Pierre Le Sueur

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The obelisk erected in memory of Constable Pierre Le Sueur

Pierre Le Sueur was a brilliant advocate, but history remembers him as one of the greatest of all Constables of St Helier.

Five elections

Born in Broad Street 1811, the youngest son of blacksmith Francis Le Sueur, he was first elected as Constable in 1839, at the age of only 28. He was then re-elected in 1842, 1845, 1848 and 1851, before tragically dying in office at the age of only 42.

Such was the respect in which he was held in the town that, despite this being an era of intense party politics, the Laurel Party, which opposed the Rose Party of which Le Sueur was a member, did not put up a candidate against him when he first stood for Constable.

Different party

Yet it might have been expected that he would have become a member of the Laurel party, for when he left Le Gros’ School at the age of 15, he joined the legal practice of Deputy Viscount Le Gallais and Hugh Godfray, which was the headquarters of the Laurel Party.

At the age of 24 he went to Paris to study law under Beaufils, and was appointed oneof the Island’s six Advocates, returning to Paris to complete his studies before beginning to practice in October 1837.

Persuasive lawyer

He and Francois Godfray were involved in virtually all the major Court cases of the time, and frequently found themselves on opposing sides in the Courtroom. Godfray was a thunderous orator whereas Le Sueur preferred the course of quiet persuasion, and frequently emerged the victor.

Often he did not have to prove the innocence of a client, but was able to overturn prosecutions by arguing that they had not been brought correctly or under a valid law.

Elected Constable

Understandably his services were much in demand and his practice prospered, but he must have had an enormous capacity for work because he decided to stand for Constable when Pierre Perrot was elected Jurat, and was returned unopposed at the age of only 26.

St Helier was then a town with major problems, bursting at the seams during the greatest population boom the island has ever seen, and lacking any proper sanitary facilities.

Sewerage system

Despite the considerable reluctance of ratepayers to sanction the significant costs involved, Le Sueur instituted and went on to complete a substantial network of underground sewers. He embarked on a process of widening the town’s streets, inaugurated a fire service, and prosecuted many landlords whose properties had turned into slums.

For this work he earned the admiration of even his staunchest political opponents. He was in charge of the Chronique de Jersey, the leading Rose newspaper, but even the Jersey Times, on the other side of the political spectrum, was forced to concede in 1849 that “since the first drain was commenced in 1845, improvement has followed improvement in rapid succession, so that one who had visited these islands in 1843 and now returned among us, would scarcely believe that he was in the same town”.

Royal Visit

As if improvements to the town were not enough, Le Sueur’s workload was added to in 1846 when Queen Victoria paid a Royal Visit to the island and he was faced with making arrangements to control the enormous crowds which descended on the capital from all over the island to see the first monarch to pay an official visit to Jersey.

A painting by de la Taste of the bread riots

Bread riots

A year later Le Sueur’s crowd control skills were stretched to the limit when a large number of his parishioners rioted against rising bread prices and seized two wagon loads of flour at the Town Mills. Le Sueur and his Centeniers and Vingteniers had already prevented a raid on the Royal Court and now the Constable took charge and personally seized one wagon. Order was finally restored when the Lieut-Governor sent in troops from the garrison to wrest control from the rioters.

Parish gifts

Le Sueur was now held in such high esteem in his parish that in 1848 a gift of silverware was bought for him after 1500 parishioners subscribed a total of £330, a significant sum at that time.

Cholera

The following year Le Sueur had to cope with the serious outbreak of cholera which hit the island. All the time he was having to juggle his legal practice with parish work and his role in the States. Because his legal knowledge was so widely respected he was asked to check all proposed new legislation before it was debated.

He had been overworking for some time when, at the age of only 43 he died suddenly in January 1853.

Obelisk

A grateful island erected a tall granite obelisk in his memory, opposite the house in Broad Street where he had been born, and it is still there today, a fitting, if not overly attractive, reminder of one of Jersey’s greatest politicians.

The committee which had been charged with erecting the monument had wanted to provide a fountain, but had insufficient funds.

Further reading

A Biographical Dictionary of Jersey by G R Balleine

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