Thursday, 11 April 2013

Adventurous Jerseymen - Daniel Dumaresq

The "Pilot" was for many years the magazine for the Anglican Church in Jersey, and during 1981, there was an occasional series entitled "Adventurous Jerseymen". I have unfortunately been unable to ascertain who the author was, but they provided a colourful account of some very remarkable Jerseymen.
Here is one from the "Pilot" in 1981:
Adventurous Jerseymen
Doctors of Divinity are not as a rule conspicuous for their spirit of adventure, and Daniel Dumaresq, one of the eleven children of the Seigneur of Augres, Trinity, seemed destined to the colourless life of an eighteenth-century scholar.
Well-drilled in classics at St Mannellier, the former Jersey Grammar School, and then at Abingdon, he went to Pembroke College, Oxford. He took his B.A. in 1733, and in 1740 was elected to a Fellowship at Exeter College. Four years later he added to his duties the curacy of the village of Merton, riding out every Sunday ten miles to take Services. In 1745 he was granted his B.D.
We might now have expected him to remain in Oxford for the rest of his life. He had comfortable quarters in College, an income sufficient to live on, supplemented by pupils' fees and his curacy. It would have seemed a pretty safe prophecy that forty years later he would be found, a dim, stooping, cap-and-gowned figure still poring over tomes in the Bodleian Library, and swopping syllogisms at night over the port in the Senior Common Room, peradventure correcting proofs of a ponderous commentary on the works of Dionysius the Aeropagite or an exhaustive refutation of the heresy of the Supra-lapsarians.
One thing, however, he did in those Oxford days, unusual for a Fellow of Exeter. The College Register records that "he planned and superintended making the walk up Headington Hill," a well-known footpath outside Oxford.
But Dumaresq was a Jerseyman, and the wanderlust was stirring in his blood. In 1746 he abandoned Oxford for the Chaplaincy of the English Factory at Petersburg.
About forty years before, on a swampy islet inhabited only by wild-fowl, Peter the Great had cut the first sod of what was to be his new capital. The city was still little more than a cluster of wooden shanties built on piles in the mud round the gloomy fortress of St Peter and St Paul. To most Englishmen Russia was then as unknown a land as Bukhara, but shrewd London merchants had seen that the great river Neva, at the mouth of which Petersburg stood, would become one of the main trade-routes of Europe.
They had formed the Russia Company, and, when Dumaresq went out, "greatly above a half of the commerce of Petersburg" passed through the Company's hands. Above an enormous wooden warehouse lived about a hundred Englishmen, factors, apprentices, clerks, and porters, and Dumaresq was given rooms among them a their Chaplain.
He remained in Petersburg seventeen years, and learnt to speak Russian fluently, and translated at least one Russian book, "An Account of Kanitchatka" into English. Nor did he neglect his studies, for in             1752 he wrote a thesis for which Oxford granted him his D.D.
But, when he had been ten years in Russia, that brilliant and erratic Welshman, Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, arrived as British Ambassador, and made Dumaresq his chaplain. It was a big change from the trading factory to the household of this wealthy exquisite, leader of the "beau monde", notorious for his immoralities. He had as secretary a handsome young Pole,
Stanislaus Poniatowski, who quickly became the lover of the Grand Duchess Catherine, the young wife of the Grand Duke Peter, the heir to the throne.
Dumaresq now had the entree to the Palace, and made friends with most of the leading men of Russia. It was not easy to walk unspotted through the corruptest Court in Christendom. He seems, however, to have managed to retain the respect of everyone. Poniatowski and Catherine, of whose guilty secret he remained ignorant, showed great affection for him.
Poniatowski wrote: - "I well remember the many days we spent together exchanging ideas"; and later, "For ten years I have proved from personal knowledge the goodness and sweetness of his character."
After two years Williams was recalled, and Dumaresq returned to his Factory, but he still remained a welcome visitor at Court. He saw Poniatowski banished, and Peter become Czar, but after the coup d'état, which made Catherine autocrat of Russia in place of her murdered husband, he returned to England, and became Rector of the little Somerset village of Yeovilton, a post which he held for the next 42 years.
But Catherine did not forget him. As Empress her ambition was to Westernize her vast dominions, and among other spectacular reforms she planned "to create a new race of fathers and mothers" by establishing secondary and elementary schools from the Caucasus to the Arctic. She summoned Dumaresq to help her.
"Mistaking my zeal and industry", he wrote, "For marks of uncommon ability, she was pleased to call me from this quiet village, and repeatedly invited me to return to Russia." To educate illiterate Russia was a task from which the hardiest enthusiast might have flinched; but Dumaresq consented to go on condition that he might have as colleague the educational theorist, Dr John Brown.
Catherine promptly sent £1,000 for Browns travelling expenses and the two scholars drew up an exhaustive scheme together; but on the eve of sailing Brown committed suicide, and Dumaresq had to go alone.
On arrival he found the difficulties even greater than he had feared. The schools were only one of a score of Brobdingnagian revolutions that the masterful Catherine wished to carry out simultaneously. But he did at last get his plan accepted by the officials concerned, and then he had to leave the Russians to carry it out for themselves. The village schools never materialized, but a number of high-schools were opened in the towns for children of the upper classes, and staffed by teachers recruited in France.
But Dumaresq was not yet allowed to return home. Poniatowski had now been elected King of Poland, and he pleaded with Dumaresq to come to help him to establish schools there. So most of the year 1766 was spent in Poland, creating the outline of an educational system for that country; the watch which the King gave him is in the Jersey Museum.
By the end of that year he was back in his Somerset Rectory, Here Pitt often stayed with him, and "in his snug parlour the Premier would resuscitate his early days by discussing with his learned friend some disputed classical passage." Pitt introduced him to George III, who was much attracted by his erudition and modesty.
Payne tells how once, when the King was at Weymouth, "a tall ungainly, travel-stained ecclesiastic" stepped off the Jersey packet. George clapped him on the back, took his arm, and walked up and down with him for an hour, saying afterwards to his courtiers, `That was Dr Dumaresq, one of the most worthy and disinterested men in my dominions."
Pitt tried in vain to persuade him to accept a Bishopric; but he became Prebendary of Salisbury and later of Wells. In 1800 he presented his books to our Jersey Public Library, thus almost doubling Falle's original bequest. He died at the age of 93.
The Annual Register wrote of him: "Perhaps the uniform conduct of no man in this or any other country came nearer to that of the Primitive Christians in the Apostolic Age than that of this venerable divine in his very long life."

1 comment:

Nick Palmer said...

Tony - these are my kind of Christians. See past the American style though and forgive them their quote mining for the Lord, Amen!

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