HERM - under James Stevens LINKLATER



Under the ownership of JAMES STEVENS LINKLATER from 1884 to 1889

James Stevens Linklater, my great-grandfather and hereafter simply ‘James’, ‘owned’ Herm from 1884 to 1889. Until 1946 Herm was part of the Duchy of Normandy and belonged to the Crown. Those occupying Herm were thus Crown Tenants, analogous to most people's title to property today; freeholders being tenants of the state. In 1946 Herm was purchased from the Crown by the States of Guernsey from whom title now derives. What follows here relates only to documents in my possession concerning James’ occupancy of Herm. Links to all the documents are at the foot of the page.

James seems to have bought Herm on Tuesday, 29th July 1884 although the contract is dated 6th August 1884. The vendor's were, I believe, the Monks of Chartreuse although this is not stated on the contract which names Louis Numa Brard and Augustin Claude Broquin as Vendors. The contract was executed by James Stevens Linklater as purchaser and the auctioneers Debenham, Tewson, Farmer and Bridgewater acting as agents for the vendors.

My understanding has always been that James bought Herm with a view to using it for drying fish. He is usually described, as on the sale contract, as a "merchant of Leith" suggesting that he dealt in, rather than just caught his own, fish. I have no evidence that he had fishing boats of his own. What is certain is that the herring fishery was economically very important at that time (1880s) in Orkney and Shetland, where, after gutting by hoards of migrant female workers, the “silver darlings” were dry-salted in barrels for export principally to Germany and Russia. Equally certainly, the climate of Herm would have been more propitious for drying fish than that of Leith let alone Orkney and Shetland. Either way, purchase of an island suggests James was into fish in a pretty big way. Why his tenure was so short may have been due to illness; he died aged 49 in 1899. It could also be that James had a “cunning plan” that went agley and left him “nought but grief an pain.”.

Much of the little I currently know about James Stevens Linklater (b. 1850 d. 1899) comes from two of his nieces, Naena and Evelyn Roxburgh, rather than from his son, Arthur David Linklater, my grandfather, who never mentions either his mother or father in the Journals he kept while an apprentice seaman aboard British Princess. For more detail on where the Linklaters stood in relation to the Roxburghs see the section on LINKLATER FAMILY HISTORY. There is also a whole section of this website devoted to the life and times of Arthur David LINKLATER (8 July 1879 - 6 Feb 1955), the oldest of five children born to James Stevens Linklater and Amelia Agnes Bell (1852-1917). Here are some of Evelyn Roxburgh's notes about James and his immediate family.

Amelia married James Linklater who came from Orkney. He was a wholesale provision merchant, trading with the Baltic countries. Amelia was a pretty but incredibly stupid woman. Mother said that Amelia was in love with Johnnie Crawford (ref. Aunt Betsy) but both grandmother and Aunt Alicia put their feet down on that.

There were six children of Amelia's marriage, the younger ones quite small when Uncle James died in his early forties, of Bright's disease. He failed in his business and ... found financial worry and ill health too much for him. Naena and I knew Aunt Amelia very well but Uncle James died when I was a baby and his youngest son, James, only 3 years old. Aunt Amelia died of cancer in 1917.

In fact, James was 49 when he died of ‘Bright's disease’, a name now dropped in favour of more descriptive terms under the general heading of acute or chronic nephritis. Whether there was any cause and effect at play, as hinted by Evelyn, I don't know. It seems unlikely that worry or stress etc would ‘cause’ kidney disease but the onset of kidney disease might well have adversely affected James' ability to make a success of the Herm enterprise. If the venture was a forray into property speculation it was a dismal failure as he appears to have netted a profit of £106: 17/- from the sale of Herm. Even that is not the whole picture. So ar as I can tell, James purchased Herm for £7,375 and sold for £7,000, so on paper a loss of £375. I have a 4 page statement of accounts [see below for links] covering the period 29 Sept 1888 relating to James' sale of Herm in which the expenditure noted consisted entirely of interest payments, Crown and grain rents and legal fess in connection with the sale. The sale itself appears to have been contentious for a number of reasons with the ultimate purchasers suing James for specific performance. If it did not actually make him ill, none of it sounds a happy affair.

