Durell's 1847 guidebook
- First appearance of Jersey from the sea
- Sea view of the scenery from St Aubin's Bay
- The sands, Elizabeth Castle and the Hermitage
- Ouless's Scenic Beauties
- Panoramic View of the Bay
- Town and Harbour of St Helier
- Fort Regent
- Coming into the pier
- Affecting and striking objects on landing
- Market day
It was ten o'clock in the morning in the early part of the month of May. The weather was calm and serene, and not a cloud obscured the bright, and expanded azure of the heavens, till it was lost in the distant horizon, when the steamer, which had left Southampton the evening before, had just turned round Noirmont Point, and was rapidly approaching with a fair breeze, the harbour and town of St Helier.
During the night the wind had been contrary, and the water had been rather boisterous, which had then excited a sense of uncomfortableness, and even some sickness among many of the passengers. But now the diminished motion of the vessel, and the beautiful scenes that rose almost every moment successively in view, had banished every uneasy sensation, so that every one seemed anxiously disposed to enjoy the glowing prospects, which presented themselves in all that variety and profusion.
All seemed to have recovered from their late listlessness, and to be crowding upon deck, either to pace it up and down, or to sit in silent gaze and admiration of the many objects that rose on the different points of the neigbouring coast. The sight was lovely in the extreme. The smooth water was gleaming with the beams of the sun, that like infinite millions of sparks were reflected from the surface.
Rising above the adjacent sea, there appeared a line of high land, which displayed all the appearances of wealth and fertility. The fields were intermixed with groves and orchards, and the whole extent was thickly set with elegant mansions, and here and there, with farmhouses, or with small clusters of the humble, but not less interesting cottages of the poor.
The tide had ebbed, and left dry a large extent of sand between the water and the land. The classical and the philosophical mind could not help being forcibly struck with the illusion, which brought back to recollection the arenas and the gladiatorial shows of antiquity. The passengers could indeed see crowds of human beings moving along those roads, but unlike to the sanguinary pastimes of ancient Rome, it was a quiet population moving in the avocations of useful labour, or in the pursuits of innocent recreation.
Add to this that the morning air was bracing and refreshing, and that many imagined (though perhaps it was after all nothing more than a delusion) that frequent odours from the land were wafted to them over the waters, and that before they landed, they had already a had foretaste of the delights of this fairy land.
These are the sensations which have been excited not only in a few casual visitors, but in thousands on their first approach to the coast of Jersey. This interesting sea view must not, however, be understood to apply indiscriminately to every other part of the coast, though in general all its bold, rocky, or low sandy shores, have each their own particular beauties.
St Aubin's Bay
The sea view to which we are now exciting the attention of the reader is that which presents itself to the stranger in a grand panoramic view of St Aubin's Bay, in a deep recess of which lies the town of St Helier. This view is said to bear a striking resemblance to that in the bay of Naples. This latter may indeed be larger, and bring to the mind of the beholder a greater number of classical recollections. But if St Aubin's Bay does not recall to remembrance the transactions of so many ages, neither were its precincts ever polluted with so many crimes.
The mind that would turn aside with abhorrence at the thoughts of the isle of Capri and the solitary haunts of Tiberius, would dwell with pleasure on the bygone times of the small Isle of St Helier, and on the adjoining rock of the Hermitage, once the scene of the penances and of the martyrdom of that holy man.
The beauty of the landscape which surrounds our bay more than compensates for the want of the cloudless blue sky of an Italian climate. Or if our shores do not present the tombs of such eminent poets as Virgil or Saunazaro, the fortress of Elizabeth Castle, which commands St Aubin's Bay, was once the residence of Lord Clarendon, where he wrote a large part of his history, and where the poet Cowley found a refuge from persecution.
If the recollections of Elizabeth Castle do not run over a long period, at least they are pure and unstained. It was there that Charles II found twice an asylum, and it was there also thet Sir George De Carteret with a handful of the loyal inhabitants defended himself till the last extremity, and that it had the glory of being the last Royalist fortress that surrendered to Cromwell.
While the appearance of the sea and land was occasioning those pleasing reflections, a passenger who had purchased a copy of Ouless's Scenic Beauties of Jersey at Southampton, amused himself, and a few of his fellow voyagers with turning over the lithographic prints in that collection. Some of the originals appeared one after another, as the steamer advanced into the bay.
Our little party felt highly delighted in tracing the resemblance of the lithography of Noirmont Point to its bleak and unpromising original. The eye was however soon after refreshed by the neat little town of St Aubin, with its fort and harbour, the sea view of which was immensely improved by the delicious scenery of the contiguous amphitheatre of hills.
A few minutes more brought the steamer off the southern or back walls of Elizabeth Castle. The eye had scarcely time to gaze on the external appearance of that fortress, when the vessel was as it were by a sudden enchantment transported into what is called the small road. It is to this part that the chief of Mr Ouless' views relates, which is particularly remarkable for its striking likeness to the beautiful originals.
