Mont Orgueil and General Conway

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Mont Orgueil and General Conway


The Gainsborough portrait

This article by Colin Platt and Rosemary Mesch was first published in the 2005 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise. It included some of the best paintings of the castle from the late 18th and early 19th century

Nobody who has yet written about the building history of Mont Orgueil Castle has made much of the contribution of General Conway; this is perfectly understandable, as Conway himself made so little of it.

Gainsborough portrait

But why does a contemporary engraving of Thomas Gainsborough's portrait of Henry Conway, published by Sayer and Bennett (of 53 Fleet Street, London) on 26 July 1780, show Conway standing not in the wooded landscape of the full-length oil from which it derives but on a make-believe shore, with Mont Orgueil replacing Gainsborough's trees?

In the engraving, Mont Orgueil is seen from the sea. Most conspicuous from this direction is the cleaned-up Grand Battery. But almost as prominent is the sharply-crenellated bulk of the large building which E T Nicolle knew as 'St Mary's Crypt and Chapel' and which Major Rybot was the first to call the 'Medieval Great Hall'.

While taken from an unusual angle and rather crudely drawn, the representation of Mont Orgueil is largely accurate. Thus, what is depicted in the Sayer and Bennett engraving is no tumbledown antiquity but a military machine: the work of an unknown artist who knew the Castle well, and a tribute to the soldier who stands before it.

Henry Seymour Conway (1721- 95), member of Parliament, lieutenant-general of the Ordnance, and a soldier all his life, was Governor of Jersey from 1772 until his death (by which time he had won promotion to field marshal).

And what is strange about his portrait is the date it was commissioned: seven years into an absentee governorship of which less than two had been resident in Jersey.

In 1779, when awarded this costly honour by the grateful States of Jersey, Conway had only just begun building the chain of coastal forts for which he is now chiefly rernembered. So why did the States do it? And why, in particular, did a Fleet Street print-maker, perhaps in response to local demand, substitute Mont Orgueil Castle for Gainsborough's woods? To both those puzzles, the answer probably lies in Conway himself; in a military expertise under-valued at home, and in a professional soldier's perception of his duty.

Like his friend Horace Walpole and many prominent Whigs, Conway was dismayed by Tory handling of the American War of Independence (1775 - 82/3). He was to lead the debate in Parliament on 22 February 1782 which almost brought down the administration of Lord North.

A sketch made of the castle in 1680, held by the British Library

'Minikin pin'

But when France entered the American War on the colonists' side in 1776, Conway's known political sympathies were no protection for what Walpole was to describe as his 'little Jersey kingdom', or (less politely) as his 'minikin pin'.

Close to French hearts was the desire for revenge for the humiliations of the Peace of Paris (10 February 1763), which had cost France the crown jewels of its empire. And in contrast to more distant prizes on the Atlantic's western rim, the Channel Islands were an obvious target. In the event, Jersey survived multiple threats in that war, including two French raids: first, the Prince of Nassau's abortive round-the-island cruise on 1 May 1779, and second, the more dangerous landing of Baron de Rullecourt on 6 January 1781, crushed by Major Peirson at the Battle of Jersey.

De Rullecourt's raid happened only after Conway's portrait was painted. So it was for what he had already achieved between the spring of 1778 (when he first came to Jersey) and 25 October 1779 (when the reward was voted), and perhaps most of all for choosing to live among them in times of great peril, that the States of Jersey invited Conway to accept a piece of plate (suitably inscribed) and a portrait of himself (commissioned at their expense) to be hung in the Royal Court where it remains:

”… de vouloir bien Accepter de leur part, une Piece d'Argenterie avec les Armes du Pais, et une Inscription qui temoigne les Obligations que no us lui avons ... et permettre de plus que les Etats fassent tirer Son Tableau a leurs fraix, afin qu' etant place dans l'Endroit le plus Public de la Cohue Roiale, il Serve de Monument a nons-memes et a notre Posterite.

