Captain White's Logbook

Excerpts from the log-book of Captain William White of the Jerbourg Signal Station, as printed in the Guernsey newspaper The Star c. 1904.

For an explanation of the use and practice of signalling in Guernsey's signal stations see Walmsley, W. G., A Pedestrian Tour of Guernsey and Jersey (1821), transcribed K. Renault: Phillimore, 1992, p. 43, with an explanatory diagram.

From The Star:

The usual monthly meeting of the Guernsey Natural Science and research Society was held last evening at the Guille-Alles Library,under the Chairmanship of Mr. W. Sharp. [....]

The next paper was one read by Mr H E Marquand on the Signal Tower which existed up to about the year 1816 at Jerbourg. This was premised by an Inquiry into the ancient castle which stood on the promontory of Jirboucke, or Jerbourg, in 1327, and instituted by Edward III, and the deed which constituted Matthew de Saumarez holder of the Castle. This deed was of a very quaint description, and Mr Marquand stated his very great indebtedness to Miss E. Carey, of Le Vallon, who had kindly furnished him with it—and also several other documents which time would not permit him to go into that evening.

Following is the paper read by Mr Marquand, for which he received a vote of thanks, which was also extended to Miss Carey for the assistance she had given him:

Old Jerbourg Signal Station

Since we published an account of the Signal Station at Jerbourg, we have been kindly put in temporary possession of the first log book kept by the late Captain White after taking over his duties at the signal tower, of which, however, no trace remains, unless it be the outline of the foundations of a building on a small mound to the right of the Doyle Column; that is, when looking towards the South. This must have been the spot, as it is indicated in a map¹ of 1816 which hangs in the vestibule of the Guille-Alles Library.

In the Log before us, Captain White writes:

'On Sunday, October 14, 1810, at 9 a.m., joined the signal station at Jerbourg, Guernsey. The Tower unfurnished, and Lieutenant Keenor and men at lodgings for orders.'

The log is very interesting and consists of daily entries such as the following: No. of signals made; No. of signals repeated; quarter strange sails appeared in; course they steered; number appeared; number disappeared; number anchored; how rigged; wind; time of high water and the weather.We just give two or three of the entries in the Log:

Monday October 15, 1810, 8 a.m. Moderate breezes and hazy; wind at N.; arrived HM brig Pickle; ship of war passed from the East to the Isle of Jersey; employed surveying the stores at the signal station and taking an account of them. At 6 p.m. arrived HM lugger Violet. Weather as before. Tuesday October 16, 1810, a.m. Moderate breezes and hazy, with showers of rain; sailed HM cutter Queen Charlotte. At 9 a.m. sailed HM lugger Violet. Received the stores and signals from Lieutenant George Keenor at noon. A ship of war passed from the North to the East. P.M. weather as before.Tuesday October 23rd, 1810. A.M. Strong gales and squally with rain. Received the following stores brought by H.M. Violet, and forwarded here in a cart, viz., Tar, one barrel; one telescope; one red flag; one Jack; pendants; one red, one blue, one white; four signal balls, three hammocks, paint; five pots ochre; four pots white; oil, one quart; 25½ fathom 2½ inch rope; 62 fathom 1½ inch rope.Wednesday, 31st October 1810.—A.M. Strong gales and squally with rain, wind due west. At 8 a.m. saw cutter on the rocks near the Castle, the sea breaking over her. The window-shutters of the tower facing the sea torn off iron work and all the glass of the windows blown to pieces by the violence of the gale. The principal crack of the tower more open, and the tiles on the pent-house [shed] going into the tower all blown off and broken."

The day before Captain White says that a brig of war arrived in charge of an envoy and afterwards sailed for Jersey. On that day, too, he wrote 'Sailed HM Surly and HM brigs Dapper and Pickle. Rove a pair of new signal halyards, the others being quite rotten and spliced so many times that they were not long enough.'

November 10.—Strong gales and squalls. At noon wind due west. A heavy squall tore open the window shutters of the tower facing NW and broke the glass of the window to pieces and blew down part of the store room. The tower shook very much.

