Jersey in 1733 by Daniel Defoe

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The title page of the book
Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe, the renowned author of Robinson Crusoe, was a recognised travel writer in the early 18th century and his Tour throughout the Whole of Great Britain is recognised as a highly valued assessment of the country at the time.

Because a section on Jersey was omitted from reprints it is not widely known that Defoe cast his critical eye over the island. Or did he? There is some dispute over whether Defoe visited all the places he wrote about in his Tour, or whether he copied the writings of others.

We have no reason to doubt that his brief account of the Isle of Jersey, in which the author writes in the first person concerning a visit to the island, is anything but genuine, but whatever its origins, it presents an interesting picture of the island in about 1733, a century or so before it became fashionable to publish such guides. The following is taken from the fourth edition, published in 1748, in which the Channel Islands are covered in Volume 3.


”That nothing may be wanting to complete this Work, I shall briefly in this Place touch upon the of Isles of Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, and Sarke, which are the only Remains of the Dukedom of Normandy now in possession of the English Crown. And first for Jersey.
”Various names have been affixed to this Island: in the time of the Romans it was named Caesarea, probably from the Dictator, who subdued several Nations along this Tract: which conjecture is confirmed by the present name of one its forts, which is Le Fort de Caesar. In the north of the Island, at Rosel, is an intrenchment preserving the name of La petite Cesaree. That the Romans were here is plain from the remains of an ancient camp near the Manor of Dilament; as also from coins which have been found in different parts of the Island, particulary one of Commodus, and two of Probus and Posthumus, all in the Parish of St Ouen.
”Its modern appellation is no more than a corruption of its old one, Jer being a contraction of Caesar, and Ey signifiying Island, q:d Caesar's Island. Augia was a name still elder than the time when the Romans were acquainted with the place; and supposed to be the original one.
”The Island has sustained several revolutions: 1, By Rollo, Duke of Normandy; 2, By the French; 3, By the Normans restored; 4, By the uniting of it to the Crown of England.
”The inhabitants behaved very valiantly in defence of Charles I, and his son Charles II, but were at last reduced by the irresistible power of the English Parliament, although they are supposed to have been the last who submitted to the Fate of the Times by a capitulation equally advantageous and honourable.


Jersey is computed to be 49° 10/N latitude, and 2° 20/W longitude from the Meridian of London. Its length is 12 Miles; its utmost breadth between 6 and 7. Its north side, from its lofty cliffs, is 40 or 50 fathoms perpendicular from the sea; which renders it inaccessible that way; but the south is much lower, and almost level with the water. Its form seems to some to ressemble a wedge or a rectangular triangle. The higher lands are diversified by gritty and gravelly, stony and rocky, fine and sweet mould; the lower by heavy, deep and rich soil. All kinds of forest and fruit trees, shrubs, roots, flowers and herbs flourish here, with pulse and corn, tho' their wheat is smaller then English. The decay of tillage (so evident in this Isle) is owing to four causes:

  • The Increase of the Stocken Manufacture; which naturally inclined the people to flight the more laborious employment of agriculture.
  • The improvement of Navigation, and foreign traffick, which had the same effect.
  • The culture of Cyder, by converting the arable lands into orchards for that purpose; which commodity is the ordinary drink of the inhabitants, who are now overflocked with it; so that there is hope of their returning to the plough, and to their former industry.
  • The increase of Inclosures and Highways; of the latter whereof here are three sorts; the first called Le Chemin du Roy, or, The King's Highways; 16 feet in breadth; the second, Le Chemin de huit Pieds or, The eight-foot way, which with its sides makes up 12 feet; and the third, Le Chemin de quatre Pieds, or, the four-foot way, for horse-carriages.


”On the rocks about the Island, seaweed grows plentifully, which is an equivalent for the deficiency of other things useful in husbandry, and is the common manure of the land in Jersey.
”Here is plenty of good water, from the inexhaustible stores of springs gushing from the numerous strata of rocks everywhere conspicuous. Meat also, and butter, are equally good and sweet here, though the cattle are inferior in size to those elsewhere.
”The ewes of this Isle had four horns, but the rams six, in Camden's Time, though rarely now to be seen. Fowl of all kinds are here in great quantities. But none of the volatile tribe exceed in beauty the Jersey Partridge, having the bright eyes natural to that bird, red legs, and variegated feathers. The flesh however is not much preferable to that of the common partridge.


