Beau Séjour, the home of Harry Dobrée, no longer extant. Drawn by William Berry, engraved by J.C. Stadler, 1815. Print in the author's collection.
The Channel Islands, as French speaking dependencies of the English Crown, were a natural refuge for Huguenots fleeing persecution in France, only a few miles away. Some stayed permanently, whilst others moved on. Guernsey was Calvinist for much of the 17th century before becoming at least nominally Anglican after the accession of Charles II in 1660. In the Calvinist period the churches were known as temples, as their Protestant equivalents in France were, or had been. Hence fleeing Huguenot pastors could take up as such on Guernsey.
Later on, some became Anglican vicars. One such was buried in the cemetery of St Martin’s Church on the island. One can still just make out the lettering on his gravestone. The French translates as:
Here lies the body of Jaques Coyaux Deschamps who died in this parish aged 69, a refugee Protestant minister native of Upper Poitou who went into exile in 1750 and took refuge in England to avoid the cruel and unjust persecutions by Roman Catholics directed at the Reformed Religion during the reign of Louis XV. He was ordained as a priest by Benjamin Lord Bishop of Winchester in 1751. He then moved to Guernsey and later to Sark where he lived for forty years. This gravestone was erected by his sons in 1800.
In the Town Church of St Peter Port, at least three families commemorated in monuments have a Huguenot connection.
There is a large elaborate monument to Daniel Francis Durand, Dean of Guernsey, born in 1745. After a Cambridge education Daniel became a curate to his father, rector of St Sampson and the Vale in Guernsey, and later bought a chaplaincy in the 96th Regiment, then stationed on the island. Some years later, as tutor to a young nobleman on the Grand Tour, he visited the estate of relations at Fontcouverte near Montpellier. His Protestant great grandfather having fled France after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, Daniel was offered the chance to be the heir to the estate and titles if he would embrace the Catholic faith, but declined. In 1779 he became Rector of St Andrews in Guernsey. He became Dean by dint of taking the first packet boat to England on the death of his predecessor in 1794, hiring a horse and presenting himself to the Bishop of Winchester, who had the right to appoint the Dean. He remained Dean and Rector of the Town Church in St Peter Port for 37 years until his death in 1832, aged 87.
There are two further monuments in the Church to Durand descendants. That to Lt Colonel Antony Durand (1836 -1911), records that he commanded the 10th Regiment Bombay Light Infantry. He served in the Indian Mutiny Campaign, 1857-9, in the Abyssinian Campaign, 1867-8 and the Afghan Campaign, 1880.
The memorial to Colonel Charles James Durand (1840-1932), of the Bengal Staff Corps, records that he also served in the Indian Mutiny, 1857-9. He served with the 42nd Highlanders during the Rebellion in the Cossyah and Jynteah Hills, 1862-3. He was in the Bhutan Campaign, 1864-5. More peacefully, he was in the Military Accounts Department from 1870-1886, and church warden of the Town Church, 1890-1925.
There are also three monuments to the Dobrée family, descended from a Huguenot refugee family from Vire in Normandy who fled the Religious Wars in the 1550s. The fulsome memorial to Jean Dobrée, who died in 1800, records that he had been a jurat (a life magistrate on the Channel Islands), serving at the Royal Court of Guernsey. He had commanded the regiment of Militia Artillery.
Harry Dobrée (1771 -1851) is commemorated in a monument with members of his family. He had lived in some style at Beau Sejour, illustrated in the print at the top of this page. The Priaulx Library has online documents of 1812 relating to his management of a fund to send money to Guernsey prisoners in France, with whom Britain was at war. He followed family tradition in being a jurat and a colonel in the militia. Another memorial remembers James Sausmarez Dobrée (1801-1853), also a jurat of the Royal Court.
Dobrée descendants did return to France in the eighteenth century and Nantes has a large museum founded by the legacy of the very rich Thomas Dobrée (1810-1895), and named after him.
