The oldest Chamber in the English speaking world Jersey Chamber was founded in 1768 and incorporated in 1900. It is dedicated to the promotion of trade, commerce and the general prosperity of Jersey and is the largest employer representative.
During its early years, it dealt with a succession of problems with little assistance from the Island's authorities.
By the middle of the 18th century, the marine trade was growing rapidly but the government of the Island was still in the hands of a governing class which had little interest in assisting merchants, shipowners and traders to overcome the many difficulties which beset them.
It was against this background that a body of public spirited merchants decided to combine and establish an organisation for their mutual protection and to forward their case for greater consideration from their rulers.
The first recorded meeting of the Chamber of Commerce was held at Peter Lys' King's Head on 24 February, 1768. It was followed by a general meeting three days later attended by a large number of prominent local merchants.
George Rowland was elected president, James Hemery, the secretary and committee members were Thomas Durell, Matthew Gosset, John Hue, W. Patriarche, Thomas Pipon and Philip Robin. It was agreed a fund be set up with merchants submitting three pence sterling per ton per annum, based on the tonnage they owned and carried in their vessels. Those not concerned with shipping were asked to subscribe tonnage they thought proper - but not less than 30 tons.
Meetings were held monthly and were private although merchants from overseas were admitted as guests to the dinner that followed.
By the end of the century, the Chamber had achieved a great deal and its rules had been revised and reconstituted no less than five times.
The 1770's were troubled years for the Island. The Chamber met irregularly and in 1785 reconstituted its rules, increased its subscription for non ship-owners to 60 tons and decided it would fine members for non-attendance.
In 1787, the Chamber decided to seek a Charter of Incorporation, judging it essential to the welfare and prosperity of the Chamber and the trade and navigation of the Island. A petition was presented to the Governor, Bailiff and Jurats requesting an application be presented to His Majesty. However, the Chamber had made enemies and they were astonished to hear from one of their agents in London, a caveat against the granting of the Charter had been lodged with the Attorney General. The effort to obtain the Charter was pursued intermittently for several years.
Rules were changed over the years to broaden and strengthen the basis of membership.
Throughout the early years, the main work of the Chamber was promotion and protection of shipping as the community was mainly composed of ship-owners. The Chamber was active and forward looking as the ordinary 18th century Islander, whatever his class, had little contact with the outside world, whereas members of the Chamber, in contrast, were citizens of the world.
In 1769, the Chamber successfully took action against the rule that Jersey ships proceeding to North American ports should obtain clearance in Britain. It also helped redress wrongs against fellow Islanders including incidents between French and Jersey seamen off the Newfoundland coast.
Industrial unrest is an age old phenomenon. In January 1786, the Chamber helped with a dispute when ships' carpenters demanded an increase in wages.
In the 18th century when knitting was an important feature of the economy, the UK Parliament sought to prevent exportation of wool from the Islands to foreign ports. It was indicative of the Chamber's status that it was able to request a meeting of the States and to send an emissary to London to lobby Parliament. His advocacy was successful and the continuance of the wool allowance was approved.
In 1792, there was notification that restrictions were to be placed on the Island tobacco trade. Immediate representation by the Chamber, through their London agent, was again successful.
The Chamber also pursued the issue of harbour accommodation with the States, recommending the building of a quay from the town pier. A committee of merchants presented plans for both harbours to the States.
Work on extending both St Helier and St Aubin's harbours was eventually agreed including the construction of the Victoria Pier, completed in 1846. Much of the money for the project came from States lotteries, largely organised by the Chamber.
The French Revolution, preparations for war, war and its aftermath caused many problems for Jersey ship-owners and continuous representations for convoys for the protection of their vessels against enemy men-of-war, privateers and pirates who took advantage of the situation.
From 1821, the headquarters of the Chamber were in the Royal Square. The property, gifted to the Chamber was retained for 180 years until the move to Pier Road.