”This Island abounds with fish, the species of which we may range thus:
  • Rough-coated fish, such as Rousses, Haus, etc, the coarsest of all
  • Shell and rockfish among which is the ormer, supposed peculiar to these parts, and deriving its name, which is French, from its resemblance to a human ear. The inside of the shell is made use of in inlaid works as Mother of Pearl, to the bright colour of which it approaches. There is no undershell, but the fish adheres to the rock with its back, which is a solid mass of white pulp, very grateful to the taste, which it regales like the flesh of land animals. In great spring tides, at low-water mark, it is found
  • Flatfish, as rays, thornbacks, soles, plaice, large turbots etc
  • Scale fish. Of these, one draught of base has equalled a cartload. Besides which, here is the mullet, red and grey, the vrac, or seacarp, and the bar, and exquisite fish, sometimes two feet in length. Other fish are here, which for their singularity we cannot pass by in silence
  • The Grannard is so called for its grunting noise, when taken. Its head is almost as big as the body, and its colour it a deep scarlet, resembling blood.
  • The lancon, (or little lance, from its shape), is never found in the water, but in some moving sand bank deserted by the sea; when the sand being moved with an iron hook, the fish spring up, and are caught by handfuls. The young men and maids take great delight, during the warm summer nights, in this sport; which is rendered easy to them by the glittering of the prey above the sand. This they term aller au lancon. It is prepared as an anchovy and, well dressed, gives an agreeable relish.

Another odd fish is the Sirene, which is furnished with teats like a woman's.


The ugly, but harmless, and perhaps wholesome animal the toad, abounds here, as do innoxious lures of the serpentine kind, particularly lizards which gaze on passengers, as they lie basking the sun. But the worst of the reptile kind are moles, which damage the corn and grass, though they compensate that difference by affording a freer passage to the rain thro' their Latibula. The climate here is in general wholesome; though as luxury has gained ground, diseases unknown to former ages have been its constant attendants: so that it cannot now boast of that character given it by Camden, that "here was no room for the Physicians".

The rocks are vast and terrible; the tides rapid and strong; as an evidence of which, here is no still water at any time, as in other parts of the British Channel.

The parishes

The whole island consists of 12 parishes, which are divided into Vingtaines, from the 20 houses which formerly, as is said, constituted each parish; thro' now some parishes vastly exceed that number. Cueillettes is the name for these divisions in the Parish of St Ouen alone.

St Ouen

But to be more particular: The Parish just mentioned contains six Cueillettes, namely, De Vincheles, des Milles, de Leoville, des Grontes, Grand Cueillette, and Petite Cueillette. The Seigneur de St Ouen has a large pond in the west of the Island, containing about 20 acres of land, wherein are carp of so extraordinary a size, as scarce to be equalled in Europe; some of them being four feet four inches in length. Part of the great Bay of St Ouen had been a rich Vale, which was swallowed up by the sea.

St Peter

St Peter contains six Vingtaines; which are, Des Auguerres, du Coin Varin, du Doet, de St Nicolas, de la Vallee, and Grande Vingtaine.

St Brelade

In St Brelade are four Vingtaines; called Des Quenves, de la Moye, du Coin, and de Noirmont. In this parish stands the town of St Aubin, the second of the Island; and from it the bay adjoining derives its name; which consists of white sand, level and firm; and thence the travelling from this town to St Helier, the capital, is rendered smooth and easy. As the church is at a distance, and intercepted by a bleak hill, the inhabitants, who are in plentiful circumstances, were building, when I was there, a convenient Chapel, by way of contribution.

The Port, which is the best and most frequented in Jersey, has a strong pier carried into the sea, which receives and affords a safe harbour for ships. Here a Sixth-rate just floats at dead neap and a ship of 200 tons at all times. At Half-flood a vessel of 130 tons may find entrance. Larger ships, and Men of War, must remain in the road, where is good anchorage. The pier joins to the Fort of St Aubin, which renderes the place very defensible. There advantages have brought hither many Merchants and Masters of Ships: and every Monday is held what is improperly called a Market; for it is rather an Exchange, where Merchants and others meet for transacting affairs of Navigation and Traffick. The houses are mostly new.

St Mary

St Mary has two Vingtaines, du Nord, and du Sud. In this Parish was discovered a spring strongly impregnated with a purging mineral; the water of which was approved of by Dr Charleton, an eminent English Physician.

