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The Channel Islands

° Alderney ° Guernsey ° Jersey ° Sark

English Channel

Map of Alderney, Guernsey, Jersey, Sark.
Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark.

Guernsey, like Jersey, is a Crown Dependency of the United Kingdom, meaning that these islands are not a part of the UK, but share some of its government and administrative functions.

Both Guernsey and Jersey have their own mini-parliaments (known as "The States") and this gives them more practical independence of Westminster than, say, Scotland or Wales, although the UK government is responsible for the island's defence and foreign relationships.

November 1, 1894, Railway Press

It is a fact to be noted that among the increasing number of Englishmen who are fortunate enough to have an annual holiday, the charm of a trip by water gains more adherents year by year, so that it is not surprising to find that the Channel Islands obtain an augmented number of visitors each season. Of late years the railway companies serving the Islands have been engaged in keen competition for the traffic, from which the travelling public have reaped considerable advantage in the shape of accelerated services, superior accommodation, and cheaper fares.

For many years the L. & S.W.R. had the cream of the traffic, and, from the first, ran its own paddle boats from and to Southampton six days a week, the sea passage of 160 miles to Jersey taking from 14 to 17 hours, according to the weather experienced en voyage. The advantage of the Weymouth route was the shorter sea passage, the distance to Jersey being 112 miles, and the time taken about 3 or 4 hours less; but against this advantage was the excessively long time spent on the railway journey of 168 miles from London to Weymouth, and the inconvenience and expense of a conveyance from the railway, station to the harbour. This service was performed six days a week in each direction during the summer, three times weekly in the autumn and spring, and but twice a week during the winter months. The Weymouth boats were also paddle-wheel steamers, the property of the Weymouth and Channel Islands Steamship Company, and when first put on were superior to the L. & S.W.R. steamers; but the railway company having the necessary funds, provided larger and quicker boats to meet the growing traffic, and so left the Weymouth Company far behind both as regards speed and accommodation.

The Weymouth Company's boats were originally built of wood, but when repairs were necessary, iron was used, so that after many years the original fabric disappeared, and the boats became iron steamships. The G.W.R. never took any means to develop the traffic as long as the steamers belonged to an independent company. The last train used to leave Paddington at 5.45 p.m., and in the summer the boat left Weymouth at 11.15 p.m., soon after the train arrived; but the difficulty and danger of entering Guernsey Harbour except in daylight caused the departing of the steamer from Weymouth to be delayed till 2.15 a.m. during the whiter, so that the journey was still further lengthened; while, for the same reasons the return voyage was made in the morning from the Islands, although some seasons during the long summer days the Weymouth Company altered their departure till 5 p.m. from Jersey, and the boats were still able to clear from Guernsey before darkness set in; but this meant an uncomfortable stay in Weymouth for several hours in the early morning, while by the usual day boats it was always necessary to spend a night there.

Castle Cornet, Guernsey.

During the latter years of its existence the steamboat company only managed to struggle on by the help afforded it by the railway company, and matters were hastened to a conclusion by the loss of the "Brighton," which struck on the rocks off Guernsey in the uncertain light of a winter's morning. This accident reduced the fleet to two ships, and for the next summer's traffic the G.W.B. assisted with a third boat, the "Great Western," one of their New Milford boats engaged in the Irish service. This was seven years ago, and the L. & S.W. was introducing faster and larger screw boats in place of the paddle steamers, the quickest of which made the journey from Southampton in the same time as the opposition steamers from Weymouth.

We visited Jersey that year, leaving there at 10 a.m. We arrived at Weymouth about 9 p.m., and, of course, had to spend the night there. The next day at Swindon we saw a fellow-passenger, who was travelling third-class, give the officials at that junction a lesson as to the rights of the third-class passengers. This passenger left Weymouth about 3.30 p.m., arrived at Swindon about 6.15 this was in the days before third-class passengers were conveyed by all trains of the G.W. and the next up train from Swindon was the West of England express at 6.42 p.m., due at Paddington at 8.10. By the G. W. official time-table third-class passengers from Weymouth were due at Paddington at 9.40 p.m., while the next third-class train from Swindon left at 8.20, and arrived in London at 10.20. The officials told him he must wait for this train, but he saw a third-class coach being added to the rear of the express, and he took his seat in it. The ticket-collector wanted him to come out, saying "The coach was slipped at Didcot, and it was only for the convenience of passengers travelling to Birmingham and the Midlands generally," but the gentleman refused to leave, and the stationmaster was fetched. This official fumed, threatened, and was about to summon help to carry out the ejectment, when the knowing traveller produced the G.W.B. official time book, showing he was due at Paddington at 9.40. This took the stationmaster by surprise, and after considering, he said "All right; change from this slip-coach at Didcot," and he gave instructions that Weymouth line passengers were in future to be allowed to travel by the ship to Didcot, and so arrived there before the 5.40 from Swindon, which used to shunt on the way to allow the express to pass. So the knowing passenger triumphed, and arrived in London by the 9.40 p.m.

