Mary Ann Shaffer’s name has become inextricably linked with Guernsey, even though she spent just a few days on the island and saw very little of it. She was a librarian, bookseller and editor who visited Guernsey and became stranded at the airport when the weather closed in. It was two decades later that, fulfilling a lifelong ambition to write a novel of her own, she used this experience as her starting point, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was born.
Her book, set just after the war but recounting the experiences of a group of fictional Guernsey residents during the occupation, won rave reviews from its first appearance, but Shaffer, who died on 16 February 2008, sadly didn’t get to read any of them: it was published posthumously after her niece Annie Barrows finished it while Shaffer was fighting cancer.
The novel topped the New York Times Best Seller List in 2009. The Potato Peel Pie in its title was entirely made-up, but variations have been invented up to fit its name.
From page to screen
The book’s publication was just the start of the Potato Peel phenomena, though, with merchandise and tours now available on Guernsey, and the story being turned into a feature film, which released in 2018.
Although it promotes the island, very little of the film was actually shot in Guernsey because it was too logistically difficult. Some footage was inserted for the sake of realism, but otherwise filming took place on the mainland. Devon and Cornwall stood in for Guernsey in most scenes. Bideford was used for St Peter Port. Morwenstow, Cornwall, was used for coastal scenes. Clovelly, Devon, was used for the harbour. Filming began in March 2017 under the direction of Mike Newell. The film was financed and distributed by StudioCanal
It had been several years in the planning, with Kenneth Brannagh at one point appointed to direct it. Kate Winslet, Emily Blunt and Anne Hathaway were at various times named as potential lead actors.
On this day in 1848…
Explorer Edmund Kennedy was speared to death
Edmund Besley Court Kennedy came to a very unfortunate end. Born in Guernsey on 5 September 1818, he could never have imagined that he would have been speared to death on the opposite side of the world barely 31 years later.
Kennedy was employed as the assistant surveyor of New South Wales when much of Australia was still unknown. It had taken him four months to sail there, from November 1839 until March 1840, after passing the necessary exams to secure his position.
At the time, Australia was still seen as British property, so Kennedy had to wait for permission from London before he could set out from Sydney. This, he did, in 1845, with an extraordinary entourage consisting of 30 other men and enough supplies to see them through a full year in the wilderness. Nobody knew what they would find as it had not yet been mapped.
It was as well that they had taken so much with them, as they didn’t return to Sydney until early 1847. Within two months he set off again, initially retracing his previous steps and, when he reached the limit of what had already been discovered, following the paths of several rivers to see where they would lead.
Kennedy had been lucky so far. Although some of his supplies had been tampered with when they’d been discovered by some indigenous Australians, he hadn’t had any trouble himself – but that was about to change.
A fateful final expedition
In April 1848 (spring in Europe, but autumn in Australia), he sailed from Sydney to Rockingham Bay. Not knowing what they would find there, nobody could have predicted that the land leading back from the bay was almost impassable. They covered only a few dozen miles in several weeks before the party had to split up. Kennedy, as the leader, went ahead with four companions, leaving eight others behind.
One of Kennedy’s party was injured and had to be looked after by two others. Now only Kennedy and his indigenous Australian guide, Jackey Jackey, carried on.
By now they had attracted the attention of several other indigenous Australians who had started tracking them through the bush. When they saw their opportinity, they attacked, and caught Kennedy with several spears. He died in Jakey Jakey’s arms.
Jakey Jakey had to continue alone, and eventually made it to the agreed rendezvous with a supply vessel. A search party was sent out, but only two others of the original party of 12 were found to still be alive.
St James’ Church in Sydney features a memorial to Kennedy and his work.
What else happened in Guernsey in December?
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