The Du Pre family

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Du Pre family


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John William Dupre in 1853, painted by H Hack


This article by the Rev J A Messervy was first published in the 1922 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise and has been translated from the French by Mike Bisson


The name of this family did not appear in our ancient Extentes (1274, 1331, 1528) nor in the Assize Roll of 1309. Dupré[1] The reason is evident: it is of French origin and is found in the category of families which rapidly became important in our island, whose ancestors, in all probability were political refugees who came to Jersey at the end of the 15th century.

Brittany wars

Involved in the Brittany wars, in which they took the side of the Duke of Brittany, allied with the English against the partisans of the King of France, the defeat of their side obliged them to leave their native country and seek refuge in the Channel Islands, mainly in Jersey, well known as a place of ideal freedom.

The most ancient member of the Dupre family whom we have found trace of in Jersey archives was Pierre du Pray, mentioned in an Act of the Cour de Catel in 1528, as a resident of St Helier. We mention in passing that the spelling of the name would vary: du Pray, du Prey, du Pré and finally Dupré.

Charles du Pray, son of Richard, seems to have lived in St Mary before 1561, because in that year he was sworn in as Prevot of St Mary for John Pipon. Some years later, in the spring of 1568, he obtained a house, outbuildings, land etc in St Mary on the Fief du Roi, from Guillemet Le Cousteur.

An action between owner and tenant, undoubtedly on the subject of payment of rente and arrears, followed, but Guillemet Le Cousteur, who had actioned Charles du Pré on 28 April 1568, did not pursue his claim, and the Cour d'Heritage of 2 September 1568, in the absence of the plaintiff and after examining the contract of lease, found 'valid and legal' Charles du Pray's possession of the property in question. [2]

The descendants of Charles Du Pray did not delay in taking an honourable place among the important families of St Mary, and following several advantageous alliances, one branch in particular, became particularly important and its members were accorded the privilege of being buried in St Mary's Church, proof of the esteem they had acquired.

Island officials

As a measure of how the family had taken root, it had established junior branches in other parishes, which had in their turn become important. Their members played an active part in the administration of their respective parishes and gave the island many Constables, Rectors, a Dean, Advocates and an Attorney-General, without forgetting the officers of the Jersey Militia, as well as the English Army and Navy.

The Constables of the name du Pré were Michel, Constable of St Helier from 1694 to 1697; Jean, of St Mary from 1776 to 1786; Tom, of St Lawrence 1835-1841.

But the branch with which we are particularly interested in this short study is that of the Rev Jean Dupre (1725-1783). The son of Advocate Jean du Pré of St Mary, he was first Rector of St Clement, from 1749-61, then St Helier from 1761 until his death in 1783. He was buried in the Church of St Helier on 27 October 1783.

Thefamily of Jean du Pre offers an example, sufficiently rare, we believe, to be mentioned here. His three sons, Jean, Edouard and Michel, chose their ecclesiastical careers following their father. The eldest, the Rev Dr Jean Du Pre, settled in England and after being the principal of a College for several years, was Rector of Mentmore for 50 years. The second, the Ven Edouard du Pre, succeeded his father as Rector of St Helier and became Dean of Jersey in 1802. The youngest, the Rev Michel du Pre, firstly a military chaplain in England, was Rector of St John in Jersey from 1809 until his death in 1818. Doctor Jean du Pre, in his turn, was his only son, then seven grandsons and one great-grandson chose an ecclesiastical career.

Unlucky Michels

The forename Michel, coming to the du Pre family from a maternal ancestor Michel Arthur, does not appear to have brought good luck to this family, at least in Jersey, because for four successive generations there was a youngest Michel du Pre, son of Jean, and each of them died without successors.

The first, grandson of Michel Arthur, was married four times, and had a son Michel by his second marriage to Elizabeth Hilgrove, but the child died young. The second Michel, nephew of the first, also had a son called Michel, who died young. The two last died without marrying. This forename has reappeared among the descendants of the Rev Jean du Pre in England.

John William Dupre

John William Dupre

Of the two sons of Dean Edouard Dupre, the eldest, Edouard Falle Dupre, Captain of the 96th Infantry Regiment, died during the life of his father. The second, born in 1790 and baptised with the names Jean Guillaume, but better known as John William Dupre, had a distinguished career.

Having entered the Royal Navy while young, he was a prisoner of war in France and passed four or five years at Verdun and other fortresses. Freed at the peace in 1815 he returned to his native island and changed career. He became an Advocate of the Royal Court in 1815, Greffier of the Ecclesiastical Court in 1816 (remaining in this role until 1860), Solicitor-General in 1824 and Attorney-General in 1848. He was considered by his contemporaries to be one of the most eminent Jerseymen.

He was one of the founders of the newspaper Le Constitutionnel and a frequent writer for its columns. He belonged to the Laurel Party, of which he was one of the leaders. An eloquent orator, writer and poet, he was held in high esteem, not only among his compatriots but also in government circles in England.

The name of Mr Dupre will always be associated with one of the great reforms ever accomplished in this island. We speak of the Law on Criminal Procedure, of which he was the author, and which is a model of clarity, simplicity and expedition.

On his death in 1866 the Secretary of State charged the Lieut-Governor Burke Cuppage to express to the Bailiff and people of Jersey his sincere regret at the loss which her majesty and the island of Jersey had suffered by the decease of John WIlliam Dupre, Attorney-General. [3]

A portrait in oil of J W Dupre is on the wall of the Royal Court. He left no descendants but his cousin, the Rev Thomas Dupre, son of Jean du Pre, is still represented in England in the masculine line. He had six sons, of whom four became churchmen, and one of his grandsons, the Rev Arthur Michael Dancombe du Pre, is Vicar of Lund, Yorkshire. The eldest sister of the Rev Thomas du Pre married the Rev Joseph Addison, of Shiffnal, Shropshire, and was mother of five sons, of whom three chose an ecclesiastic career, and the two others were Generals in the English Army.

Notes and references

  1. The surname Dupré is listed in the Extente of 1331, confirming that the family was present in Jersey at least two centuries before the author suggests - Ed
  2. Heritage 3
  3. Acts of the States, 13 August 1866
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