Henry Turner and the Dreyfus Affair

1st June 2015
Henry Turner 1899, Dreyfus Scrapbook. Priaulx Library Collection

'Turner may have been a showman, a lover of publicity and maybe an eccentric in some respects. At the same time he had courage, generosity, a sense of kindness and a remorseless hatred for what he considered to be injustice. He was comparatively wealthy, and much of his riches was spent on the less fortunate. We could do with such a man in Guernsey today.' [Guernsey Evening Press, March 9, 1957.]

We do not meet here this evening, Mr Chairman, to celebrate the liberation of an innocent man and the triumph of Justice only, but also to rejoice that the innocent and persecuted victim of unscrupulous plots is free and that his freedom is due to the grand English nation's protest at the Hyde Park Demonstration (cheers.)

Alfred Dreyfus was the victim of a notorious miscarriage of justice, which caused great embarrassment to the government of France, and which took many years to reach a conclusion. The Priaulx Library has in its collection a rather fancy scrapbook, which has come to it at some point via the Guille-Alles Library, entitled  'DREYFUS. Letters, Correspondance, &c., from Captain & Mrs Dreyfus To Mr Henry Turner, Guernsey.'

Harry Turner is shown above, in a photograph that takes pride of place in the album, in an attitude that is meant to reflect his manner of addressing the crowd at the Hyde Park Dreyfus demonstration of September 17, 1899, or is from the congratulatory dinner that followed it; the extract above, from his speech, is stuck on below his picture on the photograph. The way the album is put together reflects Henry's profession, that of bookbinder; a photograph by Dumaresq of the original album shows it with a different cover. Our album is full of thank-you letters from people who have been lent it for their inspection.

Mr Henry Turner, that well-known resident of the sister-island of Guernsey, happening to be in Jersey yesterday has kindly shown us a carefully compiled and artistically arranged album about the Dreyfus case. This is enriched by letters from the victim and Mme Dreyfus, photographs and cards, also interesting communications from other notabilities to Mr Turner, mementoes of his speeches at the Dreyfus demonstration in Hyde Park and the dinner subsequently held at the Hotel Cecil to celebrate the liberation of the Captain, &c &c. [Jersey Times, 29(?) March, 1900.]

Henry attended Dreyfus' trial in Rennes in 1899, and published an account of it in the Guernsey Advertiser of September 9, 1899, and another article on September 16, concerning the verdict on 'the Dreyfus tragi-comedy.' He announces at the end that he has been invited to attend a public meeting in Hyde Park, 

to pass resolutions on the Dreyfus case. The English people are always ready to side with justice and to help the oppressed and unjustly persecuted.

On September 23 came his account of the demonstration. He was allotted No 1 platform and was requested to second the following resolution:

That this meeting expresses its abhorrence of men who have sullied the honour of the uniform they wear in their long and desperate fight with truth and innocence, congratulates Zola, Picquart, Labori, Demange, and their supporters for the splendid resistance they have made to miltary and sectarian fanaticism, and appeal to the Government of the Republic to act according to the best traditions of free and generous France by releasing and rehabilitating Captain Dreyfus before it is too late.

Henry says he was presented to the crowd 'in very flattering terms:'

[...] 'The other speakers were generally guided in their remarks by what they had read in the newspapers, but Mr Turner, who went to Rennes expressly to be present at the Court-martial, had been an eyewitness of what happened there; he had mixed with people from whom he had received valuable information and had been able to form an opinion of the farce of the trial. The Committee of Demonstration was indebted to him for having journeyed 195 miles by sea and land to be one with them in sympathy with Captain Dreyfus and his family, and the people of the Channel Islands were to be congratulated to have one of them coming so prominently forward for the cause of Truth and Justice.'

Three days after his return to Guernsey, Henry sent Mme Dreyfus a congratulatory address, with 392 Guernsey signatures. Later Henry is invited to a banquet in London to celebrate Dreyfus' liberation. Here he explains that Mme Dreyfus has received the address, and had sent him the following letter in response:

To Mr Henry Turner,
7, Mill Street, Guernsey.

