Victor Hugo and Guernsey: Victor Hugo's coachmen

9th June 2017

Victor Hugo had a couple of favoured coachmen whom he used to drive him on his excursions around the island. Hugo had a few strictly prescribed routes, and would become almost anxious if pressed to deviate from them. This would sometimes prove tedious for his familial entourage, who would often accompany him; but Mme Drouet was always happy to indulge him. This is part of the Victor Hugo and Guernsey project.

Peter Luscombe

[Re the unveiling of Victor Hugo's statue, Candie, July 7 1914:] Tuesday was a great day for Mr Peter Luscombe, Victor Hugo's coachman for ten years during his daily two hours' drive into the country. Mr Luscombe was given a place near the statue at the unveiling ceremony, and later was received by the Victor Hugo family at the reception at Hauteville, where all the distinguished men of letters present shook hands with him.

This morning, by the side of his 'chair' at the White Rock, Mr Luscombe was relating how Victor Hugo was wont to lean in the cab, silently meditating as the vehicle moved along. Suddenly, he would exclaim, 'Arrêtez, Monsieur Pierre!' and then would hastily scribble the thoughts which had occurred to him.

A photograph of the Victor Hugo family was taken at Hauteville House yesterday afternoon, the group including Mr Peter Luscombe.

In the afternoons, a driver, Luscombe, who had been hired on a yearly contract, would take him out for a drive in his victoria, with members of his family. But he liked to walk, long excursions alone on the high cliffs of the South coast. [H Bourde de la Rogerie, Victor Hugo à Guernesey.]

A short obituray of Peter Luscombe contains the information from 1914, plus this observation:

In the death of Mr Peter John Luscombe, which occurred at his residence, Croix Bertrand, St Martin's,  on Thursday, Guernsey has lost one of the links in the chain of people intimately connected with Victor Hugo.

Charles Shepherd

Sitting by his fire in the kitchen of the Mignot Block of the Victoria Homes, we met Mr Charles Shepherd, aged 82. He is one who has been in close association with the great poet, Victor Hugo. Mr Shepherd has many stories to tell of his driving Victor Hugo and family and friends up and down Guernsey.

Mr Shepherd is a widower: his wife died last year, aged 82, after a marriage of 57 years. His father, Mr Henry Shepherd, of St Hélène Farm, was employed by Mr John Carey of St Hélène. Educated at St Andrew’s School under Daniel Naftel, when he left school he simply took to horses as a modern Sam Weller, and he remained a horse lover and a driver all his life in this Island. His first job was to take Mr John Carey out for drives in a bath-chair. After that Mr Shepherd went on livery work for Mr J H Miller, at St John-street, then with Mr Nicholas Falla, College-street, and also as coachman for Colonel T W M De Guérin. He retired seven years ago, and he and Mrs Shepherd were the first to occupy the Mignot Block.

Mr Shepherd well remembers the day when Mr Miller quite incidentally remarked ,’You had better go up to Victor Hugo’s, he wants a man to take him out for a drive, but it must be one who knows French.’ Arrived at Hauteville House, with a pair-horse landau, Victor Hugo appeared and asked, ‘Tu parles le français?’ Mr Shepherd replied, ‘Un p’tit peu, Monsieur.’ The great poet immediately observed: ‘Il ne faut pas dire, ‘Un p’tit peu, il faut dire, un peu.’ Then he continued, ‘You are going to take us as far as the Haunted House at Pleinmont.’

The poet had ladies with him, but said very little, being apparently deep in reverie. But, arrived at the Haunted House, he handed Mr Shepherd two francs as a pourboire. Thereafter Mr Shepherd frequently took the poet out for drives, but the favourite of all was to drive to the Haunted House, returning to Town via Rocquaine, Perelle, Grands Moulins and up the Talbot Valley.

Once, when going down the zig-zag at Petit Bôt, Mr Shepherd spoke of his ch’va (horse). The poet replied in correction, ‘ ‘Cheval,’ et quand tu parles de plus qu’un cheval, ‘chevaux.’

[Guernsey Press, April 1 1937.]


Hugo’s excursions could cover as much as twenty kilometres; he often allowed the drivers to plan the itinerary, which meant they tended to follow the well-worn tourist path:

The interminable excursions to Icart, the Gouffre, the pointe Nord, to Lihou, Fort George, Petit Bôt, St Saviour’s, to the dolmen on L’Ancresse headland, to Cobo, to Fermain-Bay, to Moulin Huet, to the Creux Mahie, to Saint Sampson, the Corbière, and to the Port au deuxième [quatrième] étage, a type of landing where, in bad weather, fishing boats were hoisted up by means of a capstan.

He could never bring himself to say anything to the drivers about these trips, even though the price was six shillings plus a tip.

[By Juana, Mrs Richard Lesclide, whose book Victor Hugo intime was based on her husband's recollections. 40 years younger than her husband, she was not present with Hugo and Lesclide in Guernsey in 1878, and the book is littered with inaccuracies and contradictions. Although her book can as a result be more of a hindrance than a help to scholars, it does contain some interesting stories and observations that might be said to have the ring of truth.]