Philip Asplet and his brother Charles were friends of the French author Victor Hugo. Their connection with the Parsons family is through Philip Asplet’s daughter Letitia whose husband William Hole was a grandson of George Parsons of Charlton Horethorne in Somerset. And George Parsons was Sidney Parsons’ great, great Uncle so Letitia’s husband William was a second cousin once removed of Sidney’s.
The Asplet’s home was the island of Jersey which is the largest of the Channel Islands, an archipelago situated some miles west of the Cotentin Peninsula in northern France. The islands are British crown dependencies and are not part of the United Kingdom. The other large island in the group is Guernsey. The Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey are remnants of the Duchy of Normandy and have been subject to the English crown since the Norman invasion in 1066 when William, Duke of Normandy, became King, but not subject to the English (or later the British) parliament.
Jersey is about 45 square miles in area and in the early 19th century had a population of about 25,000. Historically, the people had spoken Jèrriais, a dialect of Norman French, but English and standard French were also widely spoken and were culturally dominant. By the 19th century the Jèrriais language, and to a lesser extent French, were falling out of everyday use and efforts were beginning to be made to preseve Jèrriais as part of the island’s cultural heritage. Philip Asplet contributed to that effort.
Charles and Philip Asplet were born in 1813 and 1817 respectively in the parish of St. Martin which is in the north-eastern part of the island. Their parents were Jean Asplet and his wife Françoise (née Gaudin). Jean and Françoise had married in 1804 and Charles and Philip were the youngest of their children to reach adulthood.
This diagram shows three generations of the Asplet family.
In 1839 when their father Jean died Charles was 25 years old and Philip was 21.
As young men Charles and Philip were millers for a while. In 1841 they were at La Perrelle watermill near St. Catherines in the parish of St. Martin. Charles’ wife Nancy, whom he had married in 1837, was also living there. However within a few years Charles and Phillip were living in St. Helier, Jersey’s only town, where Charles became a grocer and Philip a chandler (i.e. a manufacturer and suppler of candles and soap). They had premises near to each other in Beresford Street.
Charles and Philip’s older brother George was a farmer.
Charles and Philip were well respected in the community and Philip was elected a centenier for the parish of St. Helier. (A centenier was and still is a senior member of the island’s honorary police force. The name arose because holders of the posts were originally responsible for looking after about 100 (cent) families.)
Philip also became well known for his literary efforts. He wrote and published poems in the Jèrriais language under the names Flip and L’Anmîn Flippe.
In 1846 Philip Asplet married Sarah Watts who had been born in Queen Camel in Somerset in South-West England. Sarah’s father, Robert Watts, who worked as a soap-boiler in St. Helier, had brought his wife and his four children to Jersey some years earlier. The Watts family of Queen Camel had been “soap boylers” for at least 150 years. Robert’s brother Bartholomew had also moved to Jersey where he was a butcher in St. Helier.
Philip and Sarah’s wedding was held at St. Saviour’s church on the 18th of August. The following year, on the day before Christmas Eve, their first child was born. They called her Letitia.
In 1851 the President of France, Louis Napoléon (a nephew of Napoléon Bonaparte), seized power by force when he could not constitutionally be re-elected. He called himself Napoléon III, Emperor of France. The famous author Victor Hugo declared him a traitor and decided to leave the country with his family. They stayed briefly in Brussels but then went to Jersey where they were welcomed and befriended by Charles and Philip who was by then well known as a poet. The Hugos lived at Marine Terrace in St. Hellier.
While he was in exile Victor Hugo published a series of political pamphlets against Napoleon III. They were banned in France but were nevertheless influential and the French government began a propaganda campaign against him. British authorities in the UK and in Jersey became increasingly uncomfortable about the trouble that Hugo’s activities might cause.
Philip and Sarah’s second and last child, Alice, was born in September 1853 and in April the following year Charles Apslet’s wife Nancy died.