After the Brighton struck on the rocks off Guernsey and foundered, the Aquila and Cygnus, the two boats of the Weymouth Company, were fitted with gear and dials indicating the number of revolutions performed by the paddles, so that the officers might know something of the ship's position when ordinary observations were impossible, and so prevent a similar mishap.

Llandudno, Wales.

When the G. took over the steamers, these two old boats were sold, and one now sails between Plymouth and the Channel Islands, while the other is used for pleasure excursions at Llandudno, Wales. At first the G. W. provided three large screw steamers, the Gazelle, Lynx, and Antelope, built a passenger station on the landing-stage at Weymouth, and started a special boat-express from Paddington at 9.15 p.m. running direct to the steamer, which left at 2.20 a.m.

The sea passage was accelerated, Guernsey being reached in about 5 hours, and including the wait to unload cargo there, Jersey in about 7-1/2 hours. By this means passengers were landed in Jersey in about 12-1/2 hours, or in less time than by the London and South-Western route. But swifter boats were again provided by that company, performing the sea-trip to Jersey in about 9-1/2 hours, or the whole journey under 12 hours.

The L. & S. W. Lydia was in 1890 the fastest ship in existence. Upon trial her quickest run was at the rate of 24-1/2 statute miles per hour, and the average of our trips 22-1/2 miles an hour. But the G. W. could not allow of being second in the race, and a new twin-screw ship, the Ibex, was built, which has, on several occasions, covered the 82-1/4 miles between Guernsey and Weymouth in 3-1/2 hours, or an average speed of 23-1/2 miles an hour for the whole voyage. Guernsey was reached in 9-1/2 hours, and Jersey in 11 hours from London by the G.W., the L. & S.W. times being about 9 hours and 11-1/2 respectively; and so matters remained for two or three years. But this summer the competition has been carried still further, in that excursion fares have been introduced, and the services improved, the G.W. taking the lead in both particulars . . .We do not know if another year will witness this competition between the rival railways carried still further, or whether the present excellent services will be continued next year, or withdrawn (as they will be for the winter); but both-lines lose heavily by the steamboat traffic -the L. & S.W., it is stated, as much as 23,000 a year, but the travelling public certainly cannot complain and the accommodation provided.


The Victorians, concerned about the threat of invasion from France, set about building the thirteen forts to protect the harbour at Alderney. When the French built a breakwater at Cherbourg in 1842, the British Government decided that a "Harbour of Refuge" to protect the British fleet was needed. In 1847 work began on the Alderney breakwater and thousands of tons of granite had to be transported from the east of the island and from Portland. Irish workers escaping from poverty at home arrived in their hundreds to work on the project. By 1864 at the western breakwater at 4,827 feet long was complete, but had cost an astonishing 1.5 million. However within a year, 1,780 feet was abandoned to the seas following heavy gales and as relations with the French had improved, the eastern arm was not continued with. By 1871 all maintenance had ceased but as the old harbour was silting up, (allegedly because of the breakwater), the island appealed to the UK for financial assistance for its upkeep in 1872 and this was granted in 1874. This arrangement remained in place until the 1980s when Guernsey agreed to its upkeep in lieu of Defence payments. The debate about how to keep the structure in tact goes on today. After the Battle of Waterloo, peace prevailed and the British Garrison was largely withdrawn. The island fell upon hard times.


December 19, 1846, Nautical Standard and Steam Navigation Gazette

Fortification of Guernsey and a Naval Port at Guernsey.

Seashore at Guernsey, 1883

Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Late in the summer of 1883, Renoir spent around a month in St. Peter Port on the island of Guernsey, admiring the rocks, cliffs and stunning view of Moulin Huet bay. He painted the starts of fifteen pictures during his stay, most of which were finished later in his Paris studio.

The fortifications of Guernsey are to be materially strengthened; and a late number of the Guernsey Star says that the contemplated works will cost 1,000,000. If Guernsey will require 1,000,000 or to protect it from an enemy, Jersey will require l,000,000 or more for the same object.

If Guernsey is but a few miles from Cherbourg, Jersey is but a few miles from St. Malo. Jersey has a great number of available bays to favour an invasion than Guernsey has. The Bay of St. Owen, in Jersey, is immediately opposite St. Malo, in France, at but a few miles distance. The Bay of Granville, in the former, is immediately opposite to Granville in the latter, at about a similar distance; and a little further to the westward is St. Aubin's Bay, nearer to the capital of the island than either of the former, and without the range of the guns of Elizabeth Castle. St. Aubin itself has some batteries , and the other bays are more or less protected by martello towers; but none of these are sufficient to repel an invading army, particularly if a landing were effected by night. The Jersey Chronique says: "We can assure our readers that Government is about to construct a naval port in St. Catherine's Bay. Two engineers, who arrived on Thursday last, are already employed in taking measures for the construction of this port, as well as for the fortifications that will be erected there, and soon we may expect to see fifteen hundred convicts arrive in this part of the island to assist in the works of the naval port.


