Population of Jersey in the 17th and 18th centuries

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Population of Jersey


This article by Jason St John Nicolle was first published in the 1991 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

Attempts to quantify the total population of Jersey in the centuries before the census of 1806 have been hampered by the scarcity of contemporary estimates and by over reliance on one type of evidence: lists of the number of households in each parish.

Three extra sources

Nevertheless, three additional sources are available: a census from 1788 has already been published; an apparently unknown manuscript census of 1737 has recently come to light in Cambridge University Library; and there is the militia roll of 1617.

Used in conjunction with other sources, the militia roll and the census of 1737 can provide us with significant new information on the population of Jersey in the 16th and 17th centuries, although a satisfactory and authorative account of our island's demographic history must await a thorough analysis of the parish registers and careful back projection from the early census records, along the lines pioneered, in England, by the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure.

When the Royal Commissioners, Conway and Bird, reviewed the island militia in 1617, they recorded that there were some 2,675 men on the muster roll, adding that the existence of earlier rolls, "which doe specifie more men" led them to believe that "the island undoubtedly hath 3,000 men at least able to carry arms'.

A total population figure can be extrapolated from this in two different ways. If one assumes that the 2,675 on the roll are virtually all the males over the age of 14, as listed in the census of 1737, and that the age structure of the population in 1617 was identical with that one hundred and twenty years later, it is simply a matter of multiplying 2,675 by the ratio of adult males to total population derived from the.later census.

Population in 1617 about 9,000

If these large but not unreasonable assumptions are accepted, a total population of c9,900 is generated. The other method of extrapolation produces a remarkably similar estimate.

The survival of matching militia and population totals for 18th-century Guernsey allows us to calculate a ratio between the two, and if we assume that this is also applicable to her sister isle a century earlier, we can apply it as a multiplier to the militia figure from 1617 - although in this case, the appropriate figure is not the theoretical total entered on the muster roll, but the number actually reviewed. Applying the average multiplier of 5.14 produces a total population of c10,000.

The population figure derived from the number of houses recorded in 1685 cannot corroborate this estimate for 1617, as the demographic history of the intervening years is unclear, although it does rest on a secure foundation.

Population in 1694 about 16,000

There seems no reason to think that the average house/ inhabitant ratio derived from the census of 1737 would not be applicable half a century earlier, especially as contemporaries thought 5 to be a reasonable multiplier, and that the consequent total, of c16,200, fits in with Philip Falle's estimate of between 15,000 and 20,000 for 1694. This article by Jason St John Nicolle was first published in the 1991 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

By the time FaIle came to write the second edition of his history, he saw fit to note a marked increase in population in Saint Helier, and the census of 1737 indicates a rise in the total population of the island as a whole over the last 50 years.

The manuscript gives a total of 13,642 inhabitants for ten parishes, including those out of the island at the time of the census, but excluding the largest parish, Saint Ouen, and the most populous, Saint Helier.

These spaces can be filled if we assume that their population in 1737 was half way between what it had been in 1685 and what it would be in 1788, multiplying households by 5.32 to work out the former, whilst taking the latter from the figures in the census of that year.

This generates an estimated total population for the island of c18,400 in 1737, c2,400 less than it was 50 years later.

As far as I have been able to discover, this census of 1737 survives in a single, con¬temporary manuscript copy: Cambridge, University Library, Additional MS. 2766. It consists of a single paper folio, twelve and three-quarters inches wide and seventeen inches tall, written in a neat 18th century hand.

It was bound up with a miscellaneous collection of 27 printed pamphlets, poems and parliamentary petitions covering the years 1728-1740, which probably explains why it seems to have lain unnoticed.

Ownership unknown

The volume as a whole came into the University Library collection through purchase, in 1898, but there seems to be no record of the dealer involved. As it lacks any inscription or bookplate, discovering the volume's provenance must remain a matter of guesswork, but I suggest that it was owned by John, Lord Carteret and Earl Granville, who was Bailiff of Jersey from 1715 to 1763.

The contents of the collection reflect the interests of a Whig peer in the House of Lords, a man whose dislike of Walpole's policies had become clear by 1738 at least, and whose mind was troubled over the effect of excise duties on the British woollen and textile trade, especially between Ireland and Britain, the problems of public finance, the likely effects on English trade of peace with Spain and the omnipresence of political bribery.

