Charles Poingdestre's account of the Battle of Jersey

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Charles Poingdestre's account of the Battle of Jersey

This is an extract from an article by Ralph Mollet which was first published in the 1936 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

Charles Poingdestre was baptised on 28 October 1741, at Saint Helier's Parish Church. He was the youngest son of Jean Poingdestre, son of Michel, of Mont au Pretre, St Helier, and cousin of Doctor Charles Poingdestre (son of Peter).

He was present at the Revolt of 1769. In 1772 on 5 October he was sworn as an Advocate of the Royal Court and often acted as Solicitor-General and Attorney-General.

He was Greffier of the Ecclesiastical Court from 1776 to 1815, also Greffier substitute of the Royal Court and of the States of Jersey of Jersey on several occasions, and Seneschal of the Court of the Fief de Rondiole. As an Officer of the Jersey Militia he was present at the Battle of Jersey. He died at the age of 74 years and was buried at St Helier on 4 December 1815.

Mr Poingdestre is described in the Commissioners' Report of 1860 as a man of great legal knowledge.

The Battle of Jersey

Charles Poingdestre was the Attorney in Jersey of Capt Charles de Carteret, Seigneur de la Trinite, who resided in Southampton, and in his letters to Mr de Carteret he gives accounts of the Battle of Jersey, translated into English as follows:

15 January 1781 I am also favoured on the same occasion by your letter of Wednesday last relating to the surprise by the enemy on our native country. I cannot detail exactly all that took place, because there are so many tales without foundation, the correct information being always sent on to General Headquarters. The Gazette will inform us more exactly. In awaiting it I will tell you faithfully what I know as well as from my friends.

On the night of Christmas Day a fire was seen by one of the Guards at Trinity on the Coast between Rozel and La Coupe which was replied to by another on the French coast, which lasted for quite a long time. The next day an embarkation took place at Granville consisting of 1,200 men of four different voluntary Corps with four Field Guns and two mortars under the command of the Baron de Rulecourt (who was the second in command in the attack of the 1 May 1779).

They remained for some time at sea and in shelter near the Isle of Chausey without being perceived by anyone, or without our knowledge. They set sail to be here on the first of the month, but the weather was against them and they did not arrive here until the night of the 5th, where they disembarked 5 to 600 men near La Rocque Point admist the rocks, a good distance from any Guard House, and that was about eleven o'clock to midnight.

Apparently the others were unable to land then. It is also stated that they lost two boats in the landing, in which were their gunners and drummers. A man named Pierre Journeaux, from La Rocque, who had fled the Island some years ago for having killed a man with a blow from his fist, is the one who pilotted them in this district, which all believed to be inaccessible for troops.

March through interior

Those who had landed marched through the interior of the country in order to avoid the coast where the Guard Houses are situated. They arrived at day break in the Town of Saint Helier, and took possession of it. They killed in passing Pierre Arrive, Sen, who was at his door, and wounded many others with their swords and bayonets.

They killed the sentry and took possession of the Guard at the Market Place (Royal Square), with the exception of one soldier who was fortunate to escape, and went to inform the Highlanders at their barracks in the Hospital.

They entered in many houses by bursting open the doors, notably Mr Gosset's house. They then seized the Governor, Mr Corbet, at his house, Mr the Solicitor-General, Mr La Cloche, the Constable, Captain Charleton and many others, whom they bound and tied together to make sure of them, leading them all to the Court House, which they called their "Maison de Ville," where this Baron called himself General, although he was only a Colonel, and made them understand that he had 2,500 men on the island, that he had taken all the Glasgow Regiment prisoners, and that he had two battalions quite close to the Town.

He gave orders to one of his officers to go and fetch them. He began to draw up a capitulation by which the possession of the castles, forces and fortifications of the Island would be delivered to him on behalf of the King of France, and that the inhabitants would be safeguarded in the exercise of their religion, and in the possession of their goods, privileges, liberties and freedom which they claimed, etc, etc.

The Governor having found fault with some of the articles, the Baron told him that he feared that it was only to gain time, and placing his watch on the table he declared that if it was not signed in half an hour, he would commence hostilities. This capitulation was finally concluded. It was signed by the Governor and the Fort Major, Mr Hogg. It was presented to the Solicitor-General, who excused himself by saying that he was their prisoner and was willing to place himself at their disposal as they thought fit, but he would not sign it.

They complimented him, seeing that he had such goed sense. They presented it also to the Constable, whom they called the Police Judge. He asked to be excused on account of his youth, and that he had no knowledge of affairs. Finally no others wished to sign the Capitulation. All this took time and troops were able to assemble on Gallows Hill. Captain Mulcaster, who had withdrawn to Elizabeth Castle, sent an express to ask for reinforcements, and a message that he was ready to defend the Garrison to the last drop of his blood. A Company of the Militia was at once dispatched there.

