Page images
PDF
EPUB

landed estates, and scarcely any tenants, but a great number of small and independent proprietors. It is delightful to wit. ness the sturdy and dignified manhood of the little cultivators of Guernsey, as contrasted with the servility of too many of the yeomanry of England. The late bailiff, Mr. Brock-one of the most enlightened politicians of modern times-strongly recommended a similar plan of partition, as a panacea for the evils of Ireland. The testimony of such a man, whose views were founded on the experience of three quarters of a century, is weighty. His arguments are clear and conclusive; and may be seen in Mr. Duncan's volume, page 307.

The taxation of Guernsey is very light. It may be quickly explained under two heads first, the parochial taxation; and secondly, the taxation for the general purposes of government.

The parochial taxation is raised in each parish by the corporation already described, having been previously voted by a general meeting of the rate-payers. It is a property tax. In the country parishes no one is charged with this tax, who has not possessions worth £100. In the town, taxation commences with those who are worth £200. All kinds of property are included in the calculation, even household furniture. This tax amounts to about 3s. 4d. per cent. per annum; and by it provision is made for the poor, and for all other parochial expenses, such as lighting, public pumps, &c. It is humiliating to be compelled to add, that no inconsiderable part of this burden is imposed on the people of Guernsey by the United Kingdom. Mr. Brock, writing in 1840 to Lord Normanby, said :

Out of 261 inmates (in the town workhouse) 109 are strangers, or born of strangers, almost all of whom are English, Scotcb, or Irish, whereas in all England, it would be difficult to find a single Guernsey pauper.'

The expenses of the general government are defrayed by publicans' licences, a duty of 1s. a gallon on spirits, and the harbour dues; which together suffice for the payment of salaries, for keeping in repair the excellent roads of the island without any turnpike gates, for coast defences against the inroads of the sea, for public buildings, harbours, &c. The revenue amounts to about £7,500. Should it at any time prove insufficient, the States have the power, by a vote of two-thirds of their number, of levying a small property tax, which would be collected in the same way as the parochial property tax.

The Channel Islands, it will be seen, are free from the intolerable burdens and annoyances of English taxation. There are no custom-house officers to vex the traveller, no excisemen to intrude upon the tradesman: there is no long array of tax

gatherers, no host of well paid commissioners. There are no indirect taxes stealthily filching from the purchaser a large part of every shilling he expends. Tenpence is the regular price for three pounds of good moist sugar, excellent coffee is sold for 10d. or 1s. the pound, and good tea at 2s. 5d. And even from these prices a considerable reduction is to be made. The pound weight is more than 17 oz. of our standard, making a difference of 83 per cent.; and English money is always at a considerable premium. These two causes reduce the tea quoted at 2s. 5d. to 2s. English, and other articles in proportion.

The islands have repeatedly been troubled by the intermeddling of the British Parliament or Ministry: and well do these parts of their history exemplify the words of Solomon : 'wisdom is a defence.' When England was attempting by the legerdemain of an act of parliament to make a pound note and a shilling worth a guinea, though, de facto, a guinea would buy a pound note and six shillings, the Guernseymen saw no mystery in the currency question, but very wisely determined to say their money was worth, what every body knew it was really worth. Accordingly, in 1811, and again in 1812, the merchants under the presidency of Mr. Brock, unanimously resolved to raise the denominative value of the coin then current among them; and by this natural expedient, they prevented what would otherwise have inevitably followed, the disappearance of a metallic currency from the island. In 1836 Sir. R. Peel intimated an intention of introducing the British currency into the Channel Islands. Mr. Brock, in a letter relating to this proposal, touched the general question of the currency with the hand of a master, shewed the ruinous consequences of Sir R. Peel's measure in England, and assigned various special reasons why the contemplated change could not be made in Guernsey: and the affair dropped. In 1821 an act, of which the islanders had no notice, received the royal assent, closing the ports of the Channel Islands against wheat, when it was under 80s in England. This was quite a new thing to people accustomed to have their ports open to the productions of all the world, duty free: and the effect of the measure would have been to raise the price of wheat (as often as the price in England was under 80s) to more than double the price for which, after a good harvest, it sells in the islands : and this too among a people dependent, to a great extent, on foreign growth for their very existence. Is it possible,' asked Mr. Brock, 'that any intention should exist to take away the very means of our subsistence ?' He came over to England together with one of the jurats, to remonstrate, and the obnoxious clause was repealed the next session. In 1834 the agriculturalists of the West of England complained that foreign corn was smuggled into this country as the produce of the Channel Islands. A blundering report was obtained on the subject, and the President of the Board of Trade, Mr. Baring, introduced a bill to deprive the islanders of their ancient right of sending their home grown corn, free of duty, into the English market. Mr. Brock again took the field, accompanied by two deputies from Jersey. They obtained a committee of the House of Commons, triumphantly disproved the allegations of the report on which the pending measure was founded, which was in consequence withdrawn. We cannot forbear extracting the conclusion of a long letter, addressed by Mr. Brock to the Right Honourable Henry Goulburn, and bearing date April 9th, 1835, as a specimen of the manly bearing of this enlightened patriot, when approaching the imperial government.

