Obituary: Michael Beaumont

Michael Beaumont shows Queen Elizabeth II around the Seigneurie gardens on the island of Sark, in 2001. Picture: Fiona Hanson
Michael Beaumont shows Queen Elizabeth II around the Seigneurie gardens on the island of Sark, in 2001. Picture: Fiona Hanson
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Michael Beaumont, 22nd Seigneur of Sark.

Born: 20 December, 1927, in Egypt.

Died: 3 July, 2016, on Sark, aged 88.

Michael Beaumont’s destiny, through a difficult childhood and wartime tragedy, was to be a feudal lord.

He would find both love and loyalty on the domain that would be his, the four-and-a-half square miles of cliff-girt greenery, set in a silver sea off the coast of France, the Channel island of Sark.

His dominion was to last almost 42 years, and – amid centuries-old tributes with Norman French names such as “poulage” and “treizieme” (dues to him, as Seigneur, of chickens, and of a proportion of money paid in land transactions) – he would introduce democracy.

The son of the film-maker Lionel “Buster” Beaumont, John Michael Beaumont was born in Egypt, where his father, heir to the lordship of Sark, was serving as an officer in the Royal Air Force. It was a family life that would not last long. The boy was only 10 years old when his mother, Enid, and his father divorced in 1937.

His father remarried within months, his second wife being an actress, Mary Lawson, whom he had met while making a film on Sark. The movie, which ran out of money during production, was based on Victor Hugo’s novel about Guernsey, Les Travailleurs de la Mer: The Toilers of the Sea.

Packed off to boarding school, young Michael showed an aptitude for mathematics, and would go on to a technical education at Loughborough College. Another blow was to fall, however, in 1941, when his father was killed while on leave and visiting Liverpool, in a room in a hotel that took a direct hit during the city’s Blitz.

Sark was by that time cut off, under German occupation, and the family further divided. The teenage Beaumont’s paternal grandmother, as Dame of Sark through her descent from the Collings family that had ruled the island for several generations, trod a careful path to maintain daily life there. The news of her son’s death was relayed to her personally by the German commandant.

Michael, the new heir, was not to inherit the title for another three decades. The Dame, Sibyl, surnamed, no longer Beaumont, but, because of her second marriage, Hathaway, died in 1974.

Yet long before that, he would spend many happy sojourns on Sark, including one during which he met his future wife, Diana La Trobe-Bateman, daughter of a family that had lived on the island since the First World War. The couple married in London in 1956, and would have two sons, Christopher and Andrew.

Michael Beaumont made a distinguished career for himself as an aircraft engineer, joining, in the 1960s, Beagle Aircraft, where he was, from 1965 until 1969, chief stress engineer at the company’s facility at Shoreham in Sussex.

“We used to go down to Shoreham to watch the aircraft being destroyed,” his wife’s younger brother, Jeremy, who was aged about 10 at the time, recalled, with enthusiasm. “Michael knew exactly when it would break. He could do the maths. ”

Beaumont’s name was to be associated in particular with the development of the single-engined, two- or four-seater Beagle Pup, which became a favourite trainer aircraft for the RAF. The prototype made its first flight on April 8 1967. He was promoted to chief technical engineer in 1969.

Scottish Aviation took over production after the Beagle company was put into receivership in December 1969,and Beaumont went on in 1970 to work in Bristol for BAC, the British Aircraft Corporation, at its works at Filton, where he was senior engineer, guided weapons, staying until he inherited the Fief of Sark as Seigneur in 1974.

The island, where, apart from a few tractors, bicycles, and horses and carts are to this day favoured, and cars and helicopters are banned, became his home from 1975.

Beaumont, 22nd Seigneur after Helier de Carteret, who in 1565 was given the Fief of Sark by Elizabeth I of England, in return for a token yearly payment and a promise to keep down piracy, quickly learned how to run the island, a “doer”, rather than a talker, his family remember. He was appointed OBE.

He won the affection of his 500 feudal subjects – Sark being considered the last place in western Europe to retain the medieval system.

A popular traditionalist, he even saw off an invasion attempt in 1990, when a Frenchman armed with a semi-automatic weapon came ashore and said he was going to take the island over at noon the next day. The island’s voluntary constable disarmed him.

In 1993 more far-reaching change followed the arrival as residents on Sark’s neighbouring tiny island of Brecqhou of the twin brothers and businessmen Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay. Employers of many of the islanders, their influence led to reforms, and Sark held its first general election to the island government, the Chief Pleas, in 2008.

Beaumont relinquished certain rights including the “treizieme”, but opinion on the island remains divided about whether reform has been for good or ill.

A devoted family man, Beaumont spent his last years caring for his wife, who suffered a stroke in 2012. The couple recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.

His wife and sons survive him. He is succeeded by his elder son Christopher, who becomes 23rd Seigneur.

ANNE KELENY