THE MERRY BELLS OF HELIER
This painting by John Singleton Copley, officially titled The Death of Major Pierson, but more commonly known as The Battle of Jersey, hangs in the National Gallery. (Notice that the bell tower does not actually have a bell).
Baron De Rullecourt had been at sea since Boxing Day, hove to behind the only French Channel Island, Chausey, waiting for the storm to subside. But he didbn't wait long enough, it seems.
Major Moyse Corbet, the governeor, did believe he was outnumbered, but the English garrison (in the islet fort actually called Elizabeth Castle, above right, but it didn't scan!) was commanded by Captain Mulcaster, who refused to surrender and fired on the French as they approached (with Corbet) along the causeway.
Pierson commanded the regiment at St Peter's Barracks on the main island. Only 24 years old, he was warned by Adjutant Harrison to move because he'd remained exposed to fire for too long. But he had only time to smile before the bullet found him (actually in the chest, but it didn't rhyme). There's no record of pitchforks being used in the battle, but the idea seemed right.
Corbet himself was tried for neglect of duty by a Court Martial. He was aquitted, but never returned to Jersey. Pierson became a folk hero.
Thanks for this website for most of the background information.
Seventeen and eighty at the turning of the year
The wildest winds of winter yet, did nought to chill our cheer
As we fisher-folk and farmers' boys all fêted, free from fear
The merry bells of Helier rang clear
Seven hundred years we've stood with England thick and thin
Proud to serve our Norman Duke, though he's a foreign king
For George and Jesu our Christmas song's we sing
And the merry bells of Helier they ring
But hidden behind Chausey, a fleet of Frenchmen lay
With a murd’rous cur from Jersey, a turn-coat in their pay
Waiting for a lull to lower boats, to steal and slay
Where the merry bells of Helier held sway
At dawn the traitor led them in, but two on rocks were thrown
All the guns were sunk, and two hundred men did drown
But seven hundred reached the beach, to march upon the town
Where the merry bells of Helier hung down
Though Corbet was a gallant man he'd beat the French before
But De Rullecourt claimed four thousand men, were swarming from the shore
And Corbet knew the day was lost, and with it Jersey’s war
There’d be merry bells in Helier no more
But up in Fort Elizabeth the garrison looked out
Should Frenchmen march through British streets with n’ere a ruck or rout?
Young Pierson gives the order, to draw his men about
Let the merry bells of Helier give shout!
We Jersey boys grabbed what we could, his chances to increase
The main force roared up Broad Street, each man a wild beast
While Pierson with his hand-picked men came storming from the east
The merry bells of Helier beneath
The battle short but bitter, De Rullecourt soon lay dead
With musket, pike and pitchfork, we'd run the gutters red
But Major Francis Pierson had a bullet through his head
And neath the merry bells of Helier he bled
Now far beyond the harbour wall the cannon smoke does roll
Let painter reach for brush and balladeer for pen and scroll
Let never be forgotten our Pierson’s brave patrol
And let the merry bells of Helier toll