Le Couteur bowl

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This article by Richard Mayne was first published in the 1969 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

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On 28 November 1968 the Public Works Department of the States of Jersey purchased for £2,100 at Sotheby's London auction rooms, a beautiful silver bowl which had in 1811 been presented by the States to one of its illustrious sons, Major-General John Le Couteur.

The Le Couteur Bowl

St Mary family

The Le Couteur family are recorded in St Mary's parish as early as 1309. John Le Couteur, son of Jean Le Couteur and Marie Bertault, was born at Les Buttes, St John, on 26 August 1760, and was educated at Guildford Grammar School. He obtained a commission as Ensign in the 95th Regiment of Foot in 1780, which was then stationed in Jersey. This was also the regiment of Major Francis Peirson.

Le Couteur took part in the Battle of Jersey on 6 January 1781, and four days later he was promoted to Lieutenant and transferred to the 100th Regiment of Foot, which then sailed for service in India. Taken prisoner in 1782 at Nagpur by the Moslem ruler of Mysore 'Tippo Sahib', Le Couteur and other officers were marched in chains, naked, for 12 days and were then imprisoned in leg irons and put on a diet of rice and water, until released by the peace of 1784.

Le Couteur was promoted Captain in 1785 but his regiment was disbanded, and he returned to Jersey on half pay, taking an active part in the local life, becoming Centenier of St John.

In 1787 he became Adjutant of the North West Regiment of Militia. In 1790 he was elected Jurat of the Royal Court. He bought his house Belle Vue at St Aubin in 1792, and the following year married Marie Dumaresq daughter of Jean Dumaresq, leader of the Magot political party and Colonel of Le Couteur's regiment. The same year Le Couteur was appointed Brigade-Major of the Militia and in 1795 resigned his Juratship to devote himself wholly to militia duties. This he did with great zeal, causing the Militia to be raised from the ignominious title of 'an undisciplined rabble' previously bestowed upon it by the Lieut-Governor, General Gordon.

By 1797 he had risen to the rank of Major in the Regular Army, and was recalled for regimental duties in Scotland, returning to Jersey in 1799 with the post of Inspector of Militia, which he held for 12 years. A letter book in Le Couteur's own hand of this period, survives. These letters give an insight into the varied tasks and duties, such as the responsibility for French prisoners of war, inspecting the guardhouses all over the Island throughout the night where "some centries (sic) were found asleep at their posts", some firelocks and muskets were found so rusted as to "cause the death of anyone attempting to fire them".

In 1808 he was promoted Colonel, and in 1811 Major-General, and it was this year that he received from the States the silver bowl described as 'a piece of plate to the value of 100 guineas'.

Presentation text

The text of the presentation, as read in the Royal Court on 27 July 1811 is as follows:

"The States, taking the opportunity of their first sitting since the promotion of Colonel Le Couteur to Major-General in His Majesty's Army, and of his subsequent resignation from the office of Inspector of Militia of this Island, express to him their awareness of the important service which he has rendered to the country in instructing and perfecting the young men in their training and military discipline, following a scheme which he himself formulated. Ever since 1800 the States have seen with satisfaction the astonishing progress which the boys of the country have made under the instruction of Colonel Le Couteur, and they already expressed to him their sincere gratitude in an act dated 22 November of that year.
"Convinced at that time of the advantages which would inevitably result for the defence and safety of this Island if the excellent system of discipline and instruction were followed, the States asked Colonel Le Couteur to proceed, and they offered prizes for the most able of the young men, in order to promote more competition and rivalry amongst them, and to encourage, by every possible means, this admirable institution. Since then Colonel Le Couteur has not ceased to apply himself with the utmost diligence towards the advancement of the young men in their various branches of training and military development, in a way so as to enable them to enter either the Artillery or the other branches of the Militia, teaching to be officers those who, by their birth or condition, should one day fill such posts, encouraging amongst them the competition necessary to make true soldiers, and making them observe at all times the order and subordination which are essential for the making of a good citizen.
"It is to the untiring zeal of Colonel Le Couteur, to his perseverance in spite of the obstacles which he has had to overcome, to his knowledge and to his experience of tactics, and to his conciliatory manner, which has earned him the esteem and respect of all the Militia Force in fulfilling a most difficult task with complete devotion to duty, which finally resulted in this really advantageous and important object which the Island now enjoys, and will continue to enjoy in the future. Because this system of military education has been perfected more and more under his attention and by his direction for eleven years, it is now established on a solid and durable footing, in a manner which promises the best possible results, not only for the present generation, but for posterity.
"The States therefore find themselves greatly indebted to Major-General Le Couteur for the important services which he has given to the country, and wish him to accept their sincere and unanimous thanks. As a token of their esteem the States ask Major General Le Couteur to accept from them a piece of plate to the value of 100 guineas, which the President is requested to present to him, with this present act, under the seal of the Island. The States, considering moreover that knowledge of the gratitude due to Major-General Le Couteur for the services which he has rendered to the public, cannot fail to be acceptable to His Majesty and his Ministers, they have requested Major-General Hatton, Deputy Governor of this Island, to be so good as to present an authenticated copy of this act to His Excellency Lieutenant-General Don, who is at present in London, asking him to place it before His Royal Highness the Duke of York, Commander in Chief of His Majesty's Army."


