Saturday, 30 April 2011

Jersey's Independent Media 1856-1862 - Part 3

The Six Points of the People's Charter

1. A VOTE for every man twenty-one years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for crime.
2. THE BALLOT - To protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.
3. NO PROPERTY QUALIFICATION for Members of Parliament - thus enabling the constituencies to return the man of their choice, be he rich or poor.
4. PAYMENT OF MEMBERS, thus enabling an honest tradesman, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency, when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the Country.
5. EQUAL CONSTITUENCIES, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of large ones.
6. ANNUAL PARLIAMENTS, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since though a constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot), no purse could buy a constituency (under a system of universal suffrage) in each ensuing twelve-month; and since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.

The Chartist George Julian Harney had arrived sick and unwell in Jersey around 1856. Having recovered his health, he was offered by the proprietor the position of editor, and took up the mantle of pressing for social change once more. A. R. Schoyen's "A Portrait of George Julian Harney" tells us how he set to work:

The Independent was, as all of Harney's papers had been, a crusading journal. The duty of a newspaper, he informed his readers, was to "enlighten and lead the masses", as well as to collect and disseminate news. "Hitherto, plain-speaking--on the side of Truth and Freedom--had not been the rule in Jersey", he wrote in an early issue. "It is time, however, that a fashion so commendable should be introduced." "Fair Play" and "Constant Reader" now joined "Argus" & Co. in commending the editor when a proper response from his readers was not forthcoming -- a claque that did not always escape the attention of the Independent's rivals.

The Jersey newspapers, which enjoyed a total weekly circulation of 16,000 in a population of 50,000, pandered to the appetites of an audience whose penchant for violence ("the hit on the nose", as the bilingual writers for the English-language papers put it) burdened the calendars of the Royal Court. "Personal abuse flourishes with a vigour worthy of Yankeedom," wrote one observer. Harney lost no time in inhaling this bracing atmosphere, taking a projected visit of the Queen as an opportunity to comment judiciously on the fawning attitude of the "Jersey Timeserver" (the Jersey Weekly Times) and the "old fogies' journal, the superannuated British Press".

It is worth a brief digression on the local newspapers of the day. The local history site, Jeron, says that:

Although many early newspapers were written in French, there were none in Jerriais; the patois was predominantly a spoken language rather than a written one. The first newspaper written in the English language was the British Press, first published in 1822. During the 19th century several newspapers were published in the Island, although they were primarily intended for the UK market. They were avoiding English taxes (on paper, on publication, and according to the changes in the English taxation system). In this way Jersey was seen as a tax haven even in those days. The British Press joined with the Jersey Times in 1860, and as the British Press and Jersey Times survived into the 20th century.

The site, however, does not mention Harney or the Independent. It seems that he was keen to address local matters where there were social injustices, but that did not preclude him looking at the international scene. Schoyen's comments on this give us a flavour of Harney's work as editor of the Independent:

As the hot summer of 1856 wore on, he read of the Guards' triumphant return from the Crimea, their passage down Whitehall in showers of flowers thrown by elegant ladies and their review at Aldershot by the Queen--irreverently likened to "one of Astley's female equestrians" in her tight red costume by Reynolds's Weekly Newspaper. Harney wasted few words in mourning the opportunities lost in the war. The Independent's leading article on the evacuation of the Crimea featured instead the last Englishman to leave -- a thoroughly intoxicated member of the Land Transport Corps retrieved from a ditch by six Cossacks. Harney suggested that he should rent himself out to English Teetotal Societies as a "shocking example".

Other echoes from lost causes reached Jersey, such as the tumultuous welcome by a London crowd of 10,000 of John Frost, the leader of the Welsh Chartist rising of 1839, on his return from Van Dieman's Land; but it is doubtful that Harney regretted not being in the centre of things. His happiness in his retreat is apparent not only in the relaxed humour of the Independent's leaders, but in the round of small activities which were to be typical of the next six years. His reputation, as well as the consistently radical attitude of the Independent toward foreign affairs, ensured him a standing with the considerable local émigré colony; to the Poles he was a heroic figure (". . . remember me to the Immortal Harney", wrote the Polish leader Constantine Lekawski to Joseph Cowen some years later). It was natural when a distinguished refugee such as the famous Hungarian violinist Remenyi visited Jersey that the Independent's editor should preside over a fine dinner in his honour at the "Pomme d'Or" and give the toast to the "speedy liberation of Hungary". Such incidents shook no thrones, but they were pleasant.

