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The first letter from the bishop

When the Fathers Baty, Petit, Epalle and the Brothers Augustin, Florentin and Elie-Regis visited Wallis and Futuna in May 1839, they expected and promised that the Reine de Paix would return within six months. In October or November Pompallier sold it. On 9 December the Fathers Chevron, Comte, Petitjean and Viard with brother Attale arrived in New Zealand. A few days later Pompallier heard that a trading ship was on the point of leaving for the tropical islands. He was told the ship expected to call at Wallis and Futuna in two or three weeks. He immediately booked Chevron and Attale to visit the confreres. It also was his first opportunity to communicate with the missionaries whom he had left on the two isolated islands more than two years before. On 14 December he sat down and wrote:
‘How I suffer in my heart because I have not been able to visit you since I left you on your islands. It is one of most painful crosses of my mission to have no possibility of communicating with you as often as I would want. From your letters that I received through the confreres that have come to join me last June, I understand that for you too it is an ordeal. (…) I have been waiting for more than eight months for the frigate Astrolabe under Captain Dumont d’Urville. She should be here any time now. If he does not come within six months I shall hire the first ship available to visit you. (….)[1].

Without explaining why, he tells his men that the Reine de Paix is no longer at their disposal. The missionaries who travelled on her are in good health and since then another group of four priests and one brother has arrived. The bishop now resides at the Bay of Islands where the procure is established. His mind had been put at rest, he writes, by the news the visitors were able to give, but he would have been happier had they come straight from Tahiti to New Zealand. He could then have used the ship for a visit himself. ‘But once I was reassured about you (…) I put off another visit until now’.

Pompallier goes on to tell the missionaries in the islands of the assurance from the French government that naval vessels in the Pacific would be ready to protect them. He expands on the success of the mission in New Zealand. Everywhere on the North Island he senses a movement towards the Catholic Faith, and the Hail Mary is heard daily in many tribes, in spite of the fierce resistance of the heretics. He is sending them a third priest and a catechist to replace Brother Marie-Nizier whom he wants to come to New Zealand, so he writes, ‘for the good of the mission’.

A nightmare trip

Chevron and Attale sailed on 17 December and their voyage began badly when their ship[2] was becalmed for days in sight of the New Zealand coast. Then they ran into a violent storm that killed one of the sailors. On 4 January they reached the Fiji group and stopped at Levuka, on Ovalau Island. The two were in awe before the dark-coloured, and what Chevron described as Hercules-sized Fijians. The ship’s crew made it worse with tales of the Fijians’ murderous and cannibalistic habits. Their apprehension was not put at rest when they heard that Levuka was near the island of Viwa where in 1834 the French vessel Aimable Joséphine was sacked and burned, and Captain Bureau with his crew massacred. In 1838 Dumont d’Urville had bombarded the village from the Astrolabe and the Zélée in revenge.[3] Still, they heard that there were two Anglican missionaries on the island and the first Fijians who came on board evidently had some knowledge of Christianity: they reverently touched the cross on Chevron’s chest and he gave them some medals.

After ten days of trading the ship tried to leave the anchorage but stranded on a sandbar. Within hours numerous canoes approached and the crew readied the guns to repel an attack. For days the ship manoeuvred in nasty squalls, all the time threatened by canoes full of hostile warriors. In those desperate circumstances the rudder was damaged and had to be repaired. The only thing the two missionaries could contribute were their prayers and throwing medals into the sea! Finally, on 22 January 1840, after abandoning an anchor, the ship reached open water.

They then cruised through the length and the width of the Fiji group after which they went to the Tonga islands and called at Ha`apai and Vava`u where they barely survived a cyclone and were nearly thrown on the reefs several times. From there they visited Tongatapu just when King George Taufa`ahau was waging war on the pagan chiefs who refused to convert to Christianity. Finally, on 1 May they sailed from Tongatapu and on Saturday, 9 May 1840, they reached Wallis, five months after leaving for a trip that was expected to take two or three weeks.


  1. The letter has survived thanks to a copy that Nizier made for himself and that he quoted in full to Colin 14 October 1860. APM, personal file Delorme. Part of the letter is in Rozier, S. Pierre Chanel, doc. 13.
  2. Chevron’s colourful narrative to his family fills 17 printed pages in LRO, doc. 62. Strangely enough he nowhere mentions the name of the ship or the captain. It certainly was not the Reine de Paix, as Rosier and after him Anthony Ward mistakenly note, EC, p. 489, n.1, A. Ward, Ever your poor brother, p.225.
  3. For Chanel’s comment on that event that he heard about from Jones, cf. EC, p. 398, 12.12.38.

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