| John Le Couteur´s Papers
in the Societe Jersiaise, St. Helier
Sir John Le Couteur (1794-1875), a prominent agriculturist
In 1848 Sir John was told that he was to receive
a presentation from the Royal Jersey Agricultural and Horticultural Society.
It had been founded in 1833, five years before the English "Royal", and
he was its first Secretary, and four times President, in 1839, 1847, 1853
and 1868. ............................
When the Seigneur of Rozel resigned the Presidency
in 1868 there was an unfortunate incident. "I was called to the chair.
Messrs. Marett, du Heaume and others opposed the vote of thanks to the
late President, when proposed by old Ph. Le Feuvre. I addressed them to
show that the ill humour of last Saturday should not make them forget the
long services to the society; when the vote passed unanimously". The matter
in dispute was very trivial, fourteen instead of fifteen days` notice having
been given of some item, which was consequently ruled out of order by the
President. The next week Sir John was again chosen as President, and at
first declined of account of age. He was then seventy-four: "however, my
old friends and the farmers urging. I consented. At the annual dinner that
year at the Imperial Hotel there were forty present, with the new Governor,
General Guy and the French consul, Baron de Chazal, as guests of honour.
"I gave them an outline of the successes of our Society since its formation
in 1833 to now, when our cows have risen in value from £12 to £100.
Sir John took an immense interest in the cows
and the betterment of the breed. In 1849 a committee was named to examine
points for judging the animals, and he "proposed the alteration from 28
to 34 or 36 points". Invited to Belle Vue to discuss it, the committee
arrived at 7 a.m. before morning milking: "General Touzel our President
and his daughter came first; then Patriarche, Marett, Mourant, Gibaut and
Le Feuvre of St. P. Hume sent a fine cow of his, and Gibaut sent two. Hume`s
cow gave nine quarts, one pint and two gills; a fine milker, a large cow.
My Belle, which they thought the handsomest of the lot, gave seven quarts
and a pint 8. After breakfast we worked till 12, and fixed 36 instead of
the old 28 points". The next day he "took a sketch of Belle before breakfast
in order to draw the points all round her". A sketch was also made of a
prize-winning bull belonging to Mr. Bowerman; the two drawings were approved
by the Board of the Society, and Sir John was asked to "write to Mr. Hudson
to know the charge for lithographing them". Soon afterwards a lithographer
named Standrige of Old Jewry in London was asked to provide mere outline
drawings, 750 of the cow and 250 of the bull, at 30s. for each drawing,
and the prints at 2s.9d. per hundred.
Then, as now, the parochial and Island Agricultural
Shows were important annual events, and these papers mention and comment
upon many of them. There was a sad tale to be told about the show of 1842.
Madelon Morlee the milkmaid, it appears, rose at 5 a.m. on the day of the
show, and left at 7 a.m. to take her cattle there, having had no time to
eat any breakfast. She tended her cows on the show ground till after midday
and milked several of them, and began to feel hungry and tired. Somebody
persuaded her to take some milk and eau de vie, which refreshed her considerably,
but to a point where she appropriated some of the prize ribbons, and when
these were found on her she explained that she thought her cows deserved
them. Heads wagged and the solemn voices of authority discussed her offence,
and things might have gone ill for her had not Monsieur and Madame Le Couteur
testified that that poor Madelon was "une honnête fille" who had
worked for them for two years and that they were happy to keep her in their
service. One hopes that her zeal for her employer`s herd was rewarded at
another show with a prize ribbon. From time immemorial country girls have
expected to return from the fair or the show-ground with coloured ribbons
and baskets of posies.
Sir John regularly appeared at cattle shows,
as exhibitor or judge, and at the inevitable dinners after them, and kept
records of it all. In 1847, for example, a hundred head were exhibited
at the St. Peter`s show but there were only "some good ones" amongst them.
At the Island show that year there was "a great improvement in the eastern
district, very nice cattle, some beautiful ones. The servants were greatly
elated to find that Beauty`s heifer, Bella, had got the first prize, and
Julia our old cow the second, while the two others were decorated". A distinguished
newcomer to the Island, Lord Limerick, who for a time rented Trinity Manor,
was also a cattle enthusiast. By 1857, in one of the eastern sections,
there were 249 cows and heifers on show and the standard had much improved.
