Pierre Silvieux, 170515th April 2015
'How Alderney lost its minister in 1705.' From A N Le Cheminant's A Christmas Box of Channel Gems, in the Library's Channel Islands' Pamphlets XIV (Goss.-LeFebvre), pp. 29 ff. This 1700 law remained unrepealed and continued to have repercussions into the 20th century!
When the land at the Blaye in Alderney was still common land, that is to say, before it was shared out, the inhabitants had the right to graze their sheep there. There were a lot of sheep then, and they were very productive. Now, it seems that when our story begins, about 1705, there were more dogs than the island needed, and it was quite common for them to worry and attack the sheep. The excellent idea of levying a tax on dogs, as we do today on animals that are relatively useless, had not yet occurred to the inhabitants.
So the States of Alderney thought they had better take action. On the 17th November 1705, they passed an ordonnance which decreed that 'all dogs, big or small, must be destroyed within 24 hours, except for two of the Governor's and the bitch belonging to Monsieur Le Juge.' It seems to have been a policy of genocide against dogs. It was total extermination, with almost immediate effect; the order was both peremptory and irrevocable.
We don't know what strange things may have happened as a result of this order. There must have been protests, and people must have tried to save at least a few of the race proscribed by Alderney States.
But the real trouble came from the exceptions made to the order. They exempted the Governor's dogs and the Judge's bitch, but they probably should have added 'the Minister's bitch' to the list. Because, dear reader, the Reverend Pierre Silvieux, then minister of the parish of Alderney, had a beloved bitch, and he naturally wanted to save her; and Madame his wife wanted to even more than he did. It was his wife, indeed, who was to play the main part in the little drama that is about to unfold, regarding her bitch.
When he came back from the States meeting (at which the minister was only an observer, not having a vote), M. Silvieux was quieter than usual (he was taciturn anyway, especially in his wife's company). You would have thought him ill, or worse, in a bad mood. He was avoiding his wife, and she, for her part, was trying to work out what was the matter with him. When at last they had a chance to speak, she asked him: 'What is the matter, Silvieux, mon ami?' 'Mon Dieu! Those people!' he replied. 'Tell me quick, what is it?' The minister could barely get the words out, but gradually understanding dawned on his wife. Of course! They had dared not to exempt the minister's dog, which was to suffer the death sentence the next day. She was livid. 'This is unbelievable!' she cried, 'And you let them pass this dreadful law! You never change! They want to kill my dog! If only there was some way to fight this.' So madame threw her fit and the minister did not respond, well aware that prudence was better than bravery at that moment. But he was thinking about what to do: the dog was in the house, tied up securely; she would soon be taken for a walk, but not leave the garden: except that went wrong, and the dog somehow, whether by design or accident, escaped, and ran off across the fields. The constables did not seem to have noticed. They were pleasant and cautious men, and felt they should respect the minister's dog. Perhaps they thought that although the letter of the law meant she should be destroyed, the spirit that led to the other exceptions meant that she should really be saved too. Anyway, nobody said anything about the dog's having to be put down, and the inhabitants of the rectory stopped worrying about it.
Then this peace and quiet was interrupted by something unexpected and upsetting, and this time, there was no way to fix it .... They were having their family dinner at about 6 o'clock, as people did then, when Madame's bitch came back from one of her indiscreet expeditions into the country. But dear oh dear! Her muzzle was covered in blood. The maid who let her in noticed it first, and thought she had been hurt, but on closer inspection she saw that the blood was on the dog's lips and teeth. There was no doubt about it: the wretched animal had committed a crime – she had just killed a sheep. Bad girl! And this wasn't the first time: her victims were stacking up.
How could they tell Monsieur and Madame Silvieux what had happened? How could they risk giving them a bout of indigestion, possibly fatal, by bringing them this shocking and horrible news? Madame knew her dog was back, and wondered where she had got to; why wasn't her dear little dog at dinner with her, why was she not here for her usual treat! But fie on Madame's feelings and the maid's reservations, the stark facts were there with their inevitable consequence. Anyway, the next morning, one of the constables knocked quietly at the rectory door and asked to see the minister. Feebly, even timidly (back then Alderney men were scaredy-cats) he told them that the murder was punishable by death, and that the dog was under an irrevocable sentence of death. The method of despatch remained to be ascertained, and who was to be the poor dog's executioner: and soon after the dog was buried in a corner of the garden. At that moment the parish of Alderney lost its minister; the post became vacant. The old chronicle tells us, 'Madame Silvieux was an extemely proud French woman, who was so upset that she continually nagged her husband until he agreed to leave the island; which he did.'
And so, because of the death of a dog, the Governor had to find a new minister. They do not tell us if the mourning at the departure of the minister was as great as that in the rectory over the dog, but as it happens, the curacy was not filled for two years, which Mme Silvieux may have felt was a judgment from heaven, well deserved if it was. However that may be, we though it worthwhile to tell the bizarre but true story of how Alderney lost its minister in 1705, and let readers draw their own conclusions. [From the French.]
BY A MODERN ALDERNEYMAN
From Lt-Col. Campbell's Papers, in the Library, Ordinance regarding keeping of Bitches:
'Aux Chefs Plaids d'après Pâques tenus le 3ème Avril 1907. 'L'Ordonnance de 1698 qui défend de garder des Chiennes dans L'Ile est renouvellée et sont les Connetables autorisées à veiller à ce que la dite Ordonnance soit mise à execution.' Extrait des Registres de cette Ile de Serk. Ph. Carré, Greffier.
A letter to Campbell, who was Seneschal of Sark, one of a long series concerning the importation of a Pomeranian bitch to Sark:
10 April 1920
I beg to acknowledge, with thanks, your letter of the 8th instant, with copy of Sark Ordinance of 1698, which I return herewith, as requested.
With regard to the dog in question, I have had several communications from Mr Dennis by telephone, and I have pointed out to him, that I have nothing whatever to do with Sark laws and customs, and that the only way that I come into the matter at all, is that by an Order in Council, I am made responsible for preventing any dog from coming in, or leaving the islands of Guernsey, Sark, Herm and Jethou, without my licence, to safeguard both the Bailiwick, and the mainland, from any infection of rabies being brought in, or allowed to pass out.
As regards this particular dog, after obtaining a certificate from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in England, I sent Mr Dennis a licence to import the dog into the Bailiwick and you will remember that I informed you that I had done so, and that the dog was perfectly clear of disease, when I heard that Mr Dennis was going to Sark. This in no way prevents you from excluding the dog from your Island, if you so desire; but as an outsider, it strikes me that to keep an Ordinance in existence, passed in 1698, unless there is some very good reason for it, especially in the case of a temporary visitor, is hardly keeping pace with the time in which we now live.
J de Jersey, Supervisor.
See Basil C de Guérin, Scrapbook J in the Library, The Tail-wagger Magazine, September, 1950, concerning a female dog named Jip which was threatened with deportation from Sark under this law and put down.