“An invaluable record of our cultural heritage”

An image which shows the Société's Lord Coutanche library with wooden bookshelves, seating and tables.

Société completes major newspaper digitisation project

Jersey’s rich journalistic history as chronicled in newspapers and magazines dating back to before the French Revolution have been digitised as part of a major project spearheaded by the Société Jersiaise.

Local publications from 1784 to 1959 – including a newspaper Victor Hugo wrote for during his Channel Island exile – have now all successfully been digitised and safely stored to preserve them for future generations. This major archiving achievement has resulted in 29 Jersey newspaper titles (both English and French) now being available to access and read online via the Société website.

The digitisation began in 2022 when funding from The Jersey Community Foundation, the Channel Island Lottery and the Association of Jersey Charities allowed the Société to digitise 145 years of the Chronique de Jersey, a French-language newspaper that was published between 1814 and 1959.

The Chronique de Jersey is now being accessed worldwide, with particular interest from France and Canada.

In 2023, the project continued with the digitisation of another 28 titles that were held by the Lord Coutanche Library at the Société Jersiaise. This collection included some incredible pieces of local history, including:

  • Jersey’s first newspapers, Le Magasin de l’île de Jersey (1784-1785) and Gazette de l’Île de Jersey (1786-1835) issued by Mathieu Alexandre, a Jerseyman who returned to the Island in the year 1784 after learning the craft of printing in England.
  • La Nouvelle Chronique (1855-1916), Jersey Independent and Daily Telegraph (1858-1863), and L’Homme, Journal de la Démocratie Universelle (1853-1856), a newspaper which Victor Hugo contributed to during his exile in Jersey, issued by the Proscrits (exiled French socialists).

The scan of an illustrated title page which reads: No. III, Le Magasin de l'île de Jersey, Décembre, 1784
Among the digitised titles is Le Magasin de L’île de Jersey (1784-1785).

The collection embodies a golden era of newspaper and magazine publishing in the Island; during 19th century, 65 titles in French or in English were printed in Jersey between 1820 and 1870.

I sat down with Société Librarian Valérie Noel, who has been the driving force behind the newspaper digitisation project, to find out more about this incredible documentation of Island life which has now been made accessible to all online for years to come.

MM: In some instances, this project saw the digitisation of newspapers that are 240 years old – can you describe the process that went into handling and scanning these papers?

VN: The Société Jersiaise partnered with TownsWeb, a UK-based company specialising in digitisation of heritage collections, to oversee the project with us. The process began by choosing the best copies and safely packing and labelling over 200 heavy-bound newspapers. Then, a representative from TownsWeb took our collection to be digitised by their professional team. Once the digitisation was complete, more than 122,000 pages were digitised and the original newspapers were then carefully stored in archival boxes, in our temperature and climate-controlled archive room.

MM: There must be so many amazing news items to discover in this vast collection, did you have any highlights?

VN: It is difficult to choose a specific news item. When you open a newspaper, you never know what you will discover. Researchers often make the same observation. They come to the library to research a specific subject in the newspapers, and they get distracted by other interesting articles! It is a popular resource for local people and historians.

What’s great about TownsWeb’s technology is that the digitised newspapers are actually searchable by keyword. This means that the public can actually use the collection to research family members’ personal and business activities and the history of the local organisations with which they are associated.

The scan of a French newspaper 'Gazette de l'île de Jersey' from 1797.
TownsWeb’s technology has made the digitised newspapers searchable by keyword.

MM: Newspapers are something of a time capsule of daily life, what can a collection of newspapers this broad tell us about Jersey’s history and culture?

VN: This collection represents a period during which Jersey underwent important and constant changes to its economy, population, and societal values. Newspapers bring great value to users in many ways, not least in relation to foreign and local politics and events and they are an invaluable record of our cultural heritage.

MM: Why is it so important to preserve these newspapers for future generations?

VN: This was a project that was close to my heart since I started at the Société Jersiaise. When I arrived six years ago, I was surprised to see newspapers dating back 230 years in a room without regulated temperature and climate controls. Like many heritage and archive organisations, we had struggled with the lack of space and funds to store everything safely, but luckily, we have now rectified that.

Digitising this unique and fragile collection made it possible to protect the newspapers from time and deterioration by storing them in our temperature and climate-controlled archive room. Having online access to our collection makes it available to a wide audience and ensures its preservation for generations to come.

Scan of French newspaper 'Le Constitutionnel' from June 1820.
The project has allowed for the digitisation of 122,000 pages.

VN (continued): Without the preservation and digitisation of the collection, a whole part of Jersey’s history was at risk of disappearing. The Société’s role is vital to safeguarding our collective heritage, memory and identity. Not only has digitisation enabled the preservation of this unique collection, but also the sharing of our history with a wider audience, both locally and beyond our shores.

Although the newspaper project is complete, the Société still need to digitise almanacs and other historic records to conserve them for future generations. The organisation is constantly looking out for funding opportunities to support this vitally important work.

To browse the full newspaper collection, click here.

Newspapers digitised by the Société Jersiaise:

Magasin de l’Île de Jersey1784-1785
[Alexandre] Gazette de l’Île Jersey1786-1796
Soleil de l’Île de Jersey1792-1798
[Stead’s] Gazette de l’Île Jersey1797-1814
[Mourant] Gazette de l’Île Jersey1800-1835
Jersey Magazine, or monthly recorder1809-1810
Gazette de Cesaree1809-19
Chronique de Jersey1814-1959
Le Constitutionnel1820-1854
Jersey Loyalist1825-1831
Jersey Times1832-1835
L’Observateur Chrétien1833
Gazette du Commerce1834-38
Jersey Argus1835-1837
Le Jersiais1838-1843
Le Miroir1840-1842
La Patrie1849-1852
La Réforme1853
Nouvelle Chronique1855-1916
La Ligue1858-60
Jersey Independent and Daily Telegraph1858-1863
The Morning Express1861
La Lanterne Magique1868-73
La Voix des Iles1873-74
Jersey Punch1873-74
Jersey Reformer1890-1892
Jersey Leader (loose sheets)1935-1938

Written by Martha MacDonald

In this series, Freelance Writer Martha MacDonald will delve into the archives and meet with the researchers, sample the Sections and celebrate all that the Société brings to our Island.