In 1863 a mysterious young Frenchwoman arrived in Halifax on a packet-boat from New York. She spoke broken English and had difficulty asking the carriage-driver to take her to a hotel. He brought her to the Halifax Hotel, where the Ralston Building now stands on Hollis Street, because the proprietor there spoke French and German. The woman registered as ‘Miss Lewley’ and said she wanted to locate a relative in the city. She was directed to Philip Lenoir, a French-speaking lawyer, and told him she wanted to locate her cousin, Albert Pinson, an officer in a British regiment stationed in Halifax.
Albert (Bertie) Pinson was a lieutenant in the 16th Regiment. Unmarried, he was handsome, fond of horse-racing, gambling and women, and flirted with all the Halifax belles. His fellow officers were immediately curious about the mysterious Frenchwoman who now began calling on him. She was always dressed in black and carried a black umbrella, rain or shine.
Miss Lewley soon left the Halifax Hotel to board in the city, first with the Saunders family in their home on the northwest corner of Barrington and Green streets. She rarely left her room, instead spending her time writing letters and keeping a journal. One day Mrs. Saunders noticed a letter addressed to the famous French author and poet, Victor Hugo; Miss Lewley confided that she was, in reality, Hugo’s daughter Adèle (b. 1830).
The story behind Adèle’s obsessive pursuit of Lieutenant Pinson is not fully known. They met on the Island of Guernsey, where Pinson was stationed with the 16th Foot Regiment, and were at one point engaged to be married. After the regiment was transferred to England, Pinson reputedly wrote Adèle, asking her to come to London; when she arrived, the regiment had sailed for Nova Scotia. She returned to Guernsey and waited months for a letter; when none came, she decided to follow Pinson, took passage on the Great Easternsteamship for New York, and then came to Halifax.
As time passed, Adèle became increasingly melancholy and eccentric. She pursued Pinson day and night, and declared that she was his wife in the sight of God and that he could never marry another woman while she lived. Occasionally she went out at night in disguise to spy on him, dressed as a man in a black suit, high hat, top-boots and with a cane instead of an umbrella.
In May 1866, Pinson’s regiment was transferred to Barbados — but if the lieutenant thought he could escape his former fiancée, he was mistaken. Adèle packed her trunk and declared she would follow him to the ends of the earth. Mademoiselle Hugo behaved the same in Barbados as she had in Nova Scotia. The regiment returned to England about 1870 and Adèle found her way back to France in 1872. She was eventually placed in a mental institution for the wealthy outside Paris, and died in 1915.
This post originally appeared on the Nova Scotia Archives. The archives now has a temporary spot on ‘Mainstreet,’ the driving-home program from CBC Radio One in Halifax. Listen in at 5:50 p.m. every second Wednesday to find out ‘What’s New in Old Stuff.’ From Wednesday 19 December 2012.