SIR. Since I left Rennes I have not had the pleasure of seeing Me Labori [Dreyfus' lawyer.] The address which you forwarded me is still in his hands, and he will hand it to me when I go back to Paris.

I sincerely thank you for your testimony of sympathy, as well as for your speech at the Hyde Park Demonstration, and wish all success to the banquet which is to take place, and on that eventful evening my mind will be occupied thinking of the honour that the people of England are conferring on my dear husband.

I beg you to receive the assurance of my gratefulness and of my thanks to you and the Guernsey persons who signed the address.

Believe my best feelings of thankfulness, L DREYFUS.
Carpentras, Vauclure, Oct. 4th 1899.

The original letter is in the scrapbook; the card below is part of the collection of correspondance between Turner and the Dreyfus family, which continued (on Henry's part at least) for some time; he commiserated with them on the death of Zola, for example.

Carte d'Alfred Dreyfus, Priaulx Library Collection

Henry's scrapbook was presented to the Guille-Allès Library on 4 January 1909, a fortnight after his death on 20 December 1908. He includes in it this description of himself, with a cartoon based on the photograph above, presumably from the comic magazine Ally Sloper's Journal:

The gentleman we introduce to our readers this week is one of the best known men in Guernsey where he carries on the business of a general commission agent and debt collector. This by no means represents his sole qualifications to distinction, for he really can do a bit of everything. Medals from learned Societies of all kinds surround his life: in fact, he lives in a singularly Diploma-tic and Certificate-ish atmosphere. Photography is a hobby of Henry's, and his work has been acknowledged by the Queen, the Prince of Wales, and other members of the Royal Family. 

Mr Henry Turner, who is well known in Guernsey circles and, we believe, has a connection with that useful paper, The Guernsey Advertiser, has favoured us with a good cabinet portrait of himself which we have added to our museum. Mr Turner has taken a great interest in the deeds of heroism for which many Guernsey men are celebrated, and for these deeds he has often secured the attention of the Royal Humane Society. Public-spirited men like Mr Turner do much good in their circles, more than they think. ['Bric-à-Brac,' The Collector's Manual, November 1899.]

Letters talk of his 'endeavours to ameliorate the lot of the poor and the afflicted,' 'the terrible abuse of overcrowding,' and the 'sympathy' he 'always showed towards the cause of Justice.' Henry was born around 1846, to Mary Vivian Richards and Charles Turner, in St Peter Port, although no record can be found. He had two brothers, Charles and John Richards, and lived with his mother for a large part of his adult life. By 1871 he had married Eliza Foard, the widow of Henry Kaines; he is by then a bookbinder, and his widowed mother a dressmaker. He and his wife bought a cottage. His young stepson, Henry Kaines, gained a second name, becoming known as Henry Dreyfus Kaines. There are no prizes for guessing whose idea that was!

Mr H Turner, from Smith Street came there afterwards [Mill Street], assuming, in the course of time, the rôle of private detective while continuing his bookbinding. Though known as a good bookbinder, he rose to fame as a detective through his successful recovery of a travelling trunk lost on the journey by a passenger to the islands. For a long time, all efforts to trace the 'missing links,' and other things, had failed. At last the owner, or a friend, appealed to Mr Turner. Nothing daunted, this gentleman went off to England, returning with the box in less than three weeks' time, I think. [G W J L Hugo, Guernsey as it used to be, 1933, pp. 37-8.]

