A review of the 1906 report on immigration

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This article by Mark Boleat was published in a slightly different form in the 2010 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise, including the 1906 report , which is in a separate Jerripedia article and an abridged version of the chapter of Michel Monteil’s L’Émigration Francaise vers Jersey 1850-1950 which is also to be found in full in a separate Jerripedia article.


In 1906 the report of a States Committee on immigration was published. The report is now available only in French in the library of the Société Jersiaise and in the Jersey Archive.

The report includes some statistics on births by origin of parents that are not otherwise available and gives a contemporary view of attitudes to immigration into, and emigration from, Jersey.

It is perhaps paradoxical that a report dealing with concerns about the French influence on Jersey is available only in French, but French was the language used in all States documents at the time. It is believed that an English version of the report did exist, but it has not been possible to trace a copy.

The report needs to be seen in context. This paper also seeks to give that context, drawing particularly on three studies –

  • Mark Boleat, Jersey’s Population – A History, to be published by the States of Jersey Statistics Unit, 2010 (also available on www.boleat.com).
  • Rose-Marie Crossan, Guernsey 1814-1914, The Boydell Press, 2007.
  • Michel Monteil, L’Émigration Francaise vers Jersey 1850-1950, Université de Provence, 2005. This book, available in French only, is one of the most important

studies on the history of Jersey. A specific chapter on the 1906 report has been translated by Translat Ltd. The consent of Michel Monteil in allowing this chapter to be included is gratefully acknowledged.

19th century migration

Jersey’s population trends are examined in detail in the author’s paper Jersey’s Population – A History (2010). This chapter summarises the key points.

In the 45 years between 1806 and 1851 the population increased by no less than 150%, an annual rate of over 2%. The 1820s and 1830s were periods of particularly rapid growth, around 25% in each decade.

This population growth both reflected and contributed to an economic boom, which resulted from a combination of circumstances, in particular Jersey’s geographical location and favoured tax position in relation to trade with the UK and its colonies.

The Atlantic cod trade was the foundation of the boom, bringing with it shipping and shipbuilding industries, and at times other industries also flourished, including oyster farming, construction and cider production.

In the 1830s and 1840s net immigration averaged 500 a year and, in addition, a significant proportion of children born in Jersey had parents one or both of whom were not born in the Island.

During this period, Jersey also welcomed its first tax exiles – predominantly retired military and colonial officers. This immigration was almost entirely from the UK. By 1841, 24% and, by 1851, 27% of the Jersey population had been born elsewhere in the British Isles, and of the Jersey-born population a small but growing proportion were the children of immigrants. And in addition, in 1851 5% of the Jersey population were classified as other, predominantly French.

The economic boom turned sour in the 1850s for a combination of reasons, particularly the decline in world trade. And so net immigration turned to net emigration.

From the peak of 57,020 in 1851 there was an 18% decline in the population on a comparable basis by 1921. In the 1860s, 1870s and 1890s net emigration averaged 400 a year. However, at the same time there was significant immigration from France.

The following table shows the census data.

French born population of Jersey

Year Population Born in France % French
1841 47,544 2,800 5.9
1851 57,020 2,017 3.5
1961 55,613 2,790 5.0
1871 56,627 4,092 7.2
1881 52,445 3,972 7.6
1891 54,518 5,576 10.2
1901 52,576 6,011 11.4
Source: census reports and author’s estimate for 1841.

These figures almost certainly understate the size of the French population, partly because migrant workers are less inclined to complete census returns, and partly because much of the migrant labour was seasonal, the season beginning after the census was taken. Consular estimates put the French population in the 1870s and 1880s at between 8,000 and 10,000.

The French workers were sought largely to serve Jersey’s new growth industry, new potatoes, an industry which was heavily seasonal in nature. The island could not provide the necessary labour itself and French labour was far more economical that British labour.

There was also a “push” factor from France – the relative poverty of Brittany and Normandy in relation not just to Jersey but also to the rest of France. This immigration was different from the previous immigration from the UK in that the workers spoke a different language, had a different religion, regarded themselves as part of a different community and also they were predominantly in the country parishes rather than in St Helier.

While immigration of “foreigners” was one factor causing concern in Jersey, another was emigration of locals. The economic downturn in the second half of the 19th century led to significant emigration of Jersey people to England and to a lesser extent the New World.

Between 1841 and 1921 the censuses for England and Wales included a figure for people born in the “Islands of the British Seas”, that is Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. An analysis of this data suggests that, by 1901, 12,000 Jersey-born people, nearly a quarter of all Jersey-born people at the time, were living in England.

By 1900 Jersey had ceased to be an insular community. 28% of the population had been born outside the Island, 60% of children being born in Jersey had parents not born in the Island, and of the total number of people born in Jersey, a quarter were living in England and perhaps a further 5% in Canada, Australia and other parts of the world.

These trends had a massive effect on the Island, and not surprisingly were a subject of political interest. They led to the creation of the special committee of the States that produced the 1906 report.

A French view

French migration to Jersey between 1850 and 1950 has been the subject of a detailed study by a French academic Michel Monteil (L'émigration francaise vers Jersey, 1850-1950, l'Université de Provence, 2005).