Concerns about placemen, the textile trade, the National Debt, together with a dislike of Walpole, were shared by many, although it is suggestive that Carteret took a prominent part in debates over the National Debt in 1720, "identified himself with Irish interests': trying to reduce the excise paid in England on Irish produced cloth during the six years he spent in Dublin as Lord Lieutenant, and, from 1730, played a prominent role in the struggle against Walpole, moving a resolution in the Upper House in 1741, requesting George II to remove the Minister from his "presence and counsels for ever'.

Familiarity with Jersey

What is more, the 13th item in the collection confirms that its owner had a specific interest in Jersey: it is a printed copy of the respondent's case, following the coinage riots of 1731, presented to the Council in 1733, and it is the only printed document in the collection to contain a hand-written emendation of the printed text, an emendation which seems to show a familiarity with the relevant Order in Council.

One of the respondents, Abraham Richardson, had already written to Carteret, as well as to the Governor, Viscount Cobham, in 1732, and Carteret's interest in coinage had been shown eight years earlier, when he had campaigned successfully against William Wood's similarly unpopular copper half pence.

The weight of evidence seems to suggest that this was Carteret's book, but the other Whig politician with a Jersey connection, Viscount Cobham, cannot be ruled out, as he, too, broke with Walpole, opposed his plans for the excise and had received a letter from Richardson - although he does not seem to have had any particular interest in the textile trade in general or as it affected Ireland and at least a third of the items in the collection are concerned with this trade.

Purpose of census?

Having possibly unravelled the mystery of the collection to which the census of 1737 belonged, we can concentrate our attention on the document itself; what was its origin and purpose?

The manuscript as it stands seems to have been a private record, constructed by totalling vingtaine by vingtaine the numbers given in each category in the returns from each parish, which was included subsequently among a collection of documents which were bound up together some time in the mid eighteenth century, probably by Carteret, the principle guiding the selection of material being the inclusion of whatever he would have found interesting and important, rather than merely useful.

It is clear that the Cambridge manuscript, apparently the only form in which the census of 1737 survives, is not an administrative document: it is free from the finger marks and scribblings which tend to be a feature of any document which is regularly consulted; the volume which contained it gives no indication of its presence; and, as to the document itself, the parishes are arranged without any apparent order, and two are left out entirely - Saint Ouen and Saint Helier - in contradiction to what would seem to have been the very purpose of the census, the provision of a total population for the island.

Number of fishermen

When the scribe of the Cambridge manuscript approached the end of his sheet, he does not seem to have considered starting a new one: instead, he ceased copying down totals for all the different sorts of information contained in the parish returns, and from then on gave the totals which he must have considered the most important for the purpose of his record - the number of inhabitants and the numbers of fishermen away from the island engaged in the Newfoundland Fisheries.

The fact that there was still room to include totals for the houses, men, women and children in each parish, but that the appropriate boxes had been left empty, with a line of dots to indicate that something had been left out, strongly suggests that they had been included for the seven previous parishes merely as a matter of curiosity.

The census of 1788, the only extant Jersey document before the census of 1806 which I know to contain demographic information similar to that in the manuscript of 1737, supports these suppositions. There were originally full parish returns listing both men, women and children, whether present or absent, as shown by the chance survival of such a return from Saint Lawrence, but as the intention of the census was the "Denombre¬ment des habitans de Isle': any information other than the numbers of inhabitants per parish was ephemeral and no attempt was made to record it in a more permanent fashion.

No references to document

What was the purpose behind the census which had generated the parish returns that were subsequently copied to produce a private memorandum such as the Cambridge manuscript? As there are, so far as I have been able to discover, no references to the census from any period, or from any source, the answer must involve a high degree of speculation.

Nevertheless, there does seem to be sufficient indirect evidence at least to suggest a connection between the desire for a census and a perceived need to protect Jersey's exemptions from the restrictions which usually applied to subjects of the Crown engaged in the import and export of goods.

The States in 1788 certainly thought that presenting an accurate total of population to Parliament would secure, or perhaps improve, their privileged trading position: the preamble to the return from Saint Lawrence says that the Constable is sending it, in response to the States' order of 1 April, "pour servir d'information devant Ie Parlement d'Angieterre touchant Ies affaires des Laines etc, & pour Jaire partie du Denombrement des Habitans de Isle de Jersey':

Wool exports

These ‘’affaires des Laines’’ etc presumably refer to the recent statute, 28 George III c 38 § 16, 17, 18, which regulated the quantity of wool which could be exported each year from Southampton to the islands.

Although I can find no explicit evidence that the quantities of wool allowed to be exported were fixed with reference to the island population, a numerical confirmation of its populousness might be used to argue that the privileges it enjoyed were entirely necessary.

