The migrant Le Couteurs - Introduction

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This is the first in a series of five articles about the Le Couteur family, and specifically brothers George and Philip Le Couteur, who emigrated separately to Australia in the 19th century. The content comes from a booklet, The Migrant Le Couteurs - from Jersey to Australia written by Lindsay Horner, husband of a Le Couteur descendant, and published by the author before a family gathering at Warnambool, Victoria, in March 1991.

Origin of name

According to a Jersey historian (Frank Le Maistre), the name Le Couteur belongs to "a large group of surnames which may easily be defined from the occupations of the people thus distinguished. The church sacristan (which the Macquarie Dictionary defines as ‘an official in charge of the sacred vessels, vestments, etc of a church or religious house') was "pie cousteur", from the Norman term coutre, meaning in French le sacristain.

The spelling evolved to Le Cousteur etc, and finally Le Couteur as it is spelt today.

The book Victorian Voices indicates that the name meant "the church sexton or factotum, the curé's right hand man. One of his main functions was to calculate or cost the sums due from the parishioners for tithes, baptisms, funerals, obituaries and the like, and it may be for this reason that he was known in Jersey as the "cousteur", the man who told you how much it would cost. The title came to mean lay reader, perhaps because the sexton, being literate, was among the few who could read.

Col John Le Couteur

Arms crests and mottoes

In the late 19th century, two Jersey Le Couteurs are recorded as having coats of arms:

  • Edward George Le Couteur Esquire, Seigneur of St John's Manor House, La Hougue Boete
  • Colonel (later Sir) John Le Couteur, QADC, FRS, Adjutant General, Royal Jersey Militia, Viscount of Jersey"

Neither of these gentlemen was a progenitor of the Australian Le Couteurs, and no rights to the arms, crests or mottoes can be claimed by the latter. Both of the coats of arms are quite ornate and flowery. However, Sir John's crest (a sword and a sprig of laurel) and motto (Toujours prest = always ready) have a certain appeal.

Lineage

The following chronology attempts to trace the lineage of the migrant brothers George and Philip Le Couteur, and to outline significant - and in some cases, trivial - events in their lives before and after they arrived in Australia.

1300s

It appears that Le Couteurs are found established in the Jersey parish of St Mary as soon as records began. The Assize Roll of 1309 shows Colin Le Costour as one of the principaux of the parish, and in 1324 his son Robert was one of the electores. A Robert and a Jean Le Coustor appear in the 1331 Extente for the Parish of St Brelade. (Robert is recorded as owing the King eight sols for a bouvee or oxgate of land.)

1400-1500

There is a record of a Barnabe Le Couteur (of St Mary) being born in 1455 and his brother Thomas being born in 1460 (later married to Marie). Thomas apparently had a son Denys who married Marie Chevalier and died in 1571. Descendants of these individuals produced notable Le Couteurs down two branches as follows: (Note: The following lineages are updated since the original 1991 article to reflect the latest research Courtiergm 11:00, 9 February 2015 (GMT)

There is some confusion between the references as to where the descendants' line split. However, it seems clear that George and Philip Le Couteur are not descended from any of these "notables". (Note: This is confirmed in the latest family trees. Courtiergm 16:49, 6 February 2015 (GMT))

Another source indicates that In the 15th century two younger sons of Thomas Le Couteur of St Mary (presumably additional to Denys) moved to other parishes, and established branches there, which survive to the present day. Nicholas settled in St Peter and Thomas in St John.

It is possible that this Nicholas is an antecedent of George Le Couteur, as the latter's ancestors came from the parish of St Peter. (Note: The descent of this George from Nicolas (1464) is depicted in Le Couteur family trees recently compiled, and descendants of George form a separate family tree. Courtiergm 16:49, 6 February 2015 (GMT))

Late 1600s

The ancestry of George and Philip Le Couteur in the St Peter area has been traced back to the late 17th century by Ruth Heath and Joan Stevens.

The line has been traced as follows

  • Mathieu m Elizabeth Bechervaise
  • Mathieu (1710- ) m Betsy Le Brun
  • Thomas (1730-1774) m Elizabeth Asplet
  • Thomas (1771-1815) m Mary Balleine
  • Thomas (1789-1837) m Elizabeth Fleury

The third Thomas' five children were:

  • Elizabeth (1822-1859) m John Renaut
  • John (1824-1897) m Sarah Anderton(Runcorn)
  • Philip (1826-1903) m 1 Emelie Asplet; 2 Anne Maria Kelly
  • George (1820-1913) m Frances Ridgway (Aust)
  • Joshua (1830-1856) m Elizabeth Renaut

(Philip emigrated to Australia in 1855, approximately two years after his brother George)

The marriage of the second Thomas and Mary Balleine at St Peter on 2 Aug 1797, and the christenings of their seven children, are recorded as follows:

  • Thomas (George's father) (1797- ) (but born 1789)
  • Elizabeth Marie (1799- )
  • Elizabeth (1801- )
  • Phillipe (1804- )
  • Mary Ann (1815- )
  • Emilie (1816- )
  • Esther (1818- )

The marriage of Elizabeth Le Couteur, the sister of the third Thomas, to George Balleine at St Peter on 6 May 1808, is also recorded.

It is interesting to note that a Thomas Le Couteur from St Peter was a prisoner of war of the French in the Napoleonic Wars (1801-1815). This was probably the grandfather of George and Philip (the second Thomas) - the connection has not been definitely established, but the probability has been reinforced by a similar suggestion passed down verbally.

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