Viberts of St Brelade

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Surveillante and HMS Quebec, whose battle led to the death of a gallant Jersey naval captain

From The Islander 1939 by Charles Langton

In the old days Christian names very frequently became adapted as surnames, and Vibert appears to have been derived from Wigbert, meaning, war bright.

Early records

The earliest local mention is a record in the Extente of 1274, referring to escheat of Robert Wilberd of the Vale, Guernsey. The Assize Roll of 1292 mentions Pierre Vibert as a juror of St Brelade, and, a little later, Pierre Vibert, also written as Pierre Wiberd in the same roll, is mentioned amongst those who defended Mont Orqueil Castle, when besieged by the French Admiral Behuchet in 1338.

There is an unfortunate hiatus in the local records of the 15th century. Many have been lost, or mutilated by neglect, and, in later centuries, ancient parchments, considered to be plague carriers, were burnt by order of the Courts as a preventative measure against the spread of infection.

From the 16th century, however, the Royal Court records are reasonably complete, and much information is available about contemporary local families.

About 1525, branches of the Vibert family were firmly established in the neighbourhood of Quennevais on the borders of the parishes of St Brelade, and St Peter.

Their name is also preserved in local geography in several instances, among which may be mentioned le jardin Vibert, situated in Canevays, 1620, the field called la Viberderie in St Peter, and the Reage (or district) de la Viberderie also in Quennevais mentioned in an Act of the Royal Court of 1753.

From the district of Quennevais the family seem to have diverged to St Ouen and St Mary. The descendants of the St Ouen's branch became so numerous that between the period 1798 to 1826 they resided in at least ten different parts of the parish. The main branch, however, remained at St Peter.

St Mary registers

The property of Isaac Vibert, mentioned in the Extente of 1607, was situated in the Vingtaine of les Augerez in St Peter, not far from St Mary's Church, which accounts for the number of entries in the registers of that parish, as it was naturally the nearest church to their residence.

According to tradition their property was situated nearer to St Mary than Carrefour a Cendre, and it is quite probable that the actual house was that which was recently known as Beech Farm, at one time owned by John Le Riche, of Catel, Trinity.

Helier Vibert, son of Isaac, owned land on the Fief Vingt Livres. He appears to have followed the Royalists under de Carteret during the civil wars because at the Restoration of Charles II he was elected Constable’s Officer and, in 1671, Vingtenier des Augerez.

Of his four sons, Phillip Vibert became a sailor like many young Jerseymen of the period, and in 1633 had the misfortune to be taken prisoner by Turkish pirates.

He was more lucky than some of his conferes, because he escaped death in captivity. and recovered his freedom by obtaining the necessary ransom, through the agency of his family and assistance from the States of Jersey.

In the course of time he returned to Jersey, and married his cousin Marie Dumaresq, of Les Colombier, St Mary. The property appears to have been part of the heritage of the Le Busquet family, Seigneurs of the Fief au Vesque.

Two of Phillip Vibert's uncles had married daughters of Philippe Le Bosquet. Pierre, the younger uncle, died without issue two years after marriage and his widow married John Dumaresq, who thereupon settled at Les Colombiers. So it seems quite probable that the marriage of the two cousins reunited the property.

The eldest son of Philippe Vibert and Marie Dumaresq, another Philippe, had a long and honourable career both as a captain in the the mercantile service, and as a municipal officer in his native parish.

On 19 May 1770 he was elected as Centenier of St Peter and held that office for nine consecutive years, during which time he sometimes acted as Chef de Police and sat in the States in that capacity on several occasions.

HMS Prometheus, on which John Este Vibert continued the family's naval tradition

War service

When the war with America broke out Captain Philippe Vibert, who was an experienced pilot, placed his services at the disposal of the British Navy, and was posted to the frigate Quebec.

The following extract from the Magasin de l'ile de Jersey gives a contemporary account of his heroic death in America in 1784:

”In the fierce and deadly battle between the ships Surveillante and Quebec, Captain Vibert, being conscious that his great age and infirmities precluded his escaping from the flames which burnt down this frigate, devoted his last moments to saving the life of his crew."
”Instead of abandoning himself to despair, in view of the terrible death that awaited him, this brave man actively began to throw out of the ship, oars, spars, and various other pieces of timber, and urged the poor sailors, who jumped into the sea, to make use of them in order to save their lives. Capt Vibert, thus nobly occupied, remained one of the last on board the ill fated vessel according to the testimony of Captain Roberts, of the Quebec, who beheld with admiration the presence of mind and generous sacrifice evinced by this noble hearted old Jerseyman."

Captain Vibert's widow, Jane Arthur, was a co-heiress of Arthur of St Mary, and it was probably incidental to this marriage that this branch of the Viberts settled on the estate called the Grange, which subsequently passed to her grandson John Este Vibert about 1830.

Later sailor

  • [The author has jumped several generations: The two Viberts referred to here are not the next generation down from Philippe Vibert and Jane Arthur, but five generations down - Editor]

In the next generation the succeeding heir, also named John Este, following a distinguished career at Cambridge, was appointed tutor to the son of Prince Veladimir Bariatinsky ar St Petersburg. He later returned to Jersey, became headmaster of the school at St Aubin, and married Fanny Dix, daughter of Robert Henry Dix of Hertfordshire. Of the two sons of this marriage, the elder, John Este Vibert of the Royal Navy, died in 1917, after service on the Australian station in HMS Prometheus.

His younger brother, Arthur Lionel Vibert, was employed in the Customs, at that period, as collector at Trichinopoly, Madras. Educated at Victoria College and Emmanuel College, Cambridge he acquired distinction for his services in quelling a Mallah rising in Malebar in 1898 for which he received the personal thanks of the Government.

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