Buying Herm in 1884 it seems odd that in the same year James was already putting out feelers for its sale, but such was the case and suggests there was something fishy about the fish drying theory. The attractions of Herm are spelled out in detail in the auctioneer's sale particulars (q.v.) with one or two notable exceptions revealed to James in private correspondence between him and the agents prior to the sale. One such attraction is the possibility of turning a quick profit by selling the Island back to the U.K. Government, using the installation of a 35 ton gun on Herm trained on Guernsey as a sweetener, an idea I like a lot.
“The Government must sooner or later buy the Island of Herm since not only does it command the entrance to the Straights but also the whole of the town and harbour of Guernsey and the probability points to the purchaser making a large profit by reselling to the Crown before many years have passed since a 35 Ton Gun properly mounted at Herm would probably have Guernsey within its power.”
There is no evidence of James ever having followed this excellent advice other than pursuing an illusory “large profit”, nor do I have any records of James investing any money in the property, other than that for its purchase, such as might be expected had he installed fish drying racks for example, let alone lashed out on a ‘35 ton gun’. The only part of the sale particulars that was singled out for particular notice by someone who placed a large pencilled cross and a marginal scribble alongside occurs on page 8 and concerns the presence of “not less than thirty-three springs of pure water” and the “inexhaustible quarries of granite, the qualities of which have been found by experiment to be superior to any hitherto discovered.

My grandfather, Arthur David Linklater, makes no mention anywhere in his letters or Journals of either Herm or his parents. I have no direct evidence that Dum ever set foot on Herm but it is possible that he did. I have photographs of Dum's mother and a brother, younger by two years, taken by B. Collenette of 15 Smith Street, Guernsey. At the time James bought Herm Dum would have been about five and so about ten when it was sold. I have very little of anything of Dum's before he was apprenticed aboard the British Princess in 1895 aged 16½. When Dum's father died, on 21st August 1899 Dum's exact whereabouts are unknown. Some six months before his father's death Dum recorded the British Princess anchored off Portland over 200 miles up-river from Astoria on 4th February 1899. Four days earlier he mentions having received nineteen letters but divulges no further information as to their contents or senders. The next Journal entry is for 26th January 1900, several months after his father's death, when the British Princess was in mid-Atlantic several hundred miles west of the Cape Verde Islands. When the British Princess was loading or discharging cargo the entries in Dum's Journal generally dry up, but the hiatus between the west coast of North America and mid-Atlantic is unexplained.

Below are links to documents in my possession relating to Herm. The last three pages of ‘The Particulars’ contain a number of crossings out and hand written insertions, possibly in James' writing and certainly initialled by him. Some examples can be seen in the CONTRACT. Where the original has been struck through I have indicated it in the transcriptions like this and hand written additions are shown like that. The general layout, punctuation, spelling etc mimic the original, but I have not tried to replicate the profusion of fonts etc in the original, an example of which can be seen HERE.

  • Auctioneers' Description and Contract [IMAGE] for the Sale of the Island of Herm on Tuesday 29th July 1884. Folio 18pps with 2 photographic plates and a folding coloured map. [Transcription and PLATE 1 and PLATE 2]
  • Letter dated 25 November 1884 from the War Office to J. S. Linklater [Transcription and IMAGE.]
  • Letter dated 1 August 1884 from Arnold & Co. to J. S. Linklater [Transcription and IMAGE.]
  • Letter dated 30 October 1884 from Arnold & Co. to J. S. Linklater [Transcription and IMAGE.]
  • Letter dated 27 March 1886 from Arnold & Co. to J. S. Linklater [Transcription and IMAGE.]
  • Letter dated 16 June 1887 from Arnold & Co. to J. S. Linklater [Transcription and IMAGE.]
  • Letter dated 27 July 1887 from Arnold & Co. to J. S. Linklater [Transcription and IMAGE.]
  • Letter dated 4 September 1888 from Arnold & Co. to J. S. Linklater [Transcription and IMAGE.]
  • Letter dated 29 September 1888 from Arnold & Co. to J. S. Linklater [Transcription and IMAGE.]
  • Copy correspondence 12 Sept 1888 Edward Ozance to Messrs Jacobs and Weldon. [Transcription and IMAGE.]
  • Messrs. Arnold, Fooks Chadwick & Co. in account with J. S. Linklater Esquire. Account relating to the sale of Herm by James Stevens Linklater covering the period 29 Sept 1888 to close 21 February 1889. [   IMAGE 1   |   IMAGE 2   |   IMAGE 3   ]
  • 6 sepia views of Herm by B. Collenette “portrait and landscape photographer, 15 Smith Street, Guernsey”
  • Pages 933-936 of The Times Weekly Edition dated 27 November 1914 containing, inter alia, a column headed “The Island of Herm” [Transcription]

© 2018 Duncan Linklater