A little background on those forgotten figures of the past.

John Frost (25 May 1784 - 27 July 1877) was a prominent Welsh leader of the British Chartist movement in the Newport Rising. After a dispute over a will, he had fallen out with the establishment in Wales and become a Chartist, convinced of the Chartist campaigned for basic democratic rights overlooked in the Great Reform Act of 1832 of universal suffrage. Only property owners were allowed to stand for parliament- and that excluded most ordinary people. Frost marched on Newport at the head of three thousand men, mostly miners from the Gwent Valleys. They converged on the Westgate Hotel in Newport where the Chartist prisoners were supposed to be held. Frost was captured, and put on trial, and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered in 1840 - he and his two fellow leaders in the march were the last men in Britain to receive this sentence. After a huge outcry, this was commuted to transportation to life, Frost being sent to Van Dieman's Land. Frost eventually returned to Britain.

Van Dieman's Land was the original name used by most Europeans for the Island of Tasmania, off the Southern coast of Australia, and named by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman after Anthony van Diemen, the Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies who sent Tasman on his voyage of discovery in 1642. In 1803, the British colonised it as a penal colony, but later, in 1856, this was changed to Tasmania after Tasman himself to remove the unsavoury connotations with crime.

Edouard Remenyi was one of the 19th century's most famous violin virtuosos, so technically proficient that he was pronounced "the Liszt of the fiddle. He was exiled from Austro-Hungary because of his part in the revolution, and despite spending much time in America, was appointed solo violinist to Queen Victoria in 1854. A lifelong friend of Franz Liszt, he also brought the talents of Johannes Brahms to light, after discovering the impoverished Brahms playing in a sailor's saloon on the Hamburg waterfront. His descendant, Mihály Reményi, opened a small violin shop in 1890, from this small beginning was to come the world famous Remeni House of Music.

A. R. Schoyen tells us that Harney also had become leader of the local radical party in Jersey:

His prestige was not limited to the émigré colony. By the time Engels, in ill health, visited Jersey in October 1857, Harney had become a leader of the radical party on the island -- which, in the pre-1789 stage of Jersey's political development, meant the middle classes of St. Helier. In a letter to Marx soon after his arrival, Engels wrote of Harney:

"He has acquired a strange appearance with a large, pitch-black beard, somewhat like the greasy Jew's who travelled in the small boat which landed us from the steamer--certainly an improvement. He regards his Jersey politics from the humorous point of view, saying he got a 'great deal of fun' from it, etc. . . . Later I went drinking with him and had him tell me about the local constitution, etc.; there was no talk of bygone days. For the moment he seems damn'd glad to have retired from high politics to his little kingdom of the blind. As a one-eyed man he is king of the opposition: on his right the first grocer, on his left the first tallow-chandler in the town. . . . For Harney the whole history of Jersey is divided into two periods: that before and that after the expulsion of the toads. Both periods are distinguished by the fact that nothing happened in them."

Engles, however, took a more ascerbic view a fortnight later when he wrote to Marx:

"He is terribly stupid and feels most comfortable here in his petty critical [spiessbürger] role. . . . Naturally, he expects the English workers to do something sooner or later, but that something is by no means of a Chartist nature. Anyway, all this is only theoretical phraseology with him, and it would certainly be unpleasant to him to be uprooted from his little agitation here. He is very busy, but busy doing nothing."

Ignoring the tone of acidity reserved for those who did not see eye-to-eye with the two Germans, it is evident from Engels's description that Harney had contentedly resigned himself to his idyllic backwater. Without taking the petty politics of the island very seriously, he was enjoying himself. "Our Royal Court scenes, our States' debates, our political meetings, our newspaper polemics at least 'keep us alive'," he wrote subsequently. Doubtless he would have minded very much being uprooted: where, after all, was he to go and how was he to live? Marx might live in great poverty, but, unlike Harney, he at least had a "Lieber Fred" with a Manchester mill to turn to in adversity. What really distinguished Engels and Marx from Harney, however, was their impenetrable sense of dedication and awareness of their historical importance. They were imbued with the fervour of the apostles of early Christianity; Harney was like a tired Roman reformer.