At the western Three-Parish show that year there were 300 head exhibited
at the St. Mary`s Arsenal ground: "Gibaut, James Godfray and I were judges
in the last resort of 48 beautiful animals in yearlings, two year olds,
three to five year olds and old cows. £36 were offered, and refused,
for a two year old. 130 men afterwards sat down to a very handsome cold
dinner. Halkett returned thanks for the army, very well. Dupré made
a good speech, and I urged them to have clubs in every parish, and to contribute
to the parent society". How delighted he would have been at the flourishing
state of the central and parish societies today.
In June 1847 a two year old heifer (bought from
Mr. Thomas Filleul for £23), and a yearling bull (given by Sir John),
with another heifer, were presented to the Prince Consort. The diary tells
us: "Took a mail train from Paddington to Slough, got there and on to Windsor
by 10. Called to see Lord Spencer, the Lord Chamberlain...who oblingly
sought for Colonel Phipps. He being away, the Earl referred me to General
Wemyss at the home farm, where the appointment was made, and here I repaired.
Unluckily for me the Queen had just driven to see the cattle...and had
just left, otherwise I should have explained matters to herself in person
unattended, for Her Majesty happened to be in her pony chaise. I sent my
card to the Prince, who sent for the cattle to show them to the Duchess
of Kent at Frogmore. There we found the Grand Duke Constantine of Russia,
the Prince of Saxe Weimar, the Prince of Saxe Leningen, Prince George of
Cambridge and a host of attendants. All the royalty came out with Prince
Albert, who spoke to me in the most kind and affable manner, even
so much so as to reach out his hand, then to recollect etiquette: and very
kindly and politely expressed his sense of the compliment, a very acceptable
one, of the very beautiful cattle which the Jersey Agricultural Society
had made to him: and desired me to make suitable thanks to the society
in the most gracious terms. The animals were greatly admired. The Grand
Duke asked the Prince what were their valuable points beyond their beauty.
The Prince of Saxe Weimar put me the same question, which I explained.
The Prince then handed Tocque and I to General Wemyss and charged him,
as he afterwards told me, to show us every civility and attention. The
kind General then took us all over the royal aviary, dairy farms etc.,
where everything is nearly "comme il faut". His farming is really good,
and real improvements have taken place since old K., the late King`s farmer
had them". At the Windsor show in 1851 this staunchJerseyman recorded:
"Guernsey beat us by a visible Jersey cross. Lord Egremont`s Jersey bull
excellent. Our blue mark along the white. My pet stock".
Breeders to whom Jersey cattle were being exported
in those days make an impressive list. To take but a few:
The Rev. Gwilt of Suffolk.
Mr. Lane, of St. Albans Place.
Richard Nicklin, of the Isle of Man.
General D`Evereux, of London.
Charles McNiven of Godstone, Surrey.
Thomas Alcock, M.P., of Ewell.
Sir Walter James, of Sandwich.
The Marquis of Tweeddale.
Mr. Barker, of Basingstoke.
Mr. B. Johnson, of Albany, New York.
Captain Wood, M.P., Q.A.D.C.
William Harris, of Massachusetts.
James Pedder, of Boston.
The Viscount Enfield.
Monsieur Sigismond de Thaly, of Austria.
Lord Hardinge`s son-in-law.
Mr. Weld, F.R.S.
Mr. Motley, of Boston.
Thomas Moore, of New Zealand.
The total value of the animals sent to Lord Enfield
was 3205, and of them Sir John said: "I do not believe that eleven such
young cows either for beauty or quality ever left Jersey in one lot".
In early days Jersey cows were often referred
to as Alderneys, and various explanations have been offered for the misnomer.
Sir John`s explanation, given in a letter to a Hungarian enquirer, was
that his grandfather Sir John Dumaresq had sent to his father-inlaw John
Le Mesurier, Governor of Alderney, some Jersey cows which were much admired,
and came to be known in England as Alderneys in consequence. Those in Alderney
at that time, he said, "were very small and much degenerated, while those
of Guernsey were larger, stronger heavier and more bony and more predisposed
to fat". In the same letter he says that his grandfather sent cattle to
Scotland "qui ont formé le type de la belle race dite "Ayrshire"".