Five days earlier, the States had already voted unanimously to donate a sword of honour (‘’une Epee de la Valeur de cinquante Guinees’’) to Admiral Marriot Arbuthnot in recognition of his prompt and effective action in diverting his convoy (bound for North America) to frighten off the Prince of Nassau's transports. ‘Had others conducted themselves with the same zeal [as Arbuthnot] ... by his bold but well judged steps of going with his Convoy to the relief of Jersey', wrote George III to Lord North on 4 May 1779, 'the American contest had long ended to the credit of the Mother Country'.

'Brave Arbuthnot' had ignored his orders, and the gallant Major Peirson would do the same when told to surrender to de Rullecourt. Conway, to his chagrin, was away from the Island on both occasions. Horace Walpole tells the tale of the 'small army of vagabonds' collected by the Prince of Nassau in 1779 to declare him 'king of the island'.

But for all Walpole's lofty disdain of that 'little necessitous prince', Nassau's projected invasion had seemed threatening enough on 1 May 1779, when 'there were 40 letters in town (London) that proclaimed an intended attack on Jersey', and Conway had 'gone post' to defend it.

Joshua Gosselin visited from Guernsey in 1785 to produce this drawing of the castle which is now in the Guernsey Museums collection

Walpole's congratulations

Later that same month, Walpole wrote to Conway to congratulate him. 'You are not only not dethroned, but owe the safety of your dominions to your own skill in fortification’. Yet those were still early days in Conway's planned defence of Jersey's shores. So what did Walpole know, and to which fortifications could he possibly have been referring?

Conway had set foot in Jersey, probably for the first time, in May 1778. Inevitably, the Island had seemed a sad backwater for a soldier-politician of Conway's standing. And none of his London friends thought he would be away from home for long. Having assumed that Conway 'would not stay a twinkling', Walpole was soon asking in astonishment why he was still there:

”Whar is he doing? Is he revolting and setting up for himself, like our nabobs in India? or is he forming Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, and Sark into the united provinces in the compass of a silver penny?

But the General had found himself a cause. Within weeks of his arrival, Conway had prepared a programme, the single most ambitious defensive initiative that Jersey had ever seen, for a chain of 30 coastal gun-towers, only 23 of which were finished: and just one of those after his death.

The idea had come to Conway from a military tour, four years earlier, of the fortifications and battlefields of France and Central Europe; and more specifically from his reading of the ‘’Reveries’’ of Marshal Saxe, in which land towers of similar construction were described.

The opportunity was too good to miss. Making little of the enormous cost of his proposals, Conway was able to use his privileged access to Lord Weymouth (Secretary of War) to by-pass the usual procedures and to obtain directly from the King 'his gracious permission to carry this project into immediate execution without waiting for the formality of regular Plans, Estimates & Reports, which I am apprehensive would consume the most precious and critical time, and not improbably incur the actual loss of the Island.'

South view of the castle drawn by George Heriot in 1785

Conway's towers

Conway's towers, often mis-named Martellos, were to be of uniform design:

Round Towers, built of Masonry from 30 to 40 feet high and at the distance of about 500 yards from each other. The bottom of these, to the height of 10 or 12 feet absolutely solid, the walls above, strong pierced with Loop holes for Musquetry in Two stages, and on the top, where it is proposed to place Amusettes (a sort of Long Wallpieces, or small cannon of 1 lb calibre), a Parapet of Brick.

In Conway's opinion, the three most vulnerable beaches were those of Saint Helier, Saint Ouen and Grouville; but 'the Bays of St Catherine, St Brelade, and Bouley are considerable also and very practicable, besides several others smaller in extent, but equally accessible.' Optimistically, 'the whole Expense', Conway thought, 'would not exceed Five or at most Six Thousand pounds'.

That estimate was wide of the mark. Nevertheless, the General's soldierly reputation and his well-placed London friends brought the consents he needed within a matter of days, and he was ready to begin that same July.

