Friday, July 15, 2011

Jersey Bastille Day 28 September 1769-2011

“La Marseillaise” the international anthem of revolution was sung in St. Helier Town Hall, Assembly Room last night 14 July - and the singing was led by the Bailiff and the Chief Minister before a room full of our leaders, prominent citizens and the general public.

Children danced, toasts were drunk, fine patriotic words were expressed and ancient political alliances remembered – but it was all in celebration of “Bastille Day” and the French Revolution. It had little to do with Jersey and was especially for Jersey’s French community.

Our “establishment” is hardly likely to want to encourage any revolutionary thoughts or sympathies here. Although they will speak in glowing terms about regime change and revolution in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Zimbabwe the enthusiasm is more subdued where Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are concerned or Burma, India and China and any other places where local financial interests  might be at stake!
It is seen as safe enough to praise the French events of two centuries ago.

Of course, Jersey’s own revolution took place on 28 September 1769 and this blog-site is devoted to it.
On that day the ordinary people of Jersey marched on the
Royal Court
and stopped the proceedings.
Retaliations followed.
The ruling Crown Officers of the day wanted to hang or transport the leaders but the London government prevented them.
It was on this day that the States of Jersey as a democratic institution was born.
The process continues to this day and in October this year Islanders will experience their first ever “general election.”
28 September should be remembered as Jersey’s very own “Bastille Day”. It is equally important. It should be celebrated as “Reform Day” or something similar and children should dance and people should sing…..

Alas, this is Jersey where the entrenched Royalists still hang on to power and control so much that should be better managed by elected people for the benefit of every body. So desperate have the Royalists become that ex-Bailiff Philip Bailhache has donned his suit of armour and will lead for the defence of the constitution and restoration of old values in the October election!

Jersey’s little revolution in 1769 was non-violent. Nobody was hurt and no property was damaged yet the short and long term benefits were and are immense.
It was like the anti-whalers protest of this week at the Hotel De France – an effective demonstration of protest that can be both challenging and friendly. Such displays are evidently too much for the ex-Bailiff who had led a pro-independence rally at the same venue a few months ago for Princes, Judges and other tax haven delegates from around the world.

The blood-letting French Revolution was neither wholly effective nor friendly. The French did remove their Royal oppressors for a while but land ownership was in fewer hands after 1790 than before. But it was a continuation of the same revolutionary challenges that had encouraged the American to break with the British Royal connection in 1775 and the English to remove their own despotic King’s head in 1649.

The process of reform is never ending and needs to be constantly refreshed and stimulated. The recognition of important dates and people is an essential part of that process. People must be reminded of their ancestors’ deeds and struggles.
Monuments are just one way to remind us of those that have passed this way before us and we might choose to cast in bronze those heroes who tried to improve things for others.
Francois Scornet was mentioned at the Town Hall gathering. He is to be remembered with a monument for giving his life during the Occupation. He was French of course and had landed here by mistake. As a result he was an accidental hero and was shot. Why he should be singled out now in Jersey in preference to hundreds of locally born people as a war hero is not obvious to this observer. Indeed there were many millions of people who died during that war and equally deserve to be remembered now. However, I don’t begrudge him his memorial for failing to die on the battlefield or some city bombing raid.

Neither do I begrudge the memorial to Major Peirson that is planned. He was from Yorkshire but died in the
Royal Square
in 1781 after only a few months in the Island. He had the misfortune to be here when the Revolutionary American War was in full swing when the French led mercenary force landed. He died the hero after a brief encounter and has already been commemorated with several sculpture portraits and the famous “Battle of Jersey” painting. Both his sculptured bronze portrait and a copy of the Battle painting in which he is shown dying from French bullet wounds are displayed in the Assembly Room. What would he have made of “la Marseillaise” and all the other Bastille Day celebrations on 14 July?

I suggest that a memorial to Pierre Arrivée, the Jersey merchant who was bayoneted to death by the French soldiers as they passed his house might equally warrant a memorial. Or, how about the four unknown and lowly Jersey Militia soldiers who gave their lives in battle? Of course these people were not “officer class” but surely they now deserve equal recognition?

Ironically, these incidents all have a French dimension. I have no objection to remembering gallant people from the past but, as I have previously written on this blog, we can overdose on heroes of war.
Motivation and purpose can be just as heroic in peacetime and the several hundreds who challenged the despotic officials of the
Royal Court
on 28 September 1769 were risking their lives and property for ideals that still resonate today. But where is the memorial to Clement Gallichan, Edward De Ste Croix, Philippe Luce or any others from this brave revolutionary band? Who can even name them today? What tune did they sing when they marched into the
Royal Square

It is not just stone or bronze memorials that are important either. The American and French passions for their respective liberations and rights are carried in the heads and hearts of their citizens. September 28 should be the day that Jersey people remember and celebrate - just as July 4 and 14 resonate with them.

Shall we book the Assembly Room now for 28 September this year?

1 comment:

  1. Let's do something sooner while we are at it.

    Let's commemorate the great fight that took place in 1951 - sixty years ago - to ensure the people of this island got pensions by right, rather than having to go cap in hand to the constables for charity.

    Let's remember the illegal actions of members of the Honorary Police in collecting signatures for a petition against the new law.

    Let's remember the thuggish behaviour of the opposition at a rally in People's Park.

    Let's remember that the man who carried this campaign through - Philip Le Feuvre - wasn't a privileged Vic College boy, but one who had to leave the parish school at St Lawrence at 13, but whose drive and vision took him to the Senatorial seats in the States.

    And let's also remember what it cost him - hounded out of the JFU after the wrecking amendment was defeated on 7 September 1951, and dead within four years, aged just 63.