Bi-Centenary of John Wesley's First Visit to Guernsey

John Wesley's First Visit to Guernsey

On the morning of Saturday, 15th August 1987, a figure in a flowing, black cloak was rowed ashore in St. Peter Port Harbour and driven by horse and carriage to a private house on the western outskirts of the town. Some thirty minutes later “John Wesley” preached a sermon from a stone outside that property: this stone commemorated the visit to Guernsey 200 years earlier of the founder of Methodism.

The five stamps which were released on 17th November 1987 depict three sites at which Wesley preached in the Bailiwick of Guernsey as well as two early meeting places.

Methodism reached the Channel Islands in 1774 when Jersey fishermen brought the religion back from Newfoundland following their fishing expeditions.

As R.D. Moore in his “Methodism in the Channel Island” records, it was to be some eleven years before inroads, were made into Guernsey, at the instigation of a jerseyman, Pierre Arrive, then residing in Guernsey.

His Jersey-based sisters having advised him of their conversion, Pierre travelled down to investigate and was instrumental in bringing to his adopted island to preach Robert Carr Brackenbury, a companion of Wesley on his travels in Scotland and the Netherlands.  

He was succeeded by Dr Thomas Coke (fresh from organising the American Methodist Church) and by Jean De Quetteville, a young Jersey convert who took up the post of organiser in Guernsey, and by Dr Adam Clarke who joined de Quetteville and who was the instrument whereby Methodism reached Alderney in 1787.

John Wesley himself, even at 84, was a tireless traveller and promised in a letter to Clarke in March 1787 to try to find time to visit the Channel Islands.

After a conference in Manchester in mid-summer, he travelled south to Bristol to preach, then to Gloucester and back to Salisbury. He reached Southampton and preached on 9/10th August.

Next day he embarked for Guernsey in the sloop The Queen. Storms forced him firstly into Yarmouth in the Isle of Wight and ten into Swanage, at both of which places congregations assembled.

On the 14th the vessel was able to put to sea again but a change in the resulted in a diversion into Alderney. The 7p stamp shows Wesley preaching to a crowd of islanders assembled on the beach at Braye Harbour. On the 5th August 1787, a figure in a flowing black cloak was rowed ashore in St. Peter Port Harbour.

Wesley’s Journal records his initial thoughts in Guernsey: ”The Island itself makes a beautiful appearance, spreading as a crescent to the right and left, about seven miles long, and five broad, part high land and part low. The town itself is boldly situated, rising higher and higher from the water. The first thing I observed in it was very narrow streets and exceeding high houses. We quickly went on to Mr de Jersey’s, hardly a mile from the town. Here I found a most cordial welcome, both from the master of the house and all his family. I preached at seven in a large room, to as deeply serious a congregation as I ever saw, on “Jesus Christ, of God made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption.”

This set the pattern for the visit, with Wesley preaching at least once a day in various parts of the island. The 15p stamp depicts him outside the de Jersey home, Mon Plaisir: on the evening of the 17th, following a call upon the Governor, the size of the crowd had forced him to give his address in the courtyard. His journal records that “many were cut to the heart this hour and some not a little comforted”.

On Saturday, 18th August, Wesley was received again by the Governor and dined with him, following which he preached to “the largest congregation I have ever seen here.” Following a full day of engagements on the Sabbath he sailed for Jersey on the Monday. His original intention had been to sail to direct to Southampton following this visit but the weather again took a hand at the end of the month Wesley was once more in Guernsey.

His first preaching engagement this time was at the assembly rooms (now the Gille-Alles Library), seen in the 29p stamp; this venue was again used subsequently with a larger congregation.

On the morning of the 30th, Wesley set out from St Peter Port at 9am and travelled west reaching St Pierre-du-Bois in the afternoon: his preaching site, La Maison de Haut, is depicted the our first day cover.

Wesley returned to Mon Plaisir to await favourable weather. In all he was detained in the island on the second visit for over a week and preached once or twice each day, the number of those attending increasing as time went on and, in Wesley’s words, appearing “more and more affected”.

Eventually on 5th September, it was learnt that a ship newly arrived from France was to leave next morning for Penzance and thus did Wesley take his leave of the Channel Islands.

That he did not begrudge his time spent here is illustrated by his late comment: “Here is an open door: high and low, rich and poor, receive the word gladly”.

The 1p stamp shows La Ville Baudu, the house in Guernsey’s Vale parish, which served as an early Methodist meeting place.

The final value depicts the first chapel in the island at rue Le Merchant, St Peter Port.

It was built on land purchased from the Bailiff, William Le Marchant, and dedicated on 29th August 1788, by the Reverend Adam Clarke.

Services were in French and English until the opening of Ebenezer Methodist Church in Union Street in 1916 when the French language only was used.

John and Charles Wesley