Jersey Immigration

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Why did French refugees come to Jersey in the 16th century?   What brought Officers from the Napoleonic War to Jersey?

Some information has been adapted from Mark Boleat’s book Jersey’s Popuation – A History, which is available to purchase from the Société Jersiaise.

Some images on this page have been reproduced with thanks to the Société Jersiaise Photographic Archive.


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16th and 17th Century – Religious Refugees

The French Wars of Religion took place during the 16th century between Catholic and Protestant (Huguenots). Many Huguenots fled France to Protestant Countries particularly after the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre which occured in 1572. So many Hugenots fled to Jersey at this time that an extra market day was introduced.

The Edict of Nantes in 1598 granted the Huguenots the right to practice their religion without persecution from the State. This was revoked in 1685 and a large number of Protestants left France over the next two decades with several thousand finding new homes in Jersey. They left without money, but took with them many skills, establishing small businesses in the Island.

To find out more about your Huguenot ancestors who moved to Jersey search our online catalogue and enter their name in the simple search box.

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18th Century Onwards – Oyster Fishing

Oyster beds were discovered around the coast of Jersey in the late 18th century.  The industry developed significantly in the early 19th century and in very round terms the annual catch increased from around 7.6 million oysters in 1809/10 to nearly 100 million in the early 1840s and rising to a peak of 216 million in 1853/54 (Ford 1999).

Jamieson (1986) estimates that in 1822 1,500 British seamen were employed in oyster farming on 300 boats, with a further 1,000 women and children working as packers mainly in Gorey.  The industry shrank as quickly as it developed with production collapsing to fewer than 2 million in the later 1860s due to overfishing and health scares.

To find out more about your ancestors who moved to Jersey search our online catalogue and enter their name in the simple search box.

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18th and 19th Centuries – Ships and Privateering

Shipping and Shipbuilding

This industry was created on the back of the Atlantic cod trade.  The first large scale commercial shipyard was built in Jersey in 1815.  The industry benefited from the Island’s tax-free status, being able to import timber more cheaply than competing British shipyards.  Much of the labour in the shipbuilding industry was migrant labour from other parts of the British Isles.  The shipbuilding and shipping industries began to decline in the 1860s as a result of a depression in world trade and the switch from sail to steam.


Privateering began in the 17th century and was at its peak in the late 18th century and the early years of the 19th century, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars.  The privateers amassed huge amounts of money that they spent particularly on property development.  This required labour, a demand that was met either by local residents or immigrants.  The defeat of Napoleon in 1815 marked the end of privateering which was officially abolished by international agreement in 1856.

To find out more about your ancestors who moved to Jersey search our online catalogue and enter their name in the simple search box.

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19th Century Onwards – Wealthy Immigrants and Retired Military Officers

From 1820 the Jersey economy was boosted by the first real inflow of wealthy immigrants, largely retired military offers, half pay officers and senior officials from the colonies.  These individuals came mainly from the UK or British Colonies and were attracted by the tax regime, mild climate, improved travel and the Island way of life.

It was estimated that there were 5,000 English residents in Jersey in the early 1840s three-quarters of these were half-pay officer s and their families.  Their local spending power would have created local jobs and contributed to the growth of St Helier during this period.  High Value Residents continue to come to Jersey for many of the same reasons.

The image is of Almorah Crescent – part of the growth of St Helier and an area which a number of wealthy immigrants would have lived.

To find out more about your ancestors who moved to Jersey search our online catalogue and enter their name in the simple search box.



British Connections – Half Pay Officers →

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19th Century – Construction Workers

The economic boom in Jersey during the first half for the 19th century meant that there was an increase in the population and significant growth in the size of the Town of St Helier. Industries such as cod-fishing, shipping, shipbuilding and constuction were amongst though that flourised under a favourable economic climate.

Immigrant labour was needed to sustain the boom and it came largely from the British Isles including many construction workers from Scotland and Ireland.

A significant project that took place during the mid 19th century was the building of St Catherine’s Breakwater. A large influx of workers from the UK and Ireland arrived in Jersey to work on the project. At the peak of the project in 1852 the works had as many as 361 employees.  The 1851 census lists a number of people with occupations such as ‘Labourer, St Catherine’s Government Works’. Many of them are accompanied by wives, children and other family members.

To find out more about your ancestors who moved to Jersey as part of the construction industry search our online catalogue and enter their name in the simple search box.

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19th Century Onwards – Agricultural Workers

From the 1840s to the middle of the 20th century there was a steady flow of agricultural migrant workers from Brittany and Normandy to Jersey.   At one stage it was estimated by the French Consul that there were 8000 French workers in Jersey.  2000 decided to settle in Jersey and many of todays Jersey population is descended from them.

Many of these agricultural labourers worked in the potato industry which began to develop in the early part of the 19th century. Serious blight in 1845 led to a 75% reduction in production but still it became the growth industry of the late 19 century at a time of general economic decline.  Jersey found a market niche with the early potatoes that got to the English market before any others and which could command a premium.  By 1900 half of all arable land in Jersey was taken by potatoes and exports peaked at 81,000 tonnes in 1907.

All those of non-British birth living in the Island were registered in 1920 and these registration cards include images and details of several thousand French immigrants. To find out more about your French ancestors who moved to Jersey and see if they have a registration card search our online catalogue and enter their name in the simple search box.


French Connections – Pierre Liron’s Story →

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19th Century Onwards – Tourism

The tourist industry began in the 19th century as the development of steamships facilitated travel between Jersey and the English ports.  Jersey’s attractions were the sun and the sea combined with low taxes, particularly on alcohol and cheap travel offered by the rail companies to their employees.

The industry really took off in the post second world war period of the 1950s and 1960s fuelled by increasing affluence. Tourism required a low cost labour force and to begin with this was provided by local people. The rise of the industry meant that local labour was not plentiful enough so Jersey turned to Italy, Spain and Portugal for workers.

Tourism peaked in the 1970s and since then has been in decline despite remaining one of Jersey most significant industries.

To search the Jersey Tourism collection visit our online catalogue.


European Connections – Eduardo Alho →

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20th Century Onwards – Finance Industry

The finance industry has important connections to wealthy immigrants. Jersey was particularly attractive to retired civil servants in former British colonies as these obtained independence throughout the 20th century.

The finance industry depends on Jersey’s ability to set its own taxes, although now within a framework established by the international community.  In 2012 the financial services industry accounted for 40% of gross value added, the proportion having peaked at over 50% in 2007.  The industry has demonstrated demand for skilled labour from the UK.