On the subject of prohibition of import of foreign cattle to Jersey, he
wrote: "In the year 1789 an act of our legislature was passed by which
the importation into Jersey of cows, heifers, calves or bulls was prohibited,
under the penalty of 200 livres, with forfeiture of boat and tackle; and
a fine of 50 livres was also imposed on every sailor on board who did not
inform of the attempt. The animal too was decreed to be immediately slaughtered
and its flesh given to the poor. Later laws are equally stringent. No foreign
cows are ever allowed to come to Jersey, but as butcher`s meat". This ws
in a letter to two American breeders, in Boston and Bronxville. It
goes on to mention that Guernsey cattle are "large and considered too coarse,
though famous milkers. Our judges at our cattle shows have discarded both
them and their progeny". But there are scarcely ever a dozen of that breed
in our Island".
The letter goes on to discuss the true Jerseys.
"The origin of the breed we know nothing of, beyond what you will see in
the essay which will I send you. The late Earl Spencer, once Chancellor
of the Exchequer, who bore the noble sobriquet of "honest John Spencer",
when President of the Royal Agricultural Society of England... counselled
me to advise our farmers never to risk a cross, even with the shorthorn
or Devon, or any other breed. They had a character established for milking
and butyraceous 9 qualities... I had informed the Earl how the bulls reared
on the north and north-westerly coast of our island, which was rocky and
elevated, and exposed to south-west storms, were hardy and enduring: and
that cows bred on the southern and eastern coast, which was low, warm and
alluvial and richer in pasture, were large bodied, or fine form, though
rather more delicate than those from the hills. Lord Spencer recommended
to cross bulls from the northern hills with cows in the southern low pastures
and vice versa; by which means, if adhered to, our stock might be kept
select and superior for ages. This in a great measure is so adhered to.
Hence, as our stock had continued pure these past eighty years, I see reason
to hope that with our present jealous care our herd book may tell the same
honest tale eighty years hence. I may add that owing to the sea breezes
wafting saline matter over our Island, it is believed that it conduces
to the health of the breed. There was no instance of cattle plague 10 when
it raged in England".
The Jersey Herd Book, a department of the parent
society, was formed in 1866, largely at Sir John`s instigation, its object
being to ensure that the true parentage of every animal recorded should
be known. There were at that time over 1200 head of cattle in the Island.
It was not a new idea, for the 1851 diary says: "I am working at points
for English cattle. The herd book will be a great aid". He was delighted
to find that "the young farmers seem to come into the idea".
The American breeders already mentioned now come
into the picture in a rewarding way. Mr. Swain of Bronxville wrote a letter
about cattle bred of Jersey stock in New York, which the committee published:
and Mr. Motley of Boston, "who bought £500 worth of our Jersey cattle
last year, has come again to purchase stock here. He attended our Board
Room Committee. Stated that it was affirmed in Massachusetts that Jersey
had imported 700 Guernsey cows to improve our breed. The members assured
him that there were not a dozen in Jersey, never had been at any time.
He was much interested in our Herd Book, and stated that they had begun
a Jersey herd book, of which he was on the committee". In 1869 Sir John
wrote: "It is not a great triumph for our small island to have awakened
those clever and enterprising agriculturists to the value of our breed
of crumpled horned cattle; to have led them to establish a herd book distinctive
of our pure breed of Jersey cows? The high and remunerating prices which
American gentlemen have given for our cattle in the last few years are
an earnest of the value with which Jerseys are held in the United States,
and should lead our farmers to be doubly jealous as to the care with which
they prohibit the breed from intermixture".
On the colour of Jersey cows, he wrote: "the
favourite colours are brown and white, with a grey edge about an inch wide
around the brown: fawn and white: or grey and white.
The pure Jersey is rarely of one colour, though
at this moment I have a fine heifer quite black, the first I ever had".
As to their shape, he wrote to Lord Spencer: "All my cattle five years
ago had the old Jersey defect, that of being cat hammed, or falling away
from the hip to the tail. Now, from having been constantly careful breed
from straight backed, wide chested, small headed bulls, I have removed
the defects greatly". He constantly impressed on local farmers that the
choice of sire was an important as that of dam, and great was his fury
one day when he found his cowman had taken a cow to the La Haule bull to
save trouble, when he had expressly stated that she should be bred at another
farm. It was not so much that the man had disobeyed orders, or a reflection
on that bull, but that the owner always made careful plans for crossing
particular bulls with individual cows, and in this case his employee had
brought them to naught.
