William Charles Lempriere

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William Charles Lempriere

William Charles Lempriere (1754—1790) Lieut-Bailiff, was the second son of Charles Lempriere, who held the same office

Early years

Born at Dielament Manor on 5 July 1754, he matriculated at Oxford from Hertford College in 1773, but did not take a degree. He returned to Jersey, was sworn in as Advocate of the Royal Court 1776, and became an officer in the North Regiment of the Militia. Toward the end of 1780 his father, who had been Lieut-Bailiff for thirty-one years, decided to resign, if he could secure the appointment of his son as successor.

They crossed to England, and so were out of the island at the time of the Battle of Jersey. The transfer of office was arranged and on 4 August 1781 William Charles was sworn in as Jurat and Lieut-Bailiff, and on the same day presided over the Royal Court. On 22 August he presided over the States. His father then transferred Dielament Manor to him.

He inherited the fierce fight between Charlots and Magots and Jean Dumaresq, the Magot leader, who had driven the father from office, prepared to do the same for the son. First blood was drawn by Lempriere. In May 1782 Dumaresq presented his bill for expenses as Deputy to the Council in the dispute about Jacques Pipon. Lempriere opposed payment, and on appeal to the Council, succeeded on the technical ground that the proposal had not been lodged au greffe.

In July the States appointed Dumaresq their permanent Deputy to the Council, but Lempriere refused to fix the island seal to this act, with the result that, when Dumaresq arrived, the Council would not receive him. Half the members of the States then signed a protest refusing to attend any more meetings until the Council had considered their difficulties.


Lempriere had a haughty manner, which did not conciliate opponents, who nicknamed him Bec-en-l'air. In their petition to the Council they alleged that he had frequently refused to summon the States when urged to do so by members; that when the States did meet, he had refused to put to the vote motions that had been proposed and seconded; that he had "frequently at Meetings of the States cast most indecent reflections on the character and understanding of members".

In his reply Lempriere frankly admitted the first two points, asserting that the Civil Government of the island rested with the Royal Court, that the function of the States was merely to give advice when asked, that only the Court had any right to demand a meeting of the States, and that, though by the Code of 1771 no new law could be made without the States' consent, there was nothing in the Code to say that the Court was bound to adopt any law the States might pass.

He added:

"The Clergy and Constables have no right to make motions properly so called. When they have anything to ask, it must be by way of petition, like all other private persons. If a motion is proposed by persons incompetent to propose it, the Lieut-Bailly is bound to refuse it".

This statement clearly defines the difference between the parties. Dumaresq regarded the States as a local Parliament. Lempriere regarded it as a consultative committee, whose advice the Royal Court was by no means bound to accept. In his correspondence with the Council, Lempriere always refers to the States as "a subordinate assembly", whereas Dumaresq calls it "the assembly in which the whole legislative power of this country under his Majesty in Council resides".

Privy Council investigation

In July 1784 the States met again to answer certain questions submitted by the Council. Lempriere had now found a new way of thwarting his opponents. Before the reply, which had been drawn up by a committee, could be read, he left the chair, and so brought the meeting to an abrupt conclusion. The majority of members signed the reply individually, and handed it to the Lieut-Governor to forward to the Council. After many delays the Council on 2 June 1786 gave its decision on the points at issue.

It declared that "the feuds and animosities that have so unfortunately disturbed the island of late years have been created by a contention for power between the States and the Royal Court, and both sides have been tempted to exceed the bounds of their rights"; that Lempriere's claim to be able to refuse to put to the vote any motion he disliked was "arbitrary and dangerous and would throw the whole legislative power into the hands of one man", but that Lieut-Bailiffs did possess the right to decide when and how often the States should Meet.

A petition in November 1786 showed that Lempriere was still continuing his practice of leaving the chair, and so closing the meeting, whenever something displeased him.

In 1784 Dumaresq had found a new weapon, His brother Philippe with Mathieu Alexandre, had brought the first printing press to Jersey, and begun to publish a monthly Magasin de l’Ile de Jersey. In July 1785 there appeared in it a Letter from Mirza to Zadig. Mirza had been wrecked on the island of Yeseri (Jersey), and taken by a native named Tevris (Sivret) to the Council of Twelve (Royal Court). Then followed this description of Lempriere:

"The seat that is higher than all the rest is occupied by a young man entirely without experience, whose father resigned the post of Cadi in his favour. His face is enough to show his character. He uses his power to oppress the people, following his father's advice, who is the wickedest man in the world. While he lives, Yeseri will be in slavery".

Libel case

Lempriere ordered the arrest of Alexandre, the printer, on a charge of "publishing an infamous libel calculated to stir up sedition", and then took singular revenge. He called up the case from time to time, examined a few witnesses, asking whether they had read the Letter, and who they imagined the Cadi to be, and then adjourned it, so that it dragged on for years, and was only ended by Lempriere's death in 1790.

In 1786 Dumaresq replaced the monthly Magasin by a weekly Gazette de l'Ile de Jersey, a far more vivacious and spiteful sheet, which published by no means impartial accounts of the secret meetings of the States, and harried Lempriere without mercy. In January 1788 he and eight Jurats complained to the Privy Council of "incendiary harangues and publications of evil-disposed persons".

"This venom is spread over the island by a weekly paper called The Jersey Gazette. The inflammatory insinuations, daily sounded in the ears of the undiscerning, will convince your Majesty that it has become impracticable for your Royal Court to administer Justice without the risk of an actual insurrection".

By January 1789 Lempriere was suffering from consumption, but in April he crossed to England to resist before the Council Dumaresq's latest plea for trial by jury. He became too ill to appear, and in September returned to Jersey unable to attend to any duties. He then went to the South of France hoping to recover his health.

In November he obtained the King's permission to resign his Juratship, though he retained his office of Lieut-Bailiff until his death the following year in the town of Pezenas in Languedoc.

In 1782 he had married Elizabeth, daughter of Matthieu Gosset, and they had four children, Philippe Raoul, later a Jurat, William Charles, a Captain in the Royal Horse Artillery, who distinguished himself at the taking of Washington, Elizabeth, and Mary.

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