Major-General Le Couteur's reply, addressed to Sir John Dumaresq, the President, was read to the States assembly on 21 September 1811:

Belle Vue
30 July 1811
I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter covering an Act of the States of the 27th instant. Permit me to request you will offer my best thanks to the Assembly of the States for the very flattering manner in which they have viewed my conduct, and for the honourable reward they have been pleased to confer upon me for my endeavours to render myself useful to my native country. In what relates only to our moral conduct in life, the consciousness of having done our duty, is sufficient for every individual's happiness, but in a public character, that same consciousness is not enough. Let our exertions be carried to the highest pitch, and our intentions ever so well directed, if the public and superior authorities do not see them in a favourable point of view, the servant of the Public will feel that he has erred, and mistaken his object.
"Stimulated by the approbation of the States, in the beginning of my career to train our youth to the use of Arms, I could not but persevere and, if possible, exceed my former endeavours to improve an establishment which they considered as essential to the safety of our native country, and their last marked and highly honourable approbation of eleven years service, to attain that end, cannot but convey the most pleasing feelings to my mind the more gratifying, as it is a lasting monument which descending to my children will prompt them to useful deeds in the service of a generous and liberal Country.
"Brought up in the Militia from my youth, I have always considered it as one of the great Bulwarks of our security. On many critical occasions we have seen the Island nearly destitute of British Soldiers. We all particularly remember that in 1779, when the French attempted to land in St Ouen's Bay, there were only a few Regular Troops in Jersey. If the French had landed, our safety must have depended on the Militia. Such events, although not probable, may again occur. This idea alone ought to make every man who feels interested in the happiness of the Island, to spare no trouble to render the Militia, in point of discipline able to cope with the best Regular Troops, and as the States will, no doubt, persevere in their fostering care, that attainment is not far distant.
"The Military Establishment of a Country should be paid the greatest attention to, and sound policy requires that every encouragement should be given to it. For let the Laws and Civil constitution be perfectly calculated to form the happiness of Men, what will that avail if not protected by a well disciplined Armed force, particularly if that Country is surrounded by an enterprizing Enemy, who far from respecting, treads under foot the Civil instititutions of the nation he conquers.
"I take the liberty to make these observations as they contain some of the motives that have prompted me in using my utmost endeavours to improve our Military establishments.

I cannot conclude without expressing the pleasure I have felt on receiving your kind congratulations, on the subject that has led me to address you this letter."

I have the honour to be Sir, your most obedient humble servant,
Signed. J Le Couteur Major General.

After leaving Jersey, Le Couteur was placed on the staff in Ireland and later commanded a Brigade in Jamaica. He was appointed Lieut-Governor of Curacao and its island dependancies in 1815, Curacao then being a Dutch colony under British command. When this was restored to Holland, Le Couteur returned to his old home at Belle Vue, Jersey, where he died on 23 April 1835.

His son, Sir John Le Couteur (1794-1875) became Colonel and ADC to William IV and Queen Victoria, and Viiscount of Jersey.

The bowl

The bowl was mentioned in Sir John Le Couteur's will as a family heirloom, and was in Canada prior to its recent purchase by the States, but its ownership during the intervening years is as yet unknown.

The Le Couteur bowl is described as a George III heavy hemispherical bowl, on pedestal base, chased with a band of lobes repeated at the base of the bowl, the body engraved on one side with the arms of Le Couteur and Dumaresq, and the presentation inscription on the other, which reads: "Given and voted unanimously by the States of Jersey on the 27th July 1811. To Major General Le Couteur, for his services during the space of eleven years whilst Inspector of the Militia of the Island"

The inscription is below an applied girdle, reeded band and gadroon lip, the leaf wrapped handles springing from leopard's heads. It is 15in wide (over handles) and weighs 104 oz 18 dwt, made in London, in 1811, by the famous Goldsmith Paul Storr.

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