The Affairs of Guernsey (From a Private Letter)

8th May 2015

The trouble with Napier. From the Morning Post, June 19 1844.

Guernsey, June 13

You express astonishment that we should be accused of being disaffected to the British Government; and you say that, from your knowledge of the people of the island, this is the last accusation you could have contemplated being made against them. Our astonishment at the foul and calumnious accusation, by whomsoever made, cannot be less than yours; and in what it originated can only be conjectured from the strange proceedings of the Governor, General Napier, whose imperious disposition, furious temper, and utter ignorance of the constitutional laws of the island, have hurried into a rash and most unprovoked collision with the civil government and the local courts of the island. But in order to enable you to comprehend the question at issue between us and the Governor, and, of course, through him, and the English Government; and to show you that we have been falsely charged with disloyalty and disaffection, I will give you a concise account of the quarrel between the Governor and our Supreme Court.

Some months since an old man and his wife were passing Fort George, when a soldier belonging to the regiment stationed there knocked the old man down and severely beat him. For this offence the soldier was tried before the magistrates, acknowledged his offence, and was sentenced to a month's imprisonment—the first and last week in solitary confinement. The Governor was either told, or he imagined, that there was not sufficient evidence against the soldier (although the man acknowledged his guilt) to justify the conviction, and he applied to Sir James Graham, and obtained, upon his own representation, without any communication with the Court which tried the soldier, a free pardon for him under Her Majesty's signature. Without submitting this document to the Court, as he was by the constitutional law of the island bound to do, and thereupon obtaining an order of the Court for the prisoner's release on the production to the Court of her Majesty's free pardon, the Governor, accompanied by an officer and an aid-de-camp, went to the gaol and demanded the immediate liberation of the prisoner. The gaoler refused to comply without an order from the Court, well knowing that without such order he would be acting illegally by complying. The Governor, infuriated, sent his aid-de-camp in the Fort for a detachment of soldiers to force the prison doors, and, on his arrival, the gaoler, through fear of the Governor, surrendered the key of the prison. This outrage against the law and constituted authorities, coupled with the Governor's generally insulting demeanour to them, naturally irritated the Court and the inhabitants, who saw in this act a gross violation of their rights and laws as guaranteed to them by the British Government. The Court held a special meeting, and a memorial to the Government in England, setting forth the above facts, with a statement of the arbitrary conduct of the Governor, accompanied by a petition to the Queen, praying that he might be either remonstrated with on his conduct, or recalled, was signed by the Court and by the inhabitants, and transmitted to the Home Secretary for England, through a deputation of gentlemen, amongst whom was Mr Joshua Collings, one of the magistrates. The deputation, on applying to Sir James Graham, would not be listened to, and the memorial and petition would not be received by him. In short, they were treated by him with the utmost indifference, if not indignity. They, however, found Members of Parliament and others to interest themselves in their representations of the conduct of the Governor, and the attention of Government was by them, and by the rash and almost insane communications of the Governor himself respecting the indisposition of the inhabitants of the island to her Majesty, forced to an inquiry, as you shall presently perceive.

In the meantime, General Napier, whose ill-feeling to the inhabitants was undoubtedly increased by the false and malicious statements of certain persons to whom, unfortunately, he gave ear, proceeded to act in a way that created a strong suspicion that he was not in his right mind. Well, the Governor is not only made to believe that the inhabitants are disloyal, but that a conspiracy had actually been entered into by certain of them to assassinate him. Just think of the idea of assassination being entertained by an inhabitant of our little island. It seems that an Englishman by the name of Waterman, and a poor countryman, who is reputed to be a half simpleton, stated that they knew some of the militia of the island who would shoot the governor for a fine-penny. To this absurd statement the Governor gave credence, and an investigation was instituted. A young English gentleman who resides here, and who is a member of a club held in High-street, repeated some observations he had heard made in the club, and which strongly reflected on the Governor's conduct. These were conveyed to the Governor. But, to crown the conviction that a conspiracy was formed against his life, a statement was made to him, about three weeks since, that a young man, who was then lying dead in the country, was poisoned by the conspirators, who having admitted him into the plot, were alarmed that he should divulge it, and accordingly put him out of the way by poison. Ridiculous as was the statement, the Governor, apparently giving full credence to it, sent his medical attendant to the house of the parents of the deceased (who was very respectable), and just as the mourners were assembled to bear the corpse to the grave, an order was issued by the Governor to have the body opened, and the cause of death investigated. The medical gentleman who attended the deceased was on the spot, and certified the disease that caused the death; but this would not do. The body was opened in violation of the feelings of the parents, and the result, of course, proved the futility of the vile statement, and the folly of the party giving it credence.

Previous to the last incident, in proof of the existence of the conspiracy to assassinate, the whole island was struck with astonishment at the sudden, and of course, most unexpected arrival of a large military force, the more particularly as there was no accommodation for them, the 48th regiment being already in occupation of Fort George and Vale Castle. These troops were followed on the two next days by other detachments, and military occupation was taken of the island, to the wonderment of the inhabitants, and the great inconvenience of the troops, who were without accommodation, and at the same time were quite amazed at being met in the most cordial and friendly manner by the inhabitants, whom they said they expected to be resisted by on their attempts to land. In confirmation of this strange expectation, each man was furnished with sixty rounds of ball cartridge. The conviction that all was not right with the Governor's upper story began now to be general, and the balls which he is said to have received in his body in battle were, by the merry–makers, at his expense, said to have ascended in to his brain. Be that as it may, the English Government began at last to discover that some strange delusion was being practised upon, or being in operation upon his excellency, and got, as we are told, heartily ashamed of the exhibition and no doubt, vexed at being so easily, and to so dangerous an extent—duped into a notion that the inhabitants of Guernsey could by possibility, ever be disloyal to their Queen (and here I must mention that a gross insult was offered to them on her Majesty's last birthday – the militia being prevented from their immemorial practise of having a review on their Sovereign's birthday), and by being treated by the Governor as if they were disloyal to her Majesty. Is not such conduct to us v

ery aggravating? The Court, over and over, requested the Governor to enter with it into an investigation of the charge of conspiracy against his life, and also of the imputation s against the loyalty of the inhabitants; but he was so infuriated with the magistrates that he refused. At length, the English Government ordered an investigation before the Court of Magistrates, and it opened on Thursday. It commenced by inquiring in to the origin of the reports upon which the Governor acted, and the Rev. Daniel Dobrée was summoned to give evidence, but he refused to answer some question s put to him by the Court. He was threatened with committal to prison, but he persisted in his refusal. He got, however, two days to consider upon it, and yesterday he was again brought up for examination, and again persisted in his refusal to answer the question s, which it seems are of the utmost importance towards the elucidation of this strange business. The Court then committed him for contempt, and he was conveyed to the gaol at one o'clock. Immediately upon his being committed, the Governor, who attended the Court all the time since the opening of the investigation, rose, and left the Court, saying that 'he had no more confidence in the Court.' In a quarter of an hour after the reverend gentleman was confined, his Excellency went to visit him, and has been again today. How this matter will end God knows, but we all ardently hope that the English Government will not be as blind to the faults of the Governor as to leave him longer in this island, where he has created nothing but confusion, and would certainly, by a continuance of his outrageous and tyrannical conduct, produce difficulties to the British Government. The troops have been already withdrawn from the island, and the English Government must be exceedingly mortified at the silly exhibition these proceedings make in the eyes of the English people. For us of this island, although we feel greatly aggrieved, yet can we not refrain from some degree of amusement both at the wild freaks of the Governor and the success with which he has been hoaxed into hoaxing the Government of England.

 Another letter followed a month later.