Thomas Le Maistre's 18th century diary

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Thomas Le Maistre's 18th century diary

This article by Joan Stevens was first published in the 1967 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

Thomas Le Maistre of St Saviour was born in 1713, the son of Jean Le Maistre, son of Jean son Abraham; and Jeanne Falle. His contribution to the historical records of the Island was great, but little, as Mr Balleine says, is known about him personally.

Meleches archives

Among the archives belonging to Mr J G Le Gros, Seigneur of Meleches, a small notebook has been found, which was almost certainly his, and which gives us a glimpse of his character and activities as a young man, as well as some most valuable historical information, and through the courtesy of Mr Le Gros this has been made available to the Societe Jersiaise.

The book is home made, 6½in x 4½in, hand stitched and covered in black felt, with vellum rather roughly sewn over it, and is written in French. The first 15 pages record the Prevots du Roi in all the parishes from 1740-66, and show that he was himself appointed Prevot of the fief of Grainville in 1741, and held the prevote of the Royal fief for the whole of the period.

Thereafter the book becomes a diary, starting at the end, with the entries made in a reverse direction. He gives many details of appointments, swearing-in and deaths of Crown Officers and Jurats, but these will not be specified, as the information can be found elsewhere in our bulletins. In all cases of death he tells us how many volleys were fired from Elizabeth Castle, and other points, in honour of the deceased, who was frequently a Militia Officer.

In 1751 he married Jeanne Falle, daughter of Thomas. He gives the details of their dispensation of banns, and while not stating that it is his own marriage which is concerned, he ends with "Dieu les Benissent”.

However the union does not seem tn have been blessed with progeny, as no children of theirs were baptised in St Saviour, where they lived, St Helier, where they were married, nor St John, the parish of origin of Thomas's great grandfather Abraham.

The genealogy at the end of this article shows his probable ancestry, though it is not possible to he quite sure; in particular one cannot be certain if Abraham was his grandfather or great-grandfather, as some of the available evidence is contradictory.

Attorney-General's death

In 1757 he records, with a moving eulogy, the death of Francois Guillaume Le Maistre at the age of 46, but it has not been possible to ascertain the degree of relationship. Francois Guillaume Le Maistre was an Advocate, and was Solicitor-General from 1750-51, and then Attorney-General from 1751-57.

He was the son of Francois Le Maistre and Marie Patriarche (m1709) and grandson of Francois Le Maistre of St Martin and Jeanne Le Hucquet. He himself married, in 1736, Elizabeth Theodore, daughter of Jean Theodore and Elizabeth Mourant. They had seven children, one of whom, Francois (b 1743) became Captain of Fusiliers and Governor of Gaspe and married a Quebec lady, daughter of General Crammil. Another son, Charles (b1744) was in the Royal Navy.

The funeral of Francois Guillaume took place with great ceremony and was followed by many volleys of fire; he goes on: "He was much regretted and one may say that he was one of the greatest men this Island has produced, being a great and eloquent orator, and in a word he spoke and wrote as he wished, and his name reflects what he was: master in name, master of spirit, of memory, of eloquence, of prudence, of science, of the spoken word, of thought, of penetration, of pleading, of the pen, of politeness, of wisdom, of goodness and affability. One cannot end his eulogy for he was a real master of all talents."

We do not know just where Thomas lived, but one entry tells us that it was in the Vingtaine des Pigneaux, like his great grand-father Abraham. But the book gives us an insight into his activities. It is clear that he was a lawyer, at a period when no qualifying examination was necessary, and he gives many accounts with clients, and records various people who appointed him as their "Procureur”.

He was well educated, almost certainly at St Mannelier's School, and had some knowledge of classical history. He was keenly interested in all affairs of the island and its government, and in details about local personalities. He combined the learned with the active life, in a way which brings us of this age nearer in sympathy to the 18th than to the 19th century.