But while work on the first of his towers got off to a good start, and would pick up speed again in the spring of 1779 under the young Captain Mulcaster's energetic direction, the Island's skilled masons were too thin on the ground (as Mulcaster's predecessor had warned) to carry out Conway's programme at the desired speed. On 1 July 1779, almost a year after work began, Conway was grumbling 'our Artificers here are slow in Everything'. But he had nowhere else to turn, and although under growing pressure to build new barracks for the reinforcements he had requested, Conway's chronic shortage of skilled labour forced him to:

”Avoid in great part taking the Masons off from the Public Works for the defence of the Island: an object of great importance, and much the more as by the time I had the Answer of the Board [of Ordnance], even should it be their approbation and that without delay of any kind (which is not much to be expected), the Season would be far advanc'd for such a work [barrack-building] and any stone work employ'd would hardly be safe for Winter Lodging.

Much later, the old Field Marshal would remember a golden age when Captain Mulcaster had 'put up four towers in one year'. But in 1794, when Conway was asked his opinion on the works at Archirondel, it was taking fully 18 months to build a single tower. And the Peace of Versailles, ending the American War on 3 September 1783, had predictably slowed building down.

East view of the castle by George Heriot in 1785

Funding reduced

That slowing-down can be tracked in the declining appropriations for 'Extraordinary Services', including 'Works, Contingencies, etc at Jersey', not covered by the annual vote to the Armed Forces.

Thus Jersey's share of that additional wartime funding fell sharply with the peace from £10,000 in 1783 to £4,000 in 1784, £1,100 in 1785, and nothing at all in 1786, when there was no further danger of an attack.

Yet in 1779, provisioning troops in the Channel Islands had equalled (and sometimes exceeded) the cost of keeping garrisons in the distant West Indies. Moyse Corbet, for example, as Conway's Lieut-Governor, had spent £1,200 1s 11d on 'Coals for the Forces in Jersey, from Lady Day [25 March] 1779 to Lady Day 1780'.

And the military victuallers, William and Henry Budd, were collecting still larger sums that same year for 'keeping up Provisions in Store for the Island of Jersey' _

Conway was in Jersey, and in frank despair of his social life, through much of the summer of 1779: 'no governor for this hundred years', he told his close friend Sir Robert Murray Keith (ambassador to Vienna) on 6 August, 'has resided [here] one tythe so long':

”I am toiling like a horse for the Dear Public, working here in their Obscure Corner like a mole under ground where nobody sees, hears, or knows anything of the matter ... but I have the consolation of thinking that I am doing some good and of knowing that the people I am amongst think so too, and tho' the place is mortal dull and this long banishment from my friends very irksome, I bear it with what patience I can.

Conway's 'Dear Public' would shortly show its genuine appreciation of his labours. But his political friends in London urgently wanted him home. 'Nothing can or ever did make me advise you to take a step unworthy of yourself', wrote Walpole to Conway on 13 September in the context of the approaching parliamentary session. 'But surely you have higher and more sacred duties than the government of a mole-hill!' he added.?"

Conway probably agreed. But just the month before, with the French fleet at sea and invasion a real threat, Walpole had worried that 'if Sir Charles Hardy's navy does not beat one a third more numerous, and with little loss too, Jersey will be swallowed on the road to England ... I do not desire to have him [Conway] achieve an Iliad in a nut-shell.

And though the danger passed and Walpole was soon telling his friends that Conway's 'minikin pin' would escape attack, the Islanders' debt to their Governor was greatly increased by the ‘'peines extraordinaires’' he had taken on their behalf to re-equip the Militia and to import arms and regular soldiers from England.

North view of the castle drawn by George Heriot in 1785

Lack of accommodation for troops

Reassuring though it was to have the troops at hand, Conway's reinforcements brought problems of their own. 'The accommodation for Troops in Jersey', it had been noted four years earlier, 'falls greatly short of what might have been expected’.

And when not drilling the Militia, writing to the War Office for essential materiel, supervising the repair of the parishes' Maisons de Garde, and beginning work on his projected chain of coastal gun-towers, much of Conway's remaining time would have to be spent in negotiating winter quarters for his soldiery.

In that regard, there was still a great deal to be done on 1 July 1779, when Conway wrote to Lord Weymouth about the difficulties he was encountering in organizing accommodation and with hiring (and retaining) local labour.

Any new barracks, he was sure, could not be made ready before the winter: 'I have therefore inquir'd after and visited such houses as were to be hir'd in parts of the Island which fell in with such a plan as appears to me necessary for the proper defence of the Island.'

