Richard de Jersey's Book of Navigation

The Guernsey Galley, from Richard de Jersey's Book of Navigation in the Priaulx LIbrary Collection

'A thing of exquisite beauty and great interest.' One of the LIbrary's treasures, the award-winning Book of Navigation, handwritten and illustrated by Richard de Jersey in 1737.

This manuscript volume is a fine example of a navigation manual, compiled by a young man embarking upon his nautical career. Created in 1737, its provenance roots it firmly in the upper echelons of 18th-century Channel Islands society; Richard de Jersey, (1720-1782), married Madelaine Anne Sauvarie and had daughters who married into both the De Havilland and the Durand familes. He also had family connections with Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, (1769-1812), the hero of Upper Canada.

The content is significant, however, in that it presents a far broader appeal to maritime historians and those interested in navigation in the pre-John Harrison and H4 era. The volume’s 168 pages represent the first year of study by a midshipman and advance from simple geometrical propositions and their solutions to the techniques of calculation of the formulae for plane, traverse and Mercator’s sailing. The manuscript, written in a precise copperplate hand, is lavishly embellished with coloured pen and ink drawings of ships, compass roses, and projections. Even the mathematical tables are given decorative borders.

It is a manuscript truly worthy of being displayed to a national and international readership. Furthermore, the Priaulx Library is particularly motivated to promote the Book of Navigation, as it was, after all, compiled by the great-great grandfather of the fourth librarian of the Priaulx Library—Ralph Anthony Durand, (librarian 1927-1945).

The Book of Navigation was offered for sale at 'The House of Books' in the Bordage in December, 1948. It was in danger of being sold out of the island. The Guernsey Press quite rightly regarded it as a national treasure: 'the book is precious, the only one in existence, a thing of exquisite beauty and of great interest,' and ran an article about it on the 10th December 1948. Five days later they were able to report that the book had been bought by a local bibliophile, Mr E. W. Thornton, of Mayfield, Les Bourgs, St Andrews, and presented to the Priaulx Library. 'This is a public-spirited action on the part of Mr Thornton, and local students who will have the opportunity of examining the volume will feel grateful to him, particularly as he is a bibliophile himself.'

Detail from Richard de Jersey's Book of Navigation

The Press writer singled out for notice the detailed drawings of ships, including a pirate vessel being taken by a frigate, and particularly John Tupper's Guernsey Galley,¹ commander John Stephens, which often undertook service for the Governor of the island; and the Guernsey coat of arms, 'minus its familiar sprig of laurel, and with the leopards facing the opposite way to which they do today!' The British Library launched its exciting Turning the Pages initiative in 2007, with the goal of digitising many of its rarest and most valuable books to be viewed online. As part of the promotion, the competition Hidden Treasures Brought to Life looked for rare and valuable items from libraries across the British Isles, intending to digitise the best few and feature them on the British Library website.

The Priaulx Library entered the Book of Navigation into the England category, was one of 10 shortlisted entries out of 56 and, with their Highly Commended, finished in the top four.

Our award

A Hidden Treasures Brought to Life awards ceremony was held at the British Library on 4th September 2007, where four winning libraries, one each from England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland, were announced. The event was hosted by Rebecca Jones, Arts Correspondent on Radio 4’s Today programme and the speaker at the award ceremony was the Rt. Hon. Margaret Hodge, then Minister for Culture, Creative Industries & Tourism. Chief Librarian Amanda Bennett and Researcher Margaret Edwards attended the ceremony and were delighted to receive the award and a trophy on behalf of the Priaulx Library.

Amongst the winners was the highly regarded Dorset Federation of Women's Institutes War Record Book, 1939-1945, which demonstrates the quality and wide variety of the entries. The winning books from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland can be viewed online.

The Library also won a 50% discount towards the cost of setting up their own 'Turning the Pages' website, but at present the price remains prohibitive. The British Library Turning the Pages website has already attracted world-wide interest.

¹ See J. Le Pelley, 'Channel Island Seamen in the Wars of William III and Anne,' Transactions of the Société Guernesiaise, XIV (1946), pp. 35 ff.