Anecdotes (updated)

A few amusing extracts from the Library collections.

How to negotiate the Coupée if you've had a few
The Court House
Don't call me French
Plus ça change
The English are so gullible
The Guernsey States as seen by Victor Hugo
Curious militia return
Samuel Bonamy
A sensible granny
The visit of the Duke of Gloucester
Rules for Young Visitors
Small island
Peter Perchard's sturgeon
Talk this way
None of that rubbish
As told in Guernsey
Castle Cornet threatens Napoleon
Sark child 1896

How to negotiate the Coupée if you've had a few, Georgian style

The Coupée is the chief wonder of the remarkable island of Serk. The neck or isthmus is about 4 or 5 feet broad, with precipices on either side of about 300 feet down to the sea. On the one side the descent is perpendicular, on the other precipitous. The bridge or neck of rock is, of course, dangerous in windy weather, there being no fence or protection on either side. Mr Inglis [The Channel Islands, Vols. I & 2, 1834-35] tells a droll story about an inhabitant of little Serk, who was a frequent visitor of Great Serk, and often prolonged his visit to the public-house. But being cautious in his cups, he always made an experiment with himself before he ventured across the narrow bridge. A piece of artillery had been posted near the spot during the war, and the tippler would try himself by walking on the cannon from end to end two or three times. If he accomplished this without slipping, he judged himself steady enough to cross to Little Serk; but if otherwise, then he lay down in the heath and indulged himself with a nap. On awaking he renewed the experiment, and if then steady enough he jogged homewards.

[The Penny Magazine, September 1837, p. 382.]

The Court House

'The old Court House was at the Plaiderie, and it was the custom for the magistrates to meet at the house of the Bailiff, William Le Marchant ('Sous La Porte,' as the Arch at the Carrefour was then called [now the Constables' Office]) and then to follow him to the Plaiderie, preceded by Barbet, the King's Sergeant. One day these worthies, as well as the lawyers, witnesses, culprits, clients, attendants and the public in general, were all kept waiting outside in the rain, while the unhappy sergeant was fumbling with the key of the Court House door. My uncle, who had filled the clumsy old lock with little pebbles, was quietly watching the whole thing at a safe distance.'

[From the Chepmell MS, in the Library, EC Scrapbook I, p. 80.]

Don't call me French

Above the street which leads to Havelet, the high footpath was on the left-hand side of the way, and the deep cartroad with the crumbling bank of the ground opposite Mr Carteret Priaulx's house was, at times, almost impassable.

So was the road to Montville, on the right-hand side of the 'Pied de la Varde.' It was through this road that the 56th Regiment, on their march to Fort George, after having been disembarked late in the evening, lost their way and were unable to find the Fort. The Colonel, [Keating], took them up the 'Pied de la Varde' by mistake and, in the darkness of the evening they found themselves by the Manor House above Montville. Not being able to see their way, the leading division stopped a countryman on his way down to town. The man not understanding a word of English, a Captain Lacy was sent for to interview him, as being the best French scholar.

Capt. Lacy began: 'Vous êtes français? Dites-moi.'

'Non, je ne suis pas français.'

'Eh bien, où est la citadelle?"

'Allez la chercher, car je ne vous ne le dirais pas!'

As above, p.99.

Plus ça change

[From the Guernsey and Jersey Magazine, 1836 (I), p. 371].

No man can search the English record offices unless he bleeds freely. The exactions are enormous and disgraceful. A few documents relating to this island were recently applied for, and for the mere copy of one, the extortionate sum of forty pounds was demanded. Things are managed differently in Guernsey, against whose customs so many ignorant and illiberal birds of passage turn up their noses. The registrar of our Greffe, when we made our object known, most obligingly offered us, whenever we pleased, the free perusal of the public documents, that we might make use of them for our Magazine, an indulgence of which we shall avail ourselves, for the instruction and amusement of our subscribers.

The English are so gullible

The thing which you expect to find at every turn – a French shop – and a French person – is the greatest rarity to be seen in the island. At first we fell into the same mistake committed by most of the newcomers; and misled by the foreign look of the people behind the counters, we addressed them in French; and, frightful to say! At the same time made our remarks upon them in English.

'How much that woman is like the royal family! She is the image of my grandmamma, - and that accounts for why your grandmamma was often mistaken for Princess Augusta.' This was not so bad – it might have been worse. She looked up very gravely, and said,- for she was an English person,-

'The remark has been made before; but I believe it is George the Fourth I am considered mostly to resemble.'

It is somewhat méchant of them, we observe, that they are always ready to keep up the mistake; and taxing them with it, they say, that it is immaterial to them in which language they speak, that they never take notice of the one they are conversing in, till their customers come to a difficulty.