While we were thus amusing ourselves with the work of the artist, and doing ample justice to his taste and reflection, one of the passengers informed us with an air of conscious satisfaction that Mr Ouless was a native of Jersey, that the work with its illustrations was an honour to the country, and that the States of the island had so thought, who had voted him a handsome gratuity.
An English passenger said with an arch smile that the love of country is never so attractive, as when it speaks the truth. The panoramic view which now presented itself was not very extensive, but it was enchanting in the extreme. On the west, as if to command the bay, rose on a ledge of rocks, a little above the water, Elizabeth Castle, with all its appendages of walls, batteries, bastions, ramparts, gates, bridges, and towers, which proudly sheaved, that it possessed ample means of defence, or of enforcing submission.
But in a time of peace those defences were uncalled for, and the mind was better pleased to refer to its ancient history, and to elucidate the events of its early existence, when its precincts were yet the abode of a few scattered fishermen, or when it became subsequently the habitation of religious men, whose profession was to devote themselves to prayer, and to the practice of charity towards their fellow creatures.
The neat object that presents itself, is the Hermitage, at a few hundred yards distance from the castle, from which it is separated at high water. The hermit’s cell, which has survived the lapse of so many ages, and the desolating improvements of the scientific engineer, rises modestly a few feet above the top of the rock.
It is a place still held high in the estimation of the inhabitants, from the tradition that almost a thousand years ago, it was the site of the seclusion of the holy man Helier, who suffered martyrdom for the Christian faith, and whose name has since been given to the flourishing town on the adjoining coast.
At the bottom of the bay, and in front of the castle and the small road, a large number of buildings, on a level with the water line a low sandy shore. This is the town of St Helier, at whose extremity, and under the shelter of a projecting hill, a magnificent harbour has been constructed.
This cannot fail to arrest immediately the attention of the stranger. Never did nature offer fewer facilities for a port, and never did art more completely triumph over the disadvantages of nature. The harbour of St Helier did not exist before the reign of Charles II, and it seemed to be then more than problematical, whether it would ever be possible to form one there.
Since that time it has been gradually formed, till by progressive improvements and accessions, its extensive piers inclose an ample space to accommodate a large quantity of shipping, which now assign it a rank among the principal sea ports of the United Kingdom.
The prospect from this place, as observed before, is not very extensive. On the east, and rising immediately above the harbour, is the Town Hill, now Fort Regent, a citadel commanding the town, the harbour, and the neighbouring parts of the bay. The hill is isolated, or is rather connected by some slightly rising ground to a ridge of hills, which assuming a circular direction, incline to the westward, and after forming a semicircle terminate on the low sand beach, which faces the main entrance into Elizabeth Castle.
The most western of those hills, and which bounds the town on that side, is of ill omened celebrity, and from time immemorial has been used as the ordinary place of execution; but its barren and unpromising surface has been inclosed of late years, and is now much improved by cultivation. The line which connects the two extremities of these hills forms the low shore on which the town of St Helier has since been built, and seems to have been originally but a beach of low sand hills, or an insalubrious marsh.
Judging from the antiquities that were discovered on the Town Hill about 60 years ago, it must have been a highly sacred place, and much frequented by the Druids. How strangely are things now diverted from their primitive uses. The Druids on the Town Hill have vanished to make room for a citadel, no vestiges of the ancient Abbey of St Helier are now to be found in the comparatively modern site of Elizabeth Castle: the very rock on which the little Hermitage stands has often been threatened to be levelled, that it might not interfere with the defences of its powerful neighbour.
The swamp and the naked sand hills have been replaced by an elegant and healthy town, and lastly that ill-omened hill, has now the most frequented road of communication with the western parishes of the island, made to run along the sides of its declivity.
In the meantime the steamer seemed to have glided into a smooth lake, surrounded on three of its sides by Elizabeth Castle, by Fort Regent, and by the town of St Helier. It was now close to the entrance into the harbour, within which a large number of vessels lay at anchor, whose masts rose like a forest above the level of the piers, which projected far out to sea, to increase the capaciousness of the port, and to afford the opportunity of a good depth of water at full tide.
For the conveniency of landing the passengers, she was run in alongside of the North Pier, when in a moment she was surrounded by boats, sweeping with their oars on the surface to land those passengers who on their side were not less eager to depart. It was all haste, and almost confusion on deck, for everyone looked up and down to ascertain that all was right, so that no part of the luggage might be mislaid through carelessness, or unintentionally left behind.
On looking upwards, one could see the border of the contiguous North Pier lined by a numerous assemblage of spectators. The first thing that struck the voyagers was that those spectators had all of them a decent and respectable appearance, and not at all inferior to those that one might meet with in an English sea port town, and easily imagined that he was either landing at Plymouth or at Southampton.
Some of them had undoubtedly come there for a morning walk, and with no other motive than a little curiosity to see the passengers land, and to hear the news; but many also had repaired thither for the more laudable purpose of welcoming their long absent friends, who after escaping from various dangers, or having caused all the apprehensions, which are always the consequence of any protracted separation, were now safely restored to their homes.
