The members of one of Jersey's most exclusive clubs ended up embroiled in a fracas with police when they became a bit too merry one Christmas 140 years ago.
The Victoria Club was located at 6 and 8, Beresford Street in St. Helier for a number of years.
The existing building, which is now ‘Banjo’ restaurant, was constructed in the 1890s, although the Club was in existence by 1855 and was located at the same Town location but in an older building.
It was on 21 December in 1879 that five members of the Club got themselves into some festive trouble at this older Club building. The Jersey Weekly Press and Independent reported that the men were charged in the week leading up to Christmas for creating a disturbance at the Club and assaulting the police.
John Miller, Smyth Pigott, Arthur C Jones, H Mitchell and J G McKay, owner of the yacht Queen Mary, were all charged with having caused a breach of the peace. Miller was also charged with assaulting a couple of police officers and Jones was also accused of throwing down a Constable’s Officer.
Pictured: Beresford Street taken by Albert Smith (Courtesy of Societe Jersiaise).
Before the case could be heard, the judge was thrown into consternation when one of the accused, Miller, didn’t turn up for the court hearing. On discovering this he demanded to know if Miller was on bail. Centenier Blampied revealed that Jones had paid £5 bail on his behalf. The Magistrate stated that the bail was forfeit and that Miller was to be arrested and brought to Court.
The case began and Constable’s Officer Orviss reported that at 11pm on 21 December, he heard a great noise coming from inside the Victoria Club. At first, he thought it was caused by the cabmen but discovered that it was coming from inside the club. He stated: “Enough noise was made for a hundred people.”
He waited for backup in the form of PS Hornbrook and PC Renouf before proceeding into the building. On entering, the lights were immediately extinguished and the five accused, together with three other gentlemen, left the building. On being passed by two girls, the men started manhandling them with Miller shouting: “If you police interfere, look out.” Undeterred, the police intervened and “a regular scrimmage ensued”.
The newspaper report continued that Renouf took a stick from Jones, refusing to return it. PS Hornbrook was knocked down to the ground by Miller and kicked about the body. Orviss was also knocked to the ground, although he said that it was an accident that had occurred in the course of the scuffle.
The fracas broke up and the accused fled the scene. The police returned to the Club the following day and, after some persuasion, the waiter gave up the name of the suspected guilty parties. After initially going to Mackay’s yacht, they were pointed towards the Royal Yacht Club Hotel, where the suspects were arrested.
The Magistrate found it hard to remain impartial. Upon hearing the description of the scene, he branded it “disgraceful”. Advocate Durell, the defending lawyer, remonstrated against this description as he said evidence was still being gathered but the judge repeated his opinion saying: “A similar row would not occur in a common public house.”
Pictured: Court document detailing the Victoria Club fracas (Jersey Heritage).
Other witnesses backed up the police’s claims, including a neighbour, George Langlois, who said that disturbances frequently took place at the Club. He told the Court that about four months previously, someone from the Club had let off a torpedo in the street in the middle of the night. The Magistrate expressed his utmost astonishment at these details.
Advocate Durell begged leniency and explained that his client, Pigott, had recently returned to the Island and that his friends were simply celebrating his return in a convivial manner. He also pointed out that Pigott was obliged to use a crutch and had been knocked over in the fight.
Having heard the evidence, the judge stated that there was no doubt that the most serious parts of the charges were committed by Miller, who need to be apprehended. Jones was fortunate that Orviss had cleared him of committing an assault, otherwise he would have been sent to jail.
The guilty parties were fined £2 for their part in the offence, or in default of that four days’ imprisonment. Miller’s name does not appear in the Court records again so it would seem that he evaded capture and fled the Island.
Director of Archives and Collections Linda Romeril previously shared more secrets of the Victoria Club as part of the 'What's your town's story?' series.
For more stories from Jersey Heritage's archives, take a look at the Archives & Collections Online (ACO) catalogue.
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