Review: The Triumph of the Country; The Rural Community in 19th century Jersey by John Kelleher (2017) Assessment 8 out of 10

This version published in 2017 updates the 1994 original, which in turn was based on John Kelleher’s doctoral thesis.

It describes Jersey as a “peculiar “of the English crown, a jurisdiction which continued and continues without being a nation-state in a world dominated by nation-states. There were changes in population, society, economy and culture. However the legal and political system changed gradually, if at all.

Law was Norman customary law, abandoned in Normandy with the French Revolution. Two institutions took a particular form, fiefs and the parish. Fiefs were a feudal remnant reflected in property law, persisting in attenuated form into the 20th Century. Parishes combined political, ecclesiastical, military, community and administrative substance. That there was virtually no coincidence between the territory of fiefs and parishes may have been the product or the cause of a very dispersed settlement pattern.  

Jersey’s population increased from 28,600 in 1821 to 57,020 in 1851, primarily the result of English speaking immigrants, half pay officers, artisans and labourers. Virtually the whole of the increase was in St Helier, known in Jersey as “town”. In 1821 it comprised 36% of the Island’s population, increasing to 54% by 1871, yet its status remained that it was one of 12 parishes.

Population in the others remained relatively static, rural and spoke French or the unwritten Jèrriais patois. The Country’s Triumph was that its power continued, the States (parliament) comprising the Connétable and Rector from each Parish and 12 Jurats, elected effectively for life on an Island wide basis. Two UK Royal Commissions in 1847 and 1861 recommended changes. Concessions were made but the rural bloc retained its power through the parishes, Jurats, sitting both in the States and the Royal Court, and the honorary parish police.

 The rise and decline of the Jersey merchants is described, involved in the cod trade, trans- shipment,wooden shipbuilding and Island banks, converted from a British outpost of the Second Hundred Years War of the long 18th Century to a outport of Empire.

Also described are the two political parties, Laurel and Rose, factions rather than representing different ideas, and the spread of Methodism, contributing to secularisation of the parishes.

 Jersey displayed political and legal unity and kept its particularism. Reformers faced conflict between their desire for change and their loyalty to Jersey. However it was culturally weak, English increasingly replacing French and Jèrriais. This change wasn’t necessarily slowed by the increasing presence of seasonal French farmworkers, Catholic, impoverished and many Breton speaking and therefore fitting in poorly.  

 This was how Jersey became outwardly English, but inwardly retained its separateness, more different and particular than it appears on the surface.

John Kelleher

Highly recommended, this work explains and gives context to much of Jersey’s exceptionalism. It is available either directly from the author or from The Société Jersiaise.

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