Kemp's rock

John Kemp, John Kemp, so bad they hanged him twice! The strange case of John Kemp, and the mystery as to why the rock was named after him is solved.

It has long been unclear as to why the rock at the Heronnière, near the Tunnel, is named Kemp Rock. In his memoirs,¹ written in the 1860s, the Reverend Chepmell said that in his lifetime all executions took place on the beach near the Kemp Rock; to the north of this rock the stream draining Le Marais met the sea 'and is therefore called La Tonnelle aux Pendus' ('Hanged Man's Drain,' 'tonnelle' meaning a drain in Guernsey French—now known simply as 'the Tunnel'.). 'Kemp[t] was, I believe, the name of the criminal executed there, but this was before my time.' He had seen four or five people executed on the beach at the foot of the rock, and that on the top of the rock 'may yet be seen some masonry where the gibbet was placed in former days"' (See The King's Birthday, 1794, for more about the location of executions.)

Victor Coysh attributed the name of the Kemp rock to Sir James Kempt, the Master-General of the Ordnance from 1830-4, after whom the only true Martello tower in Jersey is named; he speculated that as the hangings seem to have taken place on the small sandy beach there, the masonry seen by Chepmell might have been a relic of something erected on Kempt's orders.

The truth, is, in fact, rather more peculiar. This is a translation from the French of proceedings in the Royal Court² in 1753:

19 May 1753, before Thomas Le Marchant, Esq., Lt.-Bailiff, in the presence of Messrs Jean De Havilland, James De Beauvoir, William Le Marchant, Laurens Fiott, Daniel De Lisle, Samuel Bonamy, Jean Andros, Jean Ozanne, and Jean Guille, Jurats.

Following what Messrs Josias Le Marchant and Charles Andros, jnr., deputy Prevôt, have just reported to the Court, that they visited Castle Cornet today to fetch the prisoner John Kemp, who had been accused of having murdered Judith Le Normand, wife of David Jehan of St Sampson's, and that, on having gone into the prison, they found Kemp dead—he had hung himself by his garters—the Court has decided that an inquest should be held into his death.

The members of the Court today visited the Castle to conduct the inquest into Kemp's death. After they had had two doctors examine his body, they interrogated a dozen reliable witnesses and concluded that Kemp had quite clearly taken his own life, having hanged himself the previous night with his garters in the prison in which he was being kept following his arraignment on the aforementioned murder charge.

The Court listened to the opinions of the King's Officers and decided that he was guilty of the crime of self-murder and that he was, therefore, according to the law, duly convicted of having committed the murder of which he was accused; and, as punishment for these crimes, the Court ordered that Kemp's body should, the following Monday, between the hour of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., be handed over to the High Executioner to be dragged on a wooden rack³ through the streets with a noose around its neck, and taken to the rock known as the Heronnière, near the Mont Orgeuil Tonnelle (otherwise known as Hanged Man's Drain), there to be hanged in chains, and left hanging from a gibbet which is to be erected upon the said rock for this purpose. The Prevôt and his Deputies are enjoined with this task; and all Kemp's possessions and wordly goods are forfeit to His Majesty, or to the Seigneurs of those Fiefs to which he may have belonged.

¹ MS in the Library (in Edith Carey Scrapbook).

² Used as an example of the law in such cases, in the Second Report of the Royal Commissioners &c., of 1848.

³ See Le Geyt, P, [....] sur la constitution &c, III p. 431 (written in 1696), 'The French transport the body of a suicide on a claye [rack], face down, and then hang it by the feet and then bury it seven feet from a gibbet. If it is a woman, however, they do not hang it upside down.'