Henry's 'work in the cause of Truth and Justice' may been inspired by another more famous campaigning Guernsey resident. The Library has an edition, also once in the Guille-Allès Library, of La Légende des siècles, Vol. 1, dating from 1859, with an inscription by Victor Hugo on the flyleaf, dedicated to Henry Turner, 'témoignage de ma satisfaction à mon excellent relieur Turner, 'as token of my satisfaction, to my excellent bookbinder Turner;' it is beautifully bound and inscribed on the front cover in large gold lettering 'Presented to Mr H Turner by Victor Hugo,' with a photograph of the great man bound in. That Henry may have been an ardent fan of Hugo is perhaps evidenced by this answer he gave during his speech in Hyde Park, when asked about the Paris Exhibition:

Well, my friend, I have been one of the intending exhibitors at the great Paris show, and will reply to your question. I wrote to the Commissioner informing him of my intention of exhibiting two large frames of reminiscences of the great French poet, Victor Hugo. I received a very courteous answer, regretting that my application came too late as all spaces had been allotted. [The Guernsey Advertiser, September 23, 1899.]

Basil C de Guérin reported in July 1944, that Henry Redman, then aged 73, told him

one of the world's greatest men, Victor Hugo, was to be seen frequently in the streets of the town in those days. One morning the young Henry was returning from school for dinner when, passing down Mill Street, he saw the French poet emerging from the premises of Harry Turner, an eccentric, who conducted a printing works and who later became famous as being the first man sent by parcel post to Sark. Suddenly a loud noise attracted the attention of everyone towards Fountain Street, and poet, printer and schoolboy joined in the rush to where, in a crockery shop owned by Mr Varnham, a bull, on its way to the abattoir, had broken loose and was disporting itself in the time-honoured way. It was only by dint of much persuasion and the sacrificing of a large amount of stock, including an outsize jug used for window display, that the bull was ejected and the crowd, among whom Hugo had been one of the foremost to watch the fun, dispersed.

In fact, Henry Turner was responsible for binding the vast majority of Victor Hugo's manuscripts, which Hugo decided in 1875 to donate to France's Bibliothèque Nationale and which formed the foundation of their magnificent modern manuscript collection. The bindings are in vellum and all in the same very distinctive medievalist style, with red and black hand-lettering.

Any further information about Harry Turner would be very welcome. He is known in Guernsey for posting himself to Sark in 1905 (at the official Post Office Guide rate of 6d a mile.) He is described elsewhere putting up flags for soldier Roland Mourant's return from South Africa to visit his parents, with as usual rather too much enthusiasm. Hugo, in Guernsey as it used to be (see above), p. 62, mentions him again, this time for reviving the Clameur de Haro, which he raised in protest at some alterations in Mill Street he feared would harm his premises. His intervention was successful, 'and matters were arranged to Mr Turner's satisfaction.'¹ Harry Turner also went to the trouble of tracking down the owner of Jean Breton's famous medal awarded for merit while a pilot on HMS Crescent, purchasing it, and presenting it as a gift to the Guille-Allès Library. He also gifted it a 'lock of Victor Hugo's hair,' in a small case, dated 1878. Since Hugo held on to his shorn hair like a limpet, it may perhaps be viewed as somewhat suspect; here (for Facebook members) is a picture of it, now in the Candie Museum collection.

The Scrapbook contains congratulatory letters from Guernsey (Lady Carey, P E Robilliard &c), Jersey, and England; his own newspaper articles concerning the case; reports of the trial and the Hyde Park demonstration; material concerning the celebratory dinner of the Dreyfus Committee held in London at the Hotel Cecil, with its very French menu of dishes named especially for the protagonists, such as 'Turbot, Sauce Labori,' and 'Bombe Zola,' and speeches from Henry and a well-known visitor to Guernsey, Mrs Ormiston Chant; other cuttings concerning Dreyfus and his release and rehabilitation; and a collection of 'Correspondence and Visiting Cards from Capt. and Mrs Dreyfus,' not, alas, including the Christmas card he received from them.

¹ 'Clameur de Haro' was proclaimed yesterday morning in Guernsey by Mr H Turner, of 7, Mill Street, one of the principal rate-payers of that town. Kneeling on one knee, Mr Turner repeated three times, 'Haro, Haro, O mon Prince, on me fait tort.' This took place outside the polling-booth, as the proclaimer was requested not to declare the clameur within the Town Hall. The dispute is as to the legality or otherwise of an election held yesterday. Mr Turner was vociferously cheered after the proceeding. [Star 22 November 1900.]

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