Tuesday, 28 September 2010

1769 and all that!

St Helier Constable has asked for the 1769 storming of the Royal Court on matter regarding "fair taxes on wheat, an end to cattle and provision exports, and for Constables to consult Parishioners before passing laws and regulations"(1)

But what was unfair about taxes on wheat? The JEP, reporting on the matter, doesn't say.

It was not to do with the price of bread, which is due to go up very soon because of rising wheat prices, but to do with "wheat rents". This is well explained by the Reverend Alban E Ragg, in his "Popular History of Jersey":

From very early times up to this period these had always been paid "in kind," i.e., in actual wheat, a mode allowable and useful in a small community and when very little money was in circulation, but which had become oppressive and obsolete in its working ; the fact of the matter being that the quantity of wheat then grown upon the Island was not sufficient to pay one twentieth part of the rents that had been created. Under these circumstances, as can very easily be conceived, a man might have to pay, for instance, 50 per cent. more for the purchase of the actual grain than would have sufficed for the payment of his rents in cash. This matter in the first instance was modified by paying in coin on an average value of wheat; though here again stepped in the difficulty that the holders of wheat rents, having an interest in the matter, naturally did their best to keep the average value at a high price ; those that had to pay as naturally trying to lower its average value.

The whole difficulty was, however, at last solved by an Act of the States, confirmed on April 26th, 1797, and to come into force the following Michaelmas, to the effect that such rents were to be estimated at a fixed rate, which law-the only effective measure that resulted from all the agitation of 1790 and that period -is still followed. (2)

In fact, there was also a wheat shortage driving prices up, and while today this effects bread, in 1769 it was also effecting the wheat rent. Hence it was that on 28 September 1769 up to 500 islanders marched on St. Helier from country parishes and halted the proceedings at the Royal Court house in the Royal Square as a mark of protest for change.

What was notable after that was the intervention of the UK government, which stepped in and made sure further regulations for reform were

the Imperial Government, without, as it would appear, either the co-operation or sanction of the States, and for the prevention in future of much useless work of the like kind stepped in and enacted sundry regulations on its own account. For instance) it was at this period the Order was enacted that the meeting of the States was not to be adjourned without the consent of the President, and that when so adjourned it was to complete the matter under discussion before proceeding to other things; that the Bailiff was and should thereafter be bound to convene a meeting of the States when called on to do so by the Lieutenant-Governor and the Jurats. On June 2nd, 1786, came a Order allowing the States to fine absent members, and on the same date came one declaring that the States could not pass Acts for raising money without the previous assent of the Crown, at the same time authorising them to raise money by Rate to defray the expenses of any Agent or Deputy who represented their common concerns ; whilst on February 1st 1797, the fees of the Greffier were raised; and an Order was given on April 26th, 1797, extending the free exportation of cider to that made of "tithe fruit." It was ordered also, towards the end of last century, that neither the late Constable of any parish nor the senior Centenier should sit in the States pending an appeal relative to a contested election in the parish in question.

That these came down from "on high", rather than being generated by the States is clear when one looks at the documents themselves which were produced in English, with a French translation - for example:

1786 An order of the King and Council, concerning the political disputes between the States and the Royal Court, of the island of Jersey. Issued on the 2nd June 1786, Southampton

1786 Traduction d'un ordre du Roi et des Seigneurs du Conseil, au sujet des disputes politiques des etats & de la Cour Royale de l'ile de Jersey. Avec des notes sur les differens points s'y trouvent decides Imprime a Southampton, French translation of above (3)

Clearly Jersey was not as independent in these matters as later and more recent writing of its history suggests (such as that of the former Bailiff, Sir Philip Bailhache) . Most probably, the Order in Council would have been registered and published in the customary manner by the Royal Court, but that would have been basically "rubber stamping" a direct intervention by the UK authorities; the Jersey authorities were in no position to reject it. The States, of course, were to shortly receive another blow to their independence, when in 1799, attempts to imprison Methodists who would not drill led to an Act, passed by the States, being declared "to be void and of none effect" when it reached the Privy Council.

An interesting codicil to the movement of Reform comes with its leader, John Dumaresq, Esq., who had been but who very rapidly changed sides once he had been made part of the Judicial establishment:

Towards the close of the century the excitement for reform gradually died out, or rather it seems to, have received its death blow at the hands of its greatest advocate, for an astonishing change came over the mind of its leader, J. Dumaresq, Esq., who was afterwards elevated to the office of Lieut.-Bailiff and was knighted. As a member of the States he seems to have tried his best to extend the powers of the people, as Lieut.-Bailiff to deprive the people of a portion of their powers; and as a member of the States, too, he seems to have been the popular leader of all friends of liberal views, whilst as Lieut.-Bailiff he turned into the strongest opponent. (2)

But whatever became of the order of 1786, allowing the States to fine absent members? I wish I knew, but I haven't been able to find out.

(1) JEP, 28.09.2010, p7
(2) Reverend Alban E Ragg, "Popular History of Jersey":
(3) http://jerseyfamilyhistory.co.uk/?page_id=10

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