It is unfortunately true, that the agricultural interest is depressed. It is wrong, it is ridiculous, to ascribe any part of that depression to the Channel Islands. The four islands do not contain 25,000 acres fit for cultivation-meadows, orchards, and gardens included. How can this, with any man of reflexion, be held up as an object of jealousy to the landholders, many of whom are owners of estates to a larger extent ? Our connexion with England can indeed in no way be injurious to her; her commodities, produce, and manufac. tures, are freely admitted, to an amount exceeding ten-fold the value of our produce which she so reluctantly takes in return. The trifling quantity of corn exported from the islands, and which the commissioners of customs cannot make to be more than 2,151 quarters of wheat, and 86 quarters of barley, annually from all the islands on the average of five years, is not sufficient to feed one-balf, or anything like one-half, of the persons employed in England for the supply of the islands. England trades with no part of the world so advantageously as with the islands, in proportion to their extent. The goods exported by her to the islands amount to at least £500,000, while the produce she takes back does not amount to £120,000 ;—must we receive all, and send nothing back ? Such a system is too barbarous for the 19th century, and how it could enter into the thoughts of those specially appointed for the encouragement of trade is inconceivable. Some persons are disposed to account for it by reasons unconnected with trade, and dependant only on local and agricultural prejudices; if so, it is in vain to argue; and all I must say is, that I cannot think it possible that any statesman should be found, in this country, ready to sacrifice the rights and interests of the smallest community, for the purpose of flattering such prejudices, and should venture to do so, because the community injured is weak and helpless.

Confident in the justice of our cause, and in the honour as well as justice of his Majesty's Government, I have, &c.'

We were one day accosted by a beggar in Guernsey, and as this is by no means a common occurrence in that part of the Queen's dominions, it excited much curiosity. The girl (her age might be fourteen) said her father was ill in bed, and the family had no bread to eat. She gave her name and place of abode. A careful enquiry was instituted, and the following authentic information obtained. The man was in good health, and in full work, and in receipt of 15s a week. The house he lived in, with about two-fifths of an acre of land adjoining, were his own, subject to a mortgage payment of not more than one pound a year. This girl was the only beggar seen or heard of, during a month's sojourn in the Channel Islands.

The religious aspect of the islands is very like that of Great Britain. The established church is isolated, and strives to be dominant there, as here. The Methodists are very numerous, and to this active body of christians great praise is due for the diffusion of evangelical instruction throughout the islands. There are Independents, Baptists, &c., as in this country. There are a few catholics in Guernsey, who meet in a neat chapel. In Jersey they have lately built a commodious chapel. The population of St. Peter's Port, the only town in Guernsey, is between fourteen and fifteen thousand; the episcopalian places of worship supply 4602 sittings; and the various meeting-houses belonging to other bodies, 5991. In the year 1750, there were no dissenters of any kind on the island.

It remains to give some account of the disputes which have lately agitated the islands, and to which the leading journals of England have frequently referred. Both Jersey and Guernsey have been brought into collision with the Home Government, but from causes totally distinct and unconnected: so that the vindication of Guernsey would leave the dispute of Jersey un. touched, and vice versa. The Guernsey controversy has called forth the pamphlet of Mr. Bowditch, which is a document of but little interest, excepting as it has elicited the crushing reply of Mr. Tupper.

The Lieutenant-Governor of Guernsey is Major-General Napier, famous both as a soldier, and an author; but apparently unfitted for civic duties, by his military habits and imperious temper. He has recklessly involved himself in a succession of disputes with the royal court; and his conduct has been petulant, overbearing, and fatuitous. The historian of the Peninsular war has certainly placed himself in a position, in which every one who admires his chivalrous character, and did admire his liberal professions, will grieve to see him.

In the month of June 1843, General Napier, having been informed that'a Frenchman named Du Rocher, who had committed bigamy in Jersey, was residing in Guernsey, determined to have him arrested, with the presumed intention of sending

him out of the island. Du Rocher concealed himself in the house of a Mr. Orchard, a British resident, in whose family he was French preceptor. Mr. Orchard had a French servant named Le Conte. The police finding that this servant knew something about Du Rocher, questioned him; but he evaded their enquiries. Du Rocher, soon after, quitted Guernsey. The governor, vexed at his escape, caused Le Conte to be imprisoned, on the charge of having annoyed the constable in the execution of his duty;' and the following morning, commanded that he should be expelled from the islands; thus banishing not the master, but the servant, for keeping his master's secret. This act of stern authority in an island where there are hundreds of French residents, occasioned great ferment. The constable having admitted the expulsion, was asked by the royal court, whose subordinate he was, by whose authority he had acted ; and he named the governor. The court (i. e. the bailiff and jurats) then sought, according to their right and custom, an explanatory interview with the governor, who appointed the 9th of October as the time, and his private residence as the place; but instead of receiving the court with the respect due to their station, or with the courtesy of a gentleman, he had the chairs removed from the room, except an elevated one for himself, declined to enter into the conference specially provided for by his oath of office, and dismissed the gentlemen who had waited on him in a friendly and conciliatory spirit, with contumely. Out of these proceedings two questions arose—the question of the governor's power of banishment, and the further question of the right of the royal court to decent treatment when they applied for a free and friendly conference,

On the 1st of January 1814, a number of soldiers met, on the public road, an Englishman named Clark, and his wife, and in a violent and cowardly way assaulted them, leaving Clark in such a state that the medical attendant declared, on oath, he could not answer for his life. A constable was sent to the Fort to claim the offenders. Three were recognised, and removed to jail, the name of one being Thomas Fossey. This man was convicted, 'on evidence as conclusive as was ever heard in a court of justice,' of a most cruel, unprovoked, and cowardly assault, and sentenced to two months' imprisonment. The next morning, without making the slightest enquiry of or reference to the crown lawyers, General Napier wrote to Sir James Graham, and obtained a free pardon. Nor was this all. The writ of pardon should have been, according to custom, first conveyed to the court and registered, and then executed through the sheriff. General Napier went himself to the jail, presented the document, and ordered the turnkey to release the prisoner.

« PreviousContinue »