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Inspection by the British customs was a mere formality. When the customs officer saw a theology book he closed the bag and let everything pass. The missionaries got the mission goods and their personal luggage on board in London and followed it to Gravesend from where they sailed on 14 June 1839. In spite of their objections the two boxes that happened to hold their chalices were stacked under in the hold so they could not say Mass.[1] The ship sailed with 36 people on board, crew included. The courtesy and the respectful manners of the British surprised the French priests. They were even more surprised when they were asked to say a prayer before meals whereby all present, Jews and Protestants, would stand up, hats in the hand.

After a few rough days the sea calmed and a fine wind carried them to São Tiago, in Cape Verde, where they stayed four days to take on water. The captain kindly had the sailors go down into the hold to get the boxes with the chalices, so the priests could say Mass from then on.

Cape Verde was what the Canary Islands had been to the first group[2]: their first confrontation with a strange world. The tropical vegetation deceived them into thinking they had found the horn of plenty. ‘If only their natural laziness would not prevent these people from working!’. They saw the numerous slaves and picked up stories of ill-treatment by their owners, and they met a poorly instructed clergy that – they found - showed little zeal. Their missionary spirit nearly tempted them to get involved, especially when people started kissing their hands, but they stuck to distributing medals.

Petitjean wrote to Colin and to his brother-in-law Paillasson. Viard wrote to Colin, Attale to Champagnat. There may have been other letters. The stories were published in the Annales de la Propagation de la Foi of January 1840. On 16 July they celebrated the feast of Our Lady of the Carmel and left that evening.[3]

During the three months sailing, from Cape Verde around the Cape of Good Hope, across the Indian Oceania, they knew rough days but for the most part the voyage was uneventful. Only in Bass Strait the Australasian Packet barely escaped being thrown on an uncharted submerged rock. Nearing Sydney the captain slaughtered the remaining livestock for a last festive meal when the ship was becalmed for a week. Finally in the early morning of 23 October the ship dropped anchor.


The missionaries presented themselves to Archbishop Polding who took them to the chapel for a Te Deum and graciously offered them the hospitality of his residence. Next Sunday there was a solemn High Mass in the cathedral in thanksgiving for what was announced as the fortuitous voyage of the new missionaries.[4] They immediately wrote to Pompallier to let him know they had reached Australia.[5]

The buildings in Sydney reminded the Frenchmen of London, except that Sydney streets were wider and the houses stood apart, well spaced, surrounded by gardens. Sydney had ‘a population of over 20.000, and a main street two miles long, with splendid public buildings and residences that would have done credit to a provincial town in England.’[6]

The Marists were impressed by Archbishop Polding and his Benedictine monks, especially their care and compassion for the vast numbers of deportees, many of whom were Catholics from Ireland and Canada.[7] The positive impression they had gained of the British people in London changed when they saw the harsh and arrogant treatment meted out to prisoners in Australia. Petit-Jean accompanied Polding on a visit to the prisons. He was told how they were often sent off to Australia on the smallest of pretexts. He also heard from the Benedictines about the aboriginal people and the inhumane way they were treated.[8]

There were several ships to New Zealand, some were booked full, others had left by the time the Marists found out about them.[9] Finally, by the end of November they left on the Marthe and reached the Bay of Islands, probably on 10 December 1839.[10]


  1. One of them wrote it was done out of malice, which, given subsequent events is unlikely. The Frenchmen were inclined to suspect everywhere the anticlericalism common at home. Colin followed suit (CS, doc. 99)
  2. Cf. above, p. 46.
  3. On the letters to Colin, cf. CS, doc. 114 [6]. They have not been found back, which is strange, because they reached Lyon in December, when Poupinel - usually careful in keepings things in order - was on the spot. For Petit-Jean to Paillasson and Attale to Champagnat, APM, 1405.20043. Annales, janvier 1840, LXVIII, p. 110.
  4. Montfat, op. cit. p. 108ff. Chevron to Colin, 23.11.1839. APM, loc. cit.
  5. LRO, doc. 59 [8]
  6. Yarwood, op. cit. p. 270, quoting a letter of Samuel Marsden from 1836.
  7. The armed rebellion of Louis Papineau, 1837-’38 led to a wave of deportations from Québec.
  8. From Sydney, Petit-Jean to Paillasson, undated. APM, loc. cit.
  9. LRO, 46 [1].
  10. Pompallier to Colin, 08.01.1840, LRO, doc. 47 [2]. The documents differ on the date of arrival.

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