The Lemprieres of Jersey
By David Bell
Anne Elizabeth Lemprierre, our first Lemprierre ancestor to New Zealand. She married Jean Aubin, another of our Jersey forefathers, at Ngaruawhahia, 28 August 1867
I have recently been researching the Lemprieres, one of our genealogical lines that goes back a very long way. Because this family was associated with royalty and became titled gentry with extensive land holdings, their genealogical records have been exceptionally well documented. The following two part article is a brief history of the Lempriere family of Jersey, an island across the English Channel off the coast of Normandy, France. To begin, it would be useful to have some background knowledge of Jersey and our family history connections to it. The following is a very shortened version of the history of Jersey. For the more devoted historian you can learn much more simply by googling History Jersey Island and checking out the wealth of information and documentation about this historic little place that had an abnormal influence on our part of the world. For example, New Jersey in New York was named after the island.
Location: As can be seen on the above map, the Channel Islands are a small archipelago of British Crown Dependencies consisting of Guernsey, Sark and Jersey, with Jersey being the largest of the three measuring just 8 kilometres long by 14.5 kilometres wide. The southern coast of England lies to the north with France to the south. It sits in the French end of the English Channel just 22 kilometres from the Cotentin Peninsula of Normandy and 161 Kilometres from the southern tip of Great Britain.
Prehistory: In prehistoric times when the sea levels were much lower Jersey and its neighbouring islands were part of mainland France. It became an island about 8,000 years ago and it is not known exactly when humans inhabited Jersey but the caves at La Cotte de Saint Brelade hold archaeological evidence that the area was used as a base by nomadic Neolithic (stone-aged) mammoth hunters. The Neolithic world (4,000 - 2,000 B.C.) had much of its water was locked up as ice making Jersey part of the general landscape over which woolly mammoths roamed in great herds.
Other discoveries of ancient artefacts over the years indicate that there was a constant stream of human activity and habitation from the stone-age to modern times, such as bronze-age (following the stone-age) implements and weapons, and iron-age (following the bronze-age) Celtic coins. Even the iron-age Romans visited the area during their incursions into the land of the Gauls, today's France. Christianity arrived via missionaries such as Saint Sampson of Dol and Saint Branwalater, later known as Brelade, but most of the credit ascribed to Saint Helier from Tongeren (Belgium today) who showed up sometime in the 6th Century (1500's).
Above: Aerial views of today’s Jersey Island
Even the fearsome Vikings came to the island around 800 A.D. to plunder tombs and burn down villages. They quietened down when France purchased a peace settlement with them. When the island no longer held any great attraction for them they departed. It was the Vikings who gave the island its current name.
In 933 A.D. the Duke of Normandy added the island to his personal domains. Later, in 1066, Duke William II of Normandy (William the Conqueror) defeated King Harold of England at Hastings and became the King of England. Besides ruling England, William also continued to administer his Normandy possessions as separate entities, Jersey being one of these under the administration of the Duchy of Normandy. Jersey, while very French in all aspects was, nevertheless, now the possession of William the Conqueror, the Norman-English king and as thus part of the New England.
Two hundred and seventy-four years later in 1204, Phillip II Augustus of France reclaimed the Duchy of Normandy from the English. Jersey and the other islands, however, were the personal property of King John of England. It was at this time the islands were given the ultimatum from Phillip to declare their allegiances to either France or England. This duty was the responsibility of the landed gentry. The Jersey folk threw in their lot with England while their neighbours on Guernsey went with France. This is why our Jersey ancestors are all
English citizens with very French names and backgrounds.
The year 1204 ushered in the feudal period (manor houses and land ownership by aristocrats) of Jersey's history. During these times jersey became an important strategic location in the Channel between France and England. It was a period of much warfare between France and England and the Channel Islands became a convenient launching pad when attacking each other’s territories. These wars became known as The Hundred Years War (1337- 1453), and The War of the Roses (1455). Jersey was retaken by France during the War of the Roses but was reclaimed by England seven years later.
There was a long period of peace for Jersey after the War of the Roses which allowed the islanders to seek out other ways to better their lives. The discovery of Newfoundland directly across the Atlantic on the coast of Canada offered them just such an opportunity. The Italian born John Cabot who moved to Bristol, England, sailed in the British ship, Matthew, to the coast of North America and into the waters of a bay that was so choked with cod it was nearly impossible to row to shore, the oars being obstructed by the sheer numbers of fish. He called the place Newfoundland and it soon became an immensely lucrative fishing industry for mother England. Many of the islanders took advantage of the situation and became fisherman-farmers by sailing in their fishing boats to Newfoundland in the early spring for the cod runs and returning early autumn to plow their farms on the estates. Some of Cabot's relatives must have made their way to Jersey because the Cabot name shows up on our family tree.
In 1642 the English became embroiled in a savage civil war between Cromwell's parliamentarian movement and the royalists which affected Jersey in the form of unrest among the islanders who supported the royalists and those in favour of the Parliamentarians.
