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In February 1838 Peter Dillon had met with Bishop Pompallier in the Bay of Islands. [1] He would have heard how the Marists had travelled around Cape Horn. Later that year he left the Pacific, passed through Paris and reached London 10 January 1839. He immediately attempted to start a commercial venture to exploit his knowledge of the Pacific and joined up with a Sydney man, Daniel Cooper, a pardoned deportee, who had built a successful shipping business in London. Dillon had an acquaintance in Paris, a certain Peter Scratchley, to whom he sent a letter that found its way to Father Colin. From his extensive knowledge of the oceans Dillon argued that Cape Horn was about the worst way to go to New Zealand. He recommended travelling through London where his friend Cooper offered passage to Sydney for £ 70, a journey of four to five months at the most. Cooper could also arrange passage from Sydney to New Zealand for a mere £ 10. Mission goods to Sydney cost £ 2 per ton. [2]

As far as we know the superior general did not react, but on 29 April Pierre Colin wrote to Heptonstall, Archbishop Polding’s agent in London, asking for accommodation for five missionaries and begging him to look for a ship to Australia. [3] He may have mentioned Peter Dillon; in any case, Heptonstall contacted Dillon who came to a provisional agreement with Cooper for passage on the newly commissioned Australasian Packet. Dillon wrote to Pierre Colin but his letter, sent 23 May, arrived after the departure of the missionaries who therefore did not know that Colin Pierre had confirmed a booking through Dillon.[4]

Heptonstall had arranged a boarding house for the missionaries, run by a respectable Catholic for 25 shilling a week: ‘less expensive and more comfortable’ than a hotel. [5] Petit-Jean and Viard ran into a local businessman, a Mr. Knill, who helped them get their luggage through customs without trouble and get it stored. Chevron, Comte and Attale followed two days later, but it was a hassle – with barely any knowledge of the language - for the two groups to find each other, and to contact Heptonstall.

Not knowing about the arrangements already made, the missionaries started looking around themselves for a way to book for Sydney and were directed by a Catholic but – they felt – not quite trustworthy character called Devoy, to the captain of a ship going to Australia, the Sultan. They had nearly come to an agreement when Dillon was informed by Heptonstall of their arrival and turned up with Pierre Colin’s letter! Petit-Jean had no choice but wriggle out of his near-agreement with the Sultan but he cleverly used it to bring the fare with Cooper down from 64 to 60 pounds.[6] For that price they booked on the Australasian Packet. [7]

Petit-Jean reported to Colin that they had left Lyon with 40.781 francs, and having paid their expenses in London and their fare to Sydney (5 x 60 = £ 300, i.e. 7.500 francs), they had, including a few other gifts, 35.360 francs left.[8] Personal cheques for more than £ 300 (7.500 francs) would take a month to be cashed in Sydney, so they divided the money among themselves and each one took a personal cheque.[9] It then appeared that the boxes of the second group were missing and Comte had to cross back to Boulogne to trace them. Their first conclusion: new missionaries should know at least some English before departure, even if, in Chevron’s words, it is ‘the most barbaric language spoken under the sun’. Second conclusion: the Society should as soon as possible, open a house in London, to facilitate travelling to Oceania, but also because of the vast pastoral opportunities the city offers. Petit-Jean gave Colin already several addresses of people who would be happy to help.

That left them with three weeks to explore London. They found things very expensive in what they called that Babylon near the port. They could not believe how big London was (‘twice the size of Paris’) and how well laid out it was: sidewalks everywhere, wide open squares and parks closed off for vehicles. La plus belle ville du monde.

Quite a few Catholic churches, ‘small, poor but very clean!’ They lodged near Saint-Thomas’ but, in order not to embarrass the parish priest, they went to say Mass at different places. Everywhere they went, priests were friendly and invited them for breakfast.

They went on long walks, (dressed in the frock coats – redingotes - they had been fitted out with in Lyon), admired Saint Paul’s, London Bridge and Westminster Abbey and, as they moved about without a map, they got repeatedly lost.[10] They would go out without noting down their own address, and without money in their pockets to take a cab. Afraid to take a coach, for fear they would not find their way back, they walked for miles! England was a true discovery. They were surprised at how well the British people lived (carpets to the front door!), how calm and composed they were, and how courteous and helpful. Even at the customs office, things were tidy and clear..

Our Frenchmen got a good dose of culture shock. Comte found the English peaceful (police are unarmed!), phlegmatic, but, he added, they all look alike! Women lack the delicacy and modesty that only religion can give. Those big blond men, Comte felt, all stared at his black hair and beard. [11] They struggled with the English food (seasoned so as to melt one’s palate!). To become an Englishman you have to eat all dishes at the same time and mix them together. Petit-Jean is full of praise for everything, except the English kitchen.[12] Not to speak about the British habit of drinking beer at table instead of wine!

They paid a visit to Lord Petre, of an old Catholic noble family, who was a director of the New Zealand Company that sent regular ships with migrants. They got various letters of recommendation.

They had a look at their ship, the Australasian Packet. A new ship, just being registered. Small, but beautiful and comfortable, vraiment coquet! They were assigned three cabins, Viard and Attale sharing one, Chevron and Comte the next one. Petit-Jean had a cabin for himself. They were given two little cabins to say Mass when the weather permitted. They bought Mass wine, flour (to make hosts), candles, paper and pencils, deck chairs and chamber pots.[13]


  1. Cf. above, p. 70.
  2. Letters from Peter Dillon: APM, 2276/11653.
  3. Pierre Colin’s letter crossed with a second one of Dillon, dated 3 May. Jean-Claude Colin wrote to Dillon on 16 May, possibly to acknowledge that second one, which has not been found. Cf. CS, p. 126, n.1.
  4. On 2 May 1840 Poupinel wrote to Peter Dillon to apologize for the confusion, CS, doc. 159. He says he had forgotten to give them the letter, meaning Pierre Colin had not told the missionaries he had written on 29.04. The letter sent by Dillon on 23.05 arrived after the departure of the missionaries, resp. 21.05 and 23.05.
  5. Heptonstall to Pierre Colin, 25.05.39, APM, 511/421.
  6. Heptonstall wrote that fares would be between £ 70 and £ 80.
  7. Dillon tells the story differently. Cf. Davidson, op. cit. p. 298. Davidson calls the ship the Australia.
  8. Petit-Jean to Colin, from Gravesend, 15.06.39.
  9. Comte to Poupinel, from London, 14.06.39, p. 2.
  10. Petit-Jean to Paillasson, from Sydney, p. 2.
  11. Comte to Colin, Poupinel, 14.06.39, p. 3
  12. ce n’est que dans la cuisine que les Anglais n’entendent rien
  13. From London and Gravesend, Petit-Jean to Colin, 26.05.39 & 15.06.39. Also from London, Comte to Colin and to Poupinel, 14.06.39.

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