1860 proposals to the Chamber of Commerce for enlarging St Helier Harbour

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In 1860 the Jersey Chamber of Commerce, whose members were far from satisfied with the facilities afforded by St Helier Harbour at the time, commissioned a report from G F Lyster, who had built the improved St Peter Port Harbour in Guernsey. The report drew on an earlier report from 1857, but once again the recommendations were ignored.

Some years later a much more ambitious scheme to extend piers from La Collette and Elizabeth Castle to create a substantially larger harbour, without the need for a viaduct from West Park to the Castle, was started, but eventually abandoned about half way through its construction because of severe damage caused by winter storms.

Most difficult features

I may here be permitted to remark that I have considerable diffidence in approaching the subject under consideration as I feel assured that in the whole range of questions relating to Harbours, few (if any) present features more difficult to deal with than those of St Helier.

We first have the opposing physical conditions of the locality to contend with, and these are of no ordinary character: a tidal range of upwards of 40 feet, and consequent currents of extreme velocity, a narrow and confined roadstead approached by intricate channels, and open to the uncontrolled range of the Seas from the Atlantic Ocean, and further exposed to the prevailing winds which blow six months out of the year; an open and extended length of shore to traverse to meet the Margin line of Low Water; a distance of some miles to convey face stone suitable for constructive purposes.

These, combined with the natural wish of your committee to limit the expenditure to a minimum and the ever-obtruding consideration of the large sums already expended in procuring what at best may be termed but very partial and inadequate accommodation, makes the matter of carrying out your instructions one of no ordinary difficulty.

With all these elements of opposition I cannot but think that your committee have acted wisely in endeavouring to make the best of the present position, rather than seek elsewhere a locality which, though probably more favourable for the construction of a harbour would, under existing circumstances, I feel assured prove highly inconvenient and prejudicial to the best interests of your rapidly increasing town and trade and could only be carried out at a cost much beyond what I conceive to be your local resources.

I mention this with more confidence as I find from the examination of the small road that its capabilities are amply sufficient for the present or prospective requirements of your trade, and if properly turned to account will not only afford an excellent floating harbour within itself, but the works involved thereby will give all the shelter requisite to render the present harbour safe and convenient.

In preparing my design I have been careful to include as much of the roadstead and adjoining clear anchorage as is available for harbour purposes, and though in doing so I may have exceeded the figures laid down in your instructions, I think it desirable that your committee and the public generally, should be made fully acquainted with the capabilities of the locality and if they see fit, dictate modifications, rather than that I should propound a scheme which might hereafter be found insufficient.

In my plan of 23 May last, my instructions led me to deal with only the question of furnishing the present Harbour with floating and dry dock accommodation. These involved extraneous works which, with the exception of the low water pier and tramway, were valuable solely as a means of sheltering the harbour entrance and securing the safety of the dock.

In the plan now under consideration these works would no longer be necessary so that the sum recommended to be expended upon them, £31,654, would be absorbed by the works, of which I now treat.

The harbour in the 1860s. So busy that the Chamber of Commerce were pushing for more space

New breakwater

The plan I have to propose is to cover in the small road by a breakwater, which would project from the rocks at the south of the Castle, and by its peculiar form would enclose all the clear anchorage which the soundings indicate as applicable for Harbour purposes.

The first step towards this object will be that of bridging over the space between Elizabeth Castle and the shore, a scheme which even without the ulterior object of leading to a new harbour, has, I believe, been long in contemplation for the purpose of making the Castle available as a Barrack.

To span the gap with a solid roadway protected by properly constructed stone walls would involve so large an expenditure as at once to place it beyond the limits of the present enquiry. But setting aside this consideraton it is probable that a work of such a character might so derange and increase the velocity of the tidal currents as to render it difficult for vessels to enter or leave the roads and further by doing away with the thorough flow of the tides through their natural channels might induce a deposit of silt to accumulate within the enclosed space which, in course of time, would have the effect of destroying the Harbour.

These important considerations lead me to recommend a bridgeway as not only the cheapest, but also the best means of meeting the difficulty and keeping intact the existing condition of the roadstead.

On the Castle side I have sheown a stone abutment to project 400 feet from the entrance, at which point it is proposed that the ironwork should terminate. This projection will, I consider, materially assist in quieting the entrance to the present harbour.

I further propose that the arrival and departure berths should be furnished with timber stages recessed within the general line of walls and provided with decks at different levels to suit the tides.

The soundings generally throughout the harbour space show an average depth of about 14 feet, with here and there infrequent patches of 10 feet. They are reduced to the level of the lowest low water so that the depths expressed on the plan would, in reality, only occur once or twice in the year during the low water of an equinoctial spring, so that generally the depth of water in the harbour would be more than sufficient for the class of steamers likely to frequent the port of which the new vessel the Southampton drawing 9 feet, may be regarded as the probable type.

The patches however, being evidently caused by heads projecting through the sand, could at any time be uprooted at no great cost if found to interfere with the convenience of the harbour.