A major problem on a dairy farm is how to maintain
milk production in the winter months, Januar to March, when the grass has
ceased to grow, and some substitute diet must be found. Sir John`s solution
was this:"Winter food for cows, to cause them to give as much milk as in
summer. Take a bushel of potatoes, break them whilst raw, place them in
a barrel standing up, putting in successively a layer of potatoes and a
layer of bran: and a small quantity of yeast in the middle of the mess,
which is then left to ferment during a whole week: and when the vinous
taste has pervaded the whole mixture, it is given to the cows, who eat
it greedily". Probably an excellent recipe, given the pabour to prepare
it. He had an answer to many of the other difficulties which may arise
in a herd of milking cows, and his remarks upon them show that he approached
them not from the safety of the armchair, but from practical personal experience
in the stable. He well knew that some, not many, cows tend to kick when
being milked, ahabit which, if not checked, can become a thorough nuisance,
and waste the dairyman`s time. What he used to do was this. The moment
the cow kicked, her bucket of food was removed until she was quiet, and
the process was repeated until she had grasped the law of cause and effect.
There is only one reference to amilking machine in these papers, in a letter
of 1863 to the Lactal Works in Birmingham, complaining that the cow milking
machine which had been ordered had been so long in coming that it was no
longer wanted: an early example of the loss of export orders through lagging
deliveries. Careful tests of the quality of milk were made at Belle Vue,
and Sir John possessed a lactometer, which he mentioned when the Marquis
of Tweeddale asked him to buy two cows on his behalf. He replied: "As they
are intended for the Marchioness`own dairy, I would not wish to be closely
limited to price, because I shall insist on having them brought to Belle
Vue on trial by my lactometers before I purchase them. I should say if
I am allowed to go as high as £15 to £20 a piece, I shall get
what will be sure to please Her Ladyship....I think that for a lady`s dairy,
beauty, and very deep giving cream and yellow butter is required". Butter
making was once of prime importance in Jersey, and quantities were exported.
At Belle Vue it was made for home use and also, as one might guess, as
a controlled experiment. Sir John had his own cure for foot and mouth disease,
which he recorded in 1875 as follows: to add one tablespoonful of permanganate
f potash to half a pint of water, to be used night and morning to sponge
out the mouth; and a teaspoonful to half a pint of water for internal use.
[Victorian Voices. An introduction to the papers of Sir John Le Couteur,
Q.A.D.C., F.R.S. by Joan Stevens. Drawings by Charles Stevens. 1969.
Joan Stevens Index to the John
Le Couteur papers
These papers cover a period of
about a century, from 1780-1890 or so, and embrace so many subjects, both in and
outside Jersey, that no student of the period could fail to find valuable
information therein, and his subject is almost sure to be referred to in some
The amount of material on cattle in the Le Couteur
papers using Joan Stevens index to the collection.
The numbers in the indexes refer to the volume
numbers and pages in the 3 sequences:
31 diaries (numbered sequence)
15 letter books (the L sequence)
50 miscellameous volumes (the M sequence)
COWS [Diaries] 2/29.--
4/166.-- 5/31.100.-- 6/184.108.40.206.55.--
7/4.42.45 -- 8/220.127.116.11.97.
11/10.14.19.22.43.69.90. -- 12/18.104.22.168.172.
-- 13/12.15.116 -- 15/185.222.224
16/36.145.149 -- 17/44 -- 18/22.214.171.124
23/66-- 24/126.96.36.199-- 25/188.8.131.52.85--26/186--
28/17.91-- 30/17.25-- 31/210.
Milking machine L11/17
for Q. Victoria L8/216
See also Alderneys, Austraia, Ayrshire, Foot
and mouth, Heifers, Herd Book, Lactometer. Milk, Rinderpest and Eveline.
"Moving on to the Societe Jersiaise - I have
spent several hours in the last few weeks there with the Le Couteur diaries,
etc. and am quite a way through his diaries - including reference to conversation
with Earl Spencer about Jersey breeding, and about the formation of the
Jersey Herd Book, and the American Jersey Herd Book. I am discovering how
frustrating it is to read someone's diary when they haven't thought about
someone reading it years later", [Suzanne Le Feuvre]