[From Economy – Or, A Peep at our Neighbours, London: John Ollivier, 1845, pp. 318-320]


Baumgarten, the celebrated Violoncello player and composer, once visited this Island. His fame had reached the ears of a musical association of the gentlemen of the Island, known by the name of THE CÂTEL CONCERT, by whom he was invited to bear a part at one of their meetings. While they were tuning, he perceived that this was not done so critically just, but that there was room for improvement, and he accordingly corrected the instruments of such as were more immediately within his reach; when giving the signal to commence, such a horrible crash, such an infernal din saluted his ear, that he dashed his Violoncello to the ground, rushed out of the room, hurried to his Inn, and was never seen more where was Guernsey music.

[From The Monthly Selection, p. 260.]

The Guernsey States

Sometimes debates in the States can get quite lively. You hear this sort of thing:

One speaker to another: “You are an impudent rogue.”

The Bailiff: “I don’t think that was terribly useful.”

[From L'Archipel de la Manche, by Victor Hugo]

Curious Militia Return

During the late war, when Militia Guards were mounted at night, widows possessed of property were bound to take their turn of duty: that is to send a substitute who was borne on the roster by the name of the person represented. This custom on one occasion, gave rise to a very ridiculous occurrence. A very respectable maiden Lady was returned “drunk on duty”. It need scarcely be said that it was by substitute that she had got drunk.

[From The Monthly Selection, p. 260.]

Samuel Bonamy

"Another fellow, an old patriarch indeed before my time, who was none of the cleanest, was Samuel Bonamy, the Bailiff. When he died,¹ his unwashed legs were so dyed with his black stockings that the nurse thought he had another pair on - and was about to take them off!"

¹ 1771.

[From the Chepmell MS, in the Library.]

Small island

[Edith Carey's Scrapbooks, Vol I, p. 65, Chepmell MSS]

In Guernsey there was no local newspaper, & small as the island is, there were many people at St Peter’s or Torteval who lived & died without seeing the Town. Even in the Vale, as late as 1825, when my father wanted to send Pierre Bichard, a labourer whom he employed, to fetch something from Town, the man, who was past 40, told him he did not even know the way. So delighted was he with his journey, that he afterwards went to Town once a year. The distance was three miles.

The old Miss Le Marchant of the Grands Maisons once told me, that one of these High Parish rectors knew so little of what was going on that, on seeing an acquaintance pass his door who had lately been imprisoned and flogged, he innocently asked him, 'Quai nouvelles Vàïsin Jain?;' 'On fouitte coum le guiâblle en Ville' was le Vàïsin Jain’s feeling answer. ['Any news, Neighbour Jean?''They flog you like the devil in Town.']


[From the Star, October 27, 1836.]


A notice, of which the following is a verbatim copy, was given to TOM BAINS, our noted town-crier, and duly cried by him about the town on Wednesday morning:

PUBLIC SALE. Of ock Timbers tow marow at ten o cloc and the banc consisting of Bime Menbirs bor de provenant from the french coter ul so the mene Sale and sim airand bold rond end squoire un sum spaique from for to six un chis Long of the best frinc cairan - Fit for bildirs the ock is the Best Fine. Un sum foyiers houd -

A Sensible Granny

[From Peter Mollet's Notebook]

Mrs Le Marchant of the Haye du Puits bequeathed to her grandson, Le Marchant Carey, son of the Dean by her eldest daughter, the sum of five shillings! Not through "manque d'affection, mais par ce qu'il n'en a pas besoin et que son père est très riche." [Not through lack of affection, but because he doesn't need it and his father's very rich."]

The visit of the Duke of Gloucester in 1817

[From Edith Carey's Scrapbook, Vol. 2.]

The next morning at 9 o'clock, the Duke visited the market and quite delighted the country people by his unpretentious manners. 'Oh chut charmant Prince, r'gardaï donc comme il nous oate son chapé,' ['Ooh that charming Prince, look how he's doffing his hat to us'] was echoed from all quarters, to the amusement of the Duke.

Seeing a very old man, the Duke asked him if he remembered his father's visit 50 years ago. 'Stop a little while I think,' said the man, laying down a load which he carried on his back. After a few minutes given to meditation he continued, taking up his load, 'No. I don't.'

Rules for Young Visitors

[From the Star, June 13, 1826]

A Few Maxims, to be observed by Strangers visiting Guernsey, particularly young gentlemen.

I. On landing, say that this island is a terrestrial paradise, a century before Jersey, - abuse the sister island if you like.

II. Brandy is a thief, and gin is a villain, these rascals go together, and, although they do not conspire against strangers, if ever the stranger gets into their company he is ruined.

