Dumaresq's survey of 1685

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Unloading a vessel beached close to Elizabeth Castle

One of the earliest comprehensive records of Jersey is the Survey of ye island of Jersey carried out by Philippe Dumaresq, Seigneur of Samares, and presented to King James II on his accession in 1685.

As well as a detailed map of the island, the survey includes detailed information on its harbours and landing places. This tends to conflict with the idea that St Helier had no harbour until the 18th century.

The eminent 20th century historian George Balleine wrote in his History of Jersey in 1950:

"It seems extraordinary, for a sea-faring community, that ships coming to St Helier could find no better shelter than a broken-down jetty at La Folie until the late 18th century. This was not for want of trying."

How broken down the jetty at La Folie was and how hard the island authorities had tried to provide better port facilities at St Helier is the issue behind today's controversy over just what St Helier had to offer the sea-faring community in the 17th and 18th centuries. Balleine's own references to the Dumaresq survey seem to suggest that there had, indeed, been better facilities than a single broken-down jetty.

"Dumaresq's Survey makes fascinating reading, as in his chapter on 'Bays, Roads, Harbours and Landing Places' he takes us round the Island, describing the various anchorages, landmarks, currents and shoals. He is uncomplimentary about accommodation in St Helier:
'About half a mile from the Town there was a pier designed and begun at the western point of the Town Hill, called Havre Neuf ... but found inconvenient and so laid aside, as since another at the south point of the said hill, called Havre des Pas was intended for greater vessels than those it is now fit for, which are the St Malo's trade, but its entrance is also so narrow and full of rocks that it discourages the bestowing any charges upon it'."

The recently constructed pier at St Aubin's Fort was undoubtedly serving as the island's main harbour when Dumaresq wrote his Survey, but he does mention that vessels would unload in summer close to Elizabeth Castle, where there was also a small, unfinished pier.

He also notes that there was shelter for boats next to the churchyard at St Helier (now far from the sea following successive land reclamation projects over the centuries):

'Which with the help of a brook that comes down there, might (with no great charges) be made fit to secure greater vessels, that would be a great conveniency to the commerce of that town, which is at great charges to bring their merchandise by land from St Aubin, which is above three miles, there being no harbour nearer for vessels of a considerable burthen.'
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