Henry Edward Le Vavasseur dit Durell

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Durell in 1864 with school friend at Coutances Lycee, Gustave Nelet

Henry Edward Le Vavasseur dit Durell (1845-1921) was an Advocate and successful politician, who became Attorney-General.

Family

He was the son of Henry Edward Le Vavasseur dit Durell, a grocer, of Beresford Street, and Rachel Sullivan.

Education

Born in St Helier on 13 November 1845, he was educated at Victoria College (1855-59), Coutances Lycee, and Caen University. He was called to the Bar at the Middle Temple in June 1868, and admitted to the Jersey Bar on 12 September.

"He had a gift of real eloquence", wrote C T Le Quesne KC "which was displayed most effectively in criminal cases. When he was in the full stream of his argument, drawn up to his full height, arrayed in his red robe, skilful and varied in gesture and in modulation of voice, he was impressive both to see and to hear".

Cases

Three of his cases deserve mention:

  • In 1873 the Jersey Mercantile Union Bank failed, and its chairman, Jurat Josue Le Bailly, was arrested for embezzlement. The trial lasted 11 days, one of which was entirely occupied by Durell's speech for the defence. This dealt so clearly and exhaustively with immensely complicated financial transactions that, though he could not save his client from well earned penal servitude, his own reputation was once for all established.
  • In 1884 an old master-gunner from the Castle named Venner was accused of murdering an eating-house proprietor. The case against him seemed overwhelming; he was seized with the pistol in his hand. Yet Durell's three hour speech so impressed the jury that 24 gave a verdict of ‘not guilty’.
  • In 1886 he undertook the defence of Philip Gosset, the States' Treasurer, who for 28 years had been defrauding the island. Durell's mastery of all the details of his intricate financial juggling, as shown in his cross-examination of witnesses even more than in his closing speech, was a marvellous intellectual feat, and secured for the prisoner the comparatively light sentence of five years.

Nor was he less effective in appeal cases in the awe-inspiring atmosphere of the Privy Council. Into every case he undertook he threw himself heart and soul. At the close of the Venner trial tears were streaming down his cheeks. Once he overstepped the mark: in 1891 he was suspended from practising at the Bar for four months for writing an indignant letter to the press about a matter that was still sub judice.

Politics

In 1872, in his first attempt to enter the States as one of the Deputies for St Helier he received what he described as "a fearful licking"; but in 1875 he succeeded, and at the next five elections was returned at the head of the poll, securing in 1892 the largest number of votes ever recorded.

In 1896 he became Constable of St Helier, and carried out many improvements at La Collette and the Parade. In 1899 he was appointed Solicitor-General, and was promoted Attorney-General in 1912.

With his tall upright carriage, piercing eyes and heavy moustache, he was one of the best known figures in the Town, and a dog of the whippet breed was his constant companion. For some years the leading articles in the Chronique were written by him. He held strong religious views of a somewhat old-fashioned type, and was a prominent member of the St Paul’s congregation.

Royal Visit

When the King and Queen visited Jersey in 1921, much of the preparatory work fell on his shoulders, and the strain proved too heavy. Immediately after the visit he took to his bed, and died on 25 July. His first wife, Hannah Renouf, whom he married in 1885, died childless. In 1914 he married Winifred Mary Hooper, by whom he had two children.

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