Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/Jottings in Jersey
JOTTINGS IN JERSEY.
Voltaire’s vivid description of Holland was summed up in three words, “Canaux, canards, canaille.”
The same alliteration might be used to form an accidental definition of Jersey—cows, cabbages, cider, and crapauds. The cows are those usually known by the name of Alderneys; but the smaller isle steals its bucolic honour from the larger. There are no other cows in Jersey alive; for the laws of the island forbid the importation of foreign breeds. All extraneous cows seen painfully landed from the butchers’ cutters from France, or painfully dragging their stiffened limbs along the road, are under sentence of death. France supplies Jersey with meat, not of a first-rate description, from which cause Jersey labours under a twofold disadvantage—that of having French meat and English cookery; and, under the circumstances, it is a wonder that the thing called digestion exists at all in the island: for in England, where there is no cookery, the meat is so good that it does not require it; in France, where there is no meat, properly so called, the cookery is so good as to create it: in Jersey there is neither meat nor cookery.
The cows are amiable creatures, and, as all the world knows, very pretty. They come up to be petted, instead of moving away like most cattle in England; but they make a virtue of necessity, since they are all fed chained or tethered, as in fact are all the animals in Jersey, the goats, and even the sheep, where sheep are found. There is one Jersey bull, in a field under Fort Regent, but he appears to be under sentence of excommunication.
The Jersey cabbages do not grow close to the ground like most cabbages, but from a kind of cabbage-tree, with a stalk six or seven feet long in some instances, from which very bad walking-sticks are made.
The cider is excellent, but very difficult to obtain from the inhabitants, for love or money, in any small quantity. During a residence of some months in Gorey we were unable to obtain any by the usual means. On one occasion our question as to the possibility of obtaining a gallon of cider being answered by a string of questions as to our own business: on another, a vendor of cider declaring that he had cider to sell, but that his house was very difficult to find in the labyrinth of lanes. We believed him, and gave up our search in despair.
The crapauds are perhaps the most characteristic of all the island productions. The word is generally supposed to be the French for toad; but the Jersey crapaud is a distinct animal. Those who know old pictures, will remember certain imaginary creatures in the temptations of St. Anthony, and certain batrachian demons found only where no one would wish to go after death—such are the Jersey crapauds. We recollect mistaking one in the moonlight for a small dog lying in the road; to our surprise, instead of jumping up it waddled off. In the sister island of Guernsey they are said not to exist at all; hence the sobriquet of crapauds, as good-naturedly applied by the people of one island to that of the other.
THE SHAPE OF THE ISLAND,
as seen in the map, is that of some amphibious animal squatting on its hind-quarters, with the fore-feet, as the heralds would say, couped. A walrus would perhaps best represent it. Thus, Cape Grosnez would form the head, Noirmont Point and that next it the couped fore-legs, and La Rocq the os coxigis, or place where the tail ought to be. Geologically viewed, the island dips from north to south. On the northern side the rocks rise to the height of about three hundred feet; on the south they lose themselves in marshland and alluvium. It would appear as if the island at one time lay flat on the sea, with its inland springs bubbling up, and forming quagmires on its surface; then that some submarine force raised the northern part, and caused the springs to run southward, scooping themselves channels in their course, which form a most extraordinary ramification of valleys. There are few exceptions to this rule, amongst them are the lovely glens of Grêve de Lecq and Les Mouriers, which are watered by streams of about two miles in length; in the latter case a waterfall, very respectable for so small an island, being formed over the rocky escarpment.
Learned anatomists, or lovers of hot suppers, might compare Jersey to a split kidney, the congeries of vessels running out into the bay of St. Aubin’s. The rocks consist of syenite, with its various modifications, great dykes of quartz and other primary rocks occurring at intervals.
THE NATURAL BEAUTIES
are very considerable. Perhaps the finest view in Jersey is that from near the Manor House at St. Aubin, looking towards the town and Fort Regent. The bay of St. Aubin’s only wants Vesuvius to be the bay of Naples in miniature. The prominent feature is formed by the fantastic rocks of the island (or peninsula at low water) on which Elizabeth Castle stands. Seen with a sunset effect, and at the moment of the explosion of the evening gun, it forms one of the most lovely pictures imaginable.
The second in rank may be that seen on mounting the ridge of hill which divides the bay of St. Clement’s from that of Grouville, where the road winds like an Alpine pass over the crest by the arsenal at Grouville, and as it were suddenly introduces the passenger to a new world, with Gorey Common below, the beautiful castle of Mont Orgueil forming beyond it the extremity of a long shore-like hill, which in Germany would be planted with vines; and beyond, all the dim coast of Normandy, distant some fifteen miles. If the Gorey oyster-fleet, of a hundred or so vessels at a time, are in the offing in full sail, the view is very much enhanced.
The walk round the island will be found most interesting. The beauty of the coast begins with Mont Orgueil Castle—a grand mediæval fortress in beautiful preservation—
A tower of victory, from which the flight
Of baffled hosts was watch’d along the plain.
