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THE laying of the foundation stone of the new Harbour— undertaken by the Bailiff, and which took place with much eclat in the autumn of 1872, the outcome of a work proposed by Sir John Coode and actually commenced the preceding year but never completed—as the forerunner of the disasters that followed was, in this way, connected with the saddest year that Jersey has ever seen from a commercial point of view.
The scheme—-itself an excellent one, though it remains only as a monument of failure—included a breakwater and a landing stage) alongside which the mail boats and other large craft could safely go at any state of the tide. The plans for it were passed by the States in 1871, and the cost of the whole estimated at about .£240,000. The breakwater (on paper) ran along the west side of the Small Roads, starting at the westernmost corner of Elizabeth Castle, with the landing stage starting on the east from La Collette cliff, running at first in a direction nearly due south for 1760 feet, then bearing east to west for 1840 feet, a length in all of nearly three-quarters of a mile. The convenience, comfort and maritime importance of such a scheme could not be doubted, and it is only a pitiable task to have to record its entire collapse.
The actual visible commencement, however, of the commercial depression which wrought such havoc in 1873 was the "closing of the doors," on February 1st, of the "Jersey Mercantile Bank," an event which threw over the Island an untold gloom. To add to this, and to the excitement caused by it, the startling news followed that one of the Judges of the Royal Court, Jurat Le Bailly, had been charged with embezzlement in connection with the Bank's failure, a crime for which he was, on May 13th, sentenced to five years' penal servitude.
On July 3rd following the sad news of another failure in A. de Carteret & Co.'s "Jersey Joint Stock Bank "came to add to the depression and ruin of all concerned; the managers of it being arrested on the 16th of the following month, though happily acquitted at a subsequent date.
Major-General William Sherbrooke Ramsey Norcott was sworn in as Lieut.-Governor on August 13th "in this sadly memorable year," the only bright spots in which were, otherwise, the founding of that most useful and since notable Society known as the Societe Jersiaise, whose museum of local, historical, and other valuable reminiscences is one of the most important the Island possesses, and the inauguration for traffic on August 6th of the Jersey Eastern Railway, the Snow Hill Terminus of which was opened on May 6th of the following year (1874), during which, also, the Corbiere Lighthouse was, for the first time, experimentally illuminated.
Another, and so far the last, execution for murder in Jersey took place on August 12th, 1875, when a man named Le Brun suffered the capital penalty for the murder of his sister in the preceding October, his crime with its somewhat mysterious surroundings and his punishment being perhaps the most remarkable topic of the year.
During the following twelve months we find an important change in connection with the coinage of the Island. For some length of time prior to this date copper coinage of the value of thirteen " pennies " to the shilling had been in general circulation, which, though giving an actual tally so far as the old system of money was concerned, proved to be most inconvenient after the legalisation of the British currency in 1835. And in the month of March, 1876, this state of things was remedied by the calling in of the old copper coinage and the substituting in its stead that at present in use.
1878 saw a new Lieut.-Governor in the person of Major-General Lothian Nicholson, who was sworn-in on October 1st; also the transfer of the breakwater at St. Catherine's from the British Government to the States, the former having up to that period been responsible for its general repairs. In 1879 the improvements and restoration of the Royal Court House were completed; a work originally commenced as far back as 1864, during which period the Court held its sittings in the present Museum Hall, and the building being again in process of evolution in 1877, the Court at this time sat in the Albert Hall.
Amongst the chief events of 1880 come the appointment of Sir Robert Pipon Marett as Bailiff of the Island in succession to J. Hammond, Esq. (deceased), and the establishment of the Jesuits at the Maison St. Louis, formerly known as the Imperial Hotel, a building which had been opened with much outward show some fourteen years previously.
January 6th, which has always, for the last hundred years and more, been a memorable date in the annals of the Island, was never more prominently to the fore than in the year 1881, when, amidst great public rejoicing, including a review of the troops and Insular Militia, the first centenary of the battle of Jersey was celebrated, on which occasion (as noted in a previous chapter) the Militia for the last time came under the old regulations, and for the last time, too, appeared in their ancient uniforms of scarlet tunics and white trousers. Another worthy memento of the occasion also occurred during the same year in their being authorised to inscribe upon their colours, "Jersey 1781." Permission to do this, however, was not granted until the close of the year, at which period the new Militia Law was passed, modified upon the suggestions contained in the report of Colonel Deedes, Major Lyons, and Mr. De la Bere, Royal Commissioners appointed in 1879 to inquire into the Militia system.
The year 1881 was also fittingly one of great rejoicing on the Island, in that their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, on June 26th, paid a visit to it, accompanied by the celebrated Lord Charles Beresford.