Obituary of John Guille, June 1843

Just fifty years and one month ago there presided over the Royal Court of Guernsey a gentleman who, throughout his whole life, proved himself to be a thorough Guernseyman, endowed with the highest principles of honour and integrity, but one also possessing a native intensity of purpose and independence of character.

We refer to the late Mr John Guille, who, had he possessed no other qualifications than those mentioned, might well have been named to succeeding generations as an example worthy of imitation. But, having, like a true patriot, accepted the opportunities which were offered him to enter into public life, he there also showed those powers of judgment and discretion combined with every ability for the offices which he held, as to have won an honourable place in the annals of the island.

Mr Guille belonged to a very ancient family, whose original home in Guernsey was, as far back as the time of William the Conqueror, on the bay called Saint, in the parish of St Martin; but subsequently became better known as the Guilles of the Rohais and St George. Were we to trace back the genealogy of Mr Guille’s family, it would occupy a far larger space than our columns could possibly afford. Suffice it to say that it has contained an almost innumerable number of members who have honourably won worthy places in the history of the island.

The subject of our present memoir was the eldest son of William Guille, esq., and Rachel, daughter and co-heiress of Charles Andros, esq., of the Piques, in the parish of St Saviour’s, and was born on October 5th, 1788. While young Guille was yet an infant, he became an orphan by the death of both parents, and was consequently, together with his younger brother and the five sons of their widowed aunt, Mrs Métivier, brought up by their grandfather, John Guille esq., at the family estate of St George.

The first period at which we hear of Mr Guille entering the public service dates from the time when he took a commission in the Guernsey militia. On the 24th April, 1805, he became captain in the 2nd, or North, Regiment, being then only seventeen years of age, and was promoted to the colonelcy of the same regiment on the 12th October, 1811. He was relieved of the last-named commission by Lieutenant-Governor Bayly, in 1818, but was again re-instated by an Order in Council of His Royal Highness, the Prince regent, in the following year being also for some time Inspector of Militia. When the post of Aide-de-Camp to the Sovereign in Guernsey was first created by King William the Fourth, in 1830, Mr Guille had the honour of being appointed to the office. This appointment he resigned in 1842, on his becoming Bailiff of the Royal Court, Colonel James Priaulx succeeding him.

On the 24th February, 1810, being then in only his twenty-second year, Mr Guille was elected Jurat of the Royal Court, and from 1835 to 1842, he held the higher office of Lieutenant-Bailiff, and on the death of Mr Daniel De Lisle Brock, Mr Guille was appointed, by Royal Patent, Bailiff and president of the Royal Court of Guernsey, on the 22nd December 1842, and took the oath of office on the 2nd January, 1843.

On the occasion of the swearing-in of Mr Guille, as Bailiff, the Lieutenant-Governor, Major-General Sir William Napier and a distinguished party were present. Speeches of congratulation on the merits of Bailiff Guille were then made by Mr James Carey, Sir William Collings, and Colonel De Havilland. Mr Guille afterwards, in the course of his reply, alluded at some length to the distinguished talents and service of his predecessor, the late Bailiff Brock. His Excellency also addressed the assembly and his remarks are worthy of notice, if we take into consideration certain incidents which followed in his career as Governor of the island. General Napier spoke to the effect that he could not permit to pass the interesting proceedings they were there to witness, without saying a few words, lest it might be thought that he was insensible to the value of Mr Guille’s merits. He had always esteemed Colonel Guille as a friend, and it would cause him considerable pain if any impression were formed to the contrary. He felt much interest in the welfare of Guernsey, and he was sure that the promotion of Mr Guille to the office of Bailiff could not but tend to promote the good of the island. He further had used his influence to bring about the appointment which they had just seen consummated, and he felt considerable pleasure in having been able to do so by giving his impressions of Mr Guille’s abilities, services, and adaptability to the office. He had also pointed out to the Secretary of State that Mr Guille had long and ably fulfilled the duties of Lieutenant-Bailiff, and also been for thirty-two years a member of the insular Bench; that he was well acquainted with the laws and customs of the island; and having served in various civil and military capacities, he had qualified himself for the discharge of the duties upon which he had now entered. Taking all these things into consideration, His Excellency, proceeding, stated that he had strongly urged on Her Majesty’s Government that no man in Guernsey would have been received in the appointment with more popularity that Colonel Guille. The consequence was that Bailiff Guille now was President of the Royal Court, not only by the appointment of her Gracious Majesty, but also with the consent and applause of the whole community. He therefore congratulated Mr Guille and hoped his friend would long live to fill the chair he now occupied. After a few more general expressions, His Excellency resumed his seat amidst ringing cheers.

It need hardly be said that the high eulogium addressed by General Napier as to Bailiff Guille’s abilities and popularity being also the sentiments of the public at large, the cheers which went up at the conclusion of the ceremony above referred to were re-echoed far outside the precincts of the Court House, and congratulations and wishes for a long life were sent up from all parts of the island to the new Bailiff.

In 1810, Mr Guille married Elizabeth, daughter of Peter Hubert, esq., and had issue six sons and three daughters, the eldest son being the late Captain John Andros Guille, 25th Regiment (Queen’s Own Borderers), who succeeded his father to the estate, now succeeded by his brother the Rev. George De Carteret Guille, rector of Little Torrington, Devon, and it might have been hope the Bailiff would have been long spared the enjoyment of his family circle.

Unfortunately the bon accord which existed between the Lieutenant-Governor and the Court at the time that Mr Guille was sworn in as Bailiff was destined to last but a few months. In June 1843, the irritable and overbearing spirit of General Napier began to show itself, by taking upon himself the supremacy in civil as well as in military matters, completely ignoring the existence of the Royal Court. To a man of Bailiff Guille’s temperament, wishing at all times to be at peace with all men, the difficult situation was most keenly felt. Under the circumstances, therefore, he elected to solicit an interview with His Excellency, hoping to arrive at some conciliation. The interview being granted, the members of the Royal Court appeared at the Lieutenant-Governor’s residence. There, besides treating them with a great want of courtesy, His Excellency proposed certain conditions which Bailiff Guille, upholding the dignity of the Court, peremptorily declined to accept. The increasing difficulties of the position ultimately told on Bailiff Guille’s health, yet, for a long time in spite of the earnest entreaties of his friends, refused he even for a time to rest awhile form his arduous labours, so staunch was he to the claims of duty being willing even to sacrifice his health rather than desert his post in times of difficulty and peril. Soon, Bailiff Guille’s health was felt by him to be so rapidly failing that he left for a change of scene and rest, for Plymouth, intending only to remain away for a few days. Unhappily, this stay was taken too late to be of any avail, for there he rapidly declined. At last it became necessary for his wife and family to join him, his brother also, to whom he was deeply attached, arriving at Plymouth with them. Thus it was that comforted by the presence of those near and dear to him, and supported by that faith which had been the ruling principle of his life, he was enabled to lay aside all earthly cares and to declare 'that he died at peace with all the world.' The same day, the third of June 1843, peacefully closed the mortal career of one of Guernsey’s most beloved and lamented chief magistrates, in his 57th year.