Sir Jean Dumaresq

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Sir Jean Dumaresq


Memorial in St Peter's Church

Sir Jean Dumaresq was a Lieut-Bailiff in the times when Carteret Bailiffs were invariably absent from the island, making him the de facto leader of the community

Sir Jean Dumaresq (1749—1819), Magot Leader, Lieut-Bailiff


Eldest son of Jurat Jean Dumaresq (son of Elie) and Marie Robin, who inherited from her father the Fiefs of Herupe, d'Orville, du Prieur, and Sauvalle. Born in 1749, and baptized in St Peter's Church. His father died in 1761, when he was 15, and Philippe Robin of St Aubin became his guardian.

He was sent to Winchester (1764-7), where he rose to be Captain of the School. "After that", wrote his grandson, John Le Couteur, in his diary, "he received high polish at the French Court".

When a lad it was assumed by the two families that he would marry Sophie, the high-spirited daughter of Charles Lempriere, Lieut-Bailiff and her father had promised to nominate him as an Advocate, when he came of age. But the young people drifted apart (Sophie eventually eloped with a Guernsey brewer) and, when Dumaresq asked for his nomination, Lempriere refused.

Appointment as Advocate

Dumaresq knew that the ultimate choice of Advocates lay, not with the Lieut-Bailiff, but with the Bailiff. He crossed to England and returned with a nomination from Lord Carteret, and Lempriere had to swear him in. This began a lifelong quarrel between the two men.

Its roots lay deeper than personal ill-feeling. Lempriere was a conservative and an autocrat, whose policy for years had been to rule the island through the little group of Seigneurs who formed the Royal Court, many of whom were his relations, and all of whom were under his thumb.

Young Dumaresq, on the other hand, was an enthusiast for the new ideas of liberty and democracy that were fermenting in France, and was eager to make the States, purged of Rectors and Jurats and transformed into a Chamber of Deputies, the real ruler of the island.

Between such ideals there could be no compromise, and two bitterly hostile parties arose. Charles Lempriere's followers were known as Charlots and Jean Dumaresq's as Jeannots, though the latter soon adopted the nickname of Magots (cheese-mites) given them by their opponents.

Dumaresq is called on his tomb the 'Intrepid Defender of the Liberties of his Country and of the Rights of the Unfortunate'. In his early years he was a born demagogue, a brilliant speaker, an untiring organizer, quick to exploit to the uttermost every popular grievance. In 1776 he became Constable of St Peter, a post which he held for 25 years.


Every election in the island was now fiercely contested, neither side shrinking from outrageously illegal acts. In the eastern parishes it was not unknown for voers to be kidnapped and marooned on the Ecrehous, till the elction was over. By 1782 most of the Constables were Magots and even some of the Jurats. As eight of the Rectors always voted with this party, in 1784 Dumaresq secured a majority in the States.

The conflict now became a fight between the States And the Royal Court. In 1781 Charles Lempriere grew weary of the struggle and resigned in favour of his son, William Charles. But the tussle went on.

Dumaresq decided that the first reform to work for was the establishment of trial by jury. As this had been the rule in England for centuries, it seemed reasonable to assume that the Privy Council could be easily persuaded to permit this in Jersey.Once granted, it would clip the claws of his old enemies, the Jurats. But this proved an unfortunate choice. More than ten years strenuous work led to nothing.

Dumaresq was now an extremely busy man. As the leading Advocate in the island he appeared in every important case. He was Colonel of the North-West Regiment of Militia. He was Constable of St Peter, and a Constable's post was no sinecure. He was Leader of the States and in 1786 he was appointed Receiver-General.


He was constantly in touch with his party in every parish, frequently addressing meetings, and always busy with his pen. In 1784 his brother Philippe financed the establishment of the first printing press in Jersey, and published the monthly Magasin de Jersey, and, when this failed, began the weekly Gazette de l'Ile de Jersey.

The possession of the only press and the only newspaper in the island gave Dumaresq a great advantage over the Lemprieres. Moreover, the States had discovered that he was the best man to negotiate with the Privy Council. Twenty-one times they sent him to London to plead their cause; and crossing the Channel was a dangerous adventure in wartime. In 1795 his cutter had a narrow escape from being captured by a French privateer.

