tumult, it made a permanent impression on the minds of the people. The most unwarrantable motives were attributed to the minority and a general obloquy and contempt pursued them to the end of their lives.
A whip and a halter, as the symbols of the most ignominious office, were fastened to the gate in front of the Dean's parsonage, and some of the other clerical members were hung up in effigy, in their own churchyards. To have voted for the Martial Law was on every occasion applied to others, as if to convey a term of the bitterest reproach. The States soon after offered a high reward to discover the authors of those lawless demonstrations of the public feeling, but without success, and ridicule was in the next place cast on this fruitless attempt to avenge the insults heaped upon those outraged members.
No record of debate
Those acts, though unjustifiable in themselves, afford a striking lesson to men in public situations not to swerve from their duty, to court the favour of the intriguing or the influential. It is usual in Jersey, that whenever a motion has been negatived, to make no entry of it in the Books of the States, and consequently a very scanty official memorial of that Sunday sitting has been preserved. It seemed as if the principal movers of that measure had wished to throw a veil over it, and to bury it eventually in oblivion. And now that they rest in the grave, well might it be forgotten, were it not desirable that a true and impartial narrative of what had caused so much effervescence in the public mind, at the time, should he offered to the present generation.
Much might indeed be alleged to extenuate that popular irritation. The people had not done anything to render them deserving of such an animadversion, nor had they, like the united Irishmen a few years before, laid themselves open to the scourge of martial despotism, as the penalty of their rebellion. Their ancestors had repelled the Constable Du Guesclin from the walls of Mount Orgueil Castle, and had prevailed over the intrigues of Margaret of Anjou, and of the Count de Maulevrier. They were of the same stock as that of those brave men, who with Sir George de Carteret defended their island to the last extremity against the invading, and overwhelming forces of Cromwell, and there were many still living who had followed the gallant Major Peirson in the defence of their country, when they stood by him, when he closed his short but brilliant career by victory, and an honourable death.
It was, therefore, extremely unwise and impolitic to have pressed a measure of this kind, when there was nothing in actual circumstances which rendered its adoption necessary, and when it was so offensive to a whole population, who were known to be so decidedly loyal, and attached to their British connection.
From 1804 to the present date the Channel Islands have been free from foreign hostilities, and indeed their history offers but little of a striking or brilliant local nature, notwithstanding which this last period has been most rapidly progressive in internal improvements and in the arts of peace. The island of Jersey has now good roads that intersect it in every quarter, its agriculture is flourishing, and the fertility of its soil is such that it yields an abundance of produce, beyond what might be expected from its very limited territory. St Helier has now a magnificent harbour, and its vessels frequent the marts of every part of the known world.
The Town of St Helier, which 250 years ago was but a dirty and insignificant seaport, contains now above 23,000 inhabitants, whose number have about doubled during the last 20 years. The steam navigation increases the facilities of communication with England, and encouraged to repair thither, strangers who are in quest of health, or of retirement, have settled on its shores.
Nor let us forget that the English language has be come generally understood among all classes, and that St Helier has assumed the appearance of a new built and flourishing town. But let us not forget that the most prominent feature of this period has been the spread of a religious education indifferently to the mansions of the rich, and to the cottages of the poor, and that when England exults in the enlightenment of a true faith, the Channel Islands have not overlooked, nor neglected the opportunities among them for the diffusion of Christian truth.
It was at this bright period, when the British Empire had arrived at its highest degree of prosperity, and as a cumulation of our public felicity and exultation, that Queen Victoria has visited the shores of the Norman Islands. The year 1846 will form for our posterity a kind of era in the history of our Island, to which they will often be proud to recur. It is therefore with that highly interesting event, that we shall conclude this introductory Historical Sketch, and proceed to the other parts of this little work. It is however, proper to observe that Her Majesty's visit is yet so recent, and so fully imprinted on the memories of most of our countrymen, that any further allusion to it would be premature on our part, and that it has already been amply described by many able hands.
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