Charles Durie's Trousers

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The Strange Case of Charles Durie's Trousers

In 1857 the Royal Court of Jersey imprisoned one Charles Durie, aged almost 80, for non-payment of board and lodgings and refusal to appear in court. Charles then started to petition everyone in sight, including Queen Victoria, mostly for the return of his “wearing apparel”.

But Charles has an even more interesting backstory – a scion of the Craigluscar Duries, he had been in the Londonderry Militia and was British Consul in Norway before being sacked for fiddling his expenses.

He has a large number of descendants in Texas.

Charles Durie, Queen Victoria and the "wearing apparel"

On 4th April 1857 the Royal Court of Jersey recorded, in French, that Charles Durie had been seized and imprisoned for owing George Appleyard £19 1s 10d for “loyer et marchandises” (board and lodgings) and that he refused to be taken before the Justice. Therefore, he was condemned to stay in gaol until he paid up. Charles then starts to petition everyone in sight, including Queen Victoria – mostly for the return of his “wearing apparel”.

On 11th June Charles Durie presented a Memorial to Sir George Grey, Secretary of State, claiming that he was ”illegally arrested on 23rd February 1857 for a sum of £19 said to be due to one George Appleyard for Board and Lodging”.

Charles goes on to say that he was lodging in Appleyard’s house at the time of the arrest, and that when taken to gaol, Appleyard refused to allow him to take his clothes. Durie applied to Mr Godfrey, the Sheriff of Jersey, a few days later to have his clothes released, but received no reply, and made a second application about six weeks after his arrest. On this occasion Godfrey replied that although Appleyard had no right to hold the clothes, he, the Sheriff, had no powers to make Appleyard give them up. He advised Charles to apply to Sir Thomas Le Breton, the Jersey Bailiff.

Charles accordingly wrote to Le Breton on 16th April but “he took no notice whatever of the application”. Undeterred, Charles wrote again, he says, on the 21st but again to no avail, although he was “not surprised, as Sir Thomas never notices any applications from any one”. That didn’t stop Charles having another shot on 27th April, with the same null result.

Charles decided to escalate matters, and wrote to the Lieutenant Governor of Jersey on 6th May (no reply) and again on the 16th – but this time to be answered by one J. Gardner, Secretary. His Excellency the Lord Lieutenant had written in turn to the Attorney General, who had replied that “he has taken measures to obtain the restoration of your wearing apparel, which appears to him to have been unlawfully detained” but that there was no news of the result.

Charles sent a copy of this reply to the Attorney General the same day, and finding “as he expected, no notice was taken of the matter”, wrote once more to the Lieutenant Governor on 28th May – to the usual thundering silence – stating that he “quite despairs of ever obtaining any redress from the authorities in the Island”, that he “has been illegally detained in prison nearly 4 months”, is “put to the greatest inconvenience for the want of his clothes”, and that his “pecuniary means are at present exceedingly limited”. His case is that he had “never signed his name to or given any note of hand to Appleyard for the account in question”. Secretary of State Sir George Grey directed a reply on 15th June to the effect that he had no authority to order an enquiry into the case. Charles disputed this, and on 18 June wrote in such terms to “the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty in Council” – in effect, to the Committee of the Privy Council that ran Jersey– again asking for an enquiry. He points out, citing law books, that there is “no law whatever in Jersey or England either written or prescriptive which can in the least degree justify your petitioner’s arrest and detention in prison, or the seizure and detention of his wearing apparel”.

At this point we get the first clues as to the identity of Charles. He is, he says, in his 80th year (and so born about 1777), was “formerly a Captain in the Londonderry Militia, afterwards his late Majesty’s Consul in Norway for upwards of 20 years”. He also points out that his real income is “but £26 16s 6d per annum”. Even in 1857 this is a niggardly sum – something less than £2,000 in today’s terms.

However, his petition bore fruit. A reply dated 6th July 1857 says “Sir, Her Majesty having been pleased by her Order in Council to refer to the Lords of the Committee of Council for the Affairs of Jersey and Guernsey, a Petition of Mr Charles Durie a Prisoner in the gaol of Jersey, complaining of his being illegally detained in Prison and of the seizure & detention of his wearing apparel…” and directs the Bailiff of Jersey to provide “a reply thereto or observations thereon” as to the merits of the petition. And respond the Bailiff did. Thomas Le Breton’s views were:

  1. the laws of Jersey allowed any debtor of a sum exceeding £10 and without real property in the Island to be arrested and held to bail;
  2. that Durie was confined (the technical term) by the Royal Court of Jersey
  3. it was open to him to make an objection to the demand or arrest, but he had refused to appear and so was adjudged against;
  4. there was no irregularity.

However, he had caused Charles Durie’s wearing apparel to be returned to him “by the intervention of the Police”. He remarks, somewhat peevishly and in self-justification, that if Durie had made a Civil Suit out of this, he would have taken a more active judicial part.

So what became of Charles Durie?

He was eventually released, though it is not known whether he paid the debt. However, he has a very interesting back-story.