Guns fired

Shortly afterwards the French troops left the Town, and marched towards the fortress, with the Governor at their head, in order to give them possession by virtue of the Capitulation, when they fired two guns on them, the first as a signal to retire, and the next aimed at them, felling a man who was a Lieutenant in the Grenadiers, whom I saw carried off the field, having a leg blown off by the shot. These troops halted, and a bearer of a flag of truce was sent towards the Garrison. He presented the Capitulation to Captain. Mulcaster, who took it and put it in his pocket, pretending that he did not understand French, but declared his resolution that he would defend the Castle. These troops were obliged to retire to the Town, from which they had started, by this unexpected resistance. They then seized some of the artillery of the Parish of Saint Helier, which was lodged in the store at the Church, and placed them ill the entrances of the Market Place.

Peirson's death

There were 32 men of the enemy killed in the Market Place, and a quantity of wounded, of which some have died of their wounds. The brave Major Peirson was killed at the head of his victorious troops. He was interred in a lead coffin on Wednesday, the 10th instant, in our Church, under the Governor's Pew, in a brick vault specially made for the purpose, with all the honours of war due to his valour.

You will find at the end of my letter the inscription engraved on the breast plate which was placed on his coffin. Mr Thomas Lempriere was wounded in the shoulder by a musket shot which passed through it. He is not in danger. Mr Jacques Amice Lempriere had the crown of his hat and the top of his wig blown off and the top of his head wounded, but he is recovering. These are the only persons of note who suffered that I have heard of. Many of the Regulars and the Militia were killed and wounded: at present I cannot say how many.

Flag of truce

On the arrival of Major Peirson on the Hill (Westmount), with his Regiment and some of the Militia Regiments, he resolved to attack the enemy in the Town (or rather he was persuaded to do so, because truly all the Officers found themselves stranded and did not know how to act without orders from their superior Officer, who was a prisoner).

He sent his Light Infantry and those of the 78th by the Coie, to take possession of the Town Hill, which the enemy had neglected to seize. Several detachments of the Militia followed them. As soon as they appeared on this height, the troops on Gallows Hill (Westmount) were ordered to descend to the Parade, where a flag of truce, accompanied by the Governor, came towards the Major, requesting him not to give orders to fire, as the Island had capitulated.

The Major instead made him understand in his reply to the Governor that he had been forced to sign this Capitulation while he was a prisoner; that he had not been consulted, and that he was free to do as he liked, giving him ten minutes to rejoin the French General, after which he would meet them.

On this reply from the Major, our troops gave three cheers, advancing in spite of the display of cannon which was to resist them at the entrances of the Market Place (Royal Square). Passing under the Prison (Charing Cross), they divided, the 78th taking Broad Street with a piece of artillery, and the 95th, King Street, together with the Militia who followed, thus commencing the battle, which, with the aid of those from the Town Hill, was decided in our favour in a quarter of an hour, by the activity and good order of the courageous troops.

The enemy dispersed themselves, hiding in many of the houses around the Market Place (Royal Square), from which they were captured. The Baron was mortally wounded. He died of his wounds the same day at 11 o'clock and was buried the next day with all the honours of war and was borne by his own officers. The Chevalier Ferrand had the bones of his leg broken. He may have to have his leg amputated.

Among the French Officers was a Turk, Second in Command, named Emir Gouard, who, they say, is a near relative of the Great Mogul. He was armed with a weapon which when stuck into the body, disembowels the person.

They had promised him, and he hoped to be furnished with a fine harem in this country. When he realised that the combat was lost, he feigned being mortally wounded crouching on the ground and striking himself as if he was dying. This ruse saved his life.

Fight at Grouville

There was also a fight just as active at Grouville. The enemy had left a strong guard occupying a bulwark where they had entrenched themselves. It was Mr Le Couteur, the Minister, who prevailed on the Officers of the Glasgow Regt to attack, for they said they could not undertake it without orders. However, they relented, and took their Grenadiers and the Light Infantry Company of the East Regt, and took them by assault.

They had five Grenadiers killed on the spot and many wounded. Mr Le Couteur took his guns, together with the others, and prevented the enemy from embarking. I do not know what were the enemy's losses in this part of the country, but in the evening when I was on guard, they brought me in from Grouville 40 prisoners, whom they placed under my guard in St Helier's Church, where they were confined.

These, with the others, amounted to 363 prisoners, without counting the Officers who, I believe, numbered about 20, who were kept under guard in the room on the Court House, and the others at Mr Lerrier's house. The wounded were taken to the Hospital. They have all been taken to England except the wounded. Many approve and others condemn the conduct of our Governor in this attack, because he had been notified (before being surprised) that the enemy were in the town.

Town would have burned

My firm opinion is that those who were lead to sign the Terms of Capitulation believed that the whole town would have been burnt, the enemy having brought a quantity of combustibles which they had prepared in advance for this purpose. It is lucky that they had not used them.

Among the papers on the French General was found a plan of operations which throws suspicion on Mr Ed Millais. He was, in consequence, arrested during the night, and committed to the Castle, where he has been detained. They are searching his papers in order to discover if he has taken any part in this treason. They have also taken good care to put Pierre Journeaux in a secure place.