He believed he had found such a place, 'now inhabited by a Gentleman and his family who will however, tho' with some inconvenience to themselves, give it up', which (for a rent of £200) might house 3-400 men.

But the situation remained desperate at the summer's end, when Conway implored the States to assign him the tenancy of the new Hopital General, having tried 'tous les Moiens en son Pouvoir, pour procurer les logemens propres pour Mettre en Quartier d'Hyver les Troupes en voiees en cette Isle pour sa Defense'.

Conway (as usual) got what he wanted; and the poor were moved elsewhere. But finding other barrack-style accommodation in the outlying parishes remained a grave concern, which is why he had already turned to Mont Orgueil.

Medieval castles were built to withstand long sieges, and that too had been the role of Mont Orgueil. But Conway's purpose was not to keep the French out of his crumbling medieval fortress, which he could not have done anyway had they landed in great force, but to prevent them ever landing in the first place.

The frigates Seahorse and Cerebus off Mont Orgueil, painted by John Thomas Serres in 1803

'Fine old castle'

Given that challenge, the 'fine old castle ... which overlaps the bay and commands the shore to the extreme range of its guns' was a good place to begin. However, Conway's needs were very specific. And with similar works in progress right along the Island's coasts, he was unlikely to spend more on the antique fabric of Mont Orgueil than was required to house a company of gunners in reasonable comfort and security, while deploying their artillery to maximum effect.

In 1793-5, almost at the end of Conway's governorship, the two big new barracks he had wanted, each capable oflodging some 700 men, along 'with the necessary Guard Houses, Store Rooms, and other Buildings requisite for the Accommodation of Infantry', were built behind the beaches in Grouville and Saint Ouen.

And during a further two decades of conflict in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, Jersey was equipped with a coastal defence system: 'undertaken upon a larger and more expensive scale than it was (ever) the intention of Government to authorize' so comprehensive and multi-tiered that even Conway could never have predicted it.

In Grouville Bay alone, in addition to the batteries at Mont Orgueil (north) and Seymour Tower (south), there were to be no fewer than six Conway Towers and two forts (Fort William and Fort Henry), all in commission before the end of the century.

But little of that great armoury pre-dated Conway's arrival. And while the General could begin at once on the building of his new gun-towers, he had simultaneously to find accommodation in something better than summer camps for the reinforcements he had brought to the Island.

In 1775, just three years before the War, it had been calculated that a force of 500 men would be sufficient to defend each Island, all of whom could be accommodated in the royal castles. At Mont Orgueil:

Room may be made in the present Barracks, (by erecting double Tiers of Beds where necessary,) for two Officers and 54 Men. This Castle being situated in that part of the Island judged in time of War to be the most exposed; it is submitted whether it would not be proper to unroof the Guard-House, Gunners LongRoom etc in the lower part of the Castle, and by raising the Walls, procure some additional Apartments for lodging of Men. This Measure seems the more adviseable, because from the Overseers Report, the Roof is very much decayed, and must soon be repaired.

Conway went along initially with the main thrust of that report. But he was to revert to the more cautious practices of earlier years in quartering his gunners, not in the Lower Ward, where they had been lodged in recent decades, but in the relative security of the Keep.

In 1741, before the building of those 'Gunners House and Apartments' next to the Second Gate which were first recorded in 1755, Mont Orgueil's Keep had been described inclusively as 'The great Tower in which is all the Lodgings'. Then a century later, in 1847, the entire garrison (officers and men) was again accommodated in the Keep where, to make room for more, the roofless central courtyard was 'proposed to be restored to Soldiers Quarters'. So Conway in 1779 was doing nothing new when he told Lord Weymouth:

”I propose to fit up a vacant space, the walls of which are already built, in M: Orgueil Castle, and to make some of the Towers and Guard houses fit for inhabitation, all which will cost but a very trifling sum and fall intirely into this plan of defence. I think the whole cannot exceed 2,000 pounds.

And while he never says explicitly where that 'vacant space' was situated, neither the Lower nor the Middle Ward had buildings of that description, which can only have located in the Keep.

