Victor Hugo and Guernsey: Peter Nicholas Le Ber

25th July 2017

Advocate and friend of Hugo, Alderney's Peter Le Ber was an exceptional young man, who became editor of the Gazette de Guernesey aged only 24. This is part of the Victor Hugo and Guernsey project.

Peter Nicholas Le Ber came of an Alderney family. He was born on November 29th 1840 to Pierre Le Ber and Catherine Mollet Le Cocq. His baptism was a private one, which probably indicates he was too sickly to be transported to church.

He qualified as an advocate in France (B. ès L. and B. en D.).¹ He took over as editor of the Gazette in March 1864 and published his ‘manifesto’ of open and courageous reporting on 5 March 1864. In the issues for 12 March and 19 March he spoke out against the destruction of ancient monuments such as the Pierre-aux-Fées and the Roque Magie. He advocated the creation of an association to protect Guernsey’s heritage and drew attention to the work of the Society of Antiquaries in London. In an editorial on 2 April 1864 he argued that despite its faults Guernsey law was better than the law administered in France.

There are references to him in Hugo’s Agenda, particularly during the years 1864-1870 when he frequently dined at Hauteville House. On 8 November 1864, along with Tupper, he visited Hugo to answer local interest questions at the time when Hugo was busy writing Les Travailleurs de la mer. He attended the Christmas festivities at Hauteville House that year, representing the Gazette. In December 1866 he had fruits confits, oranges sent from Marseilles to Hugo. He went on a walking tour in Brittany. He visited Hugo when no longer editor of the Gazette, when he launched a new paper Le Guernesiais. [Massin xiii/967, 998; xiv/1367, 1405, 1465.] Le Ber died at his home in the Grange on the 17th September 1870, aged 29, of 'paralysie.'

The Star commented in a short obituary that he ‘had taken a decided stand in the cause of religion, and by his unwavering firmness and consistency, by his example and his precept, he seemed destined, had his life been spared, to have been a useful and honoured labourer in his LORD’S vineyard.’ His body was taken on the Queen of the Isles to Alderney, the place of his birth (Star, 20 September 1870).

In April 1870 Le Ber had bought one of 34 photographs and drawings that had been found amongst Hennett de Kesler's belongings. Hugo wrote on it:

J'avais donné ce dessin à mon vieux compagnon d'exil Kesler; je suis charmé de le voir entre les mains de mon jeune et excellent ami M. Le Ber. HH avril 1870 VH.

[I had given this drawing to my old companion in exile, Kesler; I am delighted to see it now in the hands of my young and good friend Monsieur Le Ber. HH April 1870 VH.]

The drawing, Landscape with Two Ruined Castles, 1847, is now in the Art Institute of Chicago.

There exists a carte de visite photograph of Hugo, signed by Hugo:

A mon excellent ami M. LeBer

Victor Hugo

* 4th Dec. [1866]— Dined this evening in company with Victor Hugo at Monsieur Le Ber's. He was full of fun. 'Take care of him!' [Hugo] said, pointing at me; 'he is an enfant terrible.'

Sir W F Butler, Autobiography, (1911), p. 86.


¹ Darryl Ogier.