Thomas Lempriere (1756)

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Thomas Lempriere

Thomas Lempriere (1756-1825) was a Colonel in the Royal Jersey Militia who played a key role in the Battle of Jersey and was prone to getting into fights over political disagreements


Lempriere was the third son of Lieut-Bailiff Charles Lempriere and Elizabeth Corbet and was born in Dielament Manor on 16 September 1756. He was educated at Oxford.

In 1776 at Earl Granville's death he inherited in right of his mother a fourth part of the Fief of St Ouen. In 1780 his father admitted him an Advocate of the Royal Court.

On 6 January 1781, the morning of the Battle of Jersey, he was awakened at Rosel by the sound of alarm guns and the clanging of the church bells. He struggled into his uniform, and rode off toward St Helier. Half way he met the Solicitor-General, who reported that the Town was in the possession of the enemy and the Lieut-Governor a prisoner.

William Charles Lempriere, his brother, told the rest of the story in a letter to their father: "The instant my brother heard that some of our troops were forming an Gallows Hill, he immediately went to join them. The 95th Regiment had not yet arrived, and he went at the desire of the Commanding Officer of the 78th to hasten the march of the St Martin Division, who, for want of orders, had marched toward Grouville, having heard that the enemy were in those quarters. As soon as he returned, he found Major Peirson at the head of the 95th, to whom he offered his services, which the Major very politely accepted. During the whole action my brother kept near the Major, and on horseback to be more ready to carry any orders that might be found necessary. He was only two or three yards from the Major when he was killed. Toward the close of the action he received a shot which entered at the right shoulder, and passed nearly through the centre of the back. The officers of the Regulars allow that he displayed marks of great courage, but he certainly exposed himself more than prudence required".

"I had strength", wrote Thomas, "to reach the house of Mons Gosset. I cannot tell you what care and attention I have received from that worthy family".

Election for Constable

Two months later, when William Charles was appointed Lieut-Bailiff and resigned the post of Deputy-Commissary of Musters for the troops in Guernsey and Jersey, Thomas succeeded him at a salary of six shillings a day. He now lived in St John, and in 1784 he and John Arthur competed for the Constableship. Arthur won by ten votes, but Lempriere challenged the result and the Court ordered a new election.

Both sides appealed to the Privy Council and for eight years the Parish was without a Constable. In 1792, however, as neither party had taken any steps to be heard, and as Lempriere had left the parish, and so was no longer eligible, the States ordered Arthur to take his seat.

In the stormy politics of the period Lempriere took an active share. On the eve of an election for Constable, the Gazette reports, "Monsieur the Commissary and his servant rode through the parish all night, begging and imploring everyone to vote for their candidate". At a St John parish assembly in 1787 he jeered at Jurat Le Maistre, Seigneur of La Hougue Boete, "putting his face within four inches of his nose". Le Maistre knocked him down. Lempriere prosecuted him, but the Court refused to convict.

Some of his fellow-officers in the Militia (he was Major in the North Regiment) felt strongly that, instead of prosecuting, he should have challenged his opponent to a duel, and wrote to the Lieut-Governor threatening to resign their commissions if he were not removed. This was reported in the Gazette. The result was that when he and Philippe Dumaresq, owner of the Gazette, met in the Market Place, there was a furious fight with canes and fists and finally a rough-and-tumble in the mud.

Most of his own regiment, however, stood by him. A meeting of officers passed a resolution with only two dissentients that "The Corps of Officers taking into consideration the behaviour of Thomas Lempriere Esq in a late dispute with Edward Le Maistre Esq, Senior Jurat of the Bench, and having maturely examined the whole circumstances of the case, are of opinion that his conduct on the above occasion is not derogatory to the character of a gentleman".

Lempriere retained his commission, and in 1795 became Colonel of the Regiment. In 1788 there was another fight at St John. On the eve of all parish assemblies each party held a dinner. Both were eager to secure the vote of a newcomer. Lempriere took him by the arm and tried to lead him to the Charlot dinner. Philippe Durell protested that he had promised to dine with the Magots.

"From words they came to blows. The fight lasted some time. At last the combatants were separated and Mr Lempriere retired with his face blood-stained and battered".

Family quarrel

In 1787 he had become involved in a quarrel with his father Charles. In the previous year he had bought from his uncle Philippe, who was now living in Devon, the Fief of Chesnel and its dependencies. But when Philippe died, Charles claimed this estate as his brother's principal heir, alleging that the pretended sale had been a fraud devised to keep him out of part of his inheritance. He won his case.

Thomas then moved to Town, and eventually made his home in La Motte Manor, the house in which Moyse Corbet had been seized. He was now a busy Advocate, but be lost no opportunity of trying to improve his position. In 1795 and again in 1798 he tried hard to secure the post of Receiver-General. In 1798 he applied for the position of Storekeeper of the Ordnance. In 1800 he approached Lord Townshend, Lord Cornwallis, and Sir Charles Morgan asking them to secure his appointment as Solicitor-General. Their polite refusals are among the manuscripts in Rosel Manor.

In 1820, when a rumour arose that Lord Carteret, the aged Bailiff, was about to resign, Lempriere again wrote many letters asking influential acquaintances to support his candidature, but Major-Geneneral Gordon, the Lieut-Governor, wrote to Lord Townshend, the Governor, "Mr Lempriere would be among the last I should recommend for so responsible a situation".

In 1806 after losing within a few days his wife and a daughter, he gave up his colonelcy. Col Le Couteur wrote: "From circumstances of the most distressing nature in Col Lempriere's family he has felt himself obliged to resign the command of the North Regiment".


In 1816 he resigned his position as Advocate. In his later years he became very studious. The Gazette said of him at his death:

"He had a perfect knowledge of the learned languages as well as French and English, in which his style was clear and elegant. He investigated unremittingly the laws and customs of his land, and knew them through and through. He could decipher ancient manuscripts with ease, and was such an enthusiast on this subject that he often spent whole days reading the old Rolls of the Court. One can safely say that no man in the island knew our legal procedure better".

J A Messervy added:

"He was very erudite, a distinguished antiquary, and an eminent genealogist".

He married in 1785 Elizabeth Beuzeville, daughter of the Rev Samuel Beuzeville, and had eleven children, of whom the eldest was Vice-Admiral George Oury Lempriere. He died after three days illness in 1825, and was buried in St Helier on 3 July.

His portrait in blue uniform with red lapels and silver facings, yellow waistcoat, lace cravat and cuffs and powdered wig, painted by Mason Chamberlin, and one of his wife by the same artist, hang in Rosel Manor.

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