Charles John Durie was the eighth child of John Durie and Katharine Stark, and John was the sixth child of George Durie, 7th of Craigluscar. Charles was born on 6th January 1778 in Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland, did indeed serve in the Londonderry Militia and from 1815 to 1832 (not quite the “upwards of 20 years” he claims) was British Consul in Christiania (now Oslo), Norway. However, Charles blotted his copybook. A note was sent to Charles from the Foreign Office in London (the draft is dated 14th July 1832) stating:

“Sir, I am directed by Viscount Palmerston in acknowledging the receipt of your letter of the 7th instant, requesting that His Lordship would recommend you to H. M. Treasury for a pension, and to remind you that His Lordship has been compelled by a painful sense of duty to dismiss you from the Consulship of Christiania & to add that he cannot recommend to the Treasury the grant of a Pension to a publick officer who has been removed from his post for misconduct.”

This is backed up by other internal Foreign Office communications.

His family

Charles met and married Eliza Hall (m: 27 Mar 1800 Londonderry, Ireland) who died 13th February 1843, but not before they had a total of at least 8 sons 6 daughters. These were, and not necessarily in this order:

  1. Edith DURIE b: Dublin d: Dublin
  2. Fector DURIE d: 17 May 1837 During assault on Persia (present day Iran) with 1st Bn. British Legion
  3. Helen DURIE b: Gravesend
  4. Peter DURIE b: Carrickfergus, Ireland
  5. Robert DURIE b: Ballyshannon, Ireland
  6. Sophia DURIE b: Dover d: Dover
  7. Elizabeth DURIE b: Before 1804 Dover, England
  8. David Stark DURIE b: 10 Jun 1804 Dunfermline, Fife, or Derry, Ireland d: 26 Sep 1874 Wanganui, New Zealand.
  9. Edward John DURIE b: About 1805 Belfast d: 04 Jun 1805 Londonderry, Ireland
  10. Rouley Henry DURIE b: About 1805 Tralee, Ireland
  11. Charles Durie b: 19 Dec 1806 Simcrick, Ireland d: 27 Aug 1882 Norse, Bosque County, Texas
  12. George DURIE b: After 1806 Mallow, Ireland d: Kerry
  13. Catharine DURIE b: 19 Oct 1807 Dunfermline, Fife
  14. Hellen DURIE b: 1817 d: Before 1865 Asker, Akershus

There was also:

  1. Wilhelm Durie b: 02 Dec 1819 Ullensager, Norway (Illegitimate, by Dorthea Christine Holmsen) d: 09 May 1875 Oslo, Norway

Clearly, around 1804 Charles and Eliza were living in Dover, and by 1806 were back in Ireland. But at least two of the children were possibly born at the family home in Dunfermline (David Stark, 1804 and Catharine, 1807). From 1815 to 1832 he was a Consul in Norway. But where was the family from 1832 until the events in Jersey in 1857? In the 1851 census of Jersey, he is a “prisoner for debt” at the District Jail and House of Correction, St Helier. This gives his age as 67 (an underestimate as he would have been 73) but from his given birthplace of “Dumfarland” (sic) Fifeshire and occupation “Retired Captain”, it can only be him. Imprisonment for debt was not a one-off for Charles!

There is no sign of Charles in the 1841 or 1861 censuses of the Channel Islands, England or Wales, nor in the 1841, 1851 or 1861 Scotland censuses. He died in 1868 in South Molton, Devon aged about 90 (Source: GRO Deaths Plymouth 1868 Jan-Feb-Mar v 5b p 168)

New Zealand and Texas

The children of Charles we know most about are David Stark Durie (1804-1874 ) and Charles Durie (1806 - 1882).

David Stark Durie had an adventurous career in Australia and New Zealand. As Major David Stark Durie he was the first commander of the Armed Police Force detachment in Wellington and later a resident magistrate. But that’s a story for another time. Meanwhile, there is more information, including photographs and examples of David Stark Durie's writings, at

Charles Durie married first an unknown wife, and had Elisabeth Hall Durie (named for his mother) who died in 1834 "after many years of weakness". With his second wife, Eline Embretsdatter Gravberget he had Emilie in 1839. He married for a third time in 1841, Pauline (Polla) Poulsen, widow of Frederich Must Hagerup by whom she had had 3 children. Charles and Polla had a further 9 (the first, Daniel, before they married) plus a foster child, before emigrating to Texas in 1868 where they joined an established Norwegian community. Charles died in Norse, Bosque County, Texas 27th Aug 1882. He also had a son called David Stark Durie (b. 28 Apr 1847 in Vestre Os, Sor Odalen, Norway).

Their many descendants live in Texas still.


The Channel Islands are not strictly part of the United Kingdom nor the British Isles, but Crown Dependencies, and include two separate jurisdictions: the Bailiwick of Guernsey and the Bailiwick of Jersey. They are remnants of the Duchy of Normandy, which came with William the Conqueror. As his successor on the throne, the Queen is the current Duke (not Duchess!) of Normandy. Each Bailiwick has its own primary legislature, known as the States of Guernsey and the States of Jersey. These are responsible to the Queen in Council (the Privy Council), and laws passed are given Royal Assent.

Grateful thanks to Bob Maysmor in New Zealand and Moritz Mortensen in Norway for some of the genealogical details.


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