Sunday, September 1, 2013

Adèle Hugo, Albert Pinson and the 16th Regiment of Foot

by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt

An announcement appeared in The Guernsey Star on October 9, 1863, describing the Sept 17th wedding of Adèle Hugo, the youngest child of the famous French writer Victor Hugo, to Mr. Albert Pinson of the 16th Regiment of the English Infantry.

Pinson first met the Hugo family while they were in exile in the Channel Islands. A man known for his flirtations and his gambling, Pinson saw Adèle as a chance into money. He proposed. She rejected. The two remained friends, possibly even became lovers, but this did not solve Pinson's financial difficulties.

As a means of escaping his debts, Pinson joined the West Yorkshire Militia in 1854. In 1856 Pinson transferred from the militia to the 16th Regiment of Foot where he was made a lieutenant. With so many commissioned officers dead from the Crimean War, the military was allowing some soldiers to become officers without purchasing the commission, and this is what Pinson did.

The 16th Regiment of Foot had several nicknames, the most interesting being “the Peacemakers.” This term came from the fact that throughout the 19th century, the 16th had missed nearly every military skirmish, battle, and war. The 16th was often stationed in far-off colonies and usually less volatile regions.

They were not in Europe for the Napoleanic Wars, they were far away during the Crimean War, during the Indian Mutiny they were not in Asia. Although they were sometimes ordered to war-riddled regions, by the time the 16th Regiment had sailed from their far-off location to the place of war, the war had ended. For a man little interested in fighting, Pinson was wise to choose the “Peacemakers.”

In January of 1862 the 16th Regiment arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Their presence in Canada was in response to the American Civil War and, in particular, the “Trent Affair.”

On November 8, 1861, Lieutenant Donald Fairfax of the USS San Jacinto stopped the British mail steamer Trent in Caribbean waters. Fairfax knew that the Trent was carrying two Confederate envoys, James Mason and John Slidell, to seek official recognition for the Confederacy from Britain and France. Fairfax's orders were to arrest Mason and Slidell, search and seize papers from the ship, and hold the ship for settlement in a prize court.

In the event, Fairfax did seize the two envoys but let the ship and all its papers go, without a proper search. When news of the illegal arrest of two diplomats aboard a neutral vessel reached Britain, the government demanded that the United States give up these two envoys. Already frustrated with the United States who had disrupted European trade with the South, Britain prepared for war and sent more than 11,000 British soldiers to garrisons in Canada, including Pinson and the “Peacemakers” of the 16th Regiment. Eventually the two envoys were returned to Britain, war was avoided, and “the Peacemakers” once again avoided battle.

In 1863, Adèle Hugo ran away from her family, following Pinson to Halifax, eventually sending word to her family that they had married.

In May of 1866, the 16th was sent to Barbados. Barbados, an island in the southeastern Caribbean, was colonized by the English in the early 1600s. The American Civil War had ended (slavery had been abolished on Barbados in 1833), so the 16th Regiment's deployment to the tropical island must have been just as a British Empire occupying force, with no special conflict to be resolved.

In 1869, the 16th was sent to Dublin. Although tensions between Ireland and England existed, this would have been another conflict-free assignment. Ireland's close proximity to England would also mean that Pinson could sometimes travel to visit friends and family that he had not seen for many years. During this time period, he met Catherine Edith Roxburgh, the daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel James Roxburgh. The two were married on March 31, 1870 in Hampstead, England.

Wait! Isn't Pinson married to Adèle Hugo?

The Pinson-Hugo wedding announced in The Guernsey Star did not take place on September 17, 1863; it did not take place at all. The two were never married. The announcement was a hoax perpetrated by Adèle Hugo, perhaps with the collusion of Lieutenant Pinson. In 1863, the two were living in Halifax, but they did not marry.

Why the false wedding announcement? Why the misinformation? History does not tell us, but fiction can.

My novel, Syncopation: A Memoir of Adèle Hugo attempts to explain the oft-misunderstood life of Adèle Hugo, including her unusual relationship with Lieutenant Pinson.

One Last Note about the 16th: After 1881, the 16th Regiment of the Foot became the 16th Bedfordshire Regiment. Later, it was combined with the 44th Foot Guards. It is now know as the 3rd East Anglia Regiment.


Dow, Leslie Smith. Adèle Hugo: La Miserable. Fredericton, New Brunswick: Goose Lane Editions, 1993.

Dubrulle, Hubert F. “Trent Affair.” Encyclopedia of the American Civil War. 2000.

Elizabeth Caulfield Felt is the author of the fictional autobiography, Syncopation: A Memoir of Adele Hugo. She is co-author of the children's mystery, The Stolen Goldin Violin. When she is not writing, she leads writing workshops for children and teaches part-time at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. You can learn more about Elizabeth and her work at


  1. Oh wow! I didn't see that last bit coming. Those two pulled a fast one.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. What an intesting state of affairs. A regiment that always misses the fight, and a wedding that didn't happen. I love the sound of this book.

  3. PS: i tweeted this and posted it on my timeline.

  4. You have caught my interest. What happened to Adele? Did she ever marry?


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