He kept bees - we see him collecting honey three times in 1756 - and he was keenly interested in vraicing, and the affairs of the coast, although living inland. The dates when vraic could be harvested are mentioned each year, with any unusual detail. For instance, in 1757 he tells us that "the winter vraic cutting had been abandoned until 16 February, but there has been so much rain, and then frost and snow that the Constables informed the Court that ploughing was much retarded, and so the vraicing was put forward to 3 March.

This conforms with the practice, in force until recent years, whereby the Constables advised the Bailiff what would be suitable dates, and the rules were adjusted accordingly in any given year. It would be interesting to know if these dates were controlled by a knowledge of the seeding time of vraic, so that the growth should not be damaged by too greedy a harvest being taken. These regulations are a reminder of the immense importance of vraic to agriculture at this period, and indeed until recent times.

He also tells us how the right to collect anchorage dues and impot charges was "bannie aux rabais " (sold to the lowest bidder). The "futaille" (liquid measure) is discussed, and it seems that some sellers ofliquor were overestimating the contents of their measures, which were stamped on the bottom with the correct content.

One page of accounts tells us that he had made some purchases for his brother Philippe, including cloth, thread, soap and gaiters, and paid Edouard Mourant and Jacques Bisson 12s (tournois) for a day's work to make a "blanchet" and a pair of "trousseurs." For 3lb of tea he paid £8 8s (tournois), nearly as much as he paid for a miscellaneous collection of 40lb lead, 22lb duck and 10 lb rabbit.

He gives a table of money values, saying that

2 nobles 1 mars (marc)
3 nobles £1 sterling
1 noble 6s 8d
1 mars 13s 4d
3 mars £2


He gives some valuable information about the population of St Saviour in 1751. There were, he says, 348 men, 364 women, 204 boys, 386 girls, a total, including 82 men and 2 women absent, of 1386. (In the 1961 census it was 9060.) For his own Vingtaine, Pigneaux, it was 65 men, 52 women, 24 boys and 62 girls, making a total, with some absent, of 234.

The oath taken by those who are taking part in the Visite des Chemins is given as follows: "Vous jurez et promettez par la Foy et Serment que devez a Dieu que vous conduirez la Justice par les Chemins Royaux, voyes etsentes publiques, ou vous croirez qu'il y aura le plus de fautes et empechements. Lesquelles fautes et empechements vous declarerez sans aucune faveur ou partialite quelconque comme vous voudrez en repondre devant Dieu a l'acquit de votre conscience." (You swear and promise by the faith and oath that you owe to God that you will conduct the court on the King's highway, public roads and lanes, where you think that there are most faults and obstacles, and these you will declare without favour or prejudice whatsoever, as you will answer before God, to the discharge of your conscience.)

We have many glimpses of local interest in personalities, such as the entry in 1750 which says, "Charles Lempriere, ca-ux Seigneur of Rozel and Lieut-Bailiff, arrived from England and was elected Jurat The said Lempriere took the oath as Jurat, and took his place in the Chamber, at the upper end, according to his position as Seigneur of Rozel. The same day he was sworn in as Lieut-Bailiff. The said Lempriere had gone to England to fight a case against the King's Procureur in 1742, and had stayed there for eight years.

Poor box thefts

On various occasions the poor boxes of parish churches were robbed; such as the night of 29/30 May 1752, when he says

"The poor box at St Saviour was broken open and robbed; it seems likely that it was the night of the 29th, the Friday, as that night the Constable of St Helier, at about midnight, saw someone in the church, who ran off when he heard sounds, so that the box was not damaged.
”In 1719 the same box at St Saviour was dug out by a foreigner named Pierre Blanchemain, and he was hanged; but although it was torn from its position and thrown to the ground, it was not broken open. Blanchemain also robbed those at St Helier and Grouville A new chest has been placed in the cemetery at St Saviour in the same place as the old one; the cost of the new one, for masonry, carpentry and ironwork, amounting to about £40 (tournois). When the old chest was taken away a crown (ecu) and 12 sols and 14 or 15 liards were found. May God protect the new one from such accidents, and ordain that if thieves ever again tamper with it, they will be discovered and given exemplary punishment."