Here Prynne was confined, and wrote some bad verses on the wall, and Charles II. took refuge in the troubles of the Commonwealth; Jersey being royal, while Guernsey was parliamentary. The house where the Merry Monarch lived at Gorey is just below the grounds of Lady Turner, and was lately tenanted by the estimable clergyman of Gorey. The king gave its tenants the characteristic privilege of keeping a public-house without a licence for ever. Of this privilege our reverend friend did not avail himself. Mont Orgueil looks weirdly grand on the other side, where the shore becomes rocky, and breaks into bays with sands which afford excellent bathing. There is a rugged path of extreme beauty along the cliffs to St. Catherine’s Pier—a very long jetty of stone running out into the sea, favoured in August, 1859, by a visit from her most gracious Majesty, and intended originally to form part of an immense harbour of refuge. As it is, it would wonderfully facilitate the landing of 10,000 Frenchmen, being “convenient,” as the Irish say, to Grouville, Cherbourg, and St. Malo.
From St. Catherine’s way may be made to Rozel Bay, where are the grounds of the late Mr. Curtis, a gentleman who, like the old man of Tarentum in Virgil’s “Georgics,” bought a bit of rock and transformed it into an ornamental garden. Australian gum-trees, and nearly all the products of the southern hemisphere, flourish there under the mild influences of the climate; and one would almost expect to see the southern cross in the sky. Near Bouley Bay, from which a fine view of the opposite coast of France is obtained, the coast becomes barren and almost mountainous, resembling some parts of north Devon. It culminates in the heights of Mont Madoc, where are some most picturesque old granite quarries, and in the heathery promontories which encircle Bonne Nuit Bay.
As the route is pursued, the rocks become steeper and more fantastic, and the shore less and less constantly accessible. Passing the waterfall at Les Mouriers we come to the Creux du Vis—a hole in the cliff where the superincumbent earth has collapsed into a cave, driven into it horizontally from the sea. It is fine, if the difficult descent can be managed, to see the great pent-up waves bursting into the abyss. Farther on is Crabbe, a wonderfully grim chasm, some 300 feet down, but accessible by a winding path. Below it are great pyramids and arches of rock—a feature constantly occurring on this coast, where the force of water produces most extraordinary forms. The effect is aided by the colour of the rocks, which is generally dark red, and in some places nearly black, here and there hoary with the light-green moss of ages, giving the appearance of gigantic ruins of enormous antiquity, and variegated with party-coloured lichens, the yellow the most remarkable, only to be represented in painting by the brightest cadmium.
Near Grêve de Lecq, where is an hotel which continually advertises itself as the “Star and Garter of Jersey,” is another stupendous hollow, with vaulted caverns among its rocky cathedrals, which are better not visited unless the visitor can be sure that the tide is retiring. But the most remarkable caves and pyramids seem to be on the side of Plemont Point, on the bay called the Grêve au Lançon, so called from the sand-eels caught there.
Beyond them is Grosnez Castle, or rather what is left of it, a single arch of a gateway, standing on the neck of a promontory, with precipitous cliffs behind. This is the north-western extremity of the island. It balanced Mont Orgueil in the olden time, and was held by the Lords of St. Owen for the English crown, when the half of the island from Mont Orgueil to the middle was in possession of the French. Its defenders, if hard pressed, could have no alternative between starvation and jumping into the sea, if they did not choose to surrender. Its only access or egress was apparently by the gateway which remains. Following the course of the high cliffs, one more pyramid is seen, grandest of all, the Pinnacle Rock, connected with the shore by a narrow neck of land, and forming a fine object from the distant Corbiêres. There is a break in the series of high rocks at L’Etac, formed by the long sweep of St. Owen’s bay, depreciated by the guide-books as monotonous, but presenting to the painter’s eye, by its great comparative size, the finest aërial effects to be seen in the island. At the other turn of St. Owen’s bay are the Corbiêres rocks, pyramidal again, and insulated at high tide—a place whence to see a storm to perfection; with reasonable caution not to be washed off by an unusually high wave, an accident which has happened. It was near there that the unfortunate Express mail-steamer was lost on a fine morning, the 20th of September, 1859. It was this ill-omened vessel which carried over Louis Philippe to Newhaven, in 1848, in a gale of wind. Beyond there is the beautiful seclusion of St. Brelade’s bay, with the oldest church of the island in one corner of it, and beyond the next point and Noirmont, the still more beautiful, and still more secluded, Portelet bay. At Noirmont point, the coast beauty ceases, and the view of St. Aubin’s bay closes the exhibition. On its further horn appears, looking well in the distance, the town of
“Hull, hell, and Halifax,” have been for a long time quoted as the three most disagreeable places in the world, or out of it. We have come to the conclusion that the second of these words is a corruption of St. Heliers. It seems inconceivable that the odour of sanctity should ever have embalmed this most corrupt of towns. St. Helier was a hermit inhabiting a cell, difficult of access, on a rock behind Elizabeth Castle. Elizabeth Castle is connected with the mainland by a natural bridge, flooded at half-tide—a trap in which sometimes a tipsy soldier has been caught. Our Government really ought not to post soldiers in Jersey, as spirits are ruinously cheap, and the temptation too great. Jersey would be best defended by gun-boats, and by dismantling its fortresses, which are all commanded by heights. An enemy in command of the sea, would of course compel its garrison to surrender at discretion. The militia are sufficient to guard it against a Filibustering attack, like that of the Baron Rullecour, which was so gallantly frustrated, though at the sacrifice of his young life, by Major Pierson, not long before the outbreak of the French Revolution.