St Lawrence

St Laurence contains four Vingtaines; De Coin Motier, du Coin Tourgis, du Coin les Hastains, and de la Vallee.

St John

St John has three Vingtaines which are Du Nord, du Doet and de Herupe. In this Parish is a hill called Mont Mado, whereon is a rich quarry of excellent stone, capable of being cut into regular squares, like Portland Stone.


In Trinity are five Vingtaines, namely De la Ville a L'Evesque, du Rondin, de Rosel, des Augres, and de la Croizerie.

St Helier

St Helier comprehends four Vingtaines, which are, Du Mont a L'Abbe, du Mont au Pretre, du Mont Cochon, and de la Ville.

The situation of St Helier is pleasant as well as commodious, having on the south-west of the sea, with a full prospect of Elizabeth Castle, and of the road for ships. To the north are hills, which are an excellent defence against the cold; and at their feet a flat of meadows, enlivened by a pure stream, which from thence enters the street, and even the houses, so that the water is easily brought up by buckets, let down through a trap-door, or from the reservoirs of wells and pumps.

Another huge hill projects, in a manner, over the town; and being a common, affords to the cattle herbage, and to gentlemen and ladies an agreeable walk, with the advantage of an extensive prospect. The usual name of this hill is Le Mont de la Ville. The unfortunate Duke of Somerset, Protector of the King and Kingdom, had probably intended to protect himself from the malice of his enemies, by building a new town here, as he did a citadel at Alderney; both which designs became abortive by his death.

In St Helier, at present, are about 400 houses, disposed into divers wide and well paved streets.

La Cohue Royale, or the Seat of Justice, stands in a large Quadrangle, on each side of which are handsome structures. Here is held every Saturday a market, or rather a fair, whither people flock from all parts of the Island to enjoy their friends or transact business.

In the Town live few landed Gentlemen, but many shopkeepers, artificers, and retailers of liquor. Scarce anything is wanting to the uses of necessity or convenience. La Halle, la Boucherie, or the Shambles is a large room inclosed, so that the sight and smell of carcases do not here annoy the eyes and nostrils of people, as they do in most Country Towns.

The number of Inhabitants, exclusive of some hundreds in the out Vingtaines, who are Parishioners, though not Townsmen, is suposed to amount to 2,000. And the Church, though very capacious by the accession of galleries, when I was there, was crowded with them.

St Saviour

St Saviour has six Vingtaines, of the following denominations: De Maufant, de Sous la Hogue, des Pigneaux, de sous l'Eglise, de la Grande Longueville, and de la Petite Longueville.

St Martin

Under St Martin are comprehended these five Vingtaines: De Rosel, de la Queruee, de sous L'Eglise , du Fief du Roy, and de Faldoit.


Grouville comprises four Vingtaines; De la Rue, des Marais, de Longueville, and la Roque.

St Clement

In St Clement are three Vingtaines; Du Mont Roquier, de Samarez and Grande Vingtaine. In the Canal called Samarez are great numbers of Carp and Eel, the only freshwater fish in the Island.

The Cueillettes and Vingtaines are in all 52. The buildings are all of stone, as may well be supposed in a country which is nothing but an huge rock, covered with Strata of Earth. The common sort is Rag-stone. The Stone on Mont Mado, mentioned before, is of a reddish white, the whiter the better, of a fine grain, and may be wrought almost as sleek as polished marble. The Churches and finest edifices are covered with blue slate; the ordinary houses are thatched with long wheat-straw.

Jersey's Trade

The principal trade is that to Newfoundland, whither, in the year 1732, were sent 27 ships, from thence to proceed to the Mediterranean, in order to dispose of their fish.

Another branch of trade is that of knit hose, or stockens, which are every Saturday sold at St Helier, to the Merchants; and many thousand pairs are made weekly in the Island.


The Language, as you may guess from the names of places, is French, tho' obsolete, and thence to he esteemed barbarous. This remark, however, is not to be extended to their Religious Worship, Judicatures, or even the conversation of the more polite, in all which the pure French is used. Though this is the original language, yet one may observe a pretty good smattering of English, even among the lower class of people, owing to the intermixture of the Soldiers in the Garrision at St Helier; in the Church of which Town Prayers are alternately in French and English.

The chief Officer, who represents the King's Person, is the Governor.

Notable Buildings

Harliston Tower was so called from Sir Richard Harliston, Governor of the Island in the time of King Henry VII, who built it in Mont Orgueil Castle. The great Sir Walter Raleigh bore this high Office to which his name does honour.

