J Bertrand Payne

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J Bertrand Payne


James Bertrand Payne (1833-1898) is best known as the author and publisher of Payne's Armorial of Jersey, the major 19th century genealogical work on island families.

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Born on 8 April 1833, the son of James Payne, of Holmesdale, St John's Road, he was educated privately and went to England at the age of 16 to learn about book production from his publisher relative, Charles Tilt.

When his father died in 1856 he returned to Jersey, although three years later the family moved to London. However, his interest in Jersey family history and heraldry had already begun and he issued a prospectus for the Armorial. The greatest criticism of the work is that families paid to be included and provided many of the family trees, to the exclusion of other equally important branches of the families. However, although later writers have corrected errors and expanded on many of the trees, the accuracy of the substantial part of the work remains unchallenged and it remains one of the foremost references for those tracing their ancestry in Jersey.

Payne joined Moxon Publishing and published the first part of the Armorial in 1859, with further issues in 1860, 1862 and 1865. It had been his intention to continue to expand the work but could not raise the funds needed to do so.

He took over the management of the publishing company on behalf of Mrs Moxon, but it could not survive the loss of major authors Tennyson, Browning and Swinburne and he left in 1869, two years before the firm went bankrupt. A subsequent lawsuit with Mrs Moxon led to his ruin.

He continued to work as a writer and publisher and a series of articles that he wrote for the Jersey Independent were published in 1861 by W H Smith and Son as A Gossiping Guide to Jersey.

In 1864 he married Zoe Taylor and they had one son, De Vinchelez Payen Payne. He continued to have many grand publishing schemes, few of which ever came to fruition. Among the non-starters was the promised Armorial of Guernsey.


Payne's face did not fit with mainstream historians and genealogists, particularly those who founded La Société Jersiaise in 1873. There was little effort to include well-researched family histories in early issues of La Société's Annual Bulletin - the editors preferred to use short articles quoting individual historical documents relating to Jersey families which came to their attention. At this time Payne's work was the first, and only, comprehensive review of the island's genealogy.

Then along came the Rev J A Messervy, a scholarly writer on general and family history, who was honorary librarian for La Société, and took the opportunity to research individual families among the many books and documents at his disposal in the library. He did not hesitate to quote the Armorial when it suited him, but was quick to leap on any inaccuracies he found, and there are frequent critical references to Payne's work in the series of family histories penned by the Rev Messervy, co-researched with his wife, which appeared in the Annual Bulletin over the two decades from 1897 to 1917. Much of what he found to criticse in the Armorial were errors of omission rather than inaccuracies, and he was able to extend many of the family trees, undoubtedly using references which had not been available to Payne.

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