On most of these visits be secured what he asked for. He persuaded the Government to pay for the rebuilding of the Hospital, which had been blown up, when troops were billeted in it; to remove the duty that had been imposed on the importation of Jersey cider into England; to provide convoys to protect the Jersey food ships; to withdraw the proposal to establish an English Custom house in the island; to exempt Jersey from the order to shipowners to draft a proportion of their men into the Navy, which would have crippled the local privateers.

Wool exports

His greatest triumph was when he appeared in 1788, not before the Privy Council, but before the House of Commons. A report had gained circulation that most of the wool sent from England to Jersey was being smuggled into France, and a clause was inserted in a Bill drastically curtailing the amount of wool allowed to the island. As more than 1,000 Jersey folk still gained their living by knitting stockings, this would have killed an important industry.

By pertinacious lobbying Dumaresq gained permission to be examined at the bar of the House. He carefully provided friendly members with questions that he wanted them to ask him, and he made so good an impression that the clause was withdrawn.

Trial by jury

His chief failure was in the matter of trial by jury. In 1785 he had begun to stir up the parish assemblies to bombard the States with petitions for this reform. In July 1786 the States appointed a committee to examine the proposal. In August Dumaresq lodged au Greffe a Bill to establish juries, which was passed by the States, with amendments, in October, and sent to the Privy Council for approval. The Royal Court followed this with a strong protest stating that impartial juries could not be secured in Jersey.

In 1789, after hearing both sides, the Council decided that it must learn more about the procedure of the Jersey Courts before coming to a decision, and asked Dumaresq and Jurat Hemery who represented the States, and the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General who represented the Court, to draw up statements on the subject. These were printed and presented to the Council in 1790, and Pitt gave up two days to listen to the pleadings.

In 1791 two Royal Commissioners were sent to the island to investigate the question on the spot. On their return to England Dumaresq followed them, and spent two periods of three months in almost daily attendance on them as they drew up their report. But this report was then shelved, and nothing more was heard of it.

In 1795 an entry in Dumaresq's diary runs: "Wrote to the Lord President on the matter of Juries requesting his Lordship to fix a day when the Report of the Commissioners will be taken into consideration". In 1797 he printed the proposals which the Commissioners had agreed to recommend to the Council. But nothing further was ever done in the matter.

Control of Court

Meanwhile, from his point of view the question had become less urgent, for he had captured the Royal Court. Jurats in Jersey were elected for life. As early as 1782 the Magots had secured two seats on the Bench, and one of the older Jurats had begun to work with them. From 1782 to 1790 seven vacancies occurred, and in each election the Magot candidate was victorious. With ten out of the 12 Jurats on the Magot side. Court and States now worked in harmony.

Dumaresq was the idol of his party. The Gazette describes a dinner given him in 1787 on his return from one of his visits to England:

"A tent was erected on the Town Hill and magnificently decorated to receive this patriotic guest. Flags floated everywhere, and everything testified to the joy which the presence of Mr Dumaresq instilled in every heart. The interior was decked with branches of oak, emblems of that perseverance with which he upholds the People's cause. Above his chair hung a triumphal wreath composed of laurel and the finest flowers of the season. Two hundred persons sat down, all devoted to the public weal".

After this Dumaresq was chaired through the Town. What the other party thought about the matter can be seen in the complaint which William Charles Lempriere sent to the Privy Council:

"A mob to the number of some thousands was assembled by the firing of guns, and exhibited a scene of the greatest riot and disorder. In the evening the party attended by the populace paraded in the most tumultuous manner the streets of St Helier, wearing in their hats blue cockades with an inscription Dumaresq and Liberty', the said Dumaresq being seated in a chair and carried upon their shoulders with colours flying and music playing; and we are sorry to observe that two Jurats and several of the Clergy and Constables were among the most active in the crowd".


When William Charles Lempriere died in 1790, Dumaresq hoped that he might become Lieut-Bailiff, but Charles Lempriere, the father, who still led the Chariots, had sufficient influence with Lord Carteret to secure the post for his nephew, Thomas Pipon, the storekeeper, and he was followed in 1801 by another Thomas Pipon, the Attorney-General. Dumaresq succeeded him as Attorney-General; but, on his death, at last in January 1802 he became Lieut.Bailiff. On 30 May 1803 he was knighted.

Meanwhile his views had been changing. The Reign of Terror in Paris had made him less keen about democracy and liberty. Moreover the Magots had developed left wing which was causing serious alarm to their leaders. In 1795 the States offered £100 reward for the discovery of the author of a paper that was being circulated calling on Jerseymen to rise like their brothers in France and cut the throats of the Jurats.

