The strange story of a rich merchant who sent his daughter to a convent in France to be educated, only for her to return 20 years after she had been reported to have died, rocked Jersey society in the 18th century.
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But was the Anne Dumaresq who arrived in Jersey in 1782 genuine? Her ‘mother’, who had been widowed for 15 years, welcomed her but Jean, the eldest son, was convinced that she was an imposter and a lengthy court case ensued.
The real Anne was born in 1742, the daughter of the Constable of St Helier, Jean Dumaresq, and Anne Marie Magdeleine La Fosse Chastry, whom he had married in 1732.
Jean’s ancestry is somewhat uncertain. George Balleine’s A Biographical Dictionary of Jersey says that he was the son of Jean, son of Jean, son of Abraham and had ‘many children’, but it seems more likely, based on church records, that his ancestry was ‘son of Jean, son of Abraham, son of Jean, son of Jean, son of Jean, son of Richard’.
After 12 years as Constable he, too, was elected Jurat and served for 22 years until his death.
Baptism records show that Jean and Anne Marie had only three children. The St Helier registerss show that a son Jean was born in 1737, another, George, in 1739, followed by Anne in 1742.
In 1762 news apparently arrived from the convent she was sent to in Caen for her education that she had died, and her parents received her death certificate “duly and legally attested” and a copy of the entry in the Burial Register of the parish of St Jean. As requested, they paid the funeral expenses and, unable to travel to France because it was at war with England, probably never thought that all was not as it seemed.
Twenty years later in 1782 the following paragraph appeared in the Annual Register:
- "Jersey. 26 January. A flag truce arrived here last week from some ransomers and a young lady who about 20 years since was sent to France forher education, and was shut up in a convent. Her mother had frequent assurances of her death and certificates from the holy fathers and went into mourning for her ; but about two years since was surprised to receive a letter from her child informing her of her long-meditated escape, which she had never been able to effect. At length she found a method of getting away, hired a vessel, and came over. Her name is Du Merich. She has a brother, a lieutenant in our service, and a cousin who commands His Majesty's ship Repulse ".
As England and France were then at war, there was no possibility of testing her story. Madame Dumaresq welcomed her as her long-lost daughter but son Jean was convinced that she was an impostor. In the Magasin de l’Ile de Jersey (November 1784) he described her as "a shameless and audacious woman, whose manners and speech show unmistakably her base-born origin. Her hideous and disfigured face discloses clearly the disgusting spectacle of vice exhausted by its own excess, and her ghastly complexion makes it impossible for her to blush.”.
But to please his mother he agreed to submit the question to Jean Thomas Durell, the Solicitor-General, a close friend of the family, and Charles Poingdestre, the leading Ecrivain in the Town. These came to opposite conclusions. Durell felt sure that the woman was liar, but Poingdestre accepted her story.
Meanwhile in 1785 she had married Josue Pallot, a landowner in St Saviour. In May he sued Jean Dumaresq, the principal heir, for his wife's share in her father's estate. The case caused as much excitement in Jersey as the Tichborne trial did in England, and opinion was sharply divided.
The first day's hearing was stormy, and Dumaresq was fined in 50 livres d'ordre for making remarks derogatory to the Court, and had to apologize. At later hearings Anne produced many witnesses, including Madame Dumaresq, who all claimed to recognize her as the dead Jurat's daughter. The case dragged on until October 1784, when, as the Treaty of Paris had now made communication with France possible, Dumaresq demanded that a rogatory commission should be sent to Caen to take depositions on the spot.
By December this evidence had in arrived, and the Court met to decide the case. But, as neither Pallot nor his wife were present, the matter was postponed, and the Viscount ordered to warn them that, if they did not appear on the first day of the following term, their case would be dismissed. No further reference to the matter appears in the Court Books, but in January and February 1785 Pallot sold his property; and it seems probable that he and his wife left the island.