Leap year parable…

Posted on: February 29th, 2012 by Andrew Syvret No Comments

 

 

Days like today don’t come around very often, so I thought on the 29th of February 2012, we should publish the transcript of a very important story. No pictures ~ just words and mental images, for a change.

Like Sir Gilbert Parker’s tiger the “Gorey chair of gold” will, over time, become a regular feature of this blog. I have always been curious about the fact that the following epic was published in 1595, the very same year that Sir Walter Ralegh (Governor of Jersey 1600-1603) started his search for El Dorado, at the mouth of the Orinoco River. Make of it what you will…

The Jersey Evening Post – Monday 17th May 1954

The Story of the Golden Chair

The reign of Queen Elizabeth I saw the beginning of the publication of numerous tracts, pamphlets and broadsides, many of these containing a moral to be drawn from them. The story we publish below appeared in a “broadside” published by William Creed, of London, on March 22nd 1595. In 1786 the little booklet was in the possession of one William Herbert, who edited “Ames Typographical Antiquities”, and in 1936 it was purchased from a native of Guernsey by the Société Jersiaise.  Mr. Ph. Ahier, B.Sc., to whom we are indebted for this story, has turned the Elizabethan English into readable modern prose where necessary, but in some instances has preserved the exact words. The names of Doughton and Dansie referred to were probably anglicised when the original publication was made.

 

Cupidity and Greed Brings Death to Jersey Sailors…

 

A fishing boat jointly owned by a Jerseyman named Doughton and a Norman named Dansie, with two Jersey-born sailors, was fishing in Grouville Bay when all saw “at about midnight,” what was known as St Anthony’s Fire. (An error for St Elmo’s Fire, an electrical disturbance in the heavens). The sailors, noticing the phenomenon proceeding landwards and resting as they thought upon a cliff near Mont Orgueil, imagined that it foretold foul and tempestuous weather and ill-luck.

The Norman Dansie had great doubts concerning the success of their fishing operations and suggested to his companions that they should draw in their nets, which had been thrown overboard near the scene of a wreck. The fishermen then proceeded to haul them in, but one got stuck fast. Not wishing to leave it behind, they hauled it up with such a force that they “found it torn above a yard in length”. The party wondered why their net had become torn and flung two anchors into the sea, hoping by so doing, that something would get hauled up when they were eventually lifted.

Their hopes were realized, for, on hauling up one of them, up came a massive chair made of “clean beaten gold” – the form of which was small about the middle, wearing bigger upwards towards the middle, and both ends, the back full of holes in the inner sides and the outmost side full of bones; the seat very low and round at the bottom and wrought with embossed works very curious, with divers sorts and branches. Imagine the surprise of the four men on seeing the extraordinary nature of their catch; they found to be gold and very fine gold at that. Never before had such booty fallen into their hands, not even to their forebears. How to share it was then the problem?

Dansie and Doughton, joint owners of the fishing boat, thought the best plan would be to cut up the chair “into small pieces” and sell the bits for ready money. To which Dansie, the Norman, added “seeing that our two men are acquainted with the treasure, in order to keep their mouths shut, let them have £100 apiece. They should consider themselves well recompensed, even though they are our hire servants.” Doughton hearing that his partner was so rash as to give away £200 in this way, replied, “No, no! It’s a good deal of money, a less amount should be sufficient for them.”

But the Jersey sailors, overhearing the conversation between their employers, who were prepared to take the whole chair and let them have but a small share of the booty were most indignant. One of them, a tall lusty fellow, said that as God had sent it, they should have equal shares, adding that “such greedy churls should not so deprive them of their share of the treasure.” This latter even went so far as to say that he was the first man who had found the net fast, further that they, the two sailors, had, by their united strength, hauled up the chair, “without whom, they never had enjoyed it”. He then swore a great oath that if his companion would be advised by him “they would have it to themselves, and their masters should have none!”

The other Jerseyman, being “as wilful as his fellow was stubborn,” without saying a word, took a boathook gave Dansie such a blow that he felled him, and then did the same to Doughton, after which they heaved the two old men overboard. The two Jersey sailors, imagining that they were now fully possessed of the booty, embraced each other, being considerably overjoyed at what they thought their great fortune. What was to be done next? They could not go back to Jersey, for the question would be asked “Where are your masters?” Moreover they realized that “they could not get money for a thing of such worth, in so poor a place” as Jersey.

They next thought of sailing with the booty to England, but they felt sure that their small boat could not stand such a perilous and long journey, “and the weather subject to storms”. So they decided to sail to Normandy seeing “that the way was short”. They hoisted sail and bent their course thither. Had the wind been more favourable they might have got there the following day, but the seas had become tempestuous, “they were in great peril, neither would their boat work, but lay tossing on the waves in pitiful manner, the men expecting nothing but death”.

While in this unfortunate plight, a pinnace with a crew of sixteen men hovered in the offing. Seeing this boat in danger “whether of courtesy to save the men, or for covetousness to have what they had”, the crew of the pinnace came within hailing distance of each other. But the two Jerseymen “were loth to speak with them”. The latter boarded the small craft of the Jerseymen with four men and a fight ensued; two of the sailors from the pinnace were killed and one of the Jerseymen was slain. When the remaining Jerseyman saw what was happening, he ran to the golden chair which had been covered with a sail, flung it overboard and, “leaping after it himself”, swam with all possible speed to the shores of Normandy. In so doing he swallowed a great deal of seawater, while his body got dreadfully scarred from the rocks he encountered on the way.

“He, by good fortune, reached the shore by his painful swimming, yet so faint with the bleeding of his wounds, as he had much to do to continue life in him for that time, but through the water in his belly, the soaking of his wounds, and tossing in the waves, grievous sickness assailed him.” The folks on the Normandy shore “did their best to save his life, which was all in vain.” Finding that there was no hope of recovering, he confessed to the murder of his two masters and earnestly craved forgiveness of God. Three days after he died, and during the three days before his death, he told all and sundry what had happened, and hoped that they might find the chair.

The author of this broadside finished his narrative thus: “Let this, and many others, admonish all Christians how a covetous desire of wealth (may) cause them to seek their neighbour’s harm. Instead let them relieve the needy, that God may reward them for it.”

How did this remarkable story find its way  to London in late Elizabethan days? One can only sumise that the narrative as given by the survivor in either the Jersey dialect, or in colloquial French, eventually got to the ears of some Englishman living in Normandy in the days of Queen Elizabeth I. It will be seen that the covetousness recorded in the above account, together with the subsequent murders, provided material for the tract compiled to expatiate upon the folly of greed.

Footnote: The above is a direct transcript of a newspaper article. William Creed should in fact read Thomas Creede ~ as confirmed by the 1936 Annual Bulletin of the Société Jersiaise.  Thomas Creede was one of the finest printers of his time.

À bétôt!