John Le Couteur´s Papers in the Societe Jersiaise
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John Le Couteur´s Papers in the Societe Jersiaise, St. Helier


Sir John Le Couteur (1794-1875), a prominent agriculturist in Jersey
 

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.
Lady Cavendish.
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.
The Agriculturist]
 

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 context.

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.--  6/4.7.8.28.55.--  7/4.42.45 --  8/27.36.41.94.97.
9/23.26.36.38.39.53.59.61.67.120.127.133.137. -10/1.2.10.12.13.15.19.20.32.36.42.94.220.229
11/10.14.19.22.43.69.90. --  12/14.17.86.169.172. -- 13/12.15.116  --  15/185.222.224
16/36.145.149 -- 17/44 -- 18/72.74.187.199 --20/62.63.175.179--21/8-- 22/15.70
23/66-- 24/28.53.54.84-- 25/17.21.43.44.85--26/186-- 28/17.91-- 30/17.25-- 31/210.
                                                                                                                                               [LetterBooks]L4/111.116.195.219.246--L6/6--L7/21.159.218                                                                                                                              L8/1.65.66.72.88.89.118.164.222.227.229.231.233.236.240.266.269.271.277. 285.307.311.315.319
L9/88.95.116--L10/88.128.130.135.166.207.235.245
L11/17.112.113--L13/85-89.94.139.250--L15/24.59.78.135.148.151.152    

[Miscellameous volumes] --M2/34    M11/19.21.111

Milking machine L11/17
for Q. Victoria L8/216
prices L8/253
horns   L8/319
See also Alderneys, Austraia, Ayrshire, Foot and mouth, Heifers, Herd Book, Lactometer. Milk, Rinderpest and Eveline. Polly.

"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]
 

 

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