Nicolle history of St Helier - Chapter 14

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General condition of the people

Camden in his work on the British Isles says that Jersey was no place for physicians - medicis hic nullus locus. Falle, the historian, cites this, but laments that it is no longer true. "'Tis not so now" said he, "since the coming of the gouts and other distempers, unknown to our more sober and virtuous ancestors".

First surgeon

Until the commencement of the 17th century there was not a single medical practitioner in the Island. In 1602 the States appointed a delegation of some of its members with instructions to make arrangements with a certain Abraham Bignols, a surgeon, so that he should remain in Jersey. Prior to this the sick and wounded were attended by men called ossiers or bonesetters; probably butchers who obtained their elementary notions of anatomy from the animals upon which they operated.

We have seen that prisoners in olden days were kept at Mont Orgueil Castle and were brought to St Helier by the hallebardiers. In 1693 the new prison at Charing Cross was completed. The hallebardiers had willingly contributed to the expense of erecting this building, for it relieved them of what must have been a considerable burden. The prison at Charing Cross was curiously enough constructed across the Street and to gain the Mielles or Rue a la Planque Billot from King Street one had to pass under an archway. This building was demolished in 1811 when the present prison was constructed.

House of correction

Prior to the erection of the Charing Cross prison it had been found necessary in 1645 to institute a House of Correction. An Act of the States dated 5 March 1646 recorded that Sir George Carteret presented to the public a house and garden belonging to him in the town, on the fief du Prieur de l'Islet, and situated near Charing Cross. A master was appointed for this institution and on 3 December 1646 the States adopted by-laws for its government.

It was ordained that all swearers, blasphemers, drunkards, beggars, vagabonds, rebellious children, obstreperous servants et hoc genus omne should find a resting place in this institution, and they were expected there speedily to reform their bad manners.


The necessity for a reformatory of this kind was no doubt felt, as we shall see later when we come to consider several curious ordinances of the Court and States as to the manners of the people in humble life. Education in those days received little attention or encouragement. The people were brought up in ignorance and superstition and few, only the rich, enjoyed the advantages of education. The schools of St Mannelier and St Anastase had been founded towards the latter end of the 15th century, and the education there given was free, and in this respect in advance of the times, but the common people derived no benefit from these institutions.

Many Acts of the Court demonstrate that few people could read or write, even among those who held municipal offices. Few young Jerseymen went to university. In 1596 seven of the Rectors were Frenchmen, one a son of a Frenchman, another a Guernseyman, and only three Jersey born.

It was not that the advantages of education were unrecognised, for two Jerseymen spared no efforts in attempting to induce the States to interest themselves in the education of the people. In 1596 a patriotic Jerseyman, Laurens Baudains, came forward and founded a college in the town of St Helier, which he liberally endowed; but for some reason neither the States nor the public seemed to be much enamoured of the scheme. It does not appear that any special building was erected, the school being held in some private house. From the first, difficulties arose in finding competent headmasters, and in 1600 the school was under the direction of the two head boys. In 1603 a Scottish professor took charge of the school for a brief period, but from 1604-8 the post of regent, or headmaster, was unfilled.

Laurens Baudains was a man of action and on 17 October 1608 he presented a "Remonstrance", or petition, to the States, in which he complained bitterly of the want of public spirit in the matter and somewhat sarcastically observes that perhaps his donation was too modest in extent to be appreciated. He would therefore, he said, increase the revenues of the College provided the States would accept and order to be enrolled certain regulations which he considered indispensable for the good administration of the institution.

The States agreed and a regent, Pierre Guillaume, was appointed for one year. About April 1610 he disappeared from the scene, and no indication is to be found of a successor having been appointed. The College apparently ceased to exist, for Baudains, doubtless sorely disappointed at his fruitless efforts and at the half-hearted support of the local authorities, petitioned King James to permit the revenues with which he had endowed the College to be devoted to maintain studious but needful Jerseymen at Oxford or Cambridge. The King granted his request and the Royal Letters Patent were issued on 13 September 1611 and communicated to the States on 9 January following. But Laurens Baudains did not live to learn that his scheme had been accepted. He died a couple of months before the Letters Patent were issued. This is the origin of what is known as the "Don Baudains". To this day many young Jerseymen are enjoying the benefit of the liberality of this patriotic native whose memory deserves recognition.

Half a century after the death of Laurens Baudains, Sir George Carteret, Bailiff and Lieut-Governor, took up his idea and acquired a piece of land known as Le Haut Mur situated near La Motte Street, for the purpose of building a college, which was to be endowed with part of the import revenues, as may be gathered from the Letters Patent of Charles II, dated 14 April 1669. But Sir George, too, had to contend with the indifference and even the hostility of his countrymen and Jersey had to wait two centuries before the project of these liberal minded Jerseymen was realised by the opening of Victoria College in 1852.

Philippe Dumaresq, who was Seigneur of Samares, in his "Survey of Jersey", written about 1685, informs us that the population of the Island then numbered 15,000 and that there were 3,069 houses in the island. The Parish of St Helier had a population of between five and six thousand. The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes had brought to our shores a very considerable number of French refugees, many coming from most distinguished families.

Nicolle: The Town of St Helier
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