The Le Marchant family, commemorated in the church, were not of direct Huguenot origin but rather a prominent old Guernsey family. Several were Bailiffs or Lieutenant Bailiffs of Guernsey. Those commemorated in the Town Church descend however on a maternal line from Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, the prominent Huguenot leader in France during the early wars of Religion. Coligny was assassinated in 1572 in the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in Paris.
The Le Marchant descendants of Coligny honoured their renowned ancestor by taking the name Gaspard down the generations. The above memorial in the Town Church reads: “Sacred to the memory of General Sir J. Gaspard Le Marchant 3rd son of General Le Marchant who fell at the battle of Salamanca while gallantly leading a brilliant charge of cavalry which victoriously broke the French lines.” In 1796 this elder John Gaspard Le Marchant had written a treatise on swordsmanship by the cavalry which was adopted by the Army, and he was instrumental in establishing military schools at High Wycombe and Great Marlow, thus establishing that army officers needed to be trained. The high esteem in which he was held is reflected in the grandiose monument to him in St Paul’s Cathedral in London. He is not forgotten on Guernsey. On Friday 22 July 2022 a thirteen gun salute was fired at Castle Cornet on Guernsey to commemorate the 210th anniversary of his death at Salamanca in 1812, during the Peninsula War.
His son, Sir John Gaspard Le Marchant the younger (1801-1874), was a knight of the Grand Order of St Michael and St George and a Knight Commander of the Order of Bath. His memorial records his service as Governor and Commander in Chief in Canadian colonies, Malta and Madras between 1846 and 1857. In Nova Scotia he donated land known as Governor’s Farm to be the site of a terminus for the new railways. In Newfoundland he had had a more turbulent time, having to deal with a potato famine, a great fire and political agitation.
Gaspard Le Marchant Tupper was a grandson of Sir John Gaspard the younger. The memorial in the Town Church in St Peter Port commemorates his role as an army officer. He served in the Crimean War from 1854-6, took part in the battle of Balaclava, was slightly wounded at Inkerman and took part in the siege and fall of Sebastopol. Watercolours by Tupper of scenes in Crimea, Malta, the Caribbean and Nova Scotia can be found online; he was a talented amateur artist as well as an army officer on duty around the empire.
Another grandson, Gaspard De Coligny Le Marchant, is commemorated in a poignant memorial in the church. He was killed aged just 22 in the Second Boer War, at Boschhult, Kleinhart River in South Africa.
Huguenot descendants are also commemorated nearby over an entrance to St Peter Port Market. An inscription records the date of its building, 1822, by the States of Guernsey, and the members of the committee involved. Dean Daniel Durand was one of them; another, Nicholas Peter Dobrée, was Rector of St Saviour and Castel on the island.
J. le Serre named on the inscription is probably descended from the Huguenot refugee Jean le Serre from Ville Magne, Languedoc. This man was possibly related to Jean Serre, a Huguenot galley slave, imprisoned because of his Protestant faith, later released and who survived to die in Winchester in 1754, aged 85. A plaque in Winchester Cathedral commemorates him ( see Huguenot Society blog for 18 July 2022). E. Guerin was a Constable descended from Daniel Guerin who fled from Clairac in the Agenois in 1686, the year after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes: the edict, already breached, had given Protestants in France a limited measure of religious tolerance.
These various monuments and inscriptions amply demonstrate the Huguenot heritage on the Island of Guernsey, and in particular show how some families joined the island’s elite: one of those elite families, Le Marchant, proudly vaunted their Huguenot connection over the generations.
I am grateful to Robert Nash for information about the Deschamps gravestone which is on the left of the path leading to St Martin’s Church, very near the entrance. Robert also kindly provided information about the names of Huguenot origin recorded on the front of the market.
R. Nash, A Directory of Huguenot Refugees on the Channel Islands 1548-1825, Huguenot Society Quarto Series Vol. 63 (2020).
The Priaulx Library on Guernsey has detailed histories of the Durand and le Marchant families online. www.priaulxlibrary.co.uk
The Guernsey Island Archives hold a collection of Durand papers. https://gov.gg/islandarchives
Watercolour world has a selection of watercolours by Gaspard Le Marchant Tupper. www.watercolourworld.org