Changed attitudes

In 1797 the States passed a series of Acts against secret and illegal meetings "tending to stir up the hate of the inhabitants against the constituted authorities". As Lieut.Bailiff, Dumaresq became as masterful an autocrat as Lempriere. In 1804, and again in 1806, Thomas Anley, by no means an extremist, was prosecuted for showing disrespect to him.

When in 1807 Anley was elected Jurat by an immense majority, Dumaresq refused to swear him in, giving as one of his reasons that he "had acted many times without respect for the constituted authorities". As Dumaresq in his younger days through the columns of the Gazette had harried Lempriere, so now he himself was mercilessly baited by a new generation of scribblers with squibs and lampoons printed in Guernsey and smuggled into the island. Typical of these was Dr Scurvy's Last Shift, which pilloried him as "the Great Dum". "Knighted by his Sovereign he became regenerate. He associated with the swinish multitude no more. He had inhaled the delicious odour of courtly favour. Verily he shall obtain the reward adjudged to martyrs for the sake of apostacy".

We get a more pleasing picture of him in his later years in the diary of his grandson, John Le Couteur:

"I look back to the happy Christmas Days our family have enjoyed at St Peter, where my grandfather, Sir Jean Dumaresq, a pattern of the fine old English gentleman, used to receive his children, grandchildren, nephews, and nieces with most joyous hospitality. As a college boy I used to look forward to that day for months. I carry my recollections back to when I was six years old. Then my grandfather was in the beauty of elderly manhood. He was rather above five feet six, of admirable form for any feat of strength, with inexpressible grace of manner. He used to whip me up on his shoulder, and march round the room to the tune of the British Grenadiers. He was without a peer the first Jerseyman of his age".

Not every old gentleman inspires such feelings in his grandchildren.

He resigned office in 1816, and died on 20 March 1819, and was buried in St Peter's Churchyard. His tombstone says:

"After retiring from public life he devoted his closing years to providing for the needs and watching over the education of the poor".

He lived in the house now called St Peter's House, which he inherited from his mother in 1784, and enlarged. From her he also inherited the Fiefs of Orville, Le Prieur, and Sauvalle.


He married Marie Le Mesurier, daughter of John Le Mesurier, hereditary Governor of Alderney, and had ten children, Marie (1774- ) m Lieut-General Jean Le Couteur of Belle Vue; Jean (1775- ), later Attorney-General; Harriet (1776- ), m Francois Valpy dit Janvrin; Marthe (1777- ) m Charles Pipon; Elizabeth (1779- ) m Capt Philip Pipon; Philippe, who became Captain of the Victory after Trafalgar; Sophie (1783- ) died young; Thomas, George (1786- ); and Louise (1787- ) m Philippe Bouton.

Payne biography

From Payne's Armorial of Jersey

From this branch the late Sir John Dumaresq, Knight, derived his descent, of whom the following obituary notice is translated from a local journal :—

" Gifted with a lively imagination and with superior genius, Sir John Dumaresq directed, at an early period of his life, his attention to the study of jurisprudence, and at the age of 21 was nominated an Advocate of the Royal Court. Here his natural energy and stirring eloquence, supported by his logical style of pleading, his excellent delivery, and his sound judgment, soon predicted his ultimate success. Successively called, by public approval and by the choice of Government, to fill various administrative, financial, military, and judicial functions, he became Constable of his parish ; one of the Receivers of His Majesty's Revenues ; Colonel of the NW Regiment RJM, Attorney-General of the island in 1801 ; and finally its Lieutenant-Bailly in 1802.

He eminently comprehended the insular laws and constitution ; and it was undoubtedly owing to this valuable advantage, combined with his other qualifications, that he was deputed on no less than 21 occasions to represent the States of Jersey of Jersey before His Majesty in Council. He terminated his long honourable career on 19 March 1819, aged sixty-nine. More than 1000 individuals, among whom were members of the most distinguished families of the island, assembled to pay their last tribute of respect to their beloved and talented countryman."

In St Peter's Church exists an elegant mural tablet to his memory, and to that of his wife, the daughter of John Le Mesurier, hereditary Governor of Alderney. In the same church there is also one to that of his eldest son John Dumaresq, Attorney-General of Jersey, and another to that of his youngest son, Thomas Dumaresq, Deputy-Assistant Commissary-General, who served in Egypt, in the Mediterranean, and in the Peninsula, and had charge of the Army of Occupation in Paris in 1815.

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