This British crown dependency and island is the largest and southernmost of the Channel Islands, lying in the Bay of Mont St. Michel south of England s coast and 12 miles (19 km) west of the Cotentin peninsula of France. Its capital, St. Helier, is 100 miles south of Weymouth, England. In the 12th century Norman landowners dominated the island, which was divided into three units for the collection of the king-duke’s revenue.

Elizabeth Castle, Jersey, Channel Islands, United Kingdom.
Elizabeth Castle, Jersey, Channel Islands
United Kingdom
Elizabeth Castle was built (1551-90) on a rocky inlet in St. Aubin's Bay. This castle was the home of Sir Walter Raleigh while he was Governor of Jersey from 1600 to 1603. It also served as the refuge of Lord Clarendon, who there began his History of the Rebellion. The castle is accessed from the sea; on foot at low tide or by boat when seas are higher.
Philip Craven.

Separation from Normandy in 1204 made reorganization necessary. Jersey kept its Norman law and local customs but, with the other islands, was administered for the king by a warden and sometimes by a lord. By the end of the 15th century, Jersey had its own captain, later called governor, an office abolished in 1854 when the duties devolved upon a lieutenant governor, who still performs them. In 1617 it was ruled that justice and civil affairs were affairs of the bailiff. The Royal Court, as it came to be called, took the same form as Guernsey’s; the surviving court still reveals its medieval origin. The States of Jersey, or States Assembly, separated from the Royal Court in 1771 and assumed the court’s residual powers of legislation. Parish deputies were first elected in 1857. In the 17th century the Carterets, seigneurs of St. Ouen, dominated the island, holding it for the king from 1643 to 1651. In the 18th and 19th centuries the island was torn by feuds Magots versus Charlots, Laurels versus Roses but it also prospered from the Newfoundland fisheries, privateering, and smuggling and, later, from cattle, and potatoes.


It is thought that St. Magloire went to Sark in 550 A.D. and from there friars were despatched to the other islands. In 933 A.D., the island became part of the Duchy of Normandy and over the ensuing centuries the tiny island switched many times between English and French Crown rule.

In 1549, French troops seized the uninhabited island and built several forts before seemingly losing interest and eventually departing.

Until 2008 was the last truly feudal state in Europe as the laws, particularly relating to inheritance have changed little since 1565.

The first Seigneur colonized the island in 1565 with Queen Elizabeth's blessing and granted 40 islanders tenements. The Seigneur holds the island on lease from the Crown in perpetuity. Even to this day, the island is split up into 40 leaseholds but the population stands at around 550.

In the 17th century, Sark accumulated wealth through privateering (legalized piracy) and in 1834, silver was discovered on the island.

By 1841, the population had grown to 790. However the mine, turned into a financial disaster after becoming flooded and the Seigneur was forced to sell his fief to Mrs T. G. Collings, a direct ancestor of the present Seigneur.

December 26, 1900, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California

Unique Legislative Body of One of the Channel Islands.

Sark, Channel Islands, English Channel.
La Seigneurie Garden, Sark
Richardson Rolf.

The other day I attended the opening of the, as yet, unreformed Parliament of Sark, says a writer in the London Daily Mail. There is but one House, and it is called the Chefs Plaids. So far so good, for I believe every sane political refiner agrees that the model state should nave one legislative body only.

But, alas, this single House is exclusively a House of landlords, exclusively a House of hereditary legislators. The people of the island are not allowed to elect their representatives. Land, alone is represented; not wealth, nor intellect, nor the toiling masses, nor the submerged tenth. And the land is represented in a peculiar way.

When the island, then uninhabited, was granted in 1665 by Queen Elizabeth to Heller de Carteret, Lord of St. Ouen in Jersey, it was stipulated that he should colonize it and should grant parts of it to forty of hls retainers or followers as copyholders or customary tenants under him. It was also stipulated that these tenants, though they might alienate their holdings upon payment to the Lord of a thirteenth of the value, might on no account subdivide them. Thus there are still in the island the original, forty estates, and the holder of each estate occupies with regard to the seigneur, or lord, almost exactly the same position as a "leude" or a baron occupied in the old feudal days of Normandy with regard to the sovereign.

Sark: The World's Smallest Harbor

Sark, the world's smallest harbor.

The existing Parliament of Sark is, in effect, the "assemblee des leudes et barons" of the island. The law of strict primogeniture obtains, and there would be today forty hereditary members of the Chefs Plaids but for two circumstances. One is that if a tenant happens to be a woman she does not sit, though she may vote in the House by proxy. The other is that, in the course of years, certain of the members, by inheritance or purchase, have acquired more than one estate. There are now, therefore, not more than thirty actual sitting members of the Chefs Plaids. They represent if they can be said to represent a population of some 570 souls and an extent of about 1275 acres.

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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