25th May 1900

Jersey’s British and French populations riot

The Jersey riots were national news. In 1900, Britain and several members of its Empire, including New Zealand, Australia and Canada, were fighting the Second Boer War against the Orange Free State and volunteers for the South African Republic. 

Although no foreign nation officially sent troops to fight against the British, citizens of various European countries, including France, had travelled to Africa to support the African cause. This caused friction between the British and French populations, who were living side by side in Jersey. There had long been tension between France and Britain as their political and military interests had frequently been at odds, and this had manifested on both a national and local scale.

The Guardian reported that “French women threw water over a crowd of people who were engaged in demonstrations… whereupon the windows in the houses of the French quarter of St Helier were smashed.”

Residents defend themselves

Residents in the French quarter put up barricades to protect themselves by keeping out the British, but these were quickly overcome and the military pickets had to move in to protect the French houses. The pickets ended up charging, with bayonets fixed, at a crowd that had assembled to demonstrate, as a result of which the windows of the mayor’s office suffered the same fate as that of the windows of the French quarter houses.

A further 70 special constables were sworn in by the Royal Court and the French quarter was put out of bounds to the British. The following day, the first of the 30-plus members of the public who had been arrested appeared in court.

Trial and punishment

They were dealt with swiftly, and most received short prison sentences of a few days. Some were forced to pay damages. Among them was Mme Cousinard, who had thrown the dirty water from her window, which had sparked the disturbance, before exacerbating matters by throwing the can from which she’d poured it. The can landed on a policeman’s head. Witnesses, including a Salvation Army captain, testified that there had been no disturbance at all until then and the court likely treated with some skepticism her claim that she had been kicked 60 times and 10,000 stones had been thrown at her house. She was jailed for four days.

Although the British would have approved of this, the court’s other decisions weren’t popular, and when the British inmates were released a few days later, a large crowd gathered outside the prison to cheer them.


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