Coal depot

The breakwater encloses an area of 10 acres, which may be said to be perfectly sheltered in any weather and the length of quayage amounts to 1,770 feet. The lozenge-shape space of ground included between the approach walls and quays of the packet pier near the Hermitage will be sufficient and well adapted for the construction of a station goods shed and coal depot.

Should the breakwater be carried out as herein described, I think it very unlikely that any alterations would be required at the head of the present South Pier, as I believe proposed works would sufficiently shelter that entrance; I have, however, designed a projection which might be required should southerly gales be still found to affect the quiet of the harbour, but such a work could at any time be constructed, and experience would be the best monitor as to its necessity. I have not, therefore, deemed it so essential as to include it in the rstimates.

From the tenor of my last instructions, emanating as they do from the gentlemen representing the steam shipping interest of the island, it might at first sight be inferred that a floating harbour is proposed solely with a view to the accommodation and convenience of the steam boat trade, and though from the peculiar requirements of that class of vessel such might fairly be regarded as the prime object of the outer work, I certainly consider that sailing ships would also largely partake of its Advantages, and I cannot but think that the interests of the two, as regards Harbour accommodation and convenience, are inseparably bound together, as what is of value for the one must be of considerable advantage to the other.

To reduce it to example, I consider that the construction of a wet dock without a floating harbour would ultimately prove as incompatible with the general interests of the island, as the construction of a floating Hharbour without a wet dock.

Supposing a sailing ship bound to St Helier should arrive off the island in the evening to a rising gale from the south, at a period of tide which precluded her entering the port, say in the ebb, with only 5 feet of water between the pierheads, she would have to beat about all night or run round to the lee side of the Island for shelter, and thus lose time and incur perhaps more risk than on any other part of the voyage.

Whereas with a harbour such as proposed she could run in and take up a berth until she found water enough to admit of her entering the dock. To vessels leaving the port it would be found equally useful as they might haul out from the dock and remain in the roads, or sheltered water, within the harbour, until it was convenient to clear out or until the tug steamer was disengaged.

As a look-out station for Government close under the range of their own forts and convenient for landing and embarking troops and stores, or coaling and sheltering the smaller class of ships of war and gun boats, it appears to me that the position and plan are well adapted and should be regarded as most valuable, being the only harbour in the Island where vessels could in any weather and at all times of the tide come alongside a quay.

Another view from the early 1860s - a photograph taken by Mrs Slater, one of the earliest female photographers in Jersey

Government contribution

It might be that considering the advantages that would accrue to the public service by the construction of so useful a work, Government would not only accord free permission for the use of the roadway through the castle, but at the same time might deem it advisable to expedite the completion of the works by either a loan on favourable terms, or a free grant of part of the outlay, more particularly that portion relating to the connection of the castle with the shore which would render the barracks there always available. [Editor's note: It is not entirely clear whether the writer was referring to the States or the British Government here, but given that the proposals were drawn up on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce, it would appear that a privately financed project was intended, possibly with a contribution by the States]

  • Cost of external works: viaduct and approach walls, road through Elizabeth Castle, drawbridge, causeway to packet pier and breakwater - £114, 338
  • Cost of internal works for the improvement of the present harbour: floating dock, tidal basin, jetties and inner harbour with the modifications herein alluded to - £71,175
  • Cost of graving dock - £13,165

In the early part of this report in alluding to the position of the land abutment of the proposed viaduct, I mentioned an alternative plan which, though quite extraneous to harbour improvements, I consider is not unworthy of the attention of your chamber.

From the frequent frequent conversations I have had with friends and others who have visited your Island, I have been led to believe it is generally considered that the hHotel accommodation of St Helier is neither sufficient in extent nor applicable in position, to induce a proper development of passenger traffic.

It has consequently struck me that the site in question is admirably adapted for the construction of a first class hotel, more particularly as I understand that the ship building yard belonging to Mr Clarke, and which I have shown to be absorbed in the area of the proposed enclosure, are no longer in use, and are now for sale. The site affords many advantages, not obtainable elsewhere, and if properly turned to account would, I feel assured, prove of great indirect value to the community at large.

Among the advantages may be briefly enumerated the facility and economy with which the space could be reclaimed by the filling and building materials procurable from Gallows Hill, the very removal of which would create valuable sites for building, and consequently an improved approach to the Town to which the hotel would be sufficiently near, while at the same time it would retain its convenient proximity to the packet pier and harbour, and have unequalled views over the beautiful Bay of St Aubin.


The proposed viaduct would afford a promenade unsurpassed even by the celebrated Brighton Chain Pier. To these may be added the possibility of constructing a commodious and convenient bathing establishment on the western side of Elizabeth Castle, free from the influence of easterly winds.

In finishing an engineering report in this novel manner I hope it is unnecessary to remark that my only object is, if possible by any suggestion of mine, to add to the presperity of an island which has resources within itself sufficient to render it the favourite resort of the travelling public, but for so lengthy a digression I must claim the indulgence of your chamber.

I have the honour to be, Sir
Your obedient servant
To Joshua Le Bailly
President of the Chamber of Commerce of Jersey
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