Francois Le Couteur

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Francois Le Couteur (1744-1808) was a Rector, expert on cider, planner of Jersey’s first road network and participant in the events of the Battle of Jersey.

Early years

He was the son of Jean Le Couteur and Elizabeth Payn, sister of Dean Francois Payn. He was born in St Saviour in 1744 and entered Jesus College, Oxford, as exhibitioner in 1762, becoming Jersey Fellow of Exeter in 1764.

He was Curate of Shrewsbury for two years. He was then starting as tutor to a rich youth on the tour of Europe, when he broke his thigh, an accident which left him lame for life. In 1771 he resigned his fellowship on marrying Elizabeth Perrochon of St Helier. In 1776 he became Rector of St Martin. His share in capturing the French rearguard at La Rocque at the time of the French invasion of 1781 was long remembered.

A contemporary letter in the Library of La Société Jersiaise says:

"Monsieur Le Couteur, Rector of St Martin, brought down two cannons, which he had bought and furnished with ammunition at his own expense after the attack of the first of May (the Prince of Nassau's attempt to land French troops in St Ouen's Bay in 1779) and, having joined the Glasgows, he showed Captain Campbell where the French had landed, and urged him to attack them. But the Captain, who had received positive orders to the contrary, hesitated, feeling that he could not take responsibility for such action without orders from the Commander-in-Chief. At last a message came from Major Peirson saying that he was going to disobey orders. In consequence of this and the persuasion of Mons Le Couteur the Captain ordered his Grenadiers to charge the enemy with the bayonet, which they did, killing and wounding 20, and taking the rest prisoners".

Le Couteur's account

The Societe has also Le Couteur's own account of this day in a letter written to Madame de Carteret of Trinity Manor, who was then at Southampton:

"At half after seven in the morning I was suddenly awakened by one of the servants informing me that the alarm guns were firing all round the island. We set immediately about preparing the cannon and getting ready for the field. We had scarce begun when a man informed me that a number of vessels were lying at anchor off St Clement. I dispatched a servant to go to the heights and inform himself with his own eyes what number of them were there. A few minutes after came Lauges, the gunsmith, all out of breath, and told me he was just escaped from St Helier, that the town was full of French troops, that the Governor and his lady were prisoners, and that himself had narrowly escaped with his life, one of the soldiers having made a push at him with his bayonet, and wounded him in the breast, upon which he opened his shirt and showed me a wound. We moved toward Fort Conway in Grouville Bay to join a detachment of the East Regiment and the Glasgow Volunteers. I then, being on horseback,

proceeded to reconnoitre their shipping; and, it appearing to me that there might be some chance of setting them on fire, I returned to encourage the troops to march that way and endeavour to effect this. They were some time in doubt what step to take; however, after some deliberation they proceeded. We had not gone far when word was brought that the enemy had taken possession of a battery opposite their ships, and were there collected in force. The Grenadiers of the Glasgows separated in three platoons to attack them. I drew up my artillery upon an eminence to cover their retreat. The brave fellow soon put an end to the contest, though not without considerable loss. We then perceived that the ships were out of our reach, and the Commanding Officer having thought proper to return to the Fort (Fort Conway) with his corps, I remained with some of our own people to cannonade a boat that was coming to take off some of the French that had taken refuge among the rocks, which I had the pleasure of driving back without effecting her purpose, causing the enemy to the number of 14 to be taken prisoners. Soon after Mr Snow passed from Town to the Fort, I joined him. Conceive my astonishment, when I understood that he was sent as an express from the Governor with a shameful written capitulation to order all troops to suspend hostilities. Yet I did not entirely lose hope, though I lost all moderation. Fired with indignation, I told the troops that I knew them by their late deportment to be too brave ever to submit to such preposterous terms, that Mr Corbet was no longer Governor, since he was a prisoner, that, should they not march to the relief of St Helier, it would be an indelible blot upon their character, that I would go myself as a guide at the head of 900 of their men. As I was thus pleading the cause of honor, there arrived an express from the 95th Regiment with a scrap of paper written with a pencil: ‘Make haste to come to our assistance. We are going to engage’. That to my inexpressible joy determined them to march".

Appointments

In 1782 Le Couteur was appointed Vice-Dean. In 1785 by inheritance from his uncle he became Seigneur of La Malletiere and of the Fief au Sauteur. In 1789 he moved from St Martin to become Rector of Grouville, the parish in which his new estate was situated. On 1 March 1799 he made a speech in the States, which he published, denouncing the narrow, winding, muddy lanes, which were the only means of communication in the island, and advocating the construction of military roads, for which he drew up a detailed plan. The credit for the modern road system has been given entirely to General Don, but he did little more than carry out Le Couteur's suggestions.

In 1790 he founded the first Jersey Agricultural Society, and became its president. Its objects were improvements in road-making, cider-making, the construction of ploughs, the making of potato flour, and the fattening of cattle. Members also pledged themselves to wear suits of Jersey-spun cloth (drap d'ici) with the hope of establishing a cloth-spinning industry in the island.

At this time Jersey was producing annually over two million gallons of cider, and its export was the chief item in the local trade. Le Couteur was convinced that by scientific methods the yield could be increased and the quality improved. For 30 years he had been making experiments in the selection of apples, methods of grafting, transplantation, pruning, protection against pests, types of cider-presses, methods of clarification, etc. In 1801 he published the results of his research in his Apercu sur les Cidres a l'usage des Habitans de Jersey. A second considerably enlarged edition appeared in 1806, and in 1808 an English translation was issued by the Board of Agriculture, A Treatise on the Cultivation of Apple Trees and the Preparation of Cider, translated from the French of the late Rev Francis Le Couteur. He had previously published Parallele de la Culture des Grains et de celle des Pommiers relativement a I'lle de Jersey, 1800.

In spite of his many nonclerical interests he was evidently a good Rector. The Gazette de Jersey said of him at the time of his death:

"His solid, unostentatious piety,his freedom from every taint of worldliness, his scorn for frivolity, his kindness toward the poor and unfortunate, made him loved and respected by all".

The Memoir prefixed to the English translation of his book on cider declared: "As a clergyman no one ever discharged his duty more conscientiously. He was, in fact, rather the Father than the Rector of his parish".

He died of typhus on 15 May 1808. He had married Elizabeth Perrochon, daughter of Jean, and had four children of whom the eldest, Francis John became Solicitor-General.

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