And again in 1756

"During the night of 30 October the poor box at St Saviour was broken open, but fortunately it had been cleared recently; on the previous night that at St Helier's church was opened and robbed."

Governor's visit

It is not surprising that military matters hold an important place in Thomas Le Maistre's memoirs. A visit from General Huske, Governor from 1749-61, was a great event in the time of non-resident Governors, who were seldom seen in the Island. He arrived on a visit on 11 July 1751, and

"He stepped ashore at about 5 in the afternoon, at St Helier's harbour, and was received with great joy by the Lieut-Governor (William Deane), Lieut-Bailiff (Charles Lempriere) and several Jurats and other noblemen of the Island, and a great crowd of people. Much artillery was fired at Elizabeth Castle and St Aubin's Fort and aboard the yacht ("yat") which brought him here, and 21 volleys, that is, 18 on the quay and 3 in the cemetery, on the Town quay. On leaving the quay he was met by the five Town Companies in two ranks, reaching to the Prison, and at the Prison he was received by some of the invalid soldiers of the garrison. He then came back to Charles Dauvergne's house where he is to be lodged. But before that he took refreshments with the Lieut-Governor, having shaken hands with all the accompanying nobility. The five Town Companies then camped in the Market Place, and fired three volleys ... later they returned home."

On 23 July there was a Review before the Governor:

"Good weather considering what a bad year it is. The Governor dined all the nobility of the Island and the Officers at his own expense, and he gave money to each company for drinks, each soldier having £6 6s (tournois) apart from the drummer and sergeants. Having enquired how much each Militia company had received, I learnt that the General gave £14 to each company, and 15 sous to each mounted man, and the artillery at St Saviour had £4 3s.
“On 26 July the General dined the States. On the 28th he came to St Saviour's Church to hear the sermon, accompanied by some of the nobility of the Island, and after the service the Governor and his suite dined with the Lieut- Bailiff at St Saviour."
”On 17 August the Governor left the Island to go to Granville, and slept the night at Chausey, and came back the next day, and was greeted on his return as he had been on first arrival, with artillery on the quay and 21 volleys, three in the Cemetery, and 21 at Elizabeth Castle. God bless and preserve him. His intention on leaving here had been to go to Paris."

Seven Years War

In 1756 the Seven Years' War broke out. On 25 February Le Maistre speaks of a day of prayer to implore God's mercy. The next day all guards were alerted for fear of invasion by the French, and on 17 May war against France was declared in London, the news reaching here on the 22nd. On the 25th it was formally declared here also, "with the usual ceremony. The States were accompanied by Cavalry and five companies of fusiliers. God grant victory to England."

On 26 June Colonel Baglande's regiment arrived, commanded by Lt-Colonel Forester and Major Pim. On the 27th

"four transport ships and provisions for the fortresses brought into St Helier's harbour, the said ships being 500-600 tons, and being accompanied by three of four warships. The officers and men disembarked at mid-day, with their fife and drum band. Those who were to be stationed in Town camped on the beach, and then went to the Market Place, that is, Grenadiers; others were billeted in taverns and other houses; others were sent to neighbouring parishes, St Brelade, St Peter, St Lawrence, St Saviour, Grouville and St Clement (St Saviour had 60 men who were placed in taverns and in good houses). The rest of these soldiers were sent to various castles and forts. The following Wednesday the old soldiers who were in the Castles embarked at the New Harbour in transports and left the following Friday to go to Guernsey. One may remark that in Guernsey there is a frigate of 60-64 guns which also came with the said transports, commanded by Commander Richard Howe, and the said frigate arrived in Jersey on 30 June, with some other warships and anchored in Bouley Bay. A few days later some of the Island's nobility dined on board this ship, the Dunkerque. On 11 July following this frigate, accompanied by three others, and some coasters ("coteurs") with about 27 of our largest fishing boats, set sail for Chausey (it may be remarked that all the soldiers who had been quartered were embarked in this frigate on the evening of 8 July); and the next day all the buildings on Chausey were demolished, and all the men taken prisoner except the garrison of 50 men who were taken to Granville, according to their undertaking to Commander Howe. 26 September I went aboard the Dunkerque which was at anchor in Bouley Bay."