It was truly interesting to behold the several recognitions which then actually took place. Many were the nods, the waving of hands, and the salutations that were interchanged from the deck of the steamer to the edge of the pier, as the various individuals endeavoured to attract the attention of those who on their part were looking for them with an equal degree of anxiety. There were, however, many on board who were recognised by the bystanders, with whom they were unconnected; but as their arrival or not was a matter of indifference, so did it lead to no consequences.
But as it was not so in every case, so was there one which was very striking. It was that of an old weather-beaten captain in the merchant service, who after having been exposed to dangers in almost every part of the world, had safely brought back his vessel into the port of London, and was now on his way home to meet the embraces of his wife and children.
For five successive packets his wife had come to see the landing of the passengers, and had been disappointed. She had not, however, been discouraged, and had come there again. She was a motherly kind of a woman, and of the middling class, and was accompanied by her sons, two fine comely lads. It was not long before she recognised her husband pacing the deck, and intensely surveying the long line of spectators,who were standing on the pier.
A few minutes more had scarcely elapsed when these good people were seen forming a little group quite by themselves, and so totally absorbed by their own feelings that they seemed to be unconscious of what was going on in the surrounding crowd.
As to myself I could have envied the delicious sensations which were then enjoyed by that virtuous family. It is indeed in the middling, and in the humble classes of life, that so much happiness and sincerity is principally to be found. Such a welcome meeting had more of both than is ever contained in the boasted interviews of Kings and Princes, whom their fears or their interest bring together under the semblance of hollow friendship, or of dissembled reconciliation.
It was, in fact, a kind of domestic triumph for that good woman to lean again upon her husband's arm, and to lead him back in the company of their mutual offspring, after so long an absence, and after so many dangers in safety to their humble habitation. Such a triumph as this is one of the highest endearments of domestic life, and affords a far more real satisfaction than ever fell to the lot of any of the conquerors of antiquity, when they descended from their triumphal car amid the deafening acclamations of congregated thousands.
The scenes that now presented themselves to the passengers were indeed novel to many of them; but they had not that novelty which is commonly felt on landing in a foreign country. It was pleasing to an Englishman to observe that the features, the manners, and the costume of the people were the same as in England. The language itself of the bystanders, that great mark of national distinction, was English, with the exception of a few stragglers of the lower orders, who addressed each other in the old Norman French of the Island.
A large supply of porters was in attendance for the conveyance of the luggage of the passengers. One was struck with the civility and regularity of that sort of gentry, who are so imposing and disorderly in other places. The good order so remarkable here is owing to some excellent regulations of the insular States, and to the indefatigable exertions of Captain Chevalier, the present harbourmaster, to carry them into effect.
Cards were then liberally slipped into the hands of the passengers by different persons connected with the hotels and other places of accommodation for travellers. As we had been recommended in London to a respectable boarding house, we saw no reason to alter our choice.
Several carriages were in readiness at a few yards distance from the landing place, where having hired one for ourselves and our luggage, we got in, and ordered the driver where to set us down. From the end of the North Pier, it was nearly half a mile to our lodgings, in the town of which we saw but little during our drive.
We were received at our new lodgings with all that attention and cordiality which nobody knows to practise better than the keeper of an English hotel.
As it was on a Saturday the street, and the market, were crowded to excess much the same as is the case in an English country town, when a fair happens to be held. The country people in Jersey, whether for business or pleasure, generally repair to St Helier, on a Saturday, either to transact business, as in the most central part of the island, or where people may meet with each other, without being at the trouble of going to each other’s houses.
It was not long before the travellers, who were amused with surveying this noisy and bustling scene, were summoned to attend a comfortable and plentiful diner a la fourchette, which our more thrifty ancestors would have called a most substantial dinner.
Be that, however, as it may, there was a profusion of all the good things which the island could afford. After having laid such sure foundation, every former sensation of fatigue and exhaustion disappeared, and everyone who had either been sick or uneasy on the passage, was now revived with a general flow of spirits.
Similarity to England
They had left London but so very few hours before that they could scarcely believe their senses, how they could have been wafted over so soon to such a distance. The delusion was further kept up by the general appearance of the people, by the style of the buildings, by the cleanliness of the wide street in front, and by the comforts of the houses, which were evidently the same as are found everywhere in England.
As the day was already far advanced, it was not worthwhile to have undertaken any long excursion; but as the house was provided with an abundant supply of the local papers, which are published here in the English and French languages, they afforded ample amusement to the voyagers for some hours.
It was not till the evening that they sallied out for a ramble into some of the principal streets. The party consisted of persons who were all religiously inclined, and who were delighted to be informed that the Sabbath was kept here with as much holiness as in England.
Under the impression of those feelings, they fully resolved to spend the next day, which was Sunday, either at their lodgings, in private devotion, or to go out to attend at some place of public worship.
But as Elizabeth Castle, Fort Regent, and the Harbour of St Helier, had already particularly attracted their attention during the latter part of the passage, it was agreed that a visit should be made to them on the Monday following. In the meantime they procured themselves the best guidebooks and other publications of merit, which could furnish them with any necessary information.
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