Philippe Mourant

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Philippe Mourant (1771-1845), printer and newspaper proprietor, was the son of Philippe Mourant and Elizabeth Pirouet, born in St Helier in 1771.

Soleil de l'Ile de Jersey

The first Jersey newspaper, the Gazette, was established by Mathieu Alexandre in 1786 to support the Magot Party. In 1792 their opponents, the Charlots, started the Soleil de l’Ile de Jersey. They fell out with their first printer, Francois Jeune, and entrusted the paper to Mourant.

The Gazette remarked:

"Last Saturday Lady Press gave birth to a puny monstrosity. The father seems unaccountably happy, and, since he cannot endow the little gutter-snipe with either beauty or talent, he has decided to dazzle us with its title. In spite of its deformity he has named it the Soleil de Jersey. The baby's health is deplorable. The doctors say it cannot live a year".

As a matter of fact the Soleil outlived the old Gazette, which died in 1797.

That year an Englishman, John Stead, "formerly engaged in His Majesty's Printing Office in London", set up a printing press in Jersey. Between him and Mourant there was fierce rivalry. Stead published in 1797 an Almanach. Historique, Utile, et Curieux, continuing a series begun by Alexandre in 1785.

Mourant responded with a similar almanac with exactly the same title. In September Stead took over the moribund Gazette. He immensely improved its appearance under his management, but it lacked local interest, consisting mainly of cuttings from French and English papers.

On 23 September Stead announced that he was about to publish an English Gazette. The following week the Soleil said:

"Philippe Mourant informs the public that he is publishing a newspaper in English containing all the most interesting news, the price of the funds, and the arrivals and departures of Jersey vessels".

Gazette de l'Ile de Jersey

If these papers ever appeared, no copy seems to have survived. In January 1799 Mourant dropped the Soleil, and, entering into partnership with Angot, the printer of the old Gazette, substituted a Gazette de l’Ile de Jersey, using exactly the same title Stead had already appropriated. For the next 35 years the rival papers ran side by side with precisely the same format and title, the only distinguishing mark being the final note: "Published by Philippe Mourant" or "Printed by J Stead".

Journalism had its dangers. In 1802 the Peace of Amiens had patched up a truce between Napoleon and England. In the following February Mourant was arrested for publishing observations "tending to disturb the friendly relations between His Majesty's Government and the French". As these proved to be only extracts from English papers, the Court contented itself with expressing its "entire disapprobation of this outrage", and discharged him with a warning.

In 1817 two naval Lieutenants quarrelled "when under the effects of wine", and John Goldie challenged Alexander Bisset to a duel. Bisset ignored the challenge; so Goldie persuaded Mourant to publish the correspondence, after receiving a guarantee that Goldie would be responsible "for any ill consequences". Bisset sued Mourant for £3,000 damages for libel, and he then found that Goldie had sold his property in the island, and possessed nothing on which he could distrain.

But on the whole Mourant conducted his paper with discretion. In early years it had no leading articles, expressed no opinions, steered clear of party politics, and was purely a newssheet. While the war lasted, foreign news was more important than local happenings.

His translations from English papers were sometimes amusing. Once Richard Valpy, the famous headmaster, sent him an advertisement of Reading Grammar School, asking him to turn it into French. He did, and 'Reading School' appeared as 'Ecole de Lecture'. But in the course of years the character of the paper varied with the editor employed. From 1813 to 1816 it was chiefly interested in the banquets, routs, and assemblies of the people it called les Fashionables. Then les Fashionables entirely dropped out, and full reports were given of sessions of the States and Court.

Among the editors were Edouard Le Vavasseur dit Durell and Jean De La Croix.

British Press

In 1825 Mourant undertook the publication of a new weekly. An English paper, the British Press, had been started in 1822, and its tone infuriated Jerseymen. So Mourant announced: "A Society of English and Jersey gentlemen has resolved to publish a weekly paper under the name of the Jersey Loyalist. The proprietors are resolved to suffer no misrepresentations against this island to go out into the world unchallenged."

In their opening article they said: "We have seen our laws and constitution ridiculed, our public functionaries vilified. We are thorough determined haters of whoever shall insult our country".

The British Press was edited by Michael Rafter, a swashbuckling Irishman. He had been a Colonel in the Columbian army; so the Loyalist nicknamed him Don Ferdinando. "We are sorry to inform our readers", it said, "that the malady of Don Ferdinando continues to increase, and we are afraid that his keepers will be obliged to remove him to the cells of Bedlam. We have, however, enough of the milk of human kindness to open a subscription at our office toward defraying the poor gentleman's travelling expenses to that asylum".

But there was as yet no public for two English papers. The five French journals provided all that Jerseymen needed. And in February 1831 the Impartial printed in its Deaths column: "Died on Monday last at its residence in the Royal Square the Jersey Loyalist at the end of a decline endured for five years with exemplary patience".

In 1796 Mourant was appointed printer to the States, and for 39 years produced all official publications. He also printed many books for use in the island, including Francois Le Couteur's Apercu sur les Cidres.

Election

In November 1830 Mourant stood for election as Centenier of St Helier. For some reason this contest aroused intense excitement as a trial of strength between the Rose and Laurel Parties, which had superseded the old Magots and Charlots. When Mourant, who was the Laurel (or Conservative) candidate, won by 126 votes, his supporters dragged out the parish cannon, and acclaimed his victory with salvoes, and flags surmounted with bunches of laurel were flown from at least three hundred windows. At the end of three years he did not stand for re-election.

In March 1835 he announced that his Gazette would cease publication. It had been outstripped by its younger rivals, the Chronique, the Constitutionnel, and the Impartial, which spoke of it patronizingly as la Grand'mere.

He devoted himself to his bookshop in the Square, the largest in the Channel islands, with its circulating library of over 3,000 volumes. He died on 31 July 1845, "the Doyen of local publicists". "He was endowed", said the Chronique, "with a benignity that recalled bygone days".

He had married in 1793 Elizabeth Pickstock, and his children were Betsy (1794- ), Marie (1798- ), Nancy Olive (1802- ), Janey (1803- ), Philippe Dupre (1804- ), Esther (1806- ), and Edouard (1808- ). [Local newspapers.]

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