Victor Hugo had enthusiastic supporters in Jersey but in 1855 he was ordered by the Governor to leave. The popular story was that he had written criticising Queen Victoria but that was untrue. It seems the real reason was that he and other refugees had protested against the Jersey authorities who had arbitrarily (and probably illegally) expelled some of the people involved in the production of a journal called L’Homme. An article written by one of the French exiles criticised Queen Victoria who was known to be friendly with the Emperor and his wife Eugénie. When a translation was circulated house-to-house in Jersey there was growing resentment at the ingratitude shown by the exiles and the authorities reacted by summarily deporting those responsible. Hugo protested and on the 27th the Constable of St. Clement, John Le Neveu, told him to leave. Hugo did not tell him that he had already decided to move to the neighbouring island of Guernsey.
Victor Hugo and his family left for Guernsey on 31st October 1855 where they remained until the end of their exile. Three days before they left Jersey Charles Asplet gave a farewell dinner for them. Hugo remained in Guernsey until 1870 when Napoléon III was exiled from France.
Even after Victor Hugo had left Jersey the French government continued their campaign against his supporters there. A newspaper, The Impartial, was published in Jersey by their agent Pierre Louis Le Moinne. It contained propganda and articles defaming those supporters. In November 1855 Philip Asplet by chance met M. Le Moinne in the Royal Square and a fight ensued. When the case came to court Philip admitted striking M. Le Moinne but his lawyer argued that an honest man would not be able to contain himself after reading such foul and calumnious insults as had been published about him. The jury found that the “provocation extenuated considerably the assault”. They also found him “more innocent than guilty” of several other charges laid against him by M. Le Moinne. Philip was fined £5.
The Lieutenant-Governor of Jersey tried to force Philip Asplet to resign as Centenier because of his links with the French exiles, but L’Anmin Flippe (as he was then known to his readers) refused and made public the correspondence.
In 1858 the first message was sent by electric telegraph from Jersey to Guernsey. It was from Philip Asplet greeting his friend Victor Hugo and including a quotation from a song by Pierre-Jean de Béranger. A reply was received within one hour.
Also in 1858, Charles Asplet re-married. His bride was Mary Sohier and the wedding was in the parish of St, Saviour.
Victor Hugo had been enthusiastic about the possibilies offered by photography, which of course was in its infancy. Charles Asplet took it up as well and soon gave up his chandlery business and became a professional photographer working in partnership with a Mr. Green.
Philip Asplet’s wife Sarah died in 1864. His two daughters continued to live with him until Letitia married and Alice moved to Knightsbridge. After Napoléon III’s departure, and the Hugos had returned to France, Philip paid several extended visits to Paris.
Charles Asplet’s wife Mary died in 1871 by which time he was primarily a wine merchant rather than a grocer. He died in December 1881.
Philip’s daughter Letitia married William Hole in 1874. He was a son of the Somerset farmer John Hole, whose farm was only about two miles away from Letitia’s mother’s home village of Queen Camel. Letitia had paid an extended visit to Queen Camel some years earlier when her grandmother and namesake Letitia Watts had died. William and Letitia lived in Kingsbury Episcopi until he died in 1885 after which she remained in Somerset.
Philip’s second daughter Alice married in 1882. Her husband was Michael Henry Montague Isaacs, a merchant, and their wedding was in Dorking in Surrey.
Phillip Asplet died in Grouville, Jersey, in September 1893.
You are free to make use of the information in these web pages in any way that you wish but please be aware that the author, Mike Parsons, is unable to accept respsonsibility for any errors or omissions.
Mike can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The information in these web pages comes from a number of sources including: Hampshire County Records Office, Somerset Heritage Centre; Dorset County Records Office; Southampton City Archives; the General Register Office; several on-line newspaper archives; several on-line transcriptions of Parish Register Entries; and several on-line indexes of births, marriages and deaths. The research has also been guided at times by the published work of others, both on-line and in the form of printed books, and by information from personal correspondence with other researchers, for all of which thanks are given. However, all of the information in these web pages has been independently verified by the author from original sources, facimile copies, or, in the case of a few parish register entries, transcriptions published by on-line genealogy sites. The author is aware that some other researchers have in some cases drawn different conclusions and have published information which is at variance from that shown in these web pages.
Copyright © 2013 Mike Parsons. All rights reserved.