Monday, 18 April 2016

Some Bygone Tragedies

Back to a history blogh today and from “The Pilot” of 1947, I unearthed this rather nice piece by G.R. Balleine, which I’d not come across anywhere else. It reads like a “Who’s Who of Death”!

It reminded me of a friend in Guernsey, where an office ran a “Death Sweepstake”, and names of prominent people in the news and celebrities were put on slips of paper, and drawn from a hat for money in the pot. When someone named died, the individual with that slip scooped the lot, and they began again!

Sadly with so many deaths of celebrities – Ronnie Corbett has just died – there is probably a winner every week. This is somewhat different though – a list of ordinary people, which brings me to another true story of the not quite so recent past, perhaps no more than 30 years ago.

It concerns a certain States department, and you might think it could be tax or social security, but I couldn’t possible comment (as Francis Urquhart was wont to say). They fell out with the town hall, and resorted to cuttings from the JEP on death notices.

Well, sooner or later something would go wrong with that, and sure enough, one poor elderly lady received an official letter regarding her recently deceased – but still very much alive – husband, who was away from home at the time. When news of the upset got back to said department of cock-ups, an order was sent to a minion to send her flowers with a note of apology. A ring at the door, and there was a delivery man with the flowers – a funeral wreath!

Nothing like that is the case here, where those dead are well and truly buried.

One curiosity - Reg Langlois drew to my attention that the text says: "William Cornwallis Symonds devoured by a shark off the coast of New Zealand; his mother was Miss Carteret of Trinity Manor". I've checked the original, and that says "Miss" not "Mrs".

I suspect that Balleine's ledger is giving her maiden name. I've been doing some investigations and his father was Sir William Symonds, and William Cornwallis Symonds was the son of the marriage between Sir William and Elizabeth Saunders Luscombe, daughter of Matthew Luscombe of Plymouth. After Elizabeth's death, his father remarried on 10 March 1818, Elizabeth Mary, daughter of Rear-Admiral Philip Carteret, of Trinity Manor. After her death, he married a third and final time, in 1851, to Susan Mary, daughter of the Revd John Briggs. So in fact Elizabeth Mary was his step-mother.

Some Bygone Tragedies
By G.R. Balleine

Knowing my rather absurd love for musty old documents, Mr. J. Curwood very kindly lent me a curious old ledger, in which a Joseph Farley of St Aubin's had jotted down day by day how his fellow-islanders died.

He started in 1777, and his first entry tells how Francois Le Cras of La Moye tumbled from the top of a house and was killed. The next says, "Mr Dumaresq of St Lawrence murdered by one Doughty. He was hanged for it." On the same page we read, "Mr Peter Deslandes of St. John fell from a load of hay and was killed"; "Lieut. Hogan, Surgeon of the 69th Regiment shot by Lieut. Burrow in a duel"; "Mr John Le Sueur had his arm shot off in firing a field-piece on the Town Hill"; "I, Joseph Farley, lost my left eye by a fork which I was cleaning"; "A Soldier's wife found on the sands murdered"; "Manon Le Cras fell in the brook near Captain Le Maistre's house and was drowned."

And so the dismal record runs on. Among the unusual entries are: "William Hales condemned to be hanged. The rope slipped. He was reprieved and transported"; "Mrs Le Dain from the scratch of a pin; her arm mortified"; "A man jumped off a boat in St Brelade's Bay. Supposed to be a smuggler from Guernsey. He was drowned". "Captain Burnett shot by one of the crew of the French King's cutter at the oyster fisheries"; "A child named Gallichan scalded to death by pulling from the table a basin full of hot soup"; "Mr John (name illegible) dislocated his neck making a somersault. He died much regretted. Grand funeral"; "Thomas Clements, hair-dresser in St Helier's, by swallowing a live sole fish. He choked"; "Isaac Coutanche of St Martin's killed hirnseli by gluttony. He ate 18 raw eggs and drank 10 glasses of gin, ate a quantity of raw pork and drank 2 glasses of brandy, he died."

During the Napoleonic War,  Farley records again and again the death in prison of Jersey sailors who had been captured by the French: "Mr John Mauger in a French prison"; "Mr John Le Gresley in a French prison"; "Mr John Le Couteur of Le Coin in a French prison"; etc., etc., Jerseymen in those days were sea-faring folk, and the Register is full of entries such as: "Captain Watts on board the Iris washed overboard coming home"; "Captain Hamon of St Aubin's fell from the mast-head on his voyage home and was drowned": "Mr Syvret, Mr Bertram, Mr Le Feuvre drowned off the Westward Isles"; "William Cornwallis Symonds devoured by a shark off the coast of New Zealand; his mother was Miss Carteret of Trinity Manor".

"Mr Edouard Mauger of St Ouen's died of smallpox on board the Laurel going to Newfoundland. All the crew had it except the Captain"; "The Croissant brig, belonging to Mr Peter Du Val, lost on the Paternosters at eleven at night"; "Son of Mr Low the doctor fell down the hold of an Indiaman at Liverpool; killed"; and again three years later, "George Low, son of the doctor at Le Coin died on his voyage to Quebec."

Every vraicing season brought a list of tragedies: "Phillip and James Payn, George and Thomas Carrell, John Le Cras, and John Le Masurier, returning from the Ichios, all drowned." "Six persons incoming from the Ichios in two boats from vraicing, all drowned".

But the most striking fact that emerges from this dismal record is the amount of serious crime that there was in the island in those days. Within four months the old diarist records: "Mrs J. Charlton murdered by her husband"; "Mr Derbyshire shot by Jacques Fouquet; he was hanged for it",

"Mrs McKirty murdered by her husband"; "A soldier of the 26th Regiment killed one of his comrades."

Every year had its homicides: "Mrs Plowman, an officer's wife killed by a kick from her husband"; "Rachel Le Page shoved down a pair of stairs by Mrs A. Locket; she died next day"; "Mrs Le Loustre of St Lawrence murdered by a soldier named Tommy."

The hangman was kept busy, for he had not only to officiate at the gallows on Gallows Hill, but also to administer the public floggings and other corporal punishments. We meet many such entries as: "Charles Hoquard, pilloried for forgery"; "Gilbert Wilson, private 66th Regiment, whipped for theft"; "John James Le Marchand pilloried and ears cut off for forgery on Aaron De St Croix".

Whatever our faults, we have at any rate become a trifle more civilized than our grandparents.

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