30th June 1801

Two deserters were shot after landing on Guernsey

When two members of the York Hussars made plans to desert in early summer 1801, they decided that their best plan would be to head for France. Unfortunately for the deserters, their navigation was not up to scratch, and they never quite got that far.

The soldiers stole a boat from the closest harbour and set out to sea, eventually landing on Guernsey. Guernesiais and French would still have been widely spoken on the island at that time. They might therefore have initially have thought they’d succeeded – until they discovered their terrible mistake.

To all intents and purposes, they were still on home ground, and they were inevitably arrested. They were returned to the mainland and found guilty at court-martial. Their sentence was to be the standard punishment for desertion: death.

Mainland execution

On 30 June 1801 they were taken up to Bincombe Down, near Weymouth, in a mourning coach. Two priests travelled with them, and several regiments were waiting when they arrived, including the Staffordshire, Berkshire and North Devonshire Militias, the Rifle Corps and the Greys.

Emma Thoyts takes up the story in her 1897 book, History of the Royal Berkshire Militia:

After marching along the front of the line [the condemned men] returned to the centre, where they spent about twenty minutes in prayer, and were then shot by a guard of twenty-four men; they dropped instantly, and expired without a groan. The men appeared sensible of their awful situation, and were very penitent. The soldiers then wheeled in sections and marched by the bodies in slow time.

 

FREE Guernsey history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Guernsey's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want. We'll also keep you up to date with our latest book releases and early-bird discounts.

 

Other events that occured in June

Cricketer Charles Grieve died in Shropshire 1st
St Johns undertook its first Guernsey rescue 2nd
Bailiff John Guille died in Plymouth 3rd
GUNS writer Joseph John Gillingham was deported 4th
First arrests were made at Guernsey Airport 5th
Jethou was put on the market 6th
The king and queen celebrated Guernsey’s liberation 7th
Occupying forces confiscated Guernsey’s radios 8th
Guernsey Railway company ceased operations 9th
Guernsey welcomed its first steam ship 10th
Laura Kennington kicks off Channel Islands triathlon 11th
Dame Sibyl became a dame again 12th
Guernsey voted to legalise local abortions 13th
Victor Hugo’s house is opened to the public 14th
The Channel Islands were demilitarised 15th
Guernsey was invaded by Colorado beetles 16th
States Telephone Department was established 17th
Pollet guest house fire claimed its third victim 18th
Aurigny founder Derrick Bailey died 19th
Guernsey joined the Football Association 20th
Guernsey’s school children were evacuated 21st
Guernsey celebrated Queen Victoria’s jubilee 22nd
Princess Elizabeth opened Guernsey’s hospital 23rd
Guernsey chose England over France 24th
First meeting of Guernsey’s Controlling Committee 25th
Guernsey bought Fort Grey from the War Office 26th
Guernsey coffee trader William Le Lacheur died 27th
G-JOEY completes his last flight 28th
Guernsey suffered its first and only air raid
The Star was published for the first time 29th
Two deserters were shot after landing on Guernsey 30th