La Section de la langue Jèrriaise

Some notes on Jèrriais literature


Here are some notes on what was published in Jèrriais in La Nouvelle Chronique de Jersey.

The earliest piece was published on 24 Sept 1862 and was a poem written by Oméga (Jean Sullivan) on the subject of LE VIER LINGO GERRIOIS ET ROBERT WACE. He preceeded the poem with a short introduction, telling how Prince Lucien Bonaparte, who had visited Jersey previously, had much enjoyed this poem, which he had composed some time before. As can be seen from the title, Sullivan's orthography was somewhat strange; he composed many poems, prose and pamphlets, some of which he sent to Queen Victoria, and he continued writing until his death in August 1899.

A series of poems on 5, 12 and 19 March 1864 written by "Flip", ADRESSE ÈS VRAIS TRIN'TAIS, INVITATION ÈS TRIN'TAIS and L'ÉLECTION DE LA TRIN'TAIT, exhorted parishioners to go out and vote for Maîte Jean Cabot for Deputy - the last of the trilogy expresses the author's shock that Cabot was not elected! "Flip" and "L'Anmin Flippe" appear to be the same person, and continued an intermittent correspondence - generally on a political theme - till about 1896.

In 1865 there appeared the first of a number of letters to the Editor from "Londronnais" (who may have been John Lock, a St. Bréladais who was a paint- and wallpaper-merchant in the capital - he later used the pen name "Ch'là S'Peut".) The first, dated 30 Dec 1865, suggested that Jersey's buses were inconvenient, uncomfortable and would be better replace with a railway (nothing has changed since then!); he followed up with suggestions for improving the road from St. Aubin to St. Brelade, building a new harbour at Noirmont (or St. Brelade's Bay), a visit to the island and similar subjects. He continued writing until at least 1902.

Augustus-Aspley Le Gros (1840-1877) was one of a number of writers who had poems published in the paper, some of which had a political theme, but many more on the beauties of nature and the pleasures of living in Jersey. On his death, the Nouvelle Chronique editorial said "Le pays vient de faire une de ces pertes qui sont un deuil pour tous. Un des hommes les plus intelligents, un enfant de la vieille et patriotique race Jersiaise vient de s'éteindre.... Notre coeur est plien de douleur....un homme de bien est mort - le pays a perdu un de ses enfants bien-aimés."

From 1884, a writer whose real name I have been unable to discover began a series of long "Letters to the Editor" in Jèrriais. He used the noms-de-plume "Renfrouogni", "Lé Couôsin Jan" and "Jan d'la Maze", giving his address as La Maze de Sainte-Cat'linne. His subject ranged from a complaint about the problems of milking a cow, an offer to accompany the editor on his annual holiday, advice to those affected by the bankruptcy of a Jersey Bank, Militia inspections, pubs, the building of St. Catherine's breakwater, funerals and many other topics. He also published a 60 page booklet in 1890 (price 6d.) telling the story of his eventful voyage by boat, accompanied by his wife and a newly-wed couple, from St. Catherine to St. Helier for the unveiling of the statue of Queen Victoria. They much preferred travelling by sea than facing the perils of a land journey of such a distance!

In 1889, the first of the Bram Bilo stories appeared. Bram was the invention of Philip Le Sueur Mourant, and was first featured in a series of "letters" which purported to tell of his visit to the Great Exposition on Paris, accompanied by his wife Nancy - a pair of "innocents abroad". Nancy offered the train-driver sixpence to go a little slower, while Bram was swindled out of his money at the Follies Bergere and lost his top-hat when it was blown off from the top of the Tour Effel (sic). The stories appeared in book form the following year with a number of other stories. Other Bram Bilo stories appeared in the newspaper in 1893, as Bram received a visit from the Sanitation Committee to inspect his "p'tite Maîson". Bram was given a barrel of lime to use in his earth-closet, but instead used it to disinfect his onions! Thereopon, the Committee ordered that the ancestral p'tite Maîson, built by Bram's great-grandfather, be demolished. This had a happy ending, as Nancy decided to have a new one built with a blue Chinese-style roof, opaque glass door and mahogany box for the paper - all in the best possible taste! The correspondence continued with visits to Cherbourg to see the Tzar, to Mont St. Michel and the arrangements for the wedding of Bram's son Laïesse. Bram finally disappears around 1898, but Mourant continued writing under other pen-names until 1918.