In this context, the numerous bills and petitions presented to Parliament in 1734 and 1735, with the aim of preventing the export of wool from Britain or Ireland, might well have been a spur to get a census drawn up, and, given Carteret's position as Bailiff and the fact that the only record of the census survives in a collection of assorted documents, probably owned by him, indicating an interest in Jersey affairs and, more generally, in the production and export of wool and other textiles, it is not unreasonable to suggest that he was behind the enterprise.

Islanders’ rights confirmed

As for the inclusion of those away in Newfoundland in the census of 1737, a statute of 1774 not only confirmed the islanders' right "to import whatever quantity of grains required for the sustenance and use of the inhabitants'; but also their right to export whatever amount of grains, bread and biscuit, "fit and necessary for the Fishery in these parts, or for the use and support of the Mariners, or other Persons employed . . . in carrying on the said Fishery'; and it is clear that some records of the numbers of men and of the shipping involved were kept by the island authorities, suggesting that this information was useful to them.


Many of the conclusions arrived at in this article are clearly speculative, based on assumptions of varying degrees of probability. This reflects the indirect nature of the evidence that has been available, and the fact that certain knowledge of the demographic history of Jersey in the 17th and 18th centuries can be based only on a thorough analysis of the surviving parish registers, supplemented by careful back projection from the earliest census records.

Nevertheless, it does not seem unreasonable to suggest the following totals: a population of about 9,900 in 1617, rising to about 16,100 in 1685, and c18,400 in 1737. These are compatible with contemporary estimates, and with the population totals given in the earliest of the later censuses, namely about 20,800 in 1788 and 22,855 in 1806.

Although the earlier totals are clearly provisional, they are an improvement on the estimates that have been available previously.

As for the census of 1737, which seems to have escaped attention entirely, it perhaps results from a desire to protect the island's import and export privileges in the face of hostile Parliamentary bills and, possibly, represents the initiative of the Bailiff, Lord Carteret, who seems to have been the most probable owner of the miscellaneous collection of pamphlets and poems which included the only extant reference to its existence in the form of an incomplete private summary of the returns for each of the parishes.

Interest in the population of Jersey in the 17th and 18th centuries will not abate when definitive totals have been produced.

After growth, marriage and fertility rates have been calculated, these figures will need to be integrated into the social, economic and cultural framework of contemporary island life.

What were the effects of Jersey's high population density on its economy and agriculture, on island politics, on the quality oflife and the standard of living? Did housing and opportunities for employment keep up with a rising population?

Our own problems in these areas will trouble Jerseymen increasingly in the 1990s, as the island population continues to rise. Historians may work in the past, but they live in the present, and it will be interesting to see how these concerns will be reflected in the historical demography of the next decade.

Transcription and translation of 1737 census document

Parishes, vingtaines Homes Men Women >14s N'land At sea Total
des Mares 92 143 171 115 19 6
de la Rue 61 84 110 76 6
de Longueville 51 84 106 57 12
de la Rocque 38 61 68 58 6
Parish total 242 372 455 306 37 12 1182
St Mary
du Nord 78 97 161 101 31 14
du Sud 101 133 236 148 39 12
Parish total 179 230 397 249 70 26 972
St John
du Nord 110 126 230 1814 24 2
du Douet 75 102 158 98 17 12
de Herrupe 68 112 141 103 19
Parish total 253 340 529 382 60 14 1325
Ville à l’Eveque 72 106 149 122 13 1
de Rosel 93 146 210 155 22 5
du Rondin 84 134 193 119 10 1
des Augres 73 116 153 127 5 3
de la Croiserie 54 84 118 113 12
Parish total 376 586 823 636 62 0 2117
St Peter
du Douet 69 79 145 112 26 4
du Coin Varin 45 49 78 67 26
de St Nicholas 84 95 162 114 28 4
des Augres 61 83 126 113 19 2
Grande 63 68 117 66 33
Parish total 322 374 628 472 132 10 1616
St Lawrence
du Coin Tourgis 80 148 167 131 30
du Coin Moitier 68 126 173 110 19 4
de la Vallee 74 121 132 94 16 7
du Coin Hatain 64 112 134 104 15 6
Parish total 286 507 606 439 80 22 1654
St Clement
de Samares 37 63 75 50 9 7
Grande 45 59 86 47 4 3
du Rocquier 23 28 49 33 2
Parish total 105 150 210 130 15 10 515
St Martin
Parish total 33 1510
St Saviour
Parish total 1316
St Brelade
Parish total 156 1435
Ten parish totals 645 13,642
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