By a curious chance there is an article on Chausey in the Transactions of the Societe Guernesiaise for 1965 which mentions this very raid, and says " ... the French garrison who were taken to Granville and set at liberty under the code of military honour of those days."

False alarm of invasion

In 1760, on 3 August he says

”there is rumour of approaching invasion by a fleet of flat-bottomed boats; ... the alarm was raised, first at the "Vieux Chateau", and then at all the forts. In the morning it was found to have been a false rumour."

Shortly before that, on 8 July, the officers of the regiment stationed here had dined the militia officers and all the "noblesse" in tents which had been erected on the Mont de la Ville.

On 29 January 1762 war was declared against Spain:

"In the Market Place in the presence of the States and the Cavalry and five companies of fusiliers of the Island and two companies of "Soldats à paye" Spain had declared war against England a few days previously. God grant success to England."

But in 1763 peace was declared in "L'Ondres" between England and Portugal on the one hand, and France and Spain on the other. On 7 April it was proclaimed here in the following manner:

"24 pieces of parish cannon fired three rounds each after those at Elizabeth Castle, and 12 cannon on the Mont de la Ville and 12 on the quay. Two hundred and fifty soldiers quartered in Town, some grenadiers, fired three volleys on the Mont de la Ville. The Cavalry and five companies of fusiliers of the Island (ie Militia) did likewise, at the Town Market, after Peace had been proclaimed in the usual manner by Thomas Durell, the Vicomte, in the presence of the States. In the evening there were fireworks in the usual places and illuminations and festivities. God grant that the peace may last."

Unveiling of statue

It is not likely that many eye-witness accounts of the unveiling of the King's statue in the Royal Square have survived, but here we have a vivid narrative. It was on 9 July 1751, and Thomas Le Maistre says:

"The statue of George II having been uncovered (having been erected on its plinth the previous day and swathed in covers so as not to be seen before the appointed time) the day was celebrated with great ceremony in honour of the person to whose memory it was erected. The Lieut-Governor, Lieut-Bailiff, Jurats, States and other nobility, and a great throng, went to the Market Place with the Cavalry and five companies of fusiliers, that is, the fusiliers of each militia regiment, took part in the ceremony. Cannon were fired from Elizabeth Castle and the cavalry replied. The statue was produced by Mr Abraham Gosset who had been commissioned by the States."

Casting of church bells

Perhaps the most interesting event from the local point of view is the account of the casting of two church bells, and he describes the operation thus :

"1754• The night of 10/11 September in St Helier in the garden of a house called La Fioterie above La Colomberie, the metal to make two bells was melted. One, for St John, of 1,200 lb, failed because the funnel which led the metal to the mould was too narrow and got blocked, but that for St Brelade, made at the same time, was good and weighed 966lb. On 12 September the bell was taken out of the ground, being well made and sounding well. I saw and heard it today, having several times helped to raise it from the ground in order to test it. Written on it is :

”There are six lugs on top to hang it by. The night of 14/15 October, Monday/ Tuesday the St John's bell was founded again in the same place, and was well done and I was there to see it. On the morning of the 17th the bell was raised from the ground and rung several times. One heard it it from here, that is to say from Les Pigneaux. It was weighed and was 1,276 lb. The inscription is the same as for St Brelade's save for the name of the parish."

