Mathieu Alexandre, printer, publisher and political activist. 1754-1808
Jersey has a long history of newspaper and periodical publishing, although perhaps not quite as long as might be thought, because the first printing press only arrived in the island in 1784. It was brought back to the island after a period training in England by Mathieu Alexandre, born in St Brelade in 1754, the third son of Jean Alexandre and Jeanne, daughter of George Marett. The arrival of the press coincided with a period of intense political activity in Jersey, centred on the two political parties, the Magots and Charlots.
Alexandre’s venture was part financed by his father, who sold a house to raise the money, and part by leading Magot Philippe Dumaresq. Predictably, once the press was established in St Aubin, the first publication to be produced has strong Magot leanings, and this was to get Alexandre into trouble.
A satirical article in his sixpenny monthly Le Magasin de l’Ile de Jersey included ill-concealed references to Charlots Thomas Pipon and William Charles Lempriere. Pipon had Alexandre arrested for criminal libel, which was a big problem, because charges were also levied by Lempriere, who was the Lieut-Bailiff.
Alexandre was charged with a “black and infamous calumny on the public character of the magistrate who represents the sacred person of His Majesty, tending to stir up discontent with the government to incite the people to sedition”.
The prosecution was the final straw for a publication whose circulation had already fallen from 300 to 200 and it folded. Alexandre had to find the substantial sum of £500 bail to keep him free while the case dragged on for two years.
Half way through Alexandre’s press was rolling again, with the appearance on 5 August 1786 of the weekly Gazette de l’ile de Jersey with a three sous cover price. This publication, also staunchly Magot, was successful and lasted nearly 50 years.
French prayer book
In 1787 Alexandre printed a new edition of the French prayer book and was also elected Constable’s Officer in St Brelade by a large majority. The case against him continued and in 1787 he refused to find bail and challenged Lempriere to jail him. This he was reluctant to do and the question of bail was quietly dropped.
Alexandre’s attempt to have trial by jury was rejected by the court, the Attorney-General arguing that there was no precedent for this and Alexandre responding that this was hardly surprising because there had never been a printing press in the island before. An appeal to the Privy Council was launched but Lempriere, who did not have long to live, dropped the case.
The printing press moved to St Helier in 1788 and following the death of his father Alexandre was left a rich man and turned from publisher to money lender. He died in 1808.
A Biographical Dictionary of Jersey, G R Balleine