J T Serres' watercolour of Mont Orgueil painted in 1803 provides evidence of the neglected state of the Lower Ward following the collapse of its seaward defences

Serres watercolour

We know, on the evidence of a Serres watercolour of 1803, that there had been no attempt during Conway's long governorship to carry out the recommendations of the 1775 report as to enlarging the mid-century barracks in the Lower Ward. And, more significantly, we have the well-known passage in Colonel Oldfield's ‘’Some Account of Mont Orgueil Castle’’ (1838) where John Oldfield, commanding the engineers in Jersey in the 1830s, tells us all he knows of the recent history of the big vaulted chamber in the Keep:

”Over the upper crypt is a large vaulted apartment, 44 by 20 feet, and 18 feet in height . .. At the south-west end a fire place, with an oven, and other conveniences, were made for the use of the troops, when the room was fitted up as barracks for sixty men in the year 1778, the order for the execution of this service mentions the room as 'a damaged vaulted antic place'. The bedsteads and other fitments placed in it by this order were only removed in 1834.

It was Oldfield's surmise that what he was describing 'was probably the great hall, refectory or banqueting room' of the Castle. However, he also told his readers, again from personal knowledge, that 'a person who has been in the employ of the Ordnance Department nearly half a century, states this room always to have been called the Old Church'.

And that observation in Oldfield's book must have been one of the main reasons why E T Nicolle, while researching his great history of ‘’Mont Orgueil Castle’’ (1921), became so convinced that the vaulted space was indeed St Mary's Chapel that he corrected all his earlier notebooks to that effect.

Not everybody agrees. But whatever the chamber's use, both Thomas Phillips's section of 1680 and Lieutenant John Manson's almost identically-placed section of 1755 show the roof of the vaulted chamber at a significantly lower level than it is today: so low, in fact, that the vault we now see could not have been in place when either section was measured. That anomaly has caused some to assume that Manson took the line of his section so close to the north parapet as to omit the medieval vault altogether: in other words, that his section recorded only the north gutter. But even if that were the case, it could not explain the similarly low roof-level in Phillips's 1680 section. Nor can it tell us why Manson, whose every other measurement makes perfect sense, should have chosen to draw his parapet at a height so much below the platform of the adjoining Corbelled Tower, with which two decades later it was almost level.

While there remains some uncertainty about what those sections show, there has never been any doubt that the medieval vaults were already ruinous when Manson saw them; for 'vaults out of repair' are noted on his plan, and 'offices arch'd in ruins' in his section.

Furthermore, the upper walls of the former 'Medieval Hall' (exposed in the recent re¬roofing) had evidently been raised in brick not long after Manson measured them, for they appear at their new height in a rare view of Mont Orgueil by the marine artist Charles Gore, painted from the sea in 1772 when sailing with the Fleet to hone his skills.

Eight years later, in the Sayer and Bennett print of Gainsborough's Conway portrait, the battlements of the 'Hall' appear level with the platform of the adjoining Corbelled Tower, while a crenellated east wall of that same height was represented by George Heriot in the mid-1780s, subsequently published in 1790 with other views.

West view of the castle drawn by George Heriot in 1785. It shows the fortress rearmed against attack by the French, with the Second Gate rebuilt by Conway, who also restored the Grand Battery and its parapets

Heriot sketches

When Heriot made his sketches of the Old Castle in 1785-6, the American War of Independence was over and France (on the brink of Revolution) was no longer a credible threat. So it is perhaps not surprising that Mont Orgueil, while still heavily armed on its south face in particular, had ceased to be maintained to a high standard.

Heriot's view of the east front, never the most at risk, shows its parapets already in poor condition. And it cannot have been much later that the recently-raised external walls were reduced to their earlier height on the installation of a tiled roof to cover and weather-proof the whole.

That new parapet-less roofwas in place by 1802-3 when it was shown in Serres's views of the Castle from the south-east. It was a workmanlike affair, built at relatively low cost, which nevertheless lasted for two hundred years. Yet it remains curious that a new roof of any kind should have been required so soon, unless Conway's own re-roofing, handicapped by skill shortages and by the rush to get it finished, had conspicuously failed in its purpose.