Who was the more in touch? Harney seems to have been more of a realist in the failure of Chartism to set the country on fire. Engels and Marx would develop, in time, a rationalisation within their own idealism for why the expected revolution had not arrived. The shift was towards a more collaborative stance with the Liberal party, which would later be seen in the position of Lloyd-George. By this time, although friendly with Engels, Harney had long fallen out with Marx over Harney's willingness to open the pages of his publications to a wide range of exiles including those with whom Marx was engaged in strife. Marx would not countenance other views than his own on these matters, while for Harney, as a newspaper editor, freedom of speech was paramount.

As to the basic question involved-- Harney's loss of faith in an independent English working-class movement under the conditions then existing--it is not too much to say that his understanding of domestic political feeling was more acute than that of the two Germans. The trend in English working-class radicalism was away from an independent and class-conscious movement to the collaboration with the middle classes which issued in the Gladstonian Liberal party. It was this drift which constituted "high politics" in the late 'fifties so far as the Radical working class was concerned; not, as Marx and Engels wished it to be, working-class preparation for revolutionary changes in the economic crisis they believed was imminent. The events of 1858, when a sharp commercial slump had hit Britain, were to show whose "theoretical phraseology" was closer to reality.

And Harney had also started looking at organising working men politically to obtain reform. When he had been in England, and secretary to the London Democratic Association, he had written in 1838 about the way in which the Associations for Working men were often run by other classes, to the detriment of any political thinking at all: "It is well known to the country that no efficient organisation of the masses has been established in the metropolis, since the dissolution of the National Union of the Working Classes. True, there is in existence clubs, societies and associations professing to represent the working classes; but this is a delusion, as evidenced in the simple fact that these societies are composed of a select few of the 'respectables'." Harney noted that the same kind of worthy but patronising bodies existed in Jersey:

Though Harney's preoccupation with local abuses seemed to Engels an abdication of his radical role it is more than doubtful that it represented anything of the kind to the established order in Jersey. The local Working Men's Association offered little scope for his reform efforts, being dominated by the local clergy and subject to lectures on such subjects as "Early Irish Music"; and Harney had turned his organizing zeal to the service of the class which suffered most from seigneurial domination and the anachronistic legal system--the "vassals" of Engels's satirical description.

The "Reform League", which came into being in September 1856 under Harney's aegis, was composed mainly of merchants, small ship-owners, bank employees and the like; and the main object of their attacks was the monopoly of power exercised by the old families of the island.

However - and this may seem familiar today - there was always a problem when those agitating for change became part of the Islands government, and often were assimilated into that body, for the lure of power and the knowledge that one is part of a special ruling elite can be dangerous temptations for the unwary:

This organization of the Radical middle class existed under one name or another during the entire period of Harney's stay in Jersey. Although it represented a powerful body of local opinion, its usefulness was impaired by the tendency of its leading members, in the rare event of their becoming Deputies in the States or Jurats (judges) of the Royal Court, to forget their grievances with those in power in the sharing of it. And while the Independent became known as the "eloquent organ of the reform party" so far away as Guernsey (twenty miles), it was as well for Harney that he retained a humorous objectivity about local politics, for the sober fact was that his support of candidates was, more often than not, fatal to their political ambitions.

Nevertheless, this did not prevent Harney from taking on a powerful opposition in the struggle to make Jersey a fairer society, and the next segment of this story will illustrate how he did so, as well as taking in the story of the man who turned most sharply from reform to establishment in Jersey politics of the time.

Works Cited
J. B. Payne, A Gossiping Guide to Jersey ( London: 1862), p. 197.
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,

1 comment:

L'Office du Jèrriais said...

Reményi's visit had cultural influences in Jersey, too. One of the classics of Jèrriais literature is "Lé Sounneux" (text: by Henri Luce Manuel who was inspired by Reményi. As Abraham Mourant put it in the preface to "Rimes et Poésies Jersiaises": "Enfin Le Sounneux dédié au celèbre artiste Hongrois, Edus Reményi, est d'une grande originalité."