Statue of George II

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The statue standing at the eastern end of the Royal Square

Although much derided over the centuries, this statue of George II in Roman dress, and reminiscent of the two statues of the king in London: by John Michael Ruysbrack at Greenwich (1735), and by John Nost the elder in Golden Square, Soho, has become an accepted part of St Helier's main square, overlooked by the States Buildings.

Change in the Market Place

  • From The Town of St Helier, by E Toulmin Nicolle (1931)
The year 1751 saw a change in the Market Place. On 9 July the present statue of George II was unveiled. It stands in all probability on the very spot where once stood the Market Cross, which as we have seen was the place where all public proclamations were made and where the Laws of the States and Ordinances of the Court were promulgated. What became of this interesting relic of antiquity and when it actually disappeared must remain for the present uncertain. We know that the Market Place was paved with stones in 1668. It is possible the Market Cross may have been pulled down at this date whilst the work was being done.
An Act of the States of 30 years later, dated 22 March 1698, already cited as ordering the removal of "La Cage", refers to the erection in the Market Place of a pedestal which was to support a dial. It was to be fixed on a spot in front of the house of Clement Chevalier, the property formerly occupied by the Chronique Newspaper, and the Act of the States informs us that it was to be an ornament to the Market Place. There is no indication in the Rolls that this pedestal and dial were to replace the old Market Cross, and whether the pedestal was ever erected must remain doubtful, for 23 years later on 21 December 1720, we find the States entering into an agreement with a certain Edouard Le Preveu to erect in the Market Place at such spot as would be found most convenient for the public use a column or pillar with pedestal of the Tuscan type, "Une colonne avec un piedestal de l'ordre Toscan."
The column was to support a globe. That this column was never erected is quite certain for, on 7 November 1748, we find the States deciding to sue Daniel Le Preveu, a son of Edouard Le Preveu, to execute the agreement which his father had entered into with them. Daniel Le Preveu thereupon was permitted to resign his agreement in favour of one Abraham Gosset, who undertook to carry out its provisions. A couple of years later on 2 June 1750, Gosset was present at a meeting of the States and suggested that instead of constructing a Pyramid in the Market Place, he be permitted to erect a statue of HM King George II, the Statue to be of lead and to be gilded, whilst the pedestal was to be encircled by an iron railing " balustrade", which was also to be gilded.
The States agreed, and on 9 July 1751, the statue was unveiled in the presence of the Lieutenant-Governor, the Militia and a large concourse of the inhabitants. The Deputy-Viscount proclaimed the statue to be erected in honour of HM King George II. The people then gave three cheers and at a signal given from the Church Tower the guns of Elizabeth Castle fired a Royal Salute, answered by a feu-de-joie, from the Militia in the Market Place. Then were brought on the scene many bottles of wine and the King's health was drunk by all the company present. In the evening there was a general illumination of the Town.

Visitor's impression

  • Diary of a Visit to Jersey September 1798, by William Taylor Morley
At the head of the Market Place, upon a pedestal, stands a gilded statue intended to represent George II - the attitude of which is so graceless, and the countenance so unlike, that it has been found necessary to inscribe upon the stone the name of the personage it was meant to exhibit. The fact is - the States of the Island were duped by an old gentleman of the name of Gosset, who wanting a piece of ground to render a house he was building more commodious - offered, for the grant of it, a statue of His Majesty to adorn the publick square. The proposal was accepted and the figure was brought over from England. The site had been previously prepared, and iron rails placed round, to keep off the rude hands of curiosity. A day was fixed for displaying to the Inhabitants the brazen image of their Monarch - it was conveyed to its eminent station under the inscrutable cover of a blanket - the publick eye became eager to behold the Royal Effigy - the signal was given and the veil withdrawn - when instead of the British King - Jersey had conspicuously placed in its capital - the statue of a Roman Emperor.
Mr Gosset - the patriotic donor conceiving that his countrymen might be easily duped, and he perform, at a cheap rate, his part of the contract, purchased this old figure of Julius Caesar at a sale, for its weight in lead, and added to its ancient dress the decoration of the Garter - as a sure insignium of the expected Monarch - and a certain proof against discovery. But a lady who had recently returned from Rome, visiting the island soon after the erection of this valuable treasure, recognised, to the great mortification of the natives, the "very stamp and image" of her old friend in the Capitol.

