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