Popular History of Jersey Chapter 39
The facts concerning the "Battle of oyster shells", as it was afterwards called, as gleaned from a very graphic account given in the Chronique de Jersey, of 14 April 1838, are given as follows:—
An Act of States, dated 1 March of that year, regulating matters connected with the Gorey oyster bed and the laying down and preservation of new ones at Grouville, in order evidently to recuperate the trade which since the year 1834 had been falling off, chiefly owing to successful opposition from the French side, had been forwarded to England for confirmation; and a long delay in this necessary procedure ensuing, the captains of the different boats engaged in the work and the oyster fishermen became thereby exasperated.
And as a consequence being led by certain of their party to suppose that they had a right to do so, they first threatened and then proceeded to commence dredging in the still reserved beds at Grouville. The news of this daring violation of the law was at once communicated to the Constable of St Martin's, who thereupon, with all available haste, took steps to prevent it; and having presented a report to the States on Tuesday, the 10th of the month, was immediately authorised by that body to take every preventive measure in his power to force the men to desist. This failing, and the fishermen and the captains of the fleet, numbering altogether some 300, persisting in their illegal work, further and stronger measures were thought necessary. In accordance with this, on the morning of Thursday, 12 April, the drummers of the 4th Regiment of the St Helier's battalion, with the Militia and a battery of Artillery mounting four guns, together with a detachment of Carabineers of the 60th Regiment, assembled in the Royal Square, and immediately afterwards marched to Gorey, led by the men of the 60th.
On arriving upon the scene a discharge from the guns was sent among the rioters, who, though none of them were hurt, thereupon seem instantly to have shown signs of submission, the Lieut-Governor, Major-General Campbell, with his staff having meanwhile taken up a position at Mont Orgueil Castle to aid the civil authorities and to generally direct affairs. Not that there appears to have been much to do, for the leaders in the riot — the captains of the different smacks — were speedily arrested, after but little resistance, by the Deputy-Viscount, Mr Godfray; those who quietly surrendered being finally allowed their liberty on bail to present themselves at the Royal Court; whilst such as showed signs of opposition were put in charge of different pickets of Carabineers. And it would appear that the whole matter ended, so far as the soldiers and militia wore concerned, by those bodies being regaled with broad, cheese and beer prior to their march home.
To the Lieut-Governor, however, the day proved a fatal one, for during the operations he took a chill, which eventuated in his death on the 12th of the following month, he being subsequently buried, amidst deep regret and every sign of mourning, in the Town Church.
The ringleaders of the rioters, it may be added, do not seem to have had any very stringent measures meted out to them, and the majority of the offenders expressed their willingness to abide by the law after being addressed by a Dr Wilkinson on the subject, while the Order in Council so long waited for (dated Buckingham Palace, 4 April) was presented to the States on the 20th of that month. A gloom was naturally cast over the Island by the untimely death of Major-General Campbell at this juncture, but this had in a very short space of time to disperse before the general rejoicings and illuminations indulged in by the inhabitants in honour of the Coronation of Queen Victoria, which took place on 30 June; and a new Lieut-Governor, Major-General Sir Edward Gibbs, was sworn in on 14 September, which about closes the record of the (in many respects) remarkable year of 1838.
In the following year of historical interest, we come to the matter of the remains of two former Governors, Sir Thomas Overay (1506-1526) and Sir Anthony Ughtred (1525-34), being unearthed during the excavations in the St George's crypt, Mont Orgueil Castle; whilst the year 1840 is chiefly noteworthy for the magnificent fetes that were held all over the Island, and more especially at St Helier and St Aubin, on 10 February, in celebration of the marriage between Queen Victoria and Albert the Good Duke of Saxony and Prince of Coburg and Gotha, though it may be added that during it St Mark's Road was constructed, and for the first time, by an Act of States, the public were allowed the privilege of attending the sittings of that august assembly.
Coming to the year 1841, we find early in it (29 May) a very great and long-felt want supplied by the erection of the Fish Market; and later, in the autumn, on Michaelmas Day (29 September) came the first real fruit of the time-honoured question of the harbour works for St Helier and the primary outcome of Mr Walker's improvements in the laying of the foundation stone of the Victoria Pier, which was attended with the greatest rejoicings — the stone being laid with all due ceremony by Major-General Sir Edward Gibbs, Lieut-Governor, with whom were his staff of officers, the different members of the Chamber of Commerce, and nearly the whole of the resident Freemasons; a feu de joie being discharged by the different regiments of the Militia present to mark the auspicious event.
In the same year, too, the pro-Cathedra of the Church of Rome was built in Vauxhall, though as corollary to this it may be added that in the commencement of the following year, 1842, the States distinctly forbade the establishment upon the Island of a Jesuit College; the chief ecclesiastical work during that year — so far as concerned the English Church — being the erection of the Deanery near St Mark's Church, and the most noteworthy civil one, the establishment of the Civil Registry for the Island.
At the same time, early in the year (25 March) an important discussion was given rise to by an Act of the States dated on that day, denying to the Viscount the right to speak at the sittings of that body, Mr. J Le Couteur the Viscount, firmly maintaining that it was for the good of the Island generally, in accordance with what ought to be, and only in keeping with the dignity of the office, that such privileges should be allowed. The matter however, which included actually once and for all the Viscount's status in the local Parliament of Jersey, was not decided until later on in the year, and not without much bitter feeling being displayed and an appeal being made to the higher powers of Imperial authority.