5th August 1852

Victor Hugo flees France and heads for Jersey

Although Victor Hugo is more often associated with Guernsey, where he lived in St Peter Port for 15 years, his first refuge on fleeing France was Belgium, then, for three years, Jersey. Upon arrival on 5 August, he set up home at the Pomme d’Or Hotel in St Helier but was expelled from the island for supporting a local newspaper that had published criticism of Queen Victoria.

One of many

Hugo was one of many exiles in Belgium, who had fled France when Napoleon, whom he had criticised, came to power. However, his criticism didn’t stop once he was out of his motherland and, following the publication of a pamphlet called Napoleon le Petit, he declared that remaining in Belgium was simply not possible, as he was an embarrassment to the country and perhaps even a danger. As a result, the country ordered him out.

His wife had left Brussels and travelled to Jersey with her daughter and, the following day, Victor travelled to the UK with his son, with whom he stayed in London for three days before taking the evening mail train to the coast, where they caught the steam packet to Jersey.

Insult to the monarch

An account in the Staffordshire Sentinel and Commercial & General Advertiser outlined why, three years later, Hugo was forced to move again: a Jersey paper had published a letter “containing a considerable amount of violent and contemptible matter”, about Napoleon and how he might be assassinated. The latter also “spoke in a tone of vulgar familiarity to and of Queen Victoria which was most offensive to every Englishman possessing the slightest love for her Majesty’s person, or the slightest reverence for her throne and office”. The newspaper’s owner, editor and distributor were expelled from the island and, when Hugo and 29 other refugees protested against their removal, they too were told it was time to leave on 19 November 1855.

Thus, he made his way to Guernsey, and Jersey’s smaller neighbour has been repaid many times over for its hospitality, both in the tourism it attracts, and his setting of Toilers of the Sea around the island.


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