Sir Martin Le Quesne

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Sir Martin Le Quesne


U20MartinLeQuesne1966.jpg

A 1966 family photograph


Sir Martin Le Quesne was a distinguished British diplomat who became involved with Jersey politics after he retired


Sir Martin died in 2004, just a few weeks after the death of his wife.

He was described at the time as a 'remarkable' man by former Bailiff Sir Peter Crill, who paid tribute to his intelligence and debating skills.

Sir Martin was a star of the British diplomatic service and was an acknowledged expert on Africa. He was the Ambassador to Algeria, deputy under-secretary of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and High Commissioner in Nigeria, and had been made a KCMG in 1974.

His expertise in the area made him a natural choice to be an independent observer at the 1980 Rhodesian elections, which saw Robert Mugabe elected as president. Sir Martin retired to his native Island in the 1970s to live at Beau D├ęsert in St Saviour.

He was elected Deputy for St Saviour No 2 District in 1978 and remained in politics until retiring 1990. He and Lady Le Quesne had three children - Richard, David and Andrew.

Telegraph obituary

Sir Martin Le Quesne, who has died aged 86, was an unconventional diplomat, not in appearance or manner but in his turn of mind.

Thus he was a willing recruit when the Foreign Office decided to pick some of their rising stars to get first-hand knowledge of Africa. From mid-career he was to be almost continuously engaged in African questions, starting as a 40-year-old Head of Mission in Mali, and ending as High Commissioner in what was to be one of the most important African countries, Nigeria.

Family

Charles Martin Le Quesne was born on June 10 1917, the son of a Jerseyman who practised at the English Bar. From Shrewsbury, he went up to Exeter College, Oxford, where he - and subsequently his two younger brothers - achieved academic distinction.

He was a classicist, and might well have followed in his father's footsteps to the Bar, but instead, after serving as an officer in the Royal Artillery during the Great War, he took the post-war examination for the Foreign Office and entered the Service in 1946.

Early career

In his early years he was mainly concerned with questions concerning the Persian Gulf, serving abroad in Baghdad and Bahrain and at home in the Middle East Department. But, after a taste of the "inner circle" in Rome, he embarked on a series of posts involving Africa.

This was in 1960, when one after another African country, whether formerly a British, French or Belgian colony, acquired independence, proceeded to constitute a frequently unsettling influence on the international scene, especially at the United Nations.

The attraction of the work for Le Quesne was that in this sphere, and more than in the traditional European capitals, one could often exercise real influence through one's personality. This was what he enjoyed in Mali, and subsequently in Nigeria.

Rhodesia

After a tour as Ambassador to Algeria, in 1971 he was appointed a Deputy Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office. He became the senior official adviser on Rhodesia - a problem then poisoning Britain's relations with the black African states.

He devoted his formidable intellectual energy to finding an honourable solution, but to no avail. The fruit was not yet ripe and it was only in 1979, after his retirement, that Lord Carrington brought off with great skill and courage the hitherto elusive settlement.

Le Quesne could by then only applaud from the touchline, and in fact did so by serving on the group of British government observers sent to be present at the Independence elections.

Retirement

The end of Le Quesne's diplomatic career was disappointing, though in no way reflecting on his own ability or conduct. Having achieved his ambition as High Commissioner in Lagos in 1974, he was marked down two years later by a Nigerian government which had just survived a coup d'etat. The coup leader had fatally compromised Le Quesne by calling on him immediately after his attempt to seize power. When the coup failed, Le Quesne was expelled. He was then within a year of his statutory retirement age, so he retired with dignity to Jersey.

Reverting to his family roots, he had some years before bought himself a small property at St Saviour. He served as a Member of the States of Jersey from 1978 to 1990 . He and his wife, whom he married in 1948, were happy in retirement, devoting themselves to the family, gardening, reading and local affairs.

Martin Le Quesne did not adhere to fixed timetables. In his younger days at the Foreign Office, if he found a slack period in the afternoon he would go and spend an hour playing bridge at the Reform Club before returning to the office and working, if necessary, until late at night.

When he became senior, he was an exacting chief, but his sometimes harsh manner was relieved by an attractive sense of humour. He gave sensible and loyal advice to Ministers, but did not much like or admire any of them, with the exception of Sir Alec Douglas-Home.

Le Quesne, who died on April 3, was honorary vice-president of the Royal African Society and a member of the Council of Southampton University. He was a member of the Royal Channel Islands Yacht Club, and chairman of the Reform Club in 1973-74. He was elected an honorary fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, in 1990. He was appointed CMG in 1963 and KCMG in 1974.

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