Robert Gibbon

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Governor 1651-1657
Robert Gibbon

Robert Gibbon was the longest serving Parliamentarian Governor
of Jersey during the English Civil War

Full control over the island having been established by the Commonwealth forces, on 17 December 1651 Michel Lempriere was reinstated in his office of Bailiff and Colonel Sir Robert Gibbon was appointed as Governor, to succeed Colonel James Heane, who led the Commonwealth Invasion.

He found that military installations were in a far from satisfactory state, and wrote to London to express his concern, eliciting the following response.

“Whereas Col Robert Gibbon, governor of our island of Jersey, hath represented unto us, that for the better safegaurd of the said island and accommodation of the soldiers now in garrison there, that the castles and forts standing thereon be not only repaired, but that some addition of building be made thereto, and that beds and coverlids be provided for the use of the said soldiers, as also carriages and other materials for the great guns there; and a considerable store of provisions, as well of war as victuals and other necessaries, be laid in the said castle; least any attempts be made upon the same by any our enemies whatsoever; we have taken the same into our consideration, and being willing, that what is necessary and convenient should be done therein, do therefore refer the same to the care and prudence of the commissioners appointed for making compositions with the islanders, or any two or more of them, who are hereby authorized and enabled to do therein, what shall seem to them to be needfull and requisite for the ends aforesaid; and who are also impowered to issue orders from time to time under the hands of them, or any two or more of them, for the payment of such monies, as they shall judge necessary to be expended about the same, out of the monies arising upon compositions with the islanders, and such money as our receiver general of the said compositions shall issue forth upon the orders given as aforesaid. The respective officers of our exchequer are hereby required and authorized to allow the same upon his account accordingly. And we will, that the said commissioners for compounding, or any two of them, do immediately repair to our said castles and forts, and inform themselves by the best way and means they can, as well what arms, ammunition, and other provisions and utensils of war, as also what houshold stuff, furniture, goods and other necessaries were left in the said castles and forts, by Col James Heane, late governor there, and they take care, that the same be inventoried and delivered over to the present governor, to be by him employed and kept for our use and service. Given at Whitehall the 13th day of March, 1654/5.”

About 1657 Austin Buckler held office for a while as Deputy Governor, followed by Richard Yardley. It was hoped that islanders would supporting the Commonwealth, but Colonel Gibbons and his Lieutenant, Yardley, managed to turn the majority of the Islanders against them. Among other things, charges were laid against Sir Robert of partiality in granting licenses to his own relations and friends for the importation of wool, leather, and other commodities.

Both were accused of extorting money from traders for passes and "compelling the people at Elizabeth Castle to work beyond the time allowed by law and not even paying wages when lawfully earned". Sir Robert apparently retaliated by bastinadoing (beating with a stick or cudgel) several prominent islanders, and imprisoning them without reference to the courts. Clement Gallys, Constable of St Saviour, and merchant Abraham Beckett, both lost their estates and suffered both imprisonment and exile.


An unsatisfactory relationship between the island and its Parliamentarian rulers was only brought to an end by the restoration of the Monarchy in 1660.

This sorry period in the island’s history was chronicled thus by 19th century historian the Rev Alban E Ragg.

"General Haines' control over the affairs of Jersey ceased as soon as he had placed the Island in Cromwell's possession, and the same day (December 17th, 1651) that saw Michel Lemprière reinstated in his office of Bailiff saw, too, the appointment of Colonel Sir Robert Gibbons as Governor, with one Yeardley as his Lieutenant. And the former - finding the bench of Jurats practically deserted, only one, "like the last rose of summer," remaining (the cause of which desertion has been differently attributed to the extortions of Sir George de Carteret on the one side, and a want of vital interest shown at the time on the other), whilst, as a consequence, no Court could be held—with Michael Lempriere, who still held the position of Bailiff, together with Abraham Herault , the ex-jurat, constituted themselves a Court on the 2nd of May, 1654, and swore in as jurats, on the personal recommendation of Cromwell, Philip Messervy, James Lempriere, John Le Rue, Philip Le Feuvre, Simon Sebriel, and Thomas Le Marinel, some of which names are still held in honour on the Island, and in such manner formed a Court, though not of full number, owing to the fact that others recommended by Cromwell were at the time absent from Jersey. It was thus hoped that by this means prosperity might once more shine; and justice being done, that popular opinion would record its voice in favour of the "Commonwealth".
"Whatever chance there might have been of this occurring was, however, cut in the bud by the actions of Colonel Gibbons and his Lieutenant, Yeardley, who appear to have brought troublous times with them, and by their actions turned the majority of the Islanders against them. Amongst other things, charges were laid against Sir Robert (and alleged to have been connived at by Yeardley) of the most distinct partiality in granting licenses peculiarly to his own relations and personal friends for the importation of wool, leather, and other commodities, and this for his own special benefit. Extorting money from traders for passes was likewise laid to their charge, as also " compelling the people at Elizabeth Castle to work beyond the time allowed by law and not even paying wages when lawfully earned." And Sir Robert personally seems also to have gratified his private spirit of revenge, contrary to all right and justice, by bastinadoing (beating with a stick or cudgel) several well-known inhabitants, and "committing them close prisoners at his will and pleasure without the consent or knowledge of the jurisdiction of the Isle, amongst others Mr. Clement Gallys, High Constable of St. Saviour's, of about sixty years of age, and one Abraham Beckett, merchant, both which persons lost their estates," and, at the same time, suffered both imprisonment and exile.
"Another thing, too, comes in very prominently at this time, as showing the unsatisfactory state of affairs. The rights and privileges of the people generally seem to have been totally disregarded. Impressment for military or naval service was quite unallowable according to the privileges granted the Island; yet we find amongst other breaches of this right that one Francis Marres, of St. John's, was shot by a party of Parliamentary soldiers for merely asking on whose authority he was "pressed," whilst more than one instance occurred of young 'people of good families being seized upon and only being released on the payment of a round sum of money. Ships, too, bound for England, were diligently searched for letters, and on the plea of finding one such letter, the contents of which were favourable to Royalistic opinions, a Mr. Marett was imprisoned in Mont Orgueil Castle for some sixteen months, and "allowed neither companion in his solitude, nor pen, ink, or paper" during that period, his case eventuating in his estate being confiscated, and only redeemed after the payment of a considerable sum. About the same period, too, a system of privateering, or rather piracy, seems to have been practised upon the shipping of the Island, and this without apparent check, the French picaroons doing much damage round the coast, no doubt in part retaliation for what had been formerly done by Sir George de Carteret's vessels. To such a pitch of boldness had they got, indeed, that one Captain Chamberlain sent word to the Governor that " if Jerseymen did not contribute towards his maintenance, he would throw all of them with whom he came into contact into the sea." This letter, by-the-bye, was dated 1652, and consigned to General Haines, though it nevertheless serves to show the state of the maritime affairs of the Island during the Commonwealth.
"In 1655 articles strongly representing the rapacity and tyranny of the Governor and his Lieutenant were drawn up, but were never investigated, owing chiefly to the fact that, amongst other things, the restoration of the monarchy occurred soon after their transmission to England; and when that event took place, both Sir Robert Gibbon and Yeardley were deprived of their office, amidst, says Le Quesne, "the joy of all the Jersey people”.

