Early estimates of population
The earliest reliable estimate of Jersey's population is for 1331. The Extente of that year, a listing of all liabilities to the King, which includes details of taxation and property holdings, shows that 1,865 properties paid the "fouage" a hearth tax of a shilling. A number of households were exempt from this tax, so the total of households is estimated at 2,000, and taking an average figure of between five and six individuals per household, which is believed to be realistic for that time, the total island population is estimated at between 10,000 and 12,000.
Most populous parishes
St Helier was nowhere near the most populated parish in 1331. St Ouen, St Saviour, St Martin, Trinity and Grouville had the largest populations of about 1,000.. Then came St Helier, and trailing in last place, as it still does, was St Mary.
Fifteen years or so after this population estimate the island was hit by the plague, and although there are no figures to show how many died, it is believed that the population must have fallen dramatically. Of the ten Rectors whose names are recorded for parish churches at the time, only two survived, although this is not necessarily a reliable guide to overall losses in the population.
By the 17th century, when the next remotely reliable population estimates can be made, the population had climbed significantly. Bailiff Sir Philippe de Carteret made an estimate of 25,000 in the 1630s, but that is probably an excessive figure, and various writers in the latter part of the century agree on a population somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000. In 1680, 3,069 households were counted, which using the same yardstick as for 1331 would indicate a population of roughly 18,000.
In 1685 Philip Dumaresq, Seigneur of Samares, presented his Survye of ye Island of Jersey to James II claiming that the population "hardly exceeds 15,000".
In 1734 the population was estimated at 19,000 and 20,000. House of Common records for 1788 maintain that estimate, half of them employed knitting stockings. The figure of 19,000 is again given for 1790.The census taken in 1806 recorded a total of 22,855 islanders, the influx of Huguenot refugees from France perhaps having been balanced by a steady outflow of Jerseymen seeking their fortunes in the United States.
Estimates of Jersey’s population in the 17th century are difficult to find. Dr Peter Heylyn, who was chaplain to the Earl of Danby, Governor of Guernsey gave contrasting opinions on the populations of Guernsey and Jersey after a visit in 1629.
When Heylyn visited Guernsey, he commented that "the island is generally very fruitful of corn, whereof the inhabitants have not only enough for themselves, but some overplus." He also noted that the use of seaweed (vraic) was one of the outstanding features of agriculture in the Islands.But he took the view that Jersey carried a larger population than it could well support and, in consequence, was overwhelmed by poverty and want.
"The other villages lie scattered up and down, like those of Guernzey, and give habitation to a people very painfull and laborious; but by reason of their continuall toyle and labour, not a little affected to a kinde of melancholy surlinesse incident to plough men. Those of Guernzey on the other side, by continuall converse with strangers in their own haven, and by travailing abroad being much more sociable and generous. Add to this, that the people here are more poor, and therefore more destitute of humanity; the children here craving almes of very stranger; whereas in all Guernzey I did not see one begger."
A 20th century commentary on Heylyn’s visit by historian Norman Rybot:
- "Heylyn was much struck by the numbers and poverty of the people. He was told that there were between 25,000 and 30,000 persons on the island. Poingdestre states that it was commonly held that the population of the island was formerly 50,000, but does not believe it. He thinks however, that the planting of orchards at the expense of wheatlands and the neglect of agriculture due to the frenzied manufacture of knitted goods had tended to diminish the population. He says that there are ‘not past 20,000’ persons in the island”.
Peace with France
It was in the second decade of the 19th century, following peace with France, that there was an influx of refugees from the revolutions in several European countries and a steady settlement of officers from the British Army and Navy on half pay.
An anonymous historian and author wrote in 1840:"Although Jersey may in some respects be benefite3d by a war, and especially with France, yet the steady and increasing commerce which has attended her since the peace, and the influx of visitors as well as residents, prove that the latter is more to her advantage."
The growth seen before 1820 was nothing, however, compared with what was to follow.