III. Avoid a club. The sixty clubs spoil an aimiable young man, and make him aristocratical. The forty clubs snarl at their betters, - and the "nothing" clubs drink and smoke, and discuss the credit of the different tradesmen in town: all to be avoided.

IV. Never use tobacco! The ladies say that sometimes they like the smell of a cigar, and so on; they do this (pretty creatures) because they would not interfere with our enjoyments, but they don't like it. The use of tobacco, in every shape, is filthy.

V. If you want a wife, try Guernsey; we have here beauty, money, and virtue, as much or more as you will find in any part of the world.

VI. If you make love to a beauty of the first class, say that you are highly related; make out by some means that you are of noble extraction.*

VII. Never let it slip from your tongue that Adam was the common father of us all; if you do, you may "take up your bed and walk".

VIII. If you are an Ensign, say Lieutenant - if a Lieutenant, say Major; but avoid the word Captain, it is so common.

IX. When you meet a lot of gossips at the Carrefour, and hear much talk, you may believe one-half of what you do hear.

X. If you buy either houses or lands, take care that all is free from encumbrance.

XI. Have nothing to do with a newspaper but the reading, and take care to abuse the printer all the time.

XII. Take care what English company you get into; they are apt to quarrel one with another.

XIII. And lastly, never interfere with the Greek cause, nor any cause likely to get yourself into a scrape, for there is a large building in the good town of St Peter's, called a jail, which, if you get into, you do not know exactly the day you may come out.

* Our remark is unecessary to an Irishman or a Scotchman.

Peter Perchard's Sturgeon

DEAR STURGEON.—In the mayoralty of Sir Peter Perchard, a beautiful sturgeon was caught in the Thames, and presented to his Lordship, as Lord of the Manor and Conservator of the River. It is usual to give five guineas to the person who catches the Royal fish; but the sturgeon caught upon the occasion we allude to cost his Lordship ten guineas. Miss Perchard, when she saw the sturgeon swimming about in a large tub, said to her father, "Law, pa, don't kill that beautiful fish that came so far to see you." "What the —— am l to do with it then, my dear!" said his Lordship. "Why, you have given five guineas for it, and let me have the satisfaction of saving its life," said the young lady. "Very well, my dear, do as you please with it," cried Sir Peter. The fish was that evening taken by the water-bailiff opposite to the Tower and dropt into the Thames. About two days afterwards a Gravesend fisherman knocked at the Mansion House door and presented a sturgeon to the Lord Mayor, who, considering himself obliged to maintain the dignity of the mayoralty in every respect, ordered five guineas to be given to the bearer, but what was his surprise upon finding tied to the gill a small medal, with 'Peter Perchard, Mayor,' upon it. His daughter alone explained the mystery to this genuine alderman of the old school.

[From The London and Paris Observer, Vol. 13, 1837.]

French Dirt is the Worst

Talk this way

Until about the end of the 18th century, frail damsels and in earlier times their admirers also (if not rich enough to pay for silence) had to humble themselves before the Dean at the Ecclesiastical Court. In the days of the second Dean Le Mesurier, a dignitary who spoke through his nose, a simple, though not innocent countryman, having asked the advice of his friends for guidance, was told to speak as much as he could like the Dean 'whose snuffle was quite official.' As the fellow was a good mimic, the Dean's voice and manner were taken off in a style which gave high delight to everyone but his Reverence.

[From Dr Chepmell's MSS in E. Carey, Acts of the Ecclesiastical Court, 41B].

None of that rubbish

JAMES AND JOHN COCHRANE, Tobacco and Snuff Manufacturers, bottom of the Market, present their sincere thanks to their friends and the public for past favours and support, and at the same time beg to submit to their consideration the different qualities of their tobaccos. [A list follows.]

All sorts of snuffs may be had at the above place WARRANTED TO KEEP THE NOSE SOUND.

They wish to have it clearly understood that their Snuffs are not of Jersey Manufacture.

[From L'Indépendance, 5th October 1822.]


They lay upon the steamer's deck
And the boat went ho-heave-ho
His arms were round the lady's neck
And their eyes were closed in woe.
The steward said, 'Is your husband ill,
And shall I move him, madam?
She gasped, 'Oh, please, Sir, if you will,
For I don't know him from Adam!'

[By J J Seeley, c. 1920-early 30s, from his scrapbook in the Library.]

Sark child, May 24 1896

Visitor: 'Well, why aren't you at school?'
Child: 'Holiday, for the Queen's Birthday.'
Visitor: 'Do you always have a holiday on the Birthday?'
Child: 'Yes. Always.'
Visitor: And what do you do on all the other days?'
Child: 'Nothing.'

[Edith Carey, Notes from the Country People, 1896, I Frontis.]