Monteil analyses both the economy of Jersey and its need for migrant labour, and the economic situation in Brittany and Normandy that led to emigration in search of work. Monteil contrasts the economic or voluntary migration in the 19th century with the previous migration of refugees.

Monteil suggests that the first workers from France arrived in the 1820s to work in the quarry at Ronez, and to help build the port of St Helier. However, this source of work declined rapidly in the 1840s leading to the significant decline in the French-born population by 1851.

The major immigration was in respect of agriculture. Monteil noted the growth of the new potato industry, exports increasing from 1,400 tonnes in 1810 to 17,670 tonnes in 1840, and in particular being able to get to the British market before competitors therefore commanding a premium price. The new potato season lasted just six weeks. Monteil commented –

“Jersey ne possédant pas de reserve de mains-d’ouvre suffisante pour l’arracharge des pommes de terres primeurs, la seule regulation de la population existant
depuis toujours sur l’ile étant l’émigration, il etait donc necessaire de faire appel à une force temporaire de travail venue de l’éxterieur. Ce que firent en effet
les agriculteurs de Jersey en faisant venir des travailleurs agricoles francais.”

In short, Jersey did not have a supply of workers able to harvest the new potato crop so French agricultural workers had to be imported.

Monteil notes that Jersey was British, and analyses why workers were sought from France rather than England. The answer was that French workers were cheaper, and also the new potato season coincided with the time of year in Brittany and Normandy of least agricultural activity.

Migration depends on conditions in both the host and the home state. Monteil explains the severe economic conditions in Brittany in particular in the second half of the 19th century. Between 1866 and 1946 more than 115,000 people left the Department of Côtes du Nord (now the Côtes d’Armor), emigration being particularly strong in 1872 and between 1911 and 1921. Economic migrants from the Côtes du Nord went either to Jersey, the French colonies, Canada or Paris.

Monteil notes that agriculture was backward in the Côtes du Nord, and he mentions the famine in 1847, when 20,000 people died. Pay rates in the Côtes d’Armor on average were half those in France generally.

The Department of Manche, including the Cotentin Peninsular, was in a similar position. Manche lost 155,000 inhabitants through emigration between the middle of the 19th century and the middle of the 20th century.

As an aside, Monteil describes what happened in the 1930s when Jersey responded to a request from the British Government to employ seasonal workers from England rather than France. The English workers were found to be unsatisfactory compared with the traditional workers from France.

Monteil’s important study deals in detail with how workers were recruited, their living conditions and their impact on society in Jersey.

The Guernsey experience

Guernsey’s economy in the 19th century has been comprehensively analysed by Rose- Marie Crossan Guernsey 1814-1914(The Boydell Press, 2007). which is the source for this section.

Guernsey’s population did not grow nearly as rapidly as Jersey’s in the first half of the 19th century, but unlike Jersey’s it did not decline at all in the second half of the century.

The following table shows the trends.

Population of Jersey and Guernsey, 1821 – 2001

Year Jersey Increase % Guernsey Increase % Jersey/Guernsey
1821 28,600 20,302 1.41
1831 36,582 27.9 24,349 19.9 1.50
1841 47,544 30.0 26,649 9.4 1.78
1851 57,020 19.9 29,757 11.7 1.92
1861 55,613 -2.5 29,804 0.2 1.87
1871 56,627 1.8 30,593 2.6 1.85
1881 52,445 -7.4 32,607 6.6 1.61
1891 54,518 4.0 35,243 8.1 1.55
1901 52,576 -3.6 40,446 14.8 1.30
Source: census reports.

Crossan estimated that between 1851 and 1861 there was the largest net emigration from Guernsey, as indeed there was from Jersey. As in Jersey there were concerns at the number of young men from Guernsey who were emigrating. The principal destinations seem to have been Australia, New Zealand, North America and the Cape of Good Hope part of South Africa.

Crossan did a detailed analysis, not only of net immigration and emigration, but also of gross immigration and emigration. The results usefully inform what the gross position in Jersey might be. The following table shows the position.

Gross migration flows by decade, Guernsey, 1841-2001

Period Immigrants Emigrants of which non-native of which native
1841-51 6,103 5,568 3,785 1,783
1851-61 4,913 7,018 4,591 2,427
1861-71 3,822 5,120 3,798 1,322
1871-81 4,283 4,680 3,261 1,419
1881-91 4,541 5,206 3,551 1,655
1891-1901 5,963 5,636 2,793 2,842

In the peak decade for immigration, 1841 to 1851, there were 6,103 immigrants and 5,568 emigrants, showing that the gross figures are much higher than the net figures. The table also shows that until 1891 to 1901, the vast majority of emigrants were non-natives.

Crossan attributes the continued population growth in the face of high net emigration to the fact that most immigrants were young people, in the age groups likely to become parents. So a significant proportion of the Guernsey-born population were born to non-Guernsey born parents.