The town is chiefly inhabited by the Anglo-Saxons; the original Norman population keeping pretty much to the country. The immense prevalence of drunkenness proves that the national habit of England will scarcely be corrected by an infusion of cheap French wine, since French wine is as cheap in Jersey as in France. A walk in the streets of St. Helier’s would induce a passer-by to invoke a Maine liquor law in utter exasperation. The police appear to be few and far between, and in fact afraid to show themselves. The town appears to be in the hands of a sort of gaminocracy, or democracy of gamins, who commit with impunity all sorts of depredations on persons and property, and fill the streets night and day with yellings, whistlings, and all sorts of discordant noises. A Royal Commission—which will cost John Bull something, but Jean Jersey Bull nothing—has been lately sitting to consider the abuses of
The criminal law of the island appears to be most strangely administered. Last summer, 1859, a girl found guilty of infanticide was bailed out for 10l. A year or two before, a man who shot his sister, and was tried for manslaughter, got off scot-free among the cheers of his party. More lately, two drunkards quarrelled in a gig, and one tried to seize the gun of the other, the other in the scramble shot him and wounded him; the wounded man got well, but the aggressor was sentenced to seven years’ transportation, and his property was confiscated to the lord of the manor, thus punishing his innocent family by a barbarous feudal law.
Some time ago, a poor little French boy was killed by a blow by a Jersey butcher-boy, whom the Jersey jury entirely acquitted. No French or English resident is said to have much chance with an islander in the civil courts, and on one occasion lately, when by some accident or mistake justice was done, the Jerseyman was heard to exclaim as he went out: “What a shame it is, that foreigners should be allowed to beat us in our own courts!”
By its situation the town of St. Helier’s, most overgrown in population for the size of the island, is the receptacle for all the impurities, moral and physical, of this pretty little island, and for much of those of the external world. It is cooped up in a close, unhealthy hollow, and the wonder is how the cholera could ever have passed over it without destroying half the inhabitants. By some strange perversity, the best parts are built away from the sea, so that the fashionables are shut out from the view of Elizabeth Castle and the harbour, which is really pretty. There is no promenade near the sea, the only place answering that description being the College Gardens, where the military band plays. The strand, and pier, and outskirts of the harbour are given up to seafaring business, and being also the haunt of the scum of England and France, are not desirable as a social lounge. The New Parade Ground is prevented from being a public promenade by being entirely in the hands of the gaminocracy, one or more of whose body, some time last summer, had the assurance to steal a sheep which was put there to graze, flay it on the spot, and carry off the mutton, under the very nose of the police-office. There is a theatre at St. Helier’s, at the wrong end of the town, the performances of which are nightly disturbed by drunken sailors, it being no one’s business to keep order.
In short, our impressions of Jersey have tended much to corroborate in our minds the poet’s dictum, that
God made the country, and man made the town;
for while the town is a huge seething kettle of corruption, the country is a labyrinth of loveliness. It is a labyrinth of lanes all arched by trees and fringed by lush herbage, and with certain lights presenting little fantastic avenues of fairy beauty. It is a labyrinth of vallies running into one another, and losing their branches in the hills, each with its own little rivulet, opening into interminable glimpses of sea and land, while in the first springtime the ground is beautified with snowdrops, primroses, violets, and especially jonquils and daffodils. But each part of Jersey with all its variety, has a certain likeness. Everywhere are seen the same quaint old farmhouses of granite, half sunk in the earth, solidly built, with moss overgrown roofs and round arched doorways; everywhere the same, orchards and perpendicular banks covered with fern and all its congeners; everywhere in summer, the huge geraniums attaining the growth of trees, the semi-tropical oleanders, and acacias, and magnolias, and camellias, growing in the open air all the year round; everywhere the same round picturesque wells covered with botany, looking as if built to be bomb-proof; the same pretty little fields and beautiful eyed and silken coated cattle tethered in them, and everywhere round the coast the same stacks of vraic or seaweed, used to fertilise the fields, the same Martello-towers, picturesque from the colours of the stone, the same fields of reefs inhabited by curious anemones and starfish, and girdling all the same gemmy sea, far more enjoyable here from the facility of bathing in it at almost any season, than the salt element as familiarly known to the frequenters of the coast of Great Britain.
G. C. Swayne.