French invasion of Jersey (1779)
A letter from Major Moses Corbet, Lieutenant Governor of Jersey, reported that on 1 May 1779, a French force attempted a landing at St Ouen's Bay. Early that morning lookouts sighted five large vessels and a great number of boats some three leagues off the coast, proceeding towards the coast in order by a coup de main to effect a landing. Guns on the cutters and small craft supporting the landing fired grapeshot at the defenders on the coast. The defenders, the 78th Regiment of Foot and Jersey militia, together with some field artillery that they dragged through the sand of the beaches, had by fast marching arrived in time to oppose the landing. The defenders were able to prevent the landing, suffering only a few men wounded when a cannon burst.
As the tide was ebbing, the French warships could not get close enough to support any landing, and without their support, the captains of the transports were unwilling to bring their vessels inshore. By some reports, the first and only vessel that attempted to land, either was struck with a shot, or dashed upon a rock, and 15 or 18 men aboard her drowned. Twenty got ashore and surrendered, and the rest got off safe.
Eventually, the French vessels withdrew, first holding off a league from the coast before leaving the area entirely.
On 2 May a vessel from Jersey fell in with a convoy under Admiral Mariot Arbuthnot that had left Spithead en route to North America. Arbuthnot sent the convoy in to Torbay and proceeded to the relief of Jersey with his ships. However, when he arrived, he found that Captain Ford of HMS Unicorn had the situation well in hand. Arbuthnot returned to his convoy, but his deviation resulted in the convoy not clearing the Channel until end-June, with consequent hardship for the troops in North America who were awaiting it.
In 1787 the British placed a battery of three 24-pounder guns on the spot where Rector du Parcq had put his guns to repulse the French attack. Then in 1834, the British built a Martello tower there. This tower, Lewis Tower (or St Ouen's No. 1) survives to this day. During the German occupation of the Channel Islands the Germans built a large bunker next to Lewis Tower, a bunker that today houses the Channel Islands Military Museum.
- The London Gazette: . 4 May 1779.
- Campbell et al. (1827), Vol. 5, pp.456-7.