From the Strangers' Guide to Guernsey and Jersey, Guernsey: Barbet, 1833, pp. 39 ff. 'But it will answer no good purpose for the shell collector in Herm, to employ the language of science, in his research for shells; he must employ popular terms, inasmuch as the good people of Herm are utterly ignorant of the phraseology of the conchologist, and are in the habit of calling things by such names as strike their senses. They have their silver, pink, purple, yellow, rose, and blue shells. There are fine subjects on what the inhabitants call the 'best shell banks,' but which the native collectors pass over, because they do not consider them as shells. For instance, at times here, are very rich corals and corallines, cast up by the action of the sea, only to be discovered by those who are judges of the nature of their research.'
The Channel Islands are very favourably situated for the study of conchology. These islands are considered as extremely insignificant. This opinion, however, is predicated on error; they are small, it is true; but if we turn our eyes from so contracted a medium, and view them with a proper reference to natural history, and to the department of conchology in particular, the small specks dilate, and the apparently contemptible spots assume a remarkable feature on the theatre of nature; and no places on the surface of the globe can be contemplated with more intense interest than these lovely islands; and it has lately been proved, by the unceasing research of an enlightened naturalist, throughout all parts of the Norman isles, that no portion of the globe, of the same extent, can vie with these islands in conchological treasures.
There is nothing more remarkable in the shells of the Channel Islands, than the diversity of their generic character, and the extreme diminutiveness of their forms; for the greater part, they may be considered but as miniatures of the shells of all other parts of the world. It is proper, however, here to observe, that the shells of Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney, and Serk, are neither extraordinary nor numerous; and it is the little islet of Herm alone, that the conchologist is gratified by shells, great in abundance, and various in character and colouring. This islet is nearly opposite, and but three miles from Guernsey.
During the summer, Herm is greatly frequented by visitors from Guernsey; and what is vulgarly called shell hunting is pursued with great ardour and avidity. The women and the children of nearly all the families on the island, gather up, and keep, small collections of shells, which they offer to visiters on very reasonable terms. But the true conchologist prefers shells of his own immediate collection and preparation, and, therefore, should proceed to the beach at low water, and, with a spade or other instrument, turn up the sand, and take only those shells as are of a living character. The insular dealers are content to collect them from high water mark, where, from exposure to the sun, and the frequent attrition of the flux and refluxing waves, the shells must, of necessity, be dead or mutilated, to their great deterioration. There are three portions of the beach, in the north-west and north-east part of the island, which are very favorable to shell collecting. In point of fact, it is only on the north-west and north-east department of the island, that shells are to be obtained in any degree of variety or abundance. But as every shell collector must know the propriety of taking a guide to the coast, it would be but a waste of time to say any thing further here on the subject of the locality in question. Every child in the island is competent to conduct the steps of a collector; the collector holding always in view, that low water is superior to high water mark, for the reasons above stated.
But it will answer no good purpose for the shell collector in Herm, to employ the language of science, in his research for shells; he must employ popular terms, inasmuch as the good people of Herm are utterly ignorant of the phraseology of the conchologist, and are in the habit of calling things by such names as strike their senses. They have their silver, pink, purple, yellow, rose, and blue shells. There are fine subjects on what the inhabitants call the 'best shell banks,' but which the native collectors pass over, because they do not consider them as shells. For instance, at times here, are very rich corals and corallines, cast up by the action of the sea, only to be discovered by those who are judges of the nature of their research.
There being but little accommodation in Herm, for the entertainment of strangers, the conchologist, geologist, or the visitor, should go well provided with provisions. There is but one public house in the island; it is kept by a worthy Englishman of the name of Cooper; but, as the island is destitute of any market, and the worthy host has but one spare bed, it is utterly impossible that he can supply strangers with very extensive accommodations. Of the extreme reasonableness of Mr. Cooper's charges, an opinion may be entertained, from the fact, that a shell collector, who had the run of the house for three days, paid only the small sum of seven shillings and sixpence.
