3rd February 1891

Jersey’s wrists are slapped by the Home Office

The British government had ordered that a census be taken, and Jersey wasn’t happy. It was going to cost the island £250 to compile the required information, and it felt it should be compensated. 

The mainland thought differently: “Her Majesty’s Government desires strongly to urge upon [the States] how undesirable it is for the inhabitants of Jersey to distinguish themselves from the rest of the Empire, and from the example of most modern civilised States, in declining to allow the Census to be taken in the Island,” wrote Godfrey Lushington, the Home Secretary, in a letter to the States’ president. Lushington pointed out that the other Channel Islands seemingly had no problem complying with the requirement to conduct and finance the censuses of their own residents themselves.

Jersey shouldn’t pay

In the debate that followed the reading of the letter in the States chamber, members assured each other that they had never refused to conduct a census – simply that they didn’t believe one was required for the island’s own needs and that, if the British government wanted to run one, it could do so at its own cost. The States would assist, naturally, but shouldn’t be forced to foot the bill. Members were urged to stand firm.

However, stand firm they did not. The following Thursday, the States decided that it would manage the census after all, in part because members felt the need to identify themselves closely with the mainland and the Empire – and make it clear that they were closer to Britain, politically, than to France.

Language problems

The census-taking began on 6 April, but took longer than expected and continued the following day, in part because the forms were only printed in English, while some residents only spoke French, forcing the census taker to help them fill out the required information.

When the preliminary results were published in late summer, they showed an increase in Jersey’s overall population of 4% over the previous decade, to 54,518. This was a turn-around, as in the decade from 1871 to 1881 it had actually declined by 7.4%. Alderney, in contrast, had been on a steady decline. Although its population had increased by over 320% between 1841 and 1851, the three decades between 1861 and 1891 had seen it shrink by 44.5%, 25.2% and 10% respectively.

The latest returns showed a cumulative increase in the Channel Islands’ aggregate population of 8.8%.


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Other events that occured in February