At that time ships of war must have continually called at Guernsey, as day after day it is nothing but HM ship arrived or sailed, sometimes with and sometimes without a convoy.

'Sunday, Nov. 25, 1810.—At 11 a.m. James Fuller arrived here, appointed by the Admiralty to do the duty of midshipman at this signal station. Entered him accordingly.Friday, December 30. 1810.—Arrived HM Ulysses, Vice-Admiral d’Auvergne, Commander-in-Chief at this station.Saturday, Jan. 1, 1811.—Castle Cornet saluted the Admiral. Immediately after the ships in the Roads saluted which was returned by the flag-ship.Monday, 5th January, 1811. At 3.40 p.m. a ship made a signal which we did not understand as it had a red pendant at the yard-arm and two balls at the mast-head. At 5.30 a man from near St. Sampson’s came and said the signal was made that a brig was captured by a privateer brig and they were steering south. Wrote the Admiral in consequence of this and sent it to him immediately. Prévote made the signal first with a red pendant. I then repeated it without knowing what it was.' (At that day there were six signal stations at Guernsey, viz., Jerbourg, Icart, Prevoté, Mont Herault, Saumarez, and Noirmont.) 'Thursday, Jan. 6, 1811.—A fresh breeze, cloudy with rain. At daylight saw the Achates sail from the roads. Supposed she is gone in pursuit of the privateer. At 3.40 took the signal from the flag-ship and made Sark’s preparative signal and kept it up until dark. Monday, February 18th.—Received the following stores from H.M. Alonzo, 60 fathoms 1 inch rope; 20 fathoms ¾ inch do.; one white flag; some linen; and small deal table. Friday March 29. At noon Vice-Admiral d’Auvergne, Duke of Bouillon, and Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty’s ships and vessels at Guernsey and Jersey visited the signal station. Monday 15th April.—During the night some person or persons came up to the signal station between the hours of ½ past 9 p.m. and 4 and cut both the flag halyards close down to the belaying cleat, cutting from each about 7 fathoms. The new mast rope was cut close to the belaying yard and about 10 fathoms likewise of the latter part taken away. Monday, May 13, 1811.—Arrived HM brig Sharpshooter with a convoy. Tuesday, May 28, 1811.—Sailed the Vulture with her convoy. Sunday, Aug 14, 1811.—Got the yard down and fresh rigged it and payed it with a coat of tar. Painted the flagstaff white, and payed the lower part with a coat of tar and ochre, and turned in the thimble of the shrouds. Rove new lanyards and hove the yard up again. Sailed HM brig Zephyr. Tuesday, June 16, 1812.—Rear-Admiral Brown and Capt. Lumley (HM’s Crocodile) inspected the signal station. Sunday March 7th, 1811. Sailed HM Ulysses, Vice-Admiral d’Auvergne, with HMS Pickle in company. Friday, March 16, 1811. At 3.50 in repeating the signal from HM Vulture the sling of the starboard wing broke. Got up a new one and forwarded the signal.Sunday, 28th June 1812.—Moderate breeze, Saw two brigs standing in from the south. Signalled, but was not answered. At 4 o’clock saw one of the brig’s main and fore-top gallant masts go over the side, having carried them away. Thursday, July 30, 1812. Lieut. Mauger, of Icart, came to the station and reported that a French privateer had taken a vessel to the north of the island. Telegraphed the message to HMS Escort which was in the offing. Thursday, July 29, 1812.—At 7.40 a small lugger stood for the Roads almost abreast of the Town, after which she tacked to the westward, and the wind falling she rowed with six sweeps, she appeared to be full of men. Sent a man to HM Vulture, and telegraphed her as suspicious to the flag ship. Saturday, Jan. 2 1813.—Departed this life, James Fuller, Midshipman.Tuesday, May 18, 1813. Discharged John Watson, signal-man, for drunkenness and disobedience.November 25, 1813.—By order of the Lords of the Admiralty Commissioners discharged Thomas King and entered William Walker, midshipman, in his room.

 ¹ Gray's map.