The circumstances certainly suggest rapid action. Nassau's failed invasion on 1 May 1779 had caused Conway to apply (successfully) for reinforcements. But it was not until two months later, when the summer building season was already far advanced, that Conway told Lord Weymouth of his intentions for Mont Orgueil, where the most urgent need was to improvise winter quarters for his gunners.

The walls of the 'vacant space' were already built, Conway claimed. Yet he says nothing in his letter about an existing roof. And while some part of the original vaults must still have been in place, they cannot have stood much higher than ten feet or so, if the sections of 1680 and 1755 count for anything. Conway needed the extra headroom for his bunks.

But the many projects he had launched since coming to Jersey in 1778 had long since drained the Island of skilled labour. And what resulted at Mont Orgueil, whether immediately that autumn or as a substitute for something worse, was the present clumsy vault, roughly centred, straight-sided, and hipped at both ends: utterly unlike anything the Middle Ages had ever seen and a puzzle to visiting antiquaries ever since.?"

That vault until now has usually been assumed to be medieval. And almost as much uncertainty surrounds the date of the big end-wall fireplace, which Oldfield believed was Conway's work but which others have since held to be 13th-century.

When Francis Grose sketched Mont Orgueil in 1776 he chose to depict a monument in picturesque decay

Francis Grose shows decay

But although few documents have survived to establish Conway's exact role in restoring the Old Castle, the topographical evidence is more convincing. Thus, when Francis Grose visited Jersey in 1776, he had sketched the Old Castle in picturesque decay, with the First Gate gone, the Second Gate ruinous, and vegetation sprouting from its walls.

Yet when, less than a decade later, George Heriot recorded the same fortress from all four quarters, it had regained its military role. Grose was an antiquary; Heriot in contrast, while a landscapist by instinct, had recently re-trained at Woolwich as a draughtsman.

They, of course, had different takes on what was interesting at Mont Orgueil, but some real changes had been made in the interval. Between 1776 (Grose) and 1785 (Heriot) the Second Gate had been restored and the cleaned-up Grand Battery had had its parapets and gunports reconstructed. However, the most significant of Conway's changes, because it shows unequivocally where he perceived the threat to lie, was his re-arming of the Tudor Apartments as a gun-tower.

In Heriot's ink¬wash drawing of the south front in 1785, heavy guns poke out under raised shutters from every window in the Keep. And that was how Joshua Gosselin, the Guernsey artist, also saw them when visiting the Island that same year.

Heriot lays no comparable emphasis on the other batteries at the Castle. And it is clear that after two centuries of preoccupation with bombardment from Mount St Nicholas, new priorities were in place at Mont Orgueil. In 1593 Paul Ivy, Queen Elizabeth's engineer, had been the first to dismiss the Old Castle as a total waste of money: 'so evil a situated place as it cannot possibly be worse’. And much the same had been said in the 1670s about 'ye Old Castle, called Montorgueil':

. . . it is a huge pile of stones and a land castle which is commanded easily from a neighbouring Hill, and for aught I can heare from the best there [in Jersey], has no other use than that of a prison, and to putt his Majestie (Charles II) to about £1500 charges per annum, for ye garrison, munition and ordinary reparacions, and therefore if it were well att ye bottom of ye sea, it were no great matter, though I doubt whether ye Islanders would not thinke it very hard to have it demolisht.

Good only in parts, that anonymous verdict on Mont Orgueil was a curate's egg. For it was not sentiment alone that kept the Old Castle garrisoned and more or less intact, but the Islanders' continuing fear, perfectly justified in the event, of another surprise landing on their shores. In 1685, Philip Dumaresq wrote:

At the East end of the Island there is a Bay of two miles over, called Old Castle Bay: a flat, fair sand shore, but shallow and full of rocks at sea, scattered here and there, but of easy access for flat-bottom boats, and where a considerable number of forces may land without opposition from the Castle or shore, especially upon a long beach, called le Banc du Violet, which runs off into the sea, from the south point of the said Bay, for at least three miles, dry in spring tides, where - upon some high sands, divided for some time from the shore - men may land, and put themselves in order before any opposition can come from the shore, and the adjoining [sands]; far from any commanding hills, being flat, and champain, where an enemy may entrench.

