Philippe Dumaresq, publisher

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Belle Vue

Philippe Dumaresq (1751-1822), the founder of the Gazette de l’Ile de Jersey and Constable of St John, was the youngest son of Jean Dumaresq and Marie Robin.

Militia

He was born in St Peter in 1751 and baptised on 13 November in the parish church. As Lieutenant of Grenadiers of the St Peter Battalion of the North-West Regiment of Militia he distinguished himself at the Battle of Jersey in 1781. When Peirson fell in the Market Place the Regulars retreated down what is now King Street, took cover in the courtyard of Thomas Durell, the Viscount, at the corner of Don Street.

Seeing this the Militia too began to give ground. It was a critical moment in the fight. Dumaresq ran into the courtyard, rallied the troops, led them out, and recovered the ground lost.

He bought Belle Vue, St Aubin, from Pierre Le Vesconte, and for some years was an active and aggressive member of the St Brelade parish assemblies, often demanding special meetings to send protests to the States, for his elder brother Jean was founder and leader of the Magot Party, and Philippe was his enthusiastic Lieutenant.

On one occasion he contemplated standing as candidate for election as Constable, but apparently he did not go to the poll.

Election for Jurat

When Nicolas Fiott died, he was the Magot candidate for the vacant Juratship. The Charlots made desperate efforts to recover the seat. Dumaresq complained that they brought many to the poll who had no right to vote, that the Jurats who acted as returning officers intimidated the voters, and made many alter their votes, and that a number of his supporters had been made too drunk to record their votes at all.

The Charlot candidate, Jacques Hammond, Seigneur of Samares, defeated him by 959 votes to 939. Dumaresq demanded a scrutiny, but the Court refused, and swore Hammond in. Dumaresq then appealed to the Privy Council, which decided that the Court had acted "in a most arbitrary and unwarrantable manner", and ordered the Court to take down the evidence on both sides in writing. This it proceeded to do in such a leisurely way, only occasionally appointing a day for the purpose, that by December 1795 only half the evidence was completed, and Dumaresq withdrew his appeal, and Hammond was allowed to take his seat.

Publishing

In 1784 Dumaresq introduced the first printing-press into the island, and in October began to publish the monthly Magasin de l'Ile de Jersey . Mathieu Alexandre was printer and editor, but Dumaresq seems to have provided most of the money.

This was not a success. In the following July Alexandre was arrested for criminal libel, but in any case the magazine could not have continued. A circulation of 500 would have made it self-supporting, but it never sold more than 300. Dumaresq complained: "Our subscribers are dropping us day by day. Many, having satisfied their first curiosity, no longer care to pay twelve sous".

He specially bewailed the stinginess of those who clubbed together to buy a single copy, and pass it round a group. The Magasin died in July 1785, but in August the following year he started a new venture, a weekly newspaper, the Gazette de l’Ile de Jersey . This was more successful, and had a long life and the possession of the only newspaper and the only printing press in the island gave the Magots a great advantage over their opponents.

The bitter party-spirit of the time is shown by an incident reported in the Gazette of 5 July 1788. Thomas Lempriere, one of the Charlot Leaders, called at the office to demand the name of the writer of an article that had appeared. When it was refused, he distributed a paper calling Dumaresq a coward. Some days later they met in the Market Place, and:

"Walking sticks came into play. Lempriere began to retreat beneath the weight of his adversary's blows. Then a vigorous stroke on his arm caused him to drop his stick. Dumaresq immediately seized his opponent's ear with one hand, while with the other he thrashed him soundly. Lempriere tore Dumaresq's shirt from top to bottom, and smothered it with his own blood. Dumaresq then dropped his stick and got home some heavy blows with his fists, and ended by gripping his antagonist by both ears, and rubbing his nose again and again in the mud. Lempriere was helped to the house of Dr Lerrier to have his wounds dressed".

Thus did gentlemen of Jersey conduct political arguments in the 18th century.

St John

In November 1787 Dumaresq was still living at Belle Vue, but by April 1790 he had moved to St John, for in that month there was a hot dispute in the parish assembly about his pew in the church. He had bought the property that made him Seigneur of Boutevillon and Lulague. In his new parish he devoted much time and money to a curious enterprise.

From time immemorial crowds from all parts of the island had gathered at Bonne Nuit on St John the Baptist's Day. No one knew why. It may have been a survival from the Church Dedication Festival or from some older Pagan Midsummer rite.

Dumaresq determined to give the people something to do when they got there. He established an annual fair. He gave free use of a piece of his ground, and erected 50 stalls from which clothes, cakes, cutlery, butter and vegetables could be sold. He arranged horse races and a cattle market, a troupe of comedians, a tightrope dancer, and a firework display. An ox was roasted whole and distributed to the poor.

His first attempt in 1792 was washed out by rain, but he persevered, and in 1795 over 6,000 people visited the fair. But then difficulties arose. The tenants of the Fief Chesnel objected to the fair being held at Froidment, and it had to be moved to Clos de Douaire. Finally in 1797 the States suppressed it as "contrary to good morals", and forbad any private person to start a new fair or market.

In December 1798 Dumaresq was elected Constable of St John. At the end of his three-years term of office he was re-elected with a majority of three votes. His Charlot opponent challenged this result, alleging irregularities, but the Court in July 1802 dedided in Dumaresq's favour. In January 1803 it was reported that he had sold his property and was leaving the island. In December 1803 the Court ordered a new election, as he was a prisoner of war in France. He never seems to have returned to Jersey. In October 1821 he is mentioned in the Court records as alive, but acting through an administrateur. In 1825, however, he is spoken of as dead.

From A Biographical Dictionary of Jersey by George Balleine

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