Edmund Toulmin Nicolle

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Edmund Nicolle

Edmund Toulmin Nicolle (1868-1929), Viscount, honorary secretary of La Société Jersiaise

Adapted from A Biographical Dictionary of Jersey by George Balleine

The son of Edmond Nicolle, optician, and Matilda Caroline Tibot, Edmund Nicolle was born in St Helier on 19 September 1868 and educated at Victoria College.

His first ambition was to be a journalist, and he joined the staff of the Jersey Express as reporter. In 1890 a new paper, the Jersey Reformer, was started. To this he contributed serio-comic skits on eminent Jerseymen, in one of which he rashly suggested that a member of the Harbours Committee might be receiving a commission on the cement used in the harbour works.

This led to his leaving the island hurriedly to escape arrest. Later, when the outraged Jurat had consented to treat this article as a juvenile escapade, Nicolle returned and entered the office of E B Renouf, solicitor, who encouraged him to read for the law.

He went to London to study, and was called to the Bar (Middle Temple) in 1894, and the same year was admitted an Advocate of the Jersey Royal Court.

Nicolle's family at their Beaumont cottage

Politics

He was still a keen reformer, and helped to found the short-lived Progressive Party, which demanded drastic changes in the island's constitution.

In 1895 he was elected a Centenier in St Helier, and proved a terror to evil-doers, running to earth several elusive criminals, including a French coiner, who had established a mint in Sand Street.

In June 1899 he made his first attempt to enter the States, over-ambitiously standing for the Constableship of St Helier in opposition to the veteran Philippe Baudains who had held office for 15 years.

Nicolle was badly beaten. The same year he stood again for a vacant Town Deputyship, and was again defeated. In August 1900, however, at a by-election he secured a seat as Deputy. At the General Election of 1901 his programme was the substitution of an elected Municipal Council for the Parish Assembly, and he was returned as senior Deputy at the head of the poll.

But in 1904 he lost his seat. His previous poll of over 1,000 shrank to 474, and out of six candidates he came only fifth. At the next election in 1907 the Town was divided into districts, and Nicolle was elected one of the Deputies for the Second District, and he retained his seat in 1910, 1913, and 1916. In 1917 he was appointed Vicomte.

His most enduring work however was wholly unpolitical. In spite of great personal popularity he seldom persuaded the States to adopt the reforms he advocated, though these grew far less sweeping than in his Progressive Party days.

Société committee

But in 1898 he became a member of the committee of La Société Jersiaise, and in 1901 was elected honorary secretary, a post which he held for 28 years till his death. Robert Ranulph Marett wrote of him:

"He found the Societe academique; he left it national. Founded by a group of enthusiasts with antiquarian and scientific leanings, it has come about largely by Nicolle's personal influence that every person of light and leading in the island reckons it a public duty to support it".

When he became secretary the membership was 148; when he died it was 639. But he was far more than an energetic official. He was a great research-worker. His early interests were mediaeval, and the Cartulaire des Iles Normandes, which he edited with Robert Marett and Guy de Gruchy, and his book on Mont Orgueil Castle are models of historical accuracy.

Then the excavation of the cave-dwelling at La Cotte, the transference of many dolmens into the Societe's keeping, and the purchase of La Hougue Bie in 1919 drove his investigations back into Prehistory. He became the recognized expert on all phases of the island's past, and, as the Bulletins show, could write with equal ease and authority on The Bronze Age in Jersey, the Attack on Jersey in 1406 or The Jersey Revolution of 1769.

It was an odd paradox, that he, whom political opponents pilloried as an anti-patriotic Jerseyman out to destroy all the venerable institutions of his country, should prove the most ardent lover of all that was ancient in the island.

Awards

In 1927 the French Government recognized the debt French savants owed to his researches by making him an Officier d’Instruction Publique, and in 1928 he was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London.

Other interests

He had many other interests. As an expert horticulturist he was a judge at rose shows. He was one of the founders of the Jersey Rowing Club. As a musical enthusiast he was president of the Orchestral Society and of the Jersey Philharmonic Society. He was president of the Jersey Law Society. Indeed there were few cultural organizations of which he was not at least a vice-president.

Death

He even possessed a surprising knowledge of the higher mysteries of the culinary art. He died at Merman, Beaumont, on 13 August 1929, and was buried in St Saviour's churchyard.

He left the Société £3,000 and his valuable collections of books and pamphlets on the Channel Islands.

In 1897 he married his cousin Jeanne Marie, daughter of Adolphe Nicolle, but they had no children.

Obituary

The Times, Monday, 19 August, 1929

Dr R R Marett, Rector of Exeter College, Oxford, who is also President of the Société Jersiaise, writes from Jersey:

"Edmund Toulmin Nicolle, FSA, who died suddenly of a heart attack on 13 August, at the age of 61, held the ancient and honourable office of Vicomte in the Island of Jersey, a crown appointment. From 1894 he had been a member of the local as well as the English Bar, and for nearly 18 years before his appointment as Vicomte in 1917 had served prominently among the deputies of the Town of St Helier in the Insular States. Apart from his public services, which were much appreciated by his compatriots, he was widely known as an antiquary. So far back as 1893 he edited the revised edition of Ansted and Latham's well-known book on the Channel Islands, and has since been wholly or in part responsible for numerous publications, the most notable of these perhaps being Mont Orgueil Castle: Its History and Description, Jersey 1921. In a very real sense, however, he might be said to be behind most of the work, both exploratory and literary, of the Société Jersiaise for the last 20 years. Its Bulletins and occasional publications, the value of which as treasuries of sound material, both prehistoric and as regards Norman origins, is well recognized by experts, owe most of the inspiration to Nicolle; for not only was his knowledge accurate and wide, but he had a singular gift for organization, and in the capacity of secretary mobilized every scrap of intelligent enthusiasm and not a little of spare money in the island in the interest of archæological discovery and research. The least self-seeking or self-advertising of men, he might have been almost said to revel in anonymity; but his many friends and colleagues — thanks largely to his efforts, there is hardly a representative islander who does not support the Société Jersiaise — fully realize that in his scientific thoroughness wedded to a genius for quiet leadership lay the secret of their united strength; so that they mourn him as one who will not be forgotten and cannot be replaced."

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