7 February 1854: Thomas Falla writes from Guernsey to Victor Hugo in Jersey

Hugo's daughter Adèle kept a diary while the family were in Jersey. The original is in the Morgan Library in New York and the Maison Victor Hugo in Paris. In it she records conversations with Hugo during the Tapner affair. Here is a translation of the entry for the 9 February, 1854, a letter from Thomas Falla, John Charles Tapner's advocate during his trial for murder: [By Dinah Bott]

For the attitude of the people of Guernsey to Hugo, see Victor Hugo in Guernsey, by Henri Boland.

9 February

Victor Hugo received a letter from Falla,1 Tapner’s advocate. Here it is:

Guernsey, 7 February 1854

Victor Hugo, Esq.


Your noble, great-hearted and eloquent address to the Guernsey people, I blush for my countrymen to have to say this, has had no effect, no happy outcome. Those who are not sufficiently intelligent to understand the import of the address, cannot comprehend that it is a matter of a great moral, religious, and humanitarian principle. They cannot see beyond the wretched Tapner’s crime; he was guilty, they said, so he deserves to die. Others, following a false religious principle, came to the same conclusion. In a word, the petition sent to the Queen, to beg her to commute the punishment to which the criminal has been condemned, has only been signed by 600 people. What has really angered me most about all this is that the ministers of religion, whatever creed they be, have all refused to sign this petition. I ask this: Are these hard and inexorable men who want the blood or the death of their fellow human being, of their brother sinner, are they worthy to preach peace, humility, brotherly love, and all the fine religious principles that are so admirable and so necessary to man, as much for his behaviour towards God as towards his neighbour?

You are aware, I am sure, that Tapner is to be executed next Friday; his appeal for mercy, or rather for the commutation of his sentence has been rejected.

A thousand apologies, Sir, for the delay in my acknowledging receipt of the two letters you have done me the honour of writing to me; but I am certain you will forgive me for this apparent negligence, when I tell you that all my time has been devoted to the cause of this poor man whom I have tried to save from death.

I am, Sir, most sincerely,
Your must humble and grateful servant,

Thomas J. B. Falla

From: Guille, Francis V., ed. Le Journal d’Adèle Hugo, III, 1854: Paris, Minard, 1984 [From the French.] Cf. An image of Adèle Hugo's diary at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York.

[By Dinah Bott]

1 Thomas John Blondel Falla (1804-1879), of the Vale. Son of Thomas Falla of Les Maisons au Compte and Marie Blondel of Le Frie Baton, St Saviour. His father had inherited Les Rocques Barrées Estate from his childless uncle Jean Falla. Thomas J B Falla lived at this fine house and when he died unmarried it passed to his sister Emma Elizabeth and her husband B W Isemonger, whose children sold it to the quarrying company, Mowlem. A window in the North aisle of the Vale church is dedicated to his memory. Cf. Foul Deeds at the Fallas', 1791. Collas, V J, Report & Transactions of The Société Guernesiaise, XVII (1960), p. 66, with photographs of Les Rocques Barrées as it was in the 19th century; and Priaulx, T F, 'A Diary written at St Saviour's, 1749-1757,' Rep. & Trans. Soc. Guern. 1952, p. 222.

Here is Thomas J B Falla's opinion on the Guernsey legal system:

I owe it to myself to express the opinion which I hold upon the subject of a jury for a small island like Guernsey. When I first came to the bar, having lived in France many years, I could not conceive how a Court composed of a Bailiff and twelve magistrates, being compelled to decide upon fact and upon law, could give satisfaction or render justice.