A C Saunders

A further history of the uncertain and uncomfortable life in the island during the time of Robert Gibbon's Governorship is given in A C Saunders' Jersey in the 17th Century (1931).

From A C Saunders's Jersey in the 17th Century


Governor Robert Gibbon appears to have been not only a bully, but a very unscrupulous man. In his efforts to rule Jersey for his own benefit, he was assisted by Captain Richard Yardley and Mr Benjamin Dumaresq, the Attorney-General.

The protests of Bailiff Michel Lempriere were ignored, and he realised that it was in his own interest to keep quiet. It must have been greatly against his nature, for in the past he had shown himself as not wanting in courage, and when the government of the Island under Cromwell was under discussion, he proposed that the 12 Rectors should be excluded from sharing in the work of the States and deprived of their seats in the local House of Commons as they talked too much.

There was a pamphlet published during Gibbons' Governorship, giving an account of the crimes, and misdemeanours, of this man. There is no doubt that his conduct would have been inquired into, if it had not been for the death of the Protector, and the very uncertain condition of affairs in England at that time. He had been a man of very considerable importance, and was well in favour with those in power. We hear of him arranging for troops in the various expeditions which took place during the rule of Cromwell.

Evidently his unjust rule had become known at headquarters, for on 15 June 1659, Colonel John Mason was appointed Governor of the Island, and Colonel in command of the Militia, at the pay of 20 shillings a day. Gibbon was ordered to hand over to the new Governor the Castle, forts and all guns, ammunitions and stores.

During his rule the Islanders suffered much, and there was no discrimination between those who had been loyal to Parliament, and those who had fought against them. All were treated alike, and many must have been the comparisons between the period under Gibbons and the lighter rule of Sir George Carteret, when the young King warmed all hearts by his affability and good nature.

Gibbons as described in the pamphlet, was a monster of iniquity who ignored all the privileges granted to the Island, and simply made use of his power to further his own interests. He refused to allow any letters to leave the Island without being submitted for his inspection, and when Philip Maret wrote to a friend complaining about the troublous times they were suffering, Gibbons had him taken to Mont Orgueil Castle, and kept him there a prisoner for over 18 months.


No one was allowed to leave the Island without a passport which was in force for five days, and for which a charge of sixpence was made. This applied as well to fishing boats and those who went in boats to gather vraic. If the wind was unfavourable and boats were unable to start within the five days, another passport was required.

It had always been the privilege of the Island for the inhabitants to be free from the Press Gang, a privilege granted to them because they had to defend the Island as one of the keys of the English Channel. Gibbons ignored this privilege and sent his soldiers to get recruits to man the fleet. When Francis Maret of St John asked the soldiers for their warrant, one of the ministers of justice drew his pistol and shot Maret through the heart, killing him. No notice was taken of the outrage as the man was simply doing his duty according to his ideas and those of his superiors.

He made use of the inhabitants of the different parishes to supply labour for the repairing of the fortifications at Elizabeth Castle. He made them work long hours without pay, and those who objected were liable to imprisonment and possibly the bastinado.

It was certainly a reign of terror, and people, when they dared, talked about the good old times. We have read that the Government had continued the allowance of wool and leather to Jersey merchants, but Gibbons had ideas of his own on the subject. He allowed the supplies to be distributed among his friends, many of whom had no direct connection with the Island. This left but a small quantity for the local merchants, who had to obtain a licence to obtain what they were entitled to, and this at a substantial fee.

When a man was fined, and it was difficult to find the money at once, then Gibbons had soldiers quartered at the offender's house, and expense, until the fine was paid, and the soldiers adapting themselves to the times, required of the best.

It was a terrible time for Jersey, but eventually the Jersey people managed to get their petition to headquarters, and on 16 June 1659 Colonel John Mason was appointed Governor of Jersey and Colonel of the Militia. Circumstances prevented proper enquiry into Colonel Gibbons’ conduct, for on 3 September 1658 Cromwell died and Richard, his son, became Protector in his place.

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