A manuscript at the Société Jersiaise mentions that a man from Dinan named La Source had cast bells for St Ouen and St Martin and that in 1754 the same man returned and in November cast a bell for St Brelade in the churchyard, and one for St John, which was apparently a failure. Our contemporary account shows that the casting was in fact done in town, and in September and October, and not November, and must be accepted as conclusive.

One cannot know the relationship between La Source and Jacques Pitel but they could have been employer and employee. The St Brelade bell was replaced in 1883, but that at St John has survived. Being in a very high steeple it is a most awkward one to examine, but by a wonderful stroke of good fortune an enquiry was made to the Rector the very day that he had steeplejacks working there to repair the weather vane, and they kindly cooperated and were able, though with some difficulty, to read the inscription, which is: "Fondue pour la paroisse de St Jean, Jersey, par Maitre Jacque Pitel Lan 1754". The "stop" in this case is a design of clasped hands, and, according to the rough illustration in the diary, that at St Brelade was a formal flower.

1750s storms

It is in describing storms that Thomas Le Maistre's considerable talent as a narrator finds full scope. There appear to have been some formidable tempests during the 1750s. One at least interrupted official enjoyment, for in June 1751 he tells us that:

”The Lieut- Bailiff and Jurats dined at Corbiere Point, but there was a bad storm which lasted for several days."

On 18 February 1756 there was a strong southerly wind, with cloudy weather and some rain, when,

"At about 3 o'clock a rainbow appeared with a shower of rain, the wind veering to the NW and then N half an hour before high tide, and it suddenly became so strong that no one in these parts can remember such a storm for many years. It continued with hail and snow, and one had difficulty in walking. But the poor vraicers on foot had even more difficulty. But even this was nothing in comparison with the poor men in boats, cutting vraic as they do at this season. Several boats were broken in pieces and all on board drowned, women as well as men, a sad and deplorable affair. Their loss has caused much hardship to their families, leaving several poor children orphans.
“Towards one o'clock at night the wind gradually dropped, and the next day was fine and by that evening it was quite calm. Some people, seeing the storm getting up, wisely abandoned their boats and came on shore. Others, anticipating what was to come, left their boats anchored at Icho ("sous hie-hoc") and climbed on a rock and were saved, about 60 people and their boats. If they had not done this they would all have perished in the sea as the other unfortunates did. Two crews were also saved at La Sambue (south of Green Island); one of which comprised 12 people was saved on the biggest rock, and their boat sank between two channels under the moorings; the other boat from Havre des Pas survived with its crew, tied to its moorings, and they rescued the crew of the first boat and towed the boat and brought it back.
”Mr Charles de Ste Croix's boat and crew were driven to the French coast and were saved by a miracle. What can we say of such things, and what can we think of such a deplorable and distressing accident, where so many souls perished in the storm, or were wrecked in the stormy waters? Had they sinned more than other men? This is a time when we must all repent of our sins, for God's anger is upon us; but He is so merciful to those who turn to Him, so let us pray Him to have pity on us, and to turn from us the calamities which menace us. I mean the war. And to protect us from such tragedies as that which happened in Lisbon on All Saint's Day (1 November 1755); a calm and beautiful day when at about 10 o'clock in the morning, the whole town was turned upside down by an earthquake, and most of the inhabitants buried in the ruins, and all the buildings burnt. What should we think of such sad events but that God is vexed with us, justly? So let us repent as otherwise it seems that we are all lost."

On 6 June 1757 a storm, with thunder and heavy hail, got up just before sunset, and:

"Lightning struck the new end of Michel Mallet's house at La Rocque near Le Bane du Viellet. It broke the cornerstone of the fireplace in one room, and shook two others. The broken piece was torn away, the lightning having, it seems, come down the chimney into the room, struck a row of pewter plates so that they knocked each other down, and one was thrown out of the window, tearing out a pane of glass without breaking it. Thanks be to God no one was hurt."

