6th September 1956
The melon king died… long live the melon king
Think of Guernsey agriculture and tomatoes will almost certainly come to mind. However, one man – William Corbet – who died aged 90 on 6 September 1956 turned his hand to fruit instead. He was so successful in his endeavours that he earned himself the nickname, The Melon King.
Born in Vale in 1866, Corbet had started out cultivating tomatoes, like his peers. He planted his first vine in his early 20s but switched to melons, despite the success he was having with tomatoes. He shipped his fruit to the mainland for sale in London.
He established the Heaman Vineries, which became so notable that they were visited by Mary, the Princess Royal, on 11 July 1921. She wanted to see how the melons that the royal family ate at Buckingham Palace were grown.
Somehow, Corbet still found time to preach at the Methodist church and serve as a deputy, constable and douzenier. He remained on the island throughout the occupation. However, he gave up farming at the end of the war, when food was no longer in quite such short supply. He is reputed to have done all he could to ensure that his crops were distributed to locals, rather than Germans, during the Second World War.
His son escaped to the mainland early in the occupation by sailing his small boat across the Channel. He had saved up tiny amounts of fuel until he had sufficient to power the vessel the whole way.