Execution and the gallows: les Fourques

Guernsey had many different locations for dealing out doom.

In the Library's Chepmell MS., transcribed by Edith Carey in her Scrapbook I, we are told that

the place of execution was on a piece of ground or largisse which belonged to the Crown. It is situated in a field over the Monnaie de Haut and far from the road which leads from the High Road leading from the Croix au Baillif to the Ponchez on the Câtel Road. This place is marked on old maps as 'Le Gibet.'

'Warburton,' writing in c. 1670, tells us that the sentence of death read thus: '[le prisonnier] est condamné d'aller, la corde au col, depuis le bout de la chausée, jusques à St André, le lieu de l'exécution, et là être pendu et etranglé jusques à ce que la mort s'ensuit' [p. 125.]

'In living memory, the gallows had been situated at the Friquet des Fourques in St Andrew, and the last to be executed there were Dennis Kelly and John Riley, of the late Major Bourne's White-Boys. Then, near the Hougue à la Perre, where Archibold was the first to be executed, 15 years later, in 1801.¹'

This postdates the King's birthday celebrations of 1794, however, and cannot be correct, as Pierre Tourgis (1731-1791), in his Notebook (Quarterly Review of the Guernsey Society, 1961, pp. 26 ff.), wrote in 1775 that on 'Friday, July 14, Nicolas Rougier, son of Jean, of the Forest, was hanged near La Hougue à la Père for the murder of Jean du Four son of Nicholas, at Le Bourg. Stabbed three times with a knife ...' ² In fact, The Guernsey Magazine of March 1892 confirms this: 'November 10th, 1781 [1718]: Two soldiers named respectively Reilly and Denis Quolly, and belonging to His Majesty's (George III) White Regiment Grenadier Company, did on the above date slay one Abraham Collenette and his brother Peter, also wife and child of one of the above, and demolished the furniture, for which offence they were hanged at St Andrew's, on the gallows, by a young Swede, about nineteen or twenty years of age, who was in prison for some offence, for which he merited some chastisement.'

Chepmell says 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.' (In Jersey, the place of execution was known as the Mont-ès-pendus, see below.) '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.' 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; for the bizarre probable actual reason for the epithet, see Kemp's rock, 1753. These executions on the beach, where the sea washed the land and therefore outside the island's boundaries, are similar to the arrangement for the execution of Richard Hygkins, who was convicted of piracy in 1566 and was ordered by the Royal Court to 'be pynioned by ye officer of justice and by him lead from this place to St Martin's Point nere ye full sea mark and there by ye same officer shall be hanged and strangled till thou be dead.'

Edith Carey notes that Robert Le Marchant had told her that his father, the Bailiff Robert Porret Le Marchant, Bailiff 1800-1810, had the gibbet 'moved to Belgrave Beach' because otherwise he could see the gallows from his house, 'La Chaumière,' and did not want to witness executions, particularly when he had ordered them himself. This accords with a Gazette de Guernesey report of 4 February 1854, but not with the other evidence. In fact, despite the claims made above, soldier Robert Wilson aka James Wood was hanged in 'Le Friquet du Gibet' at St Andrew's on June 3rd, 1808, for the notorious murder of an old lady called Olympe Mahy. The conclusion one might draw is that there had always been at least two usual places of execution, the assignation of them perhaps dependent upon some aspect of the crime or the criminal. See also Guernsey Folk Lore, p. 245 for more detail about the St Andrew's places of execution. Here, Edith Carey specifies two places: 'the field at St Andrew's where the executions took place was called Les Galères³ [near the Moulin de l'Echelle], and 'a small piece of land, just off the road which passes the Monnaie, and leads from the Bailiff's Cross Road to the Ecluse Corbin, which is known as the Friquet du Gibet.' 

A discussion of all the places in Guernsey known to have borne the epithet 'Les Fourches', or 'Fourques,' shortened from 'Les Fourches Patibulaires', or gibbet, is published in The Report and Trans. of the Soc. Guernesiaise 1961, p. 91. A field near the Friquet du Gibet (the King's gibbet) had the name Les Grandes Fourques (the Great Gibbet). The Hougue des Fourches is at the back of Saumarez Park; Seigneurs once relished their right to implement Haute Justice, whereby they could execute malefactors and seize their wordly goods, using their own seigneurial gibbets, the size of which depended on their status. There is also a Courtil du Gibet in St Saviour, in addition to the (disputed) Mont Gibel in St Peter Port.

According to The Guernsey Magazine of October 1888, based on contemporary newspaper reports, the execution of Marie Joseph François Béasse took place in 1830 'between the Mares Pirouin and Hougue-à-la-Perre, and as the tide was high, close to the wall;' Victor Hugo was later shown the gallows erected for the purpose, still then intact in the Royal Court stables.

The Chronique de Jersey, 8th September 1827: 'Last Thursday or Friday evening, someone toppled the three posts (piliers) on Hanged Man's Hill (the Mont-ès-pendus), the ignoble sight of which dishonoured the Town.' [From the French.]

¹ The case of Daniel Fell of the 67th regiment, who was hanged with another soldier called Davis in June 1810 for the brutal rape of Emilie Du Chemin, daughter of Helier, wife of Thomas Piesing, is outlined in the 2nd Report of the Commissioners &c of 1848, §4385, p. 158, but it is not made clear where they were executed. Eight Irish soldiers of the 67th were involved and tried for the crime. For the 67th in Guernsey see also Nicola Phillip's The Profligate Son, Oxford: OUP, 2013, a copy of which is available in the Library.

² See in the Greffe, Dépositions des Témoins de Nicolas Rougier, beg. 3 April 1775. Edith Carey quotes from the 'Blanche MS' that Rougier was executed at St Peter's in the Wood, on Sunday night, April 3 1775, and that his funeral sermon was preached by Isaac Vallet. [Folk Lore: Stories from the country people, Vol II.] More details concerning the events are given by T F Priaulx in 'La Contrée du Bourg, Forest,' Quarterly Review of the Guernsey Society, XXIII (3), Autumn 1967, pp. 68-9.

³ Edith may have been misdirected in this, as the belief that it was the duty of the miller of the Moulin de l'Echelle to provide the ladder, 'échelle,' for the gallows is now thought incorrect. The galères, or galleys, bad place or situation, is certainly an indicative name.