Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Quakers in Jersey - Part 3

Something a bit different today. I came across this history buried on the Hampshire Quaker website (, and am reprinting it here because it is of historical interest and I would like to share it more widely.

Part four on Thursday

Quakers in Jersey - Part 3
by T.G. Hutt

Revival in the 19th century

It was the members of Guernsey Meeting who initiated a revival of Quakerism in Jersey at the beginning of the nineteenth century, by calling on English Friends to advertise a Meeting to be held, "for all those interested", at the Albion Chapel, New Street, Jersey.

By 1830 there was a call for a burial ground, and permission to purchase a plot of land for that purpose in Patriotic Street, St. Helier, was granted by Meeting for Sufferings, London. It was bought from Richard Le Quesne at a cost of £88. Judging by the prevalence of cholera at that time, no doubt Friends were showing a practical cautious element, and indeed, by 1832 seven hundred and fifty people in Jersey had contracted the disease, with over 300 deaths.

Although none of the subsequent burials can be attributed directly to this epidemic, there were clusters of deaths over a period of four years.

Jane and George Payn lost their son Samuel aged two and half in 1833 and their little girl aged six on the same day as the new born baby in April 1834. They themselves died within nine month of each other, twenty years later, happy no doubt that their three surviving children, George, Philip and Anne had received a good education at a Quaker school in Croydon, England, paid for by the Guernsey Meeting.

Other deaths and burials in Patriotic Street were of D. Edmund Le Dain in 1834, Elizabeth Ferguson, Elizabeth de la Haye and Jane Renant in 1835, and a William Hotton who was buried there in 1857.

Philip de Ste Croix also died in 1835 and the following year, his widow Esther succumbed.

Two children, Edwin Townsend aged eleven and Richard Sampson Wills, aged eleven months were also buried in the new burial ground in the year 1835. Without doubt their parents must have attended Quaker meetings.

In 1847 three children of a Mr. Richards, a baker of Havre des Pas, died within a few months of each other and were buried in the Quaker burial ground. They were twins aged fifteen months and a baby only a few weeks old. Jacob Sinnatt, the undertaker, wrote in his burial book, that he was paid in bread for his duties, which were to provide the coffins stained black, the pall, the rings and the carriages and also to "warn a few and Sexton of St. Lawrence (who dug the graves) and attend the funerals".

The first death and burial in the newly purchased burial ground, however, was more noteworthy than others.

Suzanne Le Rossignol, wife of Jean Reneant/Renant/Renaud/Renault, (there are many different spellings), died aged sixty-eight on the 30th July 1833, probably from an age-related disease.

The visit by Elizabeth Fry in 1833

At that time, Elizabeth Fry, the great philanthropist and prison reformer was on her first visit to the island, one of several. She attended a Quaker meeting on that first Sunday, August 2nd, and her daughter who had accompanied her faithfully recorded the event, which subsequently appeared in the memoir of her mother's life:

" ... There was a little band of persons, in very humble life, who professed the principles of Friends, one or two only however being members of the Society. They assembled for worship on the Sunday morning, in the cottage of Jean Renaud, an old patriarch, residing on the sea shore, about a mile from the town of St. Helier. There was a quaint old fashioned effect about the low large room in which they assembled: whilst from large bundles of herbs suspended from the beams to dry, a flower or a leaf would occasionally drop on to those sitting below.

The appearance of the congregation was in keeping with the apartment; seated on planks, supported by temporary props. An antique four-poster bedstead stood in one corner, when the mistress of the house died, which occurred during their sojourn in Jersey, she was there laid out, a circumstance which did not prevent the Meeting assembling as usual, the drawn curtains screening the corpse from view."

The description went on to say when anyone spoke or ministered in the Meeting in English (Elizabeth Fry, no doubt, did rise to say something spiritually rewarding) the words had to be translated for the benefit of the majority, the language being a strange form of French which the English visitors found incomprehensible.

When poor Suzanne Le Rossignol Reneant eventually went to her last resting place, the event was written up by a reporter from the "Chronique de Jersey", 10 August 1833, who described it thus:-

"those of that religion (des 'Amis' Quakers) are placed in a coffin of oak or chestnut and not covered by a sheet. She was carried by her friends to their cemetery near Patriotic Place. Internment was very simple. One woman of the religion knelt near the grave and said a prayer after which everyone withdrew."

One of the 'little band of persons in very humble life' was John Asplet, a plasterer by trade, whose own funeral in 1860, arranged by the Freemasons, was an exceptionally grand affair. It was reputedly followed by three hundred mourners and the procession to the Almorah cemetery watched by 30,000 (sic) persons).

There was some controversy as to his status. Quakers were not allowed to be Freemasons, yet, as was written in his funeral eulogy (a printed document of twenty four pages) Freemasons were allowed to be Quakers, and he was to all intents and purposes a Quaker.

He joined a Masonic lodge in 1810 and in 1820 followed the principles, attitudes and 'peculiar dress' of the Quakers. This was handed down from the seventeenth century and which everyone knows from pictures on packets of Quaker Oats.

He attended Quaker Meetings for Worship, met Elizabeth Fry who gave him a Bible inscribed inside 'from his Friends; was visited at different periods during his life from at least thirty-six well known English Quakers of the period, who also wrote in his treasured Bible. He appears, from the account of his life, to have been "known, beloved, and respected by all classes from the highest to the lowest" ... which goes on to say, "Brother Asplet was a man of strong and earnest convictions. You know that the 'Friends' are non-combatants.

It follows that he refused to perform militia service, and for this carrying out his conscientious convictions, he was subjected to, and admirably bore, a most cruel and ruinous persecution. He was dragged before the Court; he was fined heavily; the Sheriffs seized and sold his possessions, he was imprisoned with ruffians and felons, and finally he was banished from the island. He bore all this with as much modesty as resignation and courage. He did not parade his word of anger did he ever utter against those who had so cruelly and so wantonly persecuted him ... "

John Asplet's refusal to bear arms and the ensuing punishments happened in 1827 and again in 1828.

A refusal to swear an oath cost Philip Lemprière a spell in prison in 1837. He and George Payn were called as witnesses in a court case. As they had both refused to swear, they said they would affirm instead, but this was not permissible under Jersey law at that time although it was allowed in England. Eventually "Advocate Godfray said his client would dispense with the testimony of Lemprière, therefore the matter ended" but not before letters of complaint by Lemprière were written to friends in London, and his case taken up by A.J. Le Cras..

On the 21st of October 1847 an Order in Council in Jersey was made allowing Quakers and Moravians to make an "affirmation when an oath is or shall be required".

By the turn of the century Quakers had become more open and modern. Their quaint ways of speech and dress, which embodied a rejection of dogma, excess and class distinctions of previous ages, was now, in the twentieth century as dogmatic and as excessive in its way as those which they had shunned.

They had now earned the respect of the general public for their integrity, high ideals and principles. They had been punished for their faith by being refused University education, therefore the professions were not open to them yet may became first class businessmen and model employers, and the word Quaker became synonymous with honesty and trust.

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