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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Guernsey

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Immigration and Emigration
Guernsey's emigrant children

Guernsey in the 1750s

In the mid-1700s, Guernsey was suffering from economic depression, caused by England's wars with France and Spain. The island's geographical position in-between France and Britain made it particularly vulnerable. As a small island, Guernsey's economy relied on imports and exports, both of which were disrupted by the wars, and consequently, the island suffered both an economic downturn and food shortage.

A typical Guernsey farmhouse of 1750
© Gillian Lenfestey
In November 1751 there existed a real threat of famine for the islands' inhabitants. A poor harvest meant they had little home-grown wheat, whilst the wars between France, Spain and England made shipping perilous. Consequently the price of wheat increased to reach a level when few of the islanders could afford to buy it.

The wheat shortage was felt most keenly by the island?s poorest inhabitants. To reduce costs the residents at the Town Hospital, the local poor house, were given bread made from a mixture of barley and wheat. However, they complained of its bitter taste and refused to eat it; eventually the Hospital's Directors were forced to sell the remaining barley off cheaply and resume making wheat-only bread.

It was these people, at the edge of the poverty line, who were taken, or sent, to America and Canada. This part of the world was well known to Guernseymen; every summer they fished off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and brought back salted, dried fish every autumn. By the beginning of the 18th Century Guernsey's residents were already starting to settle in Canada, in Quebec, Newfoundland and the Gaspe Peninsula, and also in Boston and New York.

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