Edouard Durell

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From George Balleine's A Biographical Dictionary of Jersey Edouard Durell (1781-1848) was an eminent Jersey historian.


Born in St Helier he was the son of Edouard Le Vavasseur dit Durell and Elizabeth Le Breton. He was educated at Exeter, having obtained a grant from the Don Baudains, and entered Pembroke College, Oxford in 1799, obtaining his BA in 1803 and MA in 1809.

From 1812 to 1814 he was Curate of Broad Rissington, Gloucestershire. For a short time he was classical master at Norwich Grammar School under Edouard Valpy.

In 1815, in partnership with another clergyman, he started a school at Bodmin, Cornwall. In 1818 he described himself as Curate of Withiel, Cornwall. In 1819 he was appointed Rector of St Saviour, Jersey.

Apparently some charge had been brought against him in Cornwall, for the Bishop of Winchester refused to institute him until an inquiry had been held. This exonerated him, and he became Rector.

Abraham Mourant describing the States at that period wrote:

"The Rectors are the passive part of the Assembly. Most of them never speak in debate. They never bring forward a Bill. They never take any initiative".

Tradition broken

Durell broke this tradition. His active mind and keen intelligence made him plunge with enthusiasm into the political strife. He joined the Rose Party, and there was hardly a meeting of the States at which he did not make three or four speeches, often highly provocative ones, which infuriated the Laurelites.

In 1823 he became Editor of the Gazette.

In 1836 two of his leading parishioners charged him with sodomy. It is impossible to pass this over in silence, for the Durell case for five years divided the island into factions. Whether he was guilty or innocent no one can now say, for the main question was never decided. His friends strenuously maintained that he had been 'framed' by political opponents.

Certainly party passion ran strong, and a Rose Rector in a Laurel parish was intensely unpopular; but he had only himself to blame, if he was thought guilty. He sued one of his accusers for slander, but when the first three witnesses had been heard, abandoned the case.

Dean Hue summoned him before the Ecclesiastical Court, but he refused to attend or make any defence, and the Dean suspended him until the case was decided. His churchwardens insisted that he should sign a bond promising to cease to take the services and appoint a curate, or forfeit £1,500 to the poor.

The States removed him from all committees, and he absented himself from the States meetings. But he ignored the Dean's sentence and his pledge to the churchwardens, and continued to read the service in an empty church.

Pierre Le Sueur

In 1837 Pierre Le Sueur, a brilliant young Advocate just admitted to the Bar, undertook his defence. He put forward the plea that the Ecclesiastical Court could only deal with matters specifically entrusted to it by the Canons of 1623, and that the offence with which Durell was charged was not one of these. The Royal Court decided that he was right. This left the Dean powerless and the Royal Court shrank from dealing with the case itself, for at this time the penalty for this crime was death.

In 1838 the St Saviour Parish Assembly decided to sue for the £1,500. Le Sueur pleaded that the bond was illegal, and dragged out the case for two years with constant appeals on technical points, until the parish grew tired of this endless litigation, and decided to drop the case. Durell claimed this as a rehabilitation, and resumed his seat in the States.

Meanwhile Dean Corbet Hue had died, and Francois Jeune had become Dean. He saw at once that this scandal must be settled, and appealed to the Privy Council against the decision of the Royal Court that the Ecclesiastical Court was not competent to deal with it. The Council decided in 1840 that the Ecclesiastical Court was competent, and Jeune summoned Durell before it.

This time he did appear with Le Sueur. While denying the major charge, he admitted that his conduct had caused scandal, and on this ground he was suspended for five years, and a Curate put in charge. He still put up some show of resistance, locking the Church and refusing to give up the keys, but he was persuaded to submit, and retired into private life. At the end of the five years he made no attempt to resume his position.

Falle's history updated

Durell's chief claim to remembrance is the new edition he published of Falle's Account of the Island of Jersey. Before the storm burst, he had for years been collecting material. It is a pity that he never wrote an entirely new history, for his research had been painstaking and thorough.

He had listed all the orders in Council ever sent to the island. He had plodded laboriously through the records of the Royal Court. He had discovered Chevalier's Journal. He had borrowed many old manuscripts preserved in Jersey families. But he contented himself with adding over two hundred pages of notes to Falle.

"I have fallen", he wrote in the preface, "on evil men and evil times, and it is even extraordinary that I have brought this work to a conclusion, while struggling with the severest trials. Oppressed with the dejection of it wounded spirit and trodden down by unmerited vituperation. I have been numbered among the children of misfortune".

The book was published in 1837 as An Account of the Island of Jersey by the Rev Philip Falle, to which are added Notes and Illustrations by the Rev Edward Durell. Other publications were Charitable Visits to Philip George Jolin, executed for the murder of his father, with an account of his Trial and Execution', 1829; The Royal Album, a series of Lithographs (of the Queen's visit) from drawings by P J Ouless with descriptions in prose and verse by the Rev Ed Durell, 1847; and A Picturesque and Historical Guide to the Island of Jersey, 1847. The latter was the best of the local guides, and was often reprinted.

[Editor’s note: Balleine, along with other commentators, seems to dismiss the historical element of this work, which is much more than a guidebook and effectively constitutes Durell’s own history of Jersey.]

Durell also wrote poetry. In 1818, in his curate days in Cornwall, be published an enormous elegaic poem, The Triumph of Old Age, "occasioned by the death of Mrs Gilbert of the Priory, Bodmin". Other published poems were: Janvrin's Tomb, a Poetical Legend of Olden Time, 1840; An Ode on the Visit of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, to Jersey, 1846; An Elegy to the Memory of Charles Rouse Durell MRCS by his afflicted Father, 1847. And the local newspapers frequently contained poems from his pen both in French and English.

He died of paralysis in his house in Windsor Road on 23 February 1848, and was buried in St Saviour churchyard. He married Mary Anthoine, daughter of Thomas, and had five sons and a daughter, who married William Duheaume, Rector of Trinity.

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