At about the same time, two brothers began their Jèrriais writings. Philip Winter Luce "Ph'lippe d'la Golarde" and Edwin Jean Luce, known to friends as Jock but using the pen-name "Elie", were born in St. Lawrence. Both started their literary careers in 1897, with Jock, the elder brother, being one of our most prolific writers until his untimely death in the flu epidemic of 1918 - he was aged only 37 years 9 months. Jock was editor of La Nouvelle Chronique de Jersey for a number of years and wrote on all manner of topics. During the First World War, he organised concert parties to raise money for the Red Cross and had a touring theatrical company who performed plays which he had written himself. He was a great poet, a comedian, political commentator, nature lover and all-round author of several hundred articles - at his death, the editorial said "Quant au patois jersiais, nous ne pensons pas qu'il eut son égal à Jersey." I believe he can truly be said to be a forerunner of George d'la Forge. One of his daughters was still alive until recently, living in Edinburgh. Jock Luce also seems to have been the first to introduce the character of Cliément d'Caen to the Jersey public. In an article dated 1 July 1916, there is the story of Laïesse Ernon et Cliément d'Caen au Bridge, in which the two named characters discuss the potato season. Cliément is a tricky character, who tries to pass off poor quality potatoes as the best grades, and using heavy sacks to make the load on his wagon appear more than it really was. He was said to exemplify the Jèrriais diton "Vie d'vièr garçon, vie d'vièr couochon."

The other brother, Philip, although much less prolific, continued writing until the 1950s in Jèrriais following his emigration to Canada, where he eventually became a newspaper editor (possibly for the Toronto Star)

Another anonymous author, using the name "C.Vrai" (Syvret?) wrote a series of articles in 1906-1907, covering topics like militia uniforms, taxation and church upkeep.

Among others writing at around this time were Alfred Messervy, who also published two or three collections of Ditons from around 1909, and Jean Picot, whose daughter Lucille was secretary of L'Assembliée d'Jèrriais for many years. Mr. Picot was another prolific poet - often on naturalistic subjects, but also some political themes - I have photocopies of many of his manuscripts. A few of his poems were printed in a book of "Piéches et 'R'citâtions" published by Jock Luce.

Lé Caouain was a pen name of George William De Carteret, another very prolific author. He wrote first for La Chronique de Jersey, and when La Chronique and La Nouvelle Chronique were amalgamated in 1917, continued writing until about 1940. His column appeared usually fortnightly, but gaps occurred from time to time due to pressure of news, advertising and probably his own holidays etc. 36 of his articles of 1 - 2 broadsheet columns length appeared in 1919 alone. An illustration of an owl appeared at the head of the column, and much of the output was political - the owl was supposedly hiding behind a curtain, up the chimney or on a picture-rail at parish assemblies, shows and other meetings - this enabled him to report all sorts of things which interested his readership, particularly when things were said out-of-turn or behind closed doors. George De Carteret also wrote about anything that would interest his readership, particularly country matters. He appears to have taken up the Cliément d'Caen character in August 1917, describing him as "le pus groumâcheux, le pus stègrin, le pus rouâblieux, le pus malcontent, le pus grincheux, le pus difficile à pliaithe, le pus malenduthant de tous les vièrs avares que la terre ait jamais portè." (so, a typical Jersey farming character - or perhaps not!). Jock Luce wrote a Christmas article on Cliément, as well as a dozen or so pieces featuring him until his death in October 1918, but from then on, he becomes one of the characters used quite frequently by De Carteret. Other similar "personalities" included Marie Hibou, wife of Lé Caouain, who usually disapproved of much that he did, Dan Lécaudey, another fictional farming character and a host of thinly disguised real-life personalities from around the parishes. From about 1919, Lé Caouain's articles are pretty well all that appears in Jèrriais until the arrival on the scene of his successors, Frank Le Maistre and of course, George d'la Forge.

The first mention of George Le Feuvre is in the issue of 22 March 1919, with the sad announcement of the death of his wife in St. Servan.


Anthony Scott Warren



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La Section de la langue Jèrriaise
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