Dumaresq, seigneur of Samares, also volunteered the opinion that 'if the upper lodgings [at Mont Orgueil] were repaired out of the useless materials of the lower, they might be made to hold more [soldiers],

A section through the castle in 1755, held by the British Library

Lodgings in a poor state

Yet only six years later, in 1691, the lodgings at Mont Orgueil were reportedly in such a state that its garrison had to be found billets in the parishes.

Then in 1746, with the armies of Marshal Saxe sweeping all before them, there was still nowhere on the Island for reinforcements to be quartered, least of all at Mont Orgueil, where the Lieut-Governor had at first thought they might be housed.

And another nine years after that the situation had barely changed, for while Lieutenant Manson recorded the recently-built accommodation (not shown in the plan of 1741) in Mont Orgueil's Lower Ward, both its Middle Ward and Keep were in ruins. Something plainly had to be done; and it was General Conway, exceptionally well-connected in influential London circles, who could do it. Confident of generous funding, Conway seized his opportunity to include the Old Castle in his new defensive scheme; so that when its guns were counted for Captain Lernpriere's Chart oJthe Island oJJersey in 1786, Mont Orgueil (with 50 guns) was second only in armament to Elizabeth Castle (with 90), leaving St Aubin's Fort (with 25) a poor third.(46)

Conway had not been sitting on his hands.

Another Serres painting of the castle


So what, in sum, did Conway achieve at Mont Orgueil? And how might that have contributed to the defeat of Baron de Rullecourt's little army on 6 January 1781, when the French landed, just where Dumaresq had said they might, on the Bane du Violet, off La Rocque?

Unlike earlier commanders, Conway was emphatically not in the business of re-arming Mont Orgueil against a siege: good barracks were more important to him than fortresses. Nevertheless, he recognized a continuing purpose for the Old Castle, on its lofty promontory site facing north as well as south, in deterring surprise attacks on Saint Catherine's or Grouville, the two most vulnerable beaches facing France.

To that end, Conway needed to improve the Castle's fire-power. But he had also to buy time to call up reinforcements from their barracks elsewhere. And that was probably his main reason for re-housing Mont Orgueil's gunners out of harm's way, where no raider could surprise them in their beds.

With such strictly limited objectives, there were to be many defective elements in the old defences which Conway left substantially unaltered. However, with much of his Island-wide coastal defence programme barely off the ground, Conway's works at Mont Orgueil were already more than adequate before the end of 1779 to earn the Castle a prominent place in the Sayer and Bennett print of 1780, as well as warranting the attention of the artist, George Heriot, whose careful record of the improved fortress in the 1780s is the best evidence we possess of Conway's changes.

The General was in a hurry, for reasons we have just explained; and not everything he did was worth the money. Nevertheless, it is arguably the case that Conway's re-arming of Mont Orgueil in 1778 - 9 fatally weakened Baron de Rullecourt's invasion strategy, persuading him to reject the relatively easy approaches to Grouville Bay in favour of a more dangerous landing, requiring split-second timing and a strong element of luck, on the treacherous tidal shallows off La Rocque.

Had there been no effective batteries at Mont Orgueil in January 1781, de Rullecourt would almost certainly have put his men and his guns ashore on Grouville Beach, and would not have lost contact with his rear-guard.

Without artillery or reinforcements, the exhausted French invaders stood little chance of holding on to their surprise daybreak gains. And while to Major Peirson rightly goes the credit for winning the Battle of Jersey in which both he and de Rullecourt lost their lives, it was General Conway who was the architect of that victory.

'To me', wrote Walpole three days after Peirson's death, 'this battle is worth the day at Blenheim! . . . They are the troops that Mr Conway himself formed last year. And six months later, in happy anticipation of Conway's return to London, Walpole was telling another friend that the General had 'thoroughly secured his island from surprise, and it is not liable to be taken any other way.' It was early days yet to make predictions of that certainty, for there was much work still to be done on the defences. But as it turned out, he was right.

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