Crossan notes that the number of people recorded in the Jersey census as being residents of Guernsey and adjacent islands fell between 1851 and 1901 from 1,080 to 750.However, for Guernsey the trend was in the opposite direction, 473 Jersey natives in 1851 and 1,766 in 1901. Crossan suggests that this trend is partly explained by the step migration of French people and their Island-born children to Guernsey via Jersey.

As in Jersey, French immigration began to rise in the 1870s. By 1901 the French community was four times the size it had been in 1841 and accounted for 5% of Guernsey’s population, as against 11% for Jersey.

The French migrants were employed in quarrying and farm work. Crossan notes that a significant proportion of the French immigrants to Guernsey cited Jersey as their last residence. She suggests that after working on the potato harvest in Jersey many then travelled to Guernsey to pick up a few more weeks work.

The 1906 report – key points

The 1906 report is of interest both because it includes statistics on births not otherwise available and because of the attitudes it demonstrates.

The key points in the report are –

  • Recognition that two-way migration is an essential part of the Jersey economy with immigration being necessary to counteract the effects of emigration:”there is no hope of halting the emigration of our young people, and thus curbing the flow of foreign immigrants”
  • The true “French population was much higher than the census figure of 6,286. In June there is “a purely foreign population of nearly 10,000, not counting their children born here”.
  • Births in the island had been studied to identify whether the parents were Jersey, English or foreign. The statistics are shown below-

Births in Jersey by place of birth of parents

Year Jersey English Foreign Total
1843 48.2% 44.3% 7.5% 1,579
1861 44.3% 45.1% 10.6% 1,558
1881 45.6% 39.8% 14.6% 1,351
1901 37.4% 31.7% 30.9% 1,137

They show that in 1901 only 37% of births were to Jersey parents, with 32% being to English parents and 31% being to foreign (almost entirely French) parents.

  • Recognition of the necessity of immigration: “We must have no hesitation in recognising foreign immigration as an inevitable element of our social and political existence. Our population will be more and more recruited from foreign immigrants and their descendants, and we will have to ensure that we absorb them, if possible, without altering the British character of our population.”
  • In the past immigrants have been assimilated into the island but “the island is beginning to be swamped, and assimilation is becoming more and more difficult.” This is largely attributed to “the ever growing number of immigrants of both sexes and the larger number of married couples of the same foreign nationality have made them more independent, more inclined to be self-sufficient, and less obliged to mix with their purely Jersey neighbours; above all since the establishment of schools run by foreign priests, who maintain foreign traditions and make it more difficult if not impossible to assimilate the children of foreigners.”
  • Concern about the characteristics of those leaving the island: “emigration is carrying off a large part of the best of our young people from the island, whether they are of Jersey, English or foreign origin, and that the place of these emigrants is being taken here by foreign immigrants who come here above all for the needs of our farming”.
  • A wish to distinguish between “good” and bad foreign workers: “Here we wish to support especially the system of voluntary registration of good foreign workers. That would supply us with the most effective means of distinguishing between the desirable foreign element and the undesirables, since only those who could produce proof of good character would register voluntarily, and this in itself would throw suspicion on those who were not registered, or rather those who could not fulfil the requirements for registration.” The report did not say how “proof of good character” would be demonstrated.
  • Concern about the failure of French immigrants to assimilate: “Immigrants and their children can live separate lives. They have been allowed to set up foreign religious associations, churches and schools managed by foreign priests, largely maintained by subsidies from foreign countries.........What is the remedy? It is hard to find one, but it would be useful to make sure that the elementary education of every child in Jersey of Jersey, English or foreign origin was received in an elementary school run by a person of British nationality.”

Impact of the 1906 report

Monteil usefully describes the impact of the 1906 report

”The members of the States were largely inspired by the conclusions of the committee’s report when they came to draft the new legislation”.

The first practical consequences were the proposal and voting of new conditions for the admission of non-British foreigners. The laws of 1909 restricted the conditions under which immigrants could enter the island; they were obliged to deposit a surety of 5 shillings on arrival, to prove their identity and good health, and were forbidden to disembark except at Gorey or St Helier.

These measures can be considered the most direct and visible results of the debate of the years 1906-07; they were the laws that earned the admiration of Pierre Galichet (‘’Le fermier de l’Ile de Jersey’’ Biblioteque de la Science Sociale) in 1912.

After describing in detail the regulations pronounced by the States of Jersey to contain and control immigration, he concluded: “thus regulated, temporary Breton immigration renders Jersey’s agriculture a service it could not do without, it is a benefit to the country”. But the element he appreciated the most in the controls as a whole was undoubtedly the repressive aspect:

From the same period dates the post of Aliens Officer. This senior official in charge of the question of immigration was appointed on the recommendation of the Lieut-Governor of the island and paid by the States of Jersey. His principal task was to co-ordinate the activity of the various bodies (chiefly the customs and the police) that controlled foreigners arriving on Jersey soil. And if they wished to settle definitively, it was he to whom they had to apply for the main administrative formalities.”

The laws relating to the arrival of foreigners were maintained after the War of 1914-18. Restrictions on the departure of French farm workers were essentially imposed by the French authorities.

Controls on foreigners coming from outside the British Isles were set up by the law of 1920 and amended in 1937, but in both cases these were no more than local applications of English laws.

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