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CHAPTER L: ANOTHER COMMERCIAL CRISIS
A DISMAL year again opened out for Jersey in 1886. It is true some dark rumours of forthcoming disaster had been afloat for a short time previously, given rise to in some mysterious manner; nevertheless, it was with the startling effect of a thunder-clap that the news went forth on January 11th that the Jersey Banking Company, commonly known as " The States Bank," had suspended payment. This was followed on the morrow (January 12th) naturally, though to the consternation of the whole island, by the failure of another local bank and the suspension of one of Jersey's leading firms of traders and shipowners; and to add to the general dismay, it became known on the 14th that the States Treasurer and Manager of the Jersey Banking Company had been arrested.
On the following day a crowded and excited meeting was held in the Town Hall to discuss the position of the bank, and a climax was in some sort reached when, on the 16th inst., Desastres were adjudicated against the Treasurer of the Impot, the Treasurer of the States, and two trading firms, up till then looked upon as being "as safe as the Bank of England "; the primary cause, or, at any rate, the active cause of the whole being not so much the state of business in Jersey at the time, but the commercial depression which had spread itself in Italy and other foreign business centres.
On the morrow, Sunday, the 17th, references were made to the crisis in nearly all the places of worship on the Island , whilst the States took up the matter in a rigorous and searching debate the next day. In brief, the whole of Jersey was bowed with woe.
But the far-reaching consequences were even then not fully known. During that sad year alone claims were registered against eight insolvent firms, to the amount of .£589,816, of which the Jersey Banking Company's share was .£324,816 and some odd shillings. The immediate result, however, over and above the arrest of the Manager, was a charge of issuing false balance sheets, &c., preferred against three of the Managing Directors of the bank, and also the committal to the Criminal Assizes of the Sub-Manager. Happily the latter, together with the Directors, were honourably acquitted, though the Manager himself, after a six days' trial, was condemned to five years' penal servitude for embezzlement and misapplication of public money and fraudulent misappropriation of bonds.
But to return. The need of an increase in the representation of St. Helier seems to have been one of the foremost things in the minds of its inhabitants, other than the commercial crisis through which the Island was passing, and the States having thrown out a Bill to this effect on February 15th, a crowded meeting of the constituents was that day held to consider the rejection, with the result that an appeal to Her Majesty in Council was resolved upon. In fact, Jersey at this period seems to have been suffering from a ferment of thorough and unhappy discontent, undoubtedly due, in a great measure, to the reaction caused by its financial sickness ; and signs of it were present on almost every hand.
It was on February 25th of this year, for instance, that the Bailiff considered it his duty, as not long before mentioned, to record his dissenting voice in connection with the Market Regulations. Then, within a few days, on March 4th, we find an Anti-compulsory Militia League springing into active force, and resolving to petition Her Majesty against the existing enforced military service; whilst on the 7th of the month there was an attempted demonstration of the numbers then unemployed. This latter question, however, was in part immediately and judiciously solved by the States authorising the Harbour Committee to spend £800 on relief work, on March 8th, and the Bailiff's dissent to the Market Regulation was acquiesced in by the States on April 5th. The " League " held its first anniversary in Jersey on May 10th , and on the 13th a disturbance occurred in St. Helier, the outcome of which was that on the 18th three persons were fined at the Police Court £10, £2 10s., and £1 respectively.
Meanwhile, on the good old principle, perhaps, of " locking the stable after the horse is stolen," the States adopted a regulation in connection with the banking affairs of the Island, which was undoubtedly a step in .advance, whereby Article 44 of the Act of May 16th, 1881, was so modified as to include banking concerns in the "Limited Liabilities " Act.
Not that by any means legislation on other very important matters had been neglected during the first period of the Island's commercial depression of 1886, for even in the throes of its darkest days we find the Act passed (January 25th) whereby it was provided by law that damages for injury could be claimed in case of death caused by negligence or carelessness, whether the act causing death was felonious or otherwise, if such death ensued through facts which would justify an action at law. On February 1st stringent measures were put forth for the prevention of adulteration; and on the same day, chiefly through the influence and energy of the present Constable of St. Helier (Advocate Baudains), there was enacted (and afterwards confirmed) the ordinance which limits the imprisonment for debt (other than in case of debtors committed for contempt of Court) to one year, and frees such debtors from liability to imprisonment for any debts due upon their release; then, on February 4th, the Law concerning the prohibition of lotteries, raffles, and the like, was made a permanent one.
The question of public finance was also at this time thoroughly gone into by the States, which, on March 29th, passed a Bill (confirmed June 26th) regulating the times when claims connected therewith should be paid, appointing a treasurer for a term of three years only—such officer to give surety in securities and deposits to the amount of £10,000, and not to be an officer, manager, or servant in any commercial undertaking—and also providing for the establishment of a Treasury Office and the appointment of a Finance Committee; whilst on June 22nd the States at length passed the long-pending regulations for the market.
These, together with an Act dated October 28th, authorising the re-introduction of Jersey cattle which had been exhibited in England formed the most important legislation of the year.
In more social matters we find that 1886 has to its credit the first handicap, at La Collette, of the Jersey Swimming Club, held on June 17th ; and the first race of the Caesarean Homing Pigeon Society's birds on July 1st. The year, however, which commenced with such dire consequences, from monetary point of view, was also destined to experience towards its close, a series of disastrous storms.
A violent gale from the west set in on October 14th, an prevailed more or less, from nearly the same point, throughout the remainder of the month. Mails were delayed inordinately, damage to a serious extent done to houses and other property, the sea-wall at the Esplanade was breached, railway traffic was interrupted, whilst shipping . generally felt its full force.
One good result, however, followed the general havoc caused, in the establishment, by order of the States, October 28th, of telegraphic communication between the Corbiere and Fort Regent. And a bright and memorable event which it is a pleasure to record, took place with which to close the year, in the opening, on December 1st, of the splendid and most excellently fitted new buildings of the Public Library, originally founded, in 1736, by the Rev P. Falle, and which now contains, besides some 30,000 volumes, both books and missals of almost priceless worth.