Around 1680 the port of St Aubin (Aubin being another of our ancestral Jersey names) became the main township but was overtaken by St. Heliers in 1786. In the late 1700's Jersey again became the focus of attention when France invaded and occupied St Heliers. The British responded by sending troops who retook it in what became known as the Battle of Jersey. With Jersey back under English control, fresh trading with Newfoundland and Canada opened up new opportunities for the islanders. This was occasioned by the numerous new settlements across the Atlantic along the North American coast of Canada-Newfoundland. The islanders, being seafaring folk began a flourishing shipbuilding industry that became one of their mainstay trades.
Above: John Cabot claiming Newfoundland for England, 1497
Above: A replica of John Cabot's Ship, Matthew. Below: the town of Saint Aubin.
In 1833 the Jersey Agricultural and Horticultural Society was founded and one of their greatest contributions was the creation of the jersey dairy cow, famed for its cream-rich milk. It soon became a favourite on English estates and in the colonies, especially New Zealand where it became the dominant - if not only - breed on New Zealand dairy farms. I well remember our own small herd of that beautiful little cow on our family farm up Parihoro Road.
Above: The Jersey cow, noted for her gentle temperament and cream-rich milk
During the 1800's many English people immigrated to Jersey in search of a better life and by the 1880's it had a predominantly English citizenry of over 5,000. By 1900 it had exploded to 52,000 and English took over as the predominant language. The English settlers also introduced many new industries and the traditional island crafts such as knitting (from whence originated the woolen jersey), oyster fishing, and cider making dwindled.
twentieth Century also saw Jersey suffer from wars in other places such as World War One and World War Two. During WW I Jersey sent 3,000 men from its small population to fight in the trenches in France and a POW camp was built on the island to hold German prisoners. WW II was a different story altogether. When the Germans occupied France in 1940 the alarmed Lieutenant-Governor of Jersey asked the British War Office what was going to be done to protect the island from the Germans. To his dismay he was told that Jersey was to receive no protection at all and that all British military personnel and equipment would be removed. The islanders would have to evacuate the island or remain and take their chances with the German occupiers. British ships would be sent to evacuate anyone wishing to leave. It was a stressful and chaotic period for the islanders and 23,000 went to the town hall to register as per the British request for evacuation. As it turned out, many of them later decided to remain with their homes and most of the others were turned away from boarding the evacuation ships. The British obviously didn't bargain on so many wishing to leave. In the end only 6,500 of the 23,000 applicants actually evacuated. Understandably, it was a hard decision because they were allowed to take only what they had on them. They had to be willing to abandon their homes, pets, properties and animals with no guarantee of ever getting them back when the war was over. They were pretty much left to their own devices. Little wonder so many chose to stay and tough it out.
When the Germans arrived they thought the British were still there (Churchill had decided not to tell anyone of the British abandonment of Jersey) so they sent planes and bombed St Helier. When they realised there was no British military presence there, they promptly secured the island and placed severe restrictions on the people.
By 1941 nearly 12,000 German soldiers and personnel occupied Jersey. The occupiers took over the government and courts and put everyone under German rule. Any Jewish residents were particularly singled out for persecution.
As with all enemy occupations there was tension on Jersey between those who collaborated in one way or another with the Germans and those who resisted. Women who fraternised with the Germans were despised and shunned by the islanders and labelled Jerry-bags. Others, like plumbers, builders or electricians who were paid by the Germans in cash, privileges or extra rations, were likewise unpopular. Some even sought favour from the enemy by writing letters to the High Command informing on other islanders who were storing food, assisting escaped forced labourers or sympathising with the local Jews. The postal staff did their best to intercept these letters by steaming open as many as they could and destroying the offending ones. But, inevitably, some got through which very often led to severe punishments and executions. But, under the circumstances, most of the islanders put up some heroic resistance. Their actions may seem small but the punishments if caught were fearful. Acts of resistance were activities such as secretly painting yellow V-for victory signs on public buildings, teenagers stealing explosives and weapons from the German barracks, and listening to allied broadcasts on homemade radios that sprang up all over the place. Some islanders tried to escape by small boats to England but it was fraught with danger; nine people drowned, twenty-four were caught and imprisoned, and at least one was shot dead on the beach.
By late 1944 the people were in a state of starvation because the Germans took all the food for themselves. But by then the tide of war was turning against the Germans and morale among the troops was sinking lower every day. Nevertheless, they hung on in the hope that Germany's fortunes might change. They continued to seize all the food they could get saying it was not their duty to feed the islanders. Churchill also decided that the best way to rid the islands of the Germans was to blockade the island and starve them out; the locals would just have to bear it. In the end the Germans were compelled by the Geneva Convention to allow a shipment of Red Cross food parcels for the civilian population. None were given to the Germans who were also suffering from the lack of food. This caused their morale to crash to new lows. A few months later in May 1945, they surrendered unconditionally and the islanders celebrated for days. was not such a happy time for the collaborators who were attacked by the islanders and their houses painted with swastikas.
As a point of interest, Rosel, the manor house owned by our own Lempriere family, was commandeered by the Germans for one of their headquarters. More will be written about Rosel in part two of this article.
The post-war period saw tremendous progress and growth on Jersey with advances in public works and civic administration. Today it is a delightful little island with an idyllic climate and has become something of a tourist mecca. Anyone in our family travelling to France or England would be well advised to do a short detour and visit this small plot of land that holds so much importance in our family history.
End of Part One