Unvoluntary escapes, 1719

19th January 2017

Daniel Girard, Castle Porter, that is, prison warden/jailkeeper, lost his prisoner, George Pellew, who had been committed to his care by Jean Dobrée. Pellew owed Dobrée money. The Royal Court, under the auspices of the Juge-Délegué, William Le Marchant, had ruled on 8 March 1719 that Daniel Girard should not be required in any way to compensate Dobrée. Dobrée appealed to the Privy Council, who requested a report on precedents to the Royal Court. The following letter is what the Royal Court produced in reply; on reading it, the Privy Councillors confirmed the Royal Court's initial judgment and dismissed the appeal.

Reponce de la Cour au sujet de Jugement entre Monsieur Jean Dobrée & le Portier¹

In Obedience to the Order of the Right Honble the Lords of the Committee for the affairs of Guernezey and Jersey of the 23rd of February last from a sentence delivered to this Royal Court some months ago, concerning an appeal of Mr John Dobrée from a sentence of the said Court of the 8th of March 1719 in favour of Daniel Girard, Keeper of the prison of this island, we beg leave to return the answer following.

By the sentence the Court hath dismist the action entered by Mr Dobrée against Girard, for satisfaction of a debt due to him from one Mr Pellew, a prisoner in said Gaol, whom (as said Dobrée sets forth) Girard hath suffered to escape.

Whereupon their Lordships have been pleased to order that before they report their opinion to his Majesty, the Royal Court return to the Committee an account in writing what the custom of this Island is in cases where Unvoluntary Escapes of prisoners have been made from Gaol. And whether the plaintiff can have any, and what redress against the Gaoler, and what punishment the Court can inflict.

The Court thereupon having ordered the Deputy of His Majesty’s clerk or Greffier to make a diligent search for precedents in order to give an answer as positive and as sure as was possible on these difficulties.

We must therefore with great submission inform your Lordships that the precedents in these cases are so various one from the other, that it is hardly possible to fix any positive maxim or custom thereupon; the rather because these records are for the most part very short and doubtfull, not mentioning clearly the particular facts, not the proofs and evidences produced in the same.

We humbly conceive that the Gaoler by the very nature of his Office, as well as by the express laws of the Island is responsible for the Prisoners committed to his charge, and obliged to produce any such Prisoners so committed, and in case the Commitment was for a debt, he is generally speaking and of course obliged to pay the debt by way of Damages. But his we conceive to be in such voluntary Escapes where the Gaoler hath or may be presumed in law, by the Circumstances of the fact, to have any ways been privy, or consenting to, or conniv’d in such Escapes, either by fraud or by any negligences or slackness in his duty. But on the other side, if by the Circumstances of the Escape, it appears that force and violence hath been used, as Breaking of Doors and Walls, Tearing of Locks and Bolts, or other such violent breach of Prisons, such Circumstances being legally proved, we humbly apprehend, that such proof will by the Custom of the Island, be admitted and will avail in discharge and Justification of the Gaoler, either in the whole or in part, according to the nature and fullness of the evidences of such circumstances.

To this we beg leave to add a matter of very great concern and anguish to all the Inhabitants of the Island, and on which they and the Gaolers have made several complaints, and which is commonly made use of by Gaolers as an argument for their justification, which is that there is no prison in the Island, the prison being in the Garrison of Castle-Cornet, where Soldiers have been and may be easily tempted and induced to provide and convey to the prisoners Instruments for breaking the prison and facilitating their Escapes which will scarce be possible for the Gaoler to prevent, having no command of the Soldiers, nor in his power to get such helps as may be necessary, by doubling his guards, having no lodging for such men whom he might engage for that purpose.

As to any punishment being inflicted on Gaolers in case of Unvoluntary Escapes, we know none fixed by any Customs: tho’ sometimes thy have been suspended, sometimes depos’d and discharged from their Offices, sometimes obliged to pay the parties the sums for which they were committed to their custody according to the nature of the cases. All which is most humbly submitted to your Lordships’ Great Wisdom.

May it please your Lordships,

Your Lordships’ most humble and obedient servant, the Judge Delegate, Guernezey. 

¹ From the MSS volume Chefs Plaids &c, q.v.