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CHAPTER XXIII. : BATTLE OF JERSEY—MAJOR CORBET.
MAJOR CORBET, who had been for nearly ten years Lieut.-Governor, having been sworn in April 4th, 1771, of whose conduct throughout the affair many different opinions were freely expressed at the time, and concerning which it shall suffice for our purpose to add, that though deprived of this office, he was not convicted at his trial in London for high treason, of treacherous connivance—was, it appears, in bed when news of the invasion reached him, carried to his residence, La Motte House, situated near where The Terrace now stands (Belmont, the present Governor's house, not having been purchased until 1822), by Captain Clement Hemery, of the Town Militia, who escaped through his own back door. The Governor's house, it seems, was immediately surrounded, and himself taken prisoner, though he managed to send off, privately, a messenger to those Companies of the 78th, 83rd, and 95th Regiments that were stationed at different parts of the Island, being subsequently conducted into the presence of Baron de Rullecourt, who had taken possession of La Cohue, i.e., the Court House, built, as will be remembered, in the year 1647.
Here Rullecourt, with ingenious mendacity, represented to Major Corbel that he had overcome the British troops at La Rocque, and, having 4,000 men stationed at various points—those few with him, dressed, by-the-bye, in different uniforms to carry on the deception, forming only the pickets of the various corps he had at present with him, whilst two battalions were in the immediate vicinity of the Island—resistance was useless. He, therefore, insisted on the signing of Articles of Capitulation, at the same time issuing a proclamation in the name of Louis XVI. of France, threatening all opposition with summary punishment, and menacing Major Corbel with his intention of setting fire to the town, destroying all the shipping and putting the inhabitants to the sword, if the requirements of the document were not immediately carried out.
The capitulation, it may be well to state here, contained articles to the following rather rich effect:—(1) All hostilities were to cease; the castles, forts, &c„ of the Island were to be delivered up to Rullecourt's forces, and be taken possession of in the name of the French Monarch; (2) The English troops and the Militia were to deposit their arms in the Court House, the former returning immediately to England, in ships provided by the French, though with all the honours of war, (3) The inhabitants of Jersey were to remain in quiet possession of their estates, privileges, and religion, but in strict neutrality, until it was finally determined unto which Crown the Island truly belonged!
At first Major Corbet resolutely refused to sign the Articles, though it was on the plea, not of courageous indignation, but that he was a prisoner, and as such deprived of all authority, and hence, that his signing the capitulation, or, in fact, giving any orders, would be of no effect, and answer no purpose.
But Baron Rullecourt, perhaps knowing his man, was not to be nonplussed in this manner; his next characteristic move was to lay his watch upon the table with the remark that such objections were evidently only made for the purpose of saving time, and to declare that, unless the capitulation was effected within thirty minutes, he would set the town in flames and abandon it to be pillaged by his troops.
Under these circumstances—and let us still hope, however futile such emotions may be, with the best intentions; at any rate, with such motives as at the time seem to have satisfied his own mind—Major Corbet signed the articles, his signature being accompanied by that of Major Hogge. The treaty was then presented for signature to the King's Advocate, Jean Thomas Durell, Esq., the Constable of St. Helier, Mr. La Cloche, and several other persons of note, to whose high credit be it stated that, though strongly urged to do so they utterly refused to add their names to the deed which was supposed to give up Jersey to the artful enemy.
Rullecourt, it would appear, was quite sufficiently satisfied without such addition, for, conceiving himself to be master of the Island, he immediately proceeded to produce the Commission of Louis XVI., appointing him a general in his army and Governor of Jersey, and, with true French politeness, invited several gentlemen present, whose names by-the-bye, are not recorded, to dine with him at the house of Major Corbet. All the shops were, by his injunction, ordered to he opened, and things were to proceed as usual though no assemblage of the people was to be allowed Rullecourt at the same time taking care to make the " late Governor" send written orders to the different English troops not to remove from their respective barracks, which orders were obeyed until the officers in command found out that they were written by Corbet whilst a prisoner.
Meanwhile, news of the invasion had spread, and the Militia were assembling in different parts ready to strike a blow, and this no feeble one, for the sake of hearth and home, and honour. Each regiment, as it gathered, marched onward towards the town, the greater part subsequently joining the 78th Highlanders, who had by this time assembled on le Mont Patibulaire (Gallows Hill), whilst a company of them marched to the defence of Elizabeth Castle.