We are greatly indebted to Colonel d' Auvergne and to the Dorset Militia Grenadiers for their good intention in hastening to our help. Happily, we did not need their assistance. Our General has not yet arrived. We are anxious as to his fate. Perhaps he has remained to disembark the troops who were on their way to help us under his command. We are impatient to receive news from him.

Alarm sounded

20 February I781 Being requested by you to be informed where we were when the Alarm was sounded on 6 January, and what we did on that occasion, here is an account.

On the morning before we had arisen, Mr de Carteret's servant came and told us that the Alarm was being sounded, and that the enemy had landed. We arose in great haste. I left at 7.40, crossing fields to shorten my road and to arrive at my post quickly. I found on Mont Cantel, near the Town Mills, a crowd of men and women who assured me that the enemy were in possession of the town, that the Governor and many of the inhabitants had been either killed or taken prisoner.

I thought at first of going to the Saint Saviour's Division, but perceiving the Highlanders on Gallow's Hill I resolved to join them. On my way I met Mr Jean Le Geyt, Captain of the Artillery, with whom I exchanged ideas. He returned a little way with me. I told him it was better for him to go to his post. He thought so too, and went off.

I returned to Mr de Carteret's house to inform him how matters were in case he had not left. I found him on his horse at his entrance. After telling him the information I had obtained, he left to join his Regiment and I to go to the Hill, where I found about half a dozen people who were seeking refuge and other coming there, but not in uniform.

Some time afterwards I saw Mr Valpy, the Minister (Rector of St. Mary) on the Hill. I asked him if he knew the whereabouts of the NW Regt commanded by Mr de Carteret. He replied that he had not heard of them. I spoke to Capt Lumsdale, who was in command, to hurry someone to this Regiment to notify them to join him. He told me to do it.

I requested Mr Valpy to go; and this he did at once. He found them on their way to Saint Brelade where some one had told them to go. They immediately took the road to town, which they were unable to reach until after the Battle. But Mr de Carteret, on his arrival at St John in the morning, took the opportunity to inform the Governor of Guernsey, by means of a boat which was just leaving, of our situation, in a letter which he wrote.

Descent from hill

When Major Peirson arrived with his Regiment on the Hill, he resolved to attack the enemy in the town. Capt Aaron de Ste Croix and I placed ourselves at the head of those of the Town Regiment who had found themselves on the Hill in order to lead them.

We followed the St Lawrence Battalion, who were following the Highlanders. We crossed the sands to arrive at the Prison by way of Les Sablons, where the 95th and the other Militiamen had arrived across Les Mielles (the Parade). Capt de Ste Croix and I divided our small detachment in two. I remained with the left half, which remained behind the Highlanders, who had become the first with the St Lawrence Battalion, who filed up to Broad Street, when I arrived.

There the 95th commenced to pass under the Prison, and proceeded up the Rue Derriere (King Street). I was obliged to remain until they had all passed as well as the Militia which followed them, in order not to cause disorder or confusion.

Hardly had they passed when a considerable crowd came under the prison, which separated us. I did all I could to rally them, without success. I came again to the Prison, and told Mr La Cloche what had happened. He replied that he believed me, because he had also tried to do the same on the other side without success.

After exchanging a few words with him we heard cheering. We walked up Broad Street together and entered the Court House, where I was ordered to examine the baggage of those prisoners who had taken refuge there and of those who were brought in, relieving them of their munitions on their way from this place to the Church of St. Helier, where we locked them up, and where some time afterwards the Greffier, who was no longer required in the Militia and had remained on the Hill with my brother, who was disabled, came to see the pnsoners.

Guard the prisoners

After that was finished I went up to the Town Hill, where the Town Regiment was drawn up, and where we remained until the evening, during which time the other part of the troops proceeded towards the place of disembarkment to attack in that part those who had remained there, or rather those that had returned from the town to assist the disembarkment of the remainder of the enemy, because we did not know then that they had been got rid of by the Grenadiers of the Glasgow Regiment and the Light Infantry of the East Regt.

In the evening I was appointed with 50 men to guard the prisoners, where I passed the night, from which I was not relieved until the next day in the afternoon. I then went to the country to rest and relax, being very tired.

The next morning, which was the Monday, I returned to town whence I was sent at once into the country with a party of people to search in the fields and in the houses and outhouses for some Frenchmen who, it was said, had fled there and had been seen, but there was no one to be found. This story is precisely what happened with regard to your cousins and myself.

Fires continually seen

Perhaps you did not know that Mr Corbet has gone to England, where he had been summoned, and that Col Reid, of the 95th Regt, has been appointed Commander-in-Chief and Lieut-Governor during the absence of his Chief.

The Colonel ought to apply for a reinforcement of 500 men, because it is reported that a considerable force is being gathered in this neighbourhood. Fires are continually seen on our coasts and on the French coasts, without our being able to discover the authors.

The States have forbidden the inhabitants to go to cut vraic at the Ecrehous, where it is believed that a French Officer has been posted in order to obtain information. This Order will, it is hoped, stop any communication with the enemy, and may be able to lead to the discovery of the traitors. God help us that they will soon be found out.

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