The ceremony

  • Official order for the ceremony of erecting the statue on 9 July 1751
A Squadron of Horse with a Captain's Cornet, Quartermaster and thirty Troopers to parade by the Black Rocks at nine a clock in the morning and the five Companies of Fuseliers parade at the same hour and place, each Company to be made up 48 good men out of their Regiments. The Estate of the Island to be assembled the same morning at ten a clock at Mr D'Auvergne's house with the Officers of the Garrison and Gentlemen of the Island who please to attend. As soon as they are assembled notice to be given to the Squadron to begin their March with sword drawn and trumpet sounding, to march up through the Great Street, followed by the four following Companies of Fuseliers, Colonel Marett first, Colonel Le Geyt next, Colonel la Haute next, then Colonel Poingdestre. As soon as this Company is marched through the gate, the Sergeant and 12 men with their Halbards care to form four in a Rank and March about 20 paces behind them. The Denonciator is to follow carrying the Mace before the Lieut-Governor, Lieut-Bailiff and Jurats who are to march two and two, then the Clergy and Constables in the same manner, then the officers of the Garrison two and two and the Gentlemen of the Island in the same manner; in the rear of al1 marchers, Col des Augrès' Company.
The Squadron is to draw up in a Rank centiur behind the Pedestal. Col Marett and Col Le Geyt's Company are to draw up on the right of the pedestal facing the Court House, the other two Companies are to draw up opposite to them and face Mr Patriarche's Buildings; leaving a wide lane; when the Lieut-Governor, Lieut-Bailiff and Estates of the Island come in the middle of the lane of soldiers, they are to file off and range themselves in a single line in the front of the Militia upon the right of the statue, facing the Court House. The Officers of the Garrison with the Gentlemen of the Island are to do the same on the Left of the Statue. As soon as this is done Col des Augrès' Company draws up in the Interval of the Lane facing the Statue. N.B. As soon as the Lieutenant Gouvernor, Lt. Bailiff come into the Lane the men are to rest their arms, drums beat, the Officers salute. The Sergeant and twelve men with the Halbards are to march strait forwards and when they come near the Pedestal, they are to file and place themselves six on each side of the pedestal with their arms ordered. As soon as Col des Augrès' Company has filled up the part of the Square, the Drums are to cease and the men to shoulder; then the case of the Statue is to be taken off, which when done the Deputy Viscount is to proclaim aloud that this statue is erected in honour of his Sacred Majesty King George II, whom God long preserve to reign over us. Then a signal is to be made from the top of the Church to the Castle, on which seven canons are to be fired and followed by a volley from the Companies of Fuseliers; then seven canons more and the third volley. After which if they please His Majesty's health may be drunk and then the procession march back to Mr D' Auvergne's, first the Sergeant and 12 men, then the Denonciator and States, Officers and Gents; then the Companies of Fuseliers and the troops in the rear.

Gossiping Guide

  • The Gossiping Guide to Jersey by J Bertrand Payne (1863)
Nearly opposite, on a square granite pedestal, is a Romanesque statue, christened by the title of George II. It stands on the site of the old Market Cross, or "High Stone", and it is said to have been found among the débris of a stranded vessel, and to have been intended for a representation of some late Roman Emperor. The Jersiais, however, were very hard up in the statuary line, so they caught eagerly at this specimen, And in July 1751, had a grand festival, christened it by the name of the reigning monarch, and are now as proud of their solitary effigy as the tailor was of his hunch-backed child.

Doubts allayed

  • From Morning News (31 October 1910)
His Majesty King George II has come back to his own again, and once more graces the Royal Square with his august presence. For a long time there was some doubt about the identity of this statue, but this was finally set at rest by the discovery of certain papers shewing that the memorial was erected on 9 July 1751, in acknowledgement of the King’s donation to the Jersey Harbour Fund. How much did he give? Not much, we fear, for he was terribly avaricious. Moreover, the designer of the statue must have been a gross flatterer, for the fierce historic light that beats on Royalty, both contemporaneous and modern, shews him to have been a podgy little monarch with nothing of the majestic about him.
At the time of the erection of our statue, George was 68 years old: he was the last foreigner by birth who has held the English throne. He despised "Bainting and Boetry", and was grossly immoral in his private life, but he had many redeeming points. As White, the historian, says: "He did not trick or quibble, and was more useful and more safe in those days of political immorality than if he dad greater abilities." His personal bravery was conspicuous, he distinguished himself at Oudenarde as a volunteer, at Dettingen as a sovereign. He deserves the praise of posterity for the firmness of his principle and fidelity to the terms on which he ascended the throne.
Though his cousin, the terrible King of Prussia (who used to beat his daughter, and wished to behead his son) satirically called George II "my brother the comedian" and though his low amours and debauchery were contemptible and ludicrous, he always loved and respected his good Queen Caroline. Says Carlyle: "There is something stoically tragic in the history of Caroline with her flighty vapouring little King. Seldom had foolish husband so wise a wife."

Caesar with garter?

  • From the Evening Post (24 April 1930)
A Caesar with the Order of the Garter!
There is probably no statue in Europe which has been held up to more ridicule and derision than the one that has occupied a prominent position in the Royal Square, the reason being, no doubt, that its origin has been somewhat of an enigma; so much so, indeed, that even today there are to be found people - prominent people - who tenaciously hold on to the view that many years ago the loyal inhabitants of Jersey, desirous of honouring His Most Gracious Majesty King George II, and not having a real statue to hand, conceived the idea of using an old ship's figurehead, which had been picked up on the beach, concluding, no doubt, that any old thing would do.
As the statue is made of lead, the absurdity of this idea needs no emphasis. Lead statues, usually of a classical nature, were considered highly decorative and desirable objects of art during the 17th and 18th centuries. A nobleman's park was incomplete until it bristled with them. A statue such as that in our Square was quite in keeping with the tastes of the day, and the subtle flattery of depicting King George II as a Caesar went, as will be seen later, straight to the heart - and purse - of that valiant little monarch.
To the many who wonder why King George should be represented as a Roman Imperator, one must reply that fashion, then as now, blinded men's eyes to absurdities. Just as tomb epitaphs had to be composed in the pompous and pedantic Latin of Oxford, so had the worthies, whom the epitaphs described, to be decked out in the guise of the ancient Roman.
Most of our readers who have visited Westminster Abbey Church, will recall the long array of our English Admirals, Generals, orators and statesmen who have been treated in this silly manner. How many Jerseymen know that our own Peirson, in our own Town Church, is also a Roman?
We are now able to offer definite proof that the statue was made to the order of the States of the Island, was duly erected in the Royal Square and was unveiled with all the éclat befitting the occasion on 9 July 1751.

Restoration

In 1998 the statue of George II was removed for restoration, having deteriorated to such an alarming degree that scaffolding props were required. The statue finally returned to the Royal Square in 1999 and was revealed to be one of the finest surviving examples of lead sculpture in the British Isles.

In removing 37 layers of material, which had built up since the statue was sculpted by John Cheere in 1751, restorers Janet and Andrew Naylor exposed fine detail which had not been visible for 200 years.

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