Of all the minor revelations induced by the war, perhaps the strangest is the story of the Island of Herm, disclosed in Parliament on Monday by MR. MCKENNA, in reply to questions by SIR WILLIAM BULL. Herm is one of the lesser Channel Islands, and is an extremely beautiful spot, with a shell beach such as can be found nowhere else in these latitudes. At one time it supported a considerable population, and could do so again. It also has a small hotel, now turned into a private residence. For a good many years the island has been in the possession of PRINCE BLUCHER VON WAHLSTATT who bears a historic name equally honoured in this country and in Germany and Austria. PRINCE BLUCHER is married to a Russian Princess, and it is well known that he disapproves of the present policy of Germany and has incurred Imperial disfavour in consequence. Some of his children were born at Herm, and one son, now a naturalized Englishman, was for some time an officer in the Guernsey Militia. No possible suspicion can attach to these gentlemen.
The really astonishing feature of the case is that PRINCE BLUCHER is not, as has always been popularly supposed, a tenant of the CROWN. He appears to be a sub-tenant, and the lease is held from the CROWN by a German company, of which the Government profess to know nothing except its name. Still more amazing is the disclosure that, according to MR. McKENNA, this mysterious company only pays the CROWN a rent of about 5s. 6d. per week for an island somewhat larger than Heligoland, containing farms and good pasturage, numerous cottages, and a spacious manor-house.
Here is an island in the heart of the English Channel, and within sight of the coast of France, about 70 miles from
Portland and 40 from Cherbourg, which has been held since 1889 by a German company for £14 a year. This is not an occasion for blaming the present Government, for we doubt whether any Minister had ever heard about the matter until a few weeks ago. At the same time, we think some fuller explanation should be made and the public should be told something more about the “West Bank Liegnitz (Limited)” which holds the lease. Though the curents are bad and the tides confusing around Herm, and though the rocks and reefs are numerous, it is an island which might have been used in the old days for supplying small torpedo boats at night, and submarines skilfully navigated could approach it to-day.
We do not believe it has been used for enemy purposes but it might have been so used, and the fact that it is held by a German company is an extraordinary example of the slackness of our administration in the past. We evict German companies from islands in the Persian Gulf and give them Crown leases of islands within three hours steaming of our own shores. The popular outcry against PRINCE BLUCHER we may add, really arises from circumstances quite unconnected with the war. He has excluded the public from all the island save one narrow pathway to the shell beach, and has put up an inordinate number of notice-boards containing extremely peremptory warnings. The public, which once was able to wander about Herm at will, very naturally resents its conversion into a game reserve by a foreign prince. This resentment is part of a larger question affecting all the Channel Islands but particularly the smaller ones. The growing tendency to place an excessive interpretation upon seigniorial and other rights of exclusion must some day lead to geneal inquiry into the present forms of possession of these islands.