A Farmer's Vacation, 1873

Guernsey, from an article in the influential American publication, Scribner's Monthly Magazine, September 1873; the article is one of a series eventually brought together as a book, A Farmer's Vacation, by George Wearing, published in the same year. Interest in the exportation of Guernsey cattle to North America and their management was bringing significant numbers of US farmers or their agents to Guernsey in this period. Wearing had first visited Jersey, to compare their agricultural procedures. Below is the Couture Water Lane in St Peter Port, admired by the author.

A Farmer's Vacation, 1873

The tourist soon learns that he is far from having lost the French characteristics so prominent in Jersey, for here it is only on that edge of the social plane which is in constant contact with English travellers and residents that one hears his own tongue, and is offered his familiar food. The transient life of the town is more of England than of France, but the people of Guernsey themselves retain their old traditions and language even more tenaciously than do those of the larger island. Here, as there, the hand of the general government is lightly laid. The military governor and the garrison are supported by the Crown, and no customs-duties or taxes of any sort are levied on behalf of England. The chief local dignitary, 'The Bailiff,' is appointed in accordance with the local usage, and the people are governed by their own legislature.

French silver, not English, is the currency, and the French language or rather a French language is almost exclusively spoken by the native population. A good idea of its peculiarities is given by the following specimen of Guernsey French, which differs materially from Jersey French:

Il semble òsin kiçhin nou vé des ptie moutons,
Et grande bêtes a kat-pee a majár la várdure,
Tandis q'les kóc-é-dâwk, les kànár et dindons,
Suivis par leux fúmelles, et leux biaux ptie poúâwchins,
Mange òsin leux vitâilles qui trouve par les courtis.


Il semble aussi qu'ici on voit des petits moutons,/Des grandes bêtes à quatre pieds manger la verdure,/Tandis que la volaille, les canards, les dindons,/Suivis par leur femelles et leur beaux petits poussins,/ Mangent aussi leur nourriture qu'ils trouvent parmi les champs.

The language as spoken is said to be far too complete to be called a patois, but it is an impossible jargon to the unaccustomed ear. We were told, in asking our way, to go straight on until we came to a certain house, et pie à dé, which we learned meant, et puis à droite.

One modification of the language indicates social castes which are still maintained. If one is a common worthless sort of fellow, he is called Jean, for short; if a grade better, perhaps with his own cottage and pig, and some self-respect, he is addressed as Maitre Jean; a small farm, a couple of cows, and a better position generally, would entitle him to be called, Sieur Jean Marquand; he must have a comfortable property, and be a man of good standing in his parish, to be called Mess. Marquand; and it takes official dignity, or the best social position to entitle him to be called Monsieur Marquand. Years ago the bailiff was the only Monsieur in Guernsey.

The Annual Report of the Agricultural Society in Guernsey is printed in French; in Jersey, it is in English. Only the official newspaper, Gazette de Guernesey, is printed in French. The remaining five papers are in English, which is easily accounted for by the fact that the non-resident population is English, and apparently of a superior (or at least a wealthier and more cultivated) class to the English colony in Jersey; so at least we were told, and this difference is indicated by the finer houses and more elaborate equipages one sees in driving about the country. Many of the country-seats are stately, and the timber in their grounds is much larger and finer than most that one sees in Jersey, the general aspect of many of the places being broader and more park-like. One of the most attractive, though not of the largest, is the residence of General Huysh. This is the most charming bijou of a house imaginable, rich, cozy, sunny, and home-like to the last degree. It has a beautiful conservatory leading off from one of its rooms, and the well-kept grounds, well set with sub-tropical vegetation, are nearly enclosed with vineries. Many of the better places have a respectable look of age, and some of them have names which refer to old historic incidents. The estate of Mr. Rougier, in the interior, is called Les Eperons, from a pair of silver spurs given to its owner by his guest, Charles II., who sought refuge in these islands in his adverse days. The spurs have passed with the title deeds of the land, and are still shown by its proprietor.

At the summer festival of Elizabeth College—'The Sports'—on a high bluff overlooking the fort and the sea, we saw a very gay assemblage of fashionably dressed people, and fine carriages. The young men and boys of the college, dressed in gossamer tights, were contending in hurdle races, flat races, sack races, hammer-throwing, leaping, and all manner of athletic exercises, for prizes to be given by the chief lady of Guernsey. It was a beautiful afternoon, and the scene was as gay as youth, and music, and flags, and bright dressing, and happy faces could make it. In traveling, one always draws comparisons with home customs, and we could not help wishing that this brighter element might be added to our own more staid holiday manners.

Amid so much enchanting natural scenery, it is difficult to say that one feature is more attractive than the others; but when we take into account its difference from what we had seen elsewhere, a Guernsey 'Water-Lane' certainly commands our warmest enthusiasm. The lanes of Jersey have few counterparts in Guernsey, and the country roads are much the same as one finds in many other parts of Europe,—depending for their interest on fine trees, fine country-seats, wide views, and well-kept farms; but the water-lanes are, in their very charming way, peculiar to Guernsey. There are a number of them, all of the same general character. That which we first saw starts from the Sausmarez road, and winds around into a deep valley that debouches at the shore of Moulin Huet Bay, where we passed through a simple farm-gate to a terrace overlooking a most placid green-hued cove, shut in among high storm-beaten rocks, on whose sides the smoky sunlight lay warm, and whose crests were enriched with the soft tints of varied lichen. Beyond, the gleaming blue sea stretched far away into the warm southern haze, and was blended with the dreamy sky.

The lane itself is the bed of a little rill, cut deep in the earth and rock, and laid with a rough stone foot-path, at the side of which the water trickles and babbles in a small clear stream. The banks are higher than one's head, and are rich with a wealth of tangled ferns, conspicuous among which the long lance-shaped leaf of the hart's-tongue hangs in massive clusters of shining emerald green. The trunks of trees—some falling to decay, some young and fresh, and all clad with closely clinging ivy—stand out irregularly from the sides of the gorge, and shroud the passage in perpetual shade. The evidence of man's interference is very slight; Nature has had almost uninterrupted sway, and has given her best efforts of genial air and fertile, humid soil to the perfect embellishment of this seaside foot-path, within sound of the ceaseless waves, but tranquil in its verdant recesses as though in the heat of a continent.

Vrangue Mill on the Couture Water Lane, detail showing the wheel in situ.

Another water-lane at the Couture, near the town, is more of a thoroughfare, and is more open to the sunlight, but it is a charming walk, none the less. [The detail above shows the water-wheel in situ.]