The portrait of General Don

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This article by Norman Rybot was first published in the 1939 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

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The portrait of General Don

Lt-General Sir George Don was Lieut-Governor of Jersey during those terrible years, 1806 to 1814, when that ruthless upstart, who was known to some as the Corsican Ogre and to others as Napoleon the Great, was conquering and losing again all the kingdoms and principalities of continental Europe.

From Lisbon to Moscow and from Hamburg to Naples the ambition of this one man made carnage and misery the lot of the unhappy nations.

Island defences

Though the victory of Trafalgar in 1805 gave England the command of the seas, the Channel Islands, if safer than of yore, even now could not be deemed to be immune from sudden attack. Consequently their fortifications, garrisons and militia had to be maintained in the highest state of efficiency.

General Don, working in complete accord with the States of Jersey, put the finishing touches to the defences of the island, chief amongst which were the building of Fort Regent and the construction of military highways.

The practical value of the Fort did not survive by many years the final suppression of the Ogre. The value of the highways has persisted.

States letter

When the General's tenure of office came to an end, the States of Jersey addressed a letter to him in which their admiration of himself and their appreciation of his work were expressed in glowing terms.

The letter ends with these words :-

"Desirant en meme tems de posseder le Portrait d'un Commandant si justement cheri pour le placer dans leur salle, les Etats prient Son Excellence de vouloir bien pour cet effet se faire tirer en grand par un des plus habiles artistes de l' Angleterre."

The General's reply to the States was very correct, very formal, full of good advice, and painfully pompous.

It concludes thus :-

"I shall most willingly comply with the flattering request contained in the Act of the States, a request so gratifying to my feelings. Accept, Sir, my warmest acknowledgments for the handsome manner, and very obliging terms in which you have conveyed to me the Act of the States."

Thomas Lawrence

The artist selected by the General was Thomas Lawrence, later Sir Thomas Lawrence, and to him he went without delay, as the following letter shows:-

"London, Gordon's Hotel. Albemarle Street. 13 August 1814

Sir,

Since I wrote to you yesterday I called upon Mr Lawrence, one of the first portrait painters in this town, and am sorry to find that the time he requires precludes the possibility of my sitting for my picture.

I beg you will have the goodness to mention this circumstance to the States at their first meeting, and that altho' I regret not having it in my power to comply with their desire, yet, I feel much satisfaction, that the money voted on this occasion may now be appropriated towards completing the military communications or any other public work.

I have the honour to be .... etc.

To Sir John Dumaresq, Lieut-Bailiff of Jersey.

124 years later

The manner in which the States of Jersey acquired a portrait en grand of their commandant si justement cheri 124 years after they had asked for it, must now be explained.

In July 1938, David Minlore of Greenbanks, Durrington Hill, Worthing, wrote to the Lieut-Governor, Major General Sir Horace Martelli, and informed him that he had a portrait of Sir George Don which had been originally in the collection of Thomas Sidney Cooper, RA. The identity of the portrait had been confirmed by the Army Society for Historical Research.

Having decided to part with the picture, Mr Minlore suggested that a permanent home for it might be found in Jersey. The letter was forwarded to the Bailiff and passed on by him to the Société Jersiaise.

Seeing that an immediate purchase on the part of the States was not possible, the Society, unwilling that the picture should be lost to the Island, decided, after it had been exhibited for a month in the Barreau Art Gallery, to acquire it.

On 10 September the States passed an Act authorising the purchase of the portrait from the Society and in June 1939 it was removed from our gallery.

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