The islet of Herm is not only rich in all subjects connected with the interests of conchologists, but is also abundant in such algae, or sea weed, as bear considerable relation to conchology; inasmuch as a great quantity of algae, or submarine plants, exhibit the finest specimens that can possibly be conceived of corals, corallines, and zoophytes, &c. &c. Though neither chalk, limestone, or marl, has hitherto been discovered in any of the channel islands, at least in any abundance, yet they are not destitute of a certain substitute, this is sea weed.
The different species of algae, are all called, in the islands, vraic. This marine vegetable grows luxuriantly on the rocks around the coasts; but what is of a peculiar interest to the Guernsey conchologist, is, that the collected algae abound in specimens, not only favourable to the curious collector, but to medical men, and the public at large. But, in general, so strong a prejudice exists against the utility of any extraneous production, peculiarly local, that the most pointed disregard is paid to the algae and sea weed in question. It is, however, much to the credit of a few native inhabitants of the channel islands, that the bounty of nature is not, at all times and places, ungratefully thrown away upon them. In Jersey, a spirituous oil is extracted from a certain sea weed, which is employed as a medicament for the cure of rheumatism and external wounds. In Alderney, a weed is collected, which is equal in virtue to the far famed islandic moss: and the algae of Serk afford a substitute for horse hair of the finest quality.
However, it is from the abundance of corals, corallines, and curious marine plants, in which the algae abound, that the submarine subjects of this nature are of interest to the conchologist; and whatever conchologist has a decided turn for the collection of submarine plants, can gratify such taste, by making proper researches throughout the islands.
In the Guernsey fish market are often very fine specimens of sea weed and marine plants, exhibited for sale. Mr. Weston, of the Esplanade, has a fine collection of corals and corallines. Charles F. Lukis, esq., of Grange Road, Guernsey, has made this department of natural history his particular study; as has also Mr. De Caisne, late president of the mechanic's institution. The latter gentleman is well skilled in the art of preparing shells, and stuffing birds and beasts.
In reference of what has been said respecting the collecting of shells in Herm, it is proper here to observe, that particular caution should be employed in having the shells prepared clean, and fit for preservation, as soon as possible. Many of the native collectors suffer the animal to die in the shell; this practice is attended with two evil consequences: the shell loses its lustre, and is sometimes tainted with a disagreeable smell. Living shells should be plunged into boiling water, for a few seconds; but, in such instances as putrid or dead shells, they should be carefully steeped in a chlorine liquid for half an hour, and then washed in soft water; this simple process will render them sweet, wholesome, and clean.
Ladies, and such conchologists as have no disposition or capacity to form collections of shells that are attended with inconvenience and trouble, can procure considerable quantities without removing out of Guernsey. On the beach of St. Sampson's, Bourdeaux and l'Ancresse bays, several varieties of shells can be obtained, in the course of a morning's promenade. Other collectors who wish to procure shells, both in abundance and variety, have only to frequent the arcade market of Guernsey, which is generally well supplied with local shells of every description, and at prices varying from a halfpenny to threepence per dozen. There are also, in the Pollet, and along the Glatney esplanade, three or four little shops, which have often a quantity of fine shells for sale; but the principle place of vending, is at Mr. Naftel's, in the High Street Arcade; his shop is generally supplied with the very best specimens, and he can execute an order to any extent, with considerable judgment and skill. In his establishment may be purchased some beautiful objects in shell work; such as boxes, baskets of flowers, and animals, executed after nature, and with an extraordinary facility, considering the inflexibility of the materials which enter into their composition and form; and it is much to the honor and character of many ladies of Guernsey, to say, that they are not only learned conchologists, but artistes in shell work, of infinite delicacy and skill. Many of the ladies in question employ the profits derived from this elegant pursuit, in charitable purposes.
In relation to the shells of Jersey, there is not much to be said.