Thursday, 28 April 2011

Jersey's Independent Media 1856-1862 - Part 2

We demand Universal Suffrage, because we believe the universal suffrage will bring universal happiness. Time was when every Englishman had a musket in his cottage, and along with it hung a flitch of bacon; now there was no flitch of bacon for there was no musket; let the musket be restored and the flitch of bacon would soon follow. You will get nothing from your tyrants but what you can take, and you can take nothing unless you are properly prepared to do so. In the words of a good man, then, I say 'Arm for peace, arm for liberty, arm for justice, arm for the rights of all, and the tyrants will no longer laugh at your petitions'. Remember that.
(George Julian Harney, speech at Derby, 28th January, 1839)

The Chartist George Julian Harney had arrived sick and unwell in Jersey around 1856. His attempts to promote universal suffrage in England had met with failure, and he didn't know precisely what his plans were next.

The Jersey of this time was gradually becoming more linked to the United Kingdom. Around 1857, submarine cables were introduced for a telegraph service by the Channel Islands Electric Telegraph Company (located in Library Place), and as Ragg's Popular History of Jersey tells us, in 1858:

communication was established between Plemont and England, and the first message sent across on September 7th, 1858, to Her Majesty the Queen, who replied with suitable words of congratulation; whilst, it is almost needless to add, throughout the Island the event was celebrated with every sign of rejoicing.

But what of the political situation which Harney found in Jersey? A. R. Schoyen's "A Portrait of George Julian Harney" fills in some of the details:

In 1855, Jersey could have served even better than pre-Reform England as the whipping-boy for a Jeremy Bentham. The laws, part English, part Norman, and thoroughly anachronistic, and the vaguely defined relationship between the local legislature and the "Sovereign in Council", provided an inexhaustible mine for lawyers. Coupled with this antique legal machinery was the inveterate local litigiousness expressed by the aphorism, "An Englishman goes on holiday; a Jerseyman goes to court." Periodic attempts to codify or modernize the law had failed because of the resistance of the seigneurs, who retained some feudal rights and controlled the States and the Royal Court, or because of insular jealousy when the reform was bruited in the form of an Order in Council. As an anonymous writer of doggerel pointed out in regard to a particularly crying abuse: "You may think this not fair, but the States, Sir, know best,/And the States will remain status quo, Sir."

Harney knew something of this. Nine years before in the Northern Star he had printed letters from Jersey in which the writers heaped vituperation on each other over issues which seemingly never died. But in his initial contact with Jersey he probably felt the common bewilderment of Englishmen at the customs of the island. Palmerston, for example, viewing the Channel Islands correspondence in 1854 in his capacity as Home Secretary, found that a debtor had been in a Jersey gaol since 1845, and asked in some astonishment if there was no Insolvent Debtors Act there. Even Engels, whose German background made him not unfamiliar with the peculiarities of small principalities, was struck by this small appendage of Britain. "There is much humour in the posthumous feudal setup and the whole mess is incredibly comical," he wrote to Marx from the island in 1857. "A modern lawyer as seigneur and the shopkeepers of St. Helier as vassals. The masquerade is quite a joke."

The Insolvent Debtors Act had been passed in 1816 in the United Kingdom, and it which allowed imprisoned debtors to apply for release providing they surrendered all their property and made provision to satisfy their debts. Charles Dickens' invoked this when he was sent to Marshalsea prison in 1824 for a debt of £40 and 10 shillings, and Dickens used this device in David Copperfield when Mr. Micawber invoked this Act to gain release from debtor's prison. Jersey had no such law, and had fallen behind the reforms taking place across the English Channel.

But despite this backward state of affairs, Harney could see the advantages of being in Jersey - principally that the food was good, and the cost of living was cheap compared to England, and taxation was extremely low:

If the legal system and land-laws badly needed reform, Jersey was not unique in this, and it possessed charms which almost justified the hyperbole of guide-book authors. Madame Hugo had found the country superb and the food cheap and abundant on her arrival in 1852; and though subsequent events give more than a trace of irony to her original impression, Jersey had seemed to her pre-eminently a land of freedom. "Passports are papers of which the meaning is not understood," she wrote. "Everybody comes and goes as suits his particular fancy." To complete this exile's paradise, residents were taxed only with a nominal police rate, and there were no duties, tolls or stamps.

In 1858, the Jersey Independent was founded on September. The same year saw the steamer Sir Francis Drake making her maiden trio to the Island. Harney was now settled in Jersey, and gradually his health would improve. The new paper would provide an opportunity for him to reconnect with his radical roots, and make a mark on the Island:

There was little in England for him to go back to--not even a living, so far as one can tell. While he had had no intention of remaining in Jersey when he arrived to aid the refugees, a bout of fever and general exhaustion kept him there until the new year, and when he had recovered he stayed on. The opportunity being offered him to edit the small, twice-weekly Jersey Independent, he accepted, probably with alacrity. Like Newcastle, Jersey may have seemed a cul-de-sac, but there was at any rate a garden at the end of it-the pleasant old tree-lined Royal Square, which could be gazed upon while consuming the excellent and inexpensive "beakers of burgundy" of which he was fond.

Harney had considerable experience of editing newspapers and writing for them. After working as editor of the Northern Star, he had founded his own newspaper, the Red Republican, which had published the first English translation of The Communist Manifesto in 1850. Due to lack of funding, the Red Republican ceased in December, 1850. But Harney decided to create another paper, the Friend of the People, which ran until April 1852, then Star of continuing to December 1852 and finally The Vanguard which ceased in March 1853.

After that he had moved to Newcastle where he worked for the Northern Tribune. R. G. Gammage, in the "History of the Chartist Movement" (1894) said that "Harney's talent was best displayed when he wielded the pen". So here was an extremely competent journalist, with a wide experience, both from the start when he was selling the "Poor Man's Guardian", an unstamped paper - the "unaccredited media" of its day - to his time at the Northern Tribune. So ending up in Jersey, it was not perhaps surprising that the proprietor of the nascent Jersey Independent would seek his talents, and it is clear he soon made his mark:

Even if the exact date of Harney's accession as editor of the Independent were lacking, it would be possible to date it closely from changes in the paper. In July a new and clearer format was introduced; the news content, both foreign and local, was increased; and the familiar vigorous and polemical style imposed itself on the leading articles. As early as April, one "Anglo Caesarean" had inveighed against the persecution of an Italian exile; after 5 July (when Harney took up the reins) a regular correspondent calling himself "Englishman" made his appearance, and in company with another new regular, "Argus", began to attack abuses at home and abroad. The style and viewpoint of this trio irresistibly suggest editorial ventriloquism. The Independent had been an earnest paper, but dull; now it became the most controversial and readable English-language newspaper in St. Helier, and in two years Harney's shrewd professional guidance made it the island's first daily.

In the next section, I shall look at Harney's time as editor of the Independent.

Works cited:
A Popular History of Jersey by Reverend Alban E Ragg, published in 1896
The Chartist Challenge: A Portrait of George Julian Harney. A. R. Schoyen, 1958
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens


Tom Gruchy said...

Very pleased to see this article. There is so little published history of Jersey's social and political pedigree.

The obsession with the few years of the Occupation is unhealthy.

In order to understand the present we must have knowledge of the past. With an ever more diverse population here it is all the more important to know how local institutions - good or bad - came about.

Royal weddings are just a marginal part of Jersey's culture but I cannot imagine the local squires wanting to celebrate the lives of Harney and others with like enthusiasm.

TonyTheProf said...

I'm afraid tomorrows post will be on the Royal Wedding - but with a twist! (and not a disrespectful one, just a historical one)