Indeed a remarkable storm.

La Rocque storm

Another momentous storm occurred a few weeks later, on 13 July, and was again directed at La Rocque, with thunder and lightning:

"We were cutting vraic when the thunder became so violent that one expected to be crushed beneath it at any moment, as each clap succeeded another without pause. They seemed like the greatest cannon shots one had ever heard descending on one's head. The animals, particularly the horses, were terrified, and one had the greatest difficulty in holding or stopping them. With my work people I was between Grouville and St Clement's, reaping, and we decided to come down, as many others did, but by then the worst was over, and we continued to collect our vraic for the remainder of the tide, the weather then becoming fine and sunny.
”Near the Guard House at La Rocque a little boy aged ten years was struck by the lightning; he was a son of James Norman of La Ferme, and never moved from the place where he was struck, remaining stiff and dead, without other wound. The horse that he had been driving in a little cart ("bachot") was not hurt. Above the Guard House at a spot called La Cariere Giffard, some stones were broken into pieces, and the sentry box ("gueritte") by St Samson's Tower was smashed and several people saw a lot of smoke there.
”On the top of a rock called La Petite Doguerie three men were knocked down; the middle one was not hurt, but the two beside him were thrown; one of them, a Grouvillais, was thrown about two perches into the water, up to his waist, and if he had not been helped at once he would have drowned; this man, Jean Giffard, had the hair on his chest burnt, and also his throat and his handkerchief, and had one ear sliced as if it had been cut with a knife. He was at once carried back, and thought to be dead, being in great pain, and saying that all his bones were broken, especially near his stomach. The other, his brother-in-law, Francois Filleul was not hurt, except that he felt as if he had been squashed and baled. Later in the day the sun came out, and there was more thunder, but not so severe. I forgot to say that the south-east corner of the Houbie was also struck by lightning that day. God protect us from lightning and storms."

Ships wrecked

Another storm merited his attention, in 1759, on the night of the 9/10 March. It caused the ruin of most of the apple trees, as well as other trees, which were blown down, and several houses had their roofs blown off, whether they were tile, slate or thatch. Two Island Corsairs were anchored in the St Aubin's Roads at the time; one, the Bretagne, carried 14 or 16 guns, and the other, the Charmante Betsy, about the same number, and both were broken into pieces near the “Neuf Chateau" Forty-three men perished, 36 from the Charmante Betsy and seven from the Bretagne.

How grateful one is to T L M, as he refers to himself, for recording for us the everyday events of our Island over two hundred years ago, for letting us share in his joys and sorrows, his interest in public matters and local personalities, his anxieties over wars and foreign affairs, his preoccupation with the vagaries of the weather. Time ceases to exist, and after reading a diary like this one has a feeling of warm friendship with the author, across the centuries.

Family tree

  • 1 Jean Le Maistre of St John m Sara
    • 2 Abraham Le Maistre (1635-1625?) m Esther Grossier
      • 3 Jean Le Maistre (1667- ) m Jeanne Falle (1672-1753) d of Rev Jean Falle, Rector of St Brelade, and Rachel Pipon
        • 4 Jeanne Le Maistre (1701- ) m Nicolas Falle
        • 4 Susanne Le Maistre (1704- ) m Philippe de Rue
        • 4 Rachel Le Maistre (1707- ) m Jean Le Cras
        • 4 Jean Le Maistre (1709-1713)
        • 4 Elizabeth Le Maistre (1707- )
        • 4 Thomas Le Maistre (1713-1800) m Jeanne Falle
        • 4 Jean Le Maistre (1715- ) m Catherine Mourant
      • 3 Sara Le Maistre (1669- )
      • 3 Marie Le Maistre (1676- )
      • 3 Rachel Le Maistre (1672- )
      • 3 Marguerite Le Maistre (1674- )
      • 3 Elizabeth Le Maistre (1682- )
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