Mount Orgueil is of so great antiquity that no record subsists old enough to determine its Origin. 'Tis at present sighted, and in a ruinous condition; and what it was formerly, Elizabeth Castle now is, equal to any fortress within the British Dominions. It is named Le Chateau de l’Islet, or simply L'Islet, from its situation on a small Island. In circuit it is little less than a mile.

In 1551 all the Bells in Jersey, excepting one to each Church, were sold towards defraying the expense of the building. In 1586 the Upper Ward was erected, which is properly Queen Elizabeth's Castle, every house in the Island furnishing four days work. The Lower Ward is King Charles I's Castle and was begun in 1626. During the Civil War Charles Fort was added; and in 1665 the French threatening the place, the Green was inclosed within a wall.

The Fort of St Aubin is of good use towards clearing the Road, and for a safeguard to ships within the pier, which it secures by its cannon planted on the bastions; though in ancient times it was not more than a great tower on a rock, thence named La Tour.

There are five well-disciplined Regiments of Militia on the Island, which are reviewed every 29 May, the Anniversary of the Restoration.

The Civil Government is administered by a Bailly, assisted by 12 Jurats.

The Dolmens

Here are divers Monuments of the Druidical Superstitions, which are flat Rag-stones, of vast size and weight, raised three or four feet from the ground, and sustained by others of less bulk. These the natives call Poquelays; and are the altars on which sacrifices, often human, were immolated, particularly in the Parish of St Helier, three of them contiguous to each other, and on the summit of a place called Le Rouge Bouillon, another; besides one on St Helier's Hill.

Another larger, near Mont Orgueil Castle; and near Rosel-haven, on a cliff named Le Couperon, an antiquity seeming to be a little temple of theirs. At a place called Les Landes Pallot, in the Parish of St Saviour, was a Rocking-stone, like that I shall mention in Scotland, destroyed by the Cromwellians; erected by the Druids, probably to awe the people into a belief of their miracles. This also has been demolished.

Catholic Monuments

Here are also monuments of the Popish Superstition; two more particularly; The first called La Chapelle de Notre Dame des Pas, from the Blessed Virgin, who was is said to have left the print of her steps on the very spot of the rock whereon the Chapel is erected , and this too after her body was mouldered into dust.

The second is termed Hoguebie, a Chapel over a Tomb, built, according to tradition, by the disconsolate widow of the Siegneur de Hambie, a Norman and who fell by treachery in this Island, and whose loss was so afflicting to his Lady, that she erected it on purpose to have the melancholy pleasure of seeing the place where her Lord's corpse was interred from her window in Normandy; and to procure his soul the benefit of Masses.

Afterwards one Mabon, who had been on a Pilgrimage to Jerusalem, took a Fancy to lengthen the Chapel towards the East, and to hollow a place under the Altar, in order to represent our Lord's Sepulchre. This Place was made the chief seat of the Popish Delusion.

Notwithstanding the prevailing terrors of the Papal Empire in the days of Queen Mary, the Magistrates of Jersey had the courage to put to Death Richard Averty, a Priest, and furious Prosecutor of the married Clergy, for murdering his Bastard Child, which he effected without the Mother's Knowledge.

Charles II's Mace

The Mace, borne before the Bailly and Magistrates, at the Convention of the States, has this Inscription (translated from the Latin): - Not all are with such Honour grac'd

"Charles the Second, the most Serene King of Great Britain , France and Ireland, bath resolved that his Royal Favour towards the Isle of Jersey (in which he twice met with a place of refuge, while he was excluded from the rest of his Dominions) should be consecrated to posterity by this truly Royal Monument; and commanded, that thenceforth it should be bourne before the Baillies, in perpetual memory of the loyalty preserved both to his most August father Charles I, and to his Majesty, during the Rage of the Civil War, by the most excellent men Sir Philip and Sir George De Carteret, Knights, Baillies and Chief Governors of this Island."

St Magloire, the Apostle of Jersey, lies buried in a little Chapel near a Free-school, corruptly called from him, L'Ecole de St Magloire, and founded, with another named St Anastase, by King Henry VII, who granted a charter for that useful purpose.

This place gives title of Earl to the noble Family of Villiers.

Although Defoe’s account appears to end rather abruptly, this is the end of his description of Jersey, which is followed by an account of his visit to Guernsey

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