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In correspondence with the superior general

Still at sea, approaching Valparaiso, and the dangerous parts of the long voyage behind them, in the pleasant climate of those latitudes, the missionaries had set to writing letters home, adding bits and pieces as they went along.

They could presume that by then their confreres and families would know of the stop they had made at the Canary Islands, but of course nothing further. Pompallier got a first letter ready, dated 17 July,[1] to inform Colin, and through him the family, of the death of Claude Bret and of their safe arrival in Valparaiso. By the time they reached Valparaiso several letters were ready. On arriving they found a ship, the Hudson, on the point of leaving for Bordeaux and they used it to dispatch a packet of letters for Colin and for friends and families.

A few days later, another ship, the Télégraphe, also left for Bordeaux. It carried a second letter from Pompallier to Colin, dated 20 July, with a copy of Bataillon’s diary and among others, a letter of condolence and consolation to the parents of Claude Bret. A third letter to Colin is dated 28 July and was sent by regular courier overland to Buenos Aires and Montevideo, from where they heard there were frequent ships to Europe.

Everyone wrote a personal letter to the superior general. Apart from the three letters to Colin, Pompallier wrote a long letter to his mother. He probably wrote to Marcellin Champagnat. Further letters that have been preserved include one from Bataillon to Etienne Séon, one from Chanel to his family, one to his sister, one a combined letter to Colin and the boys at the seminary of Belley and one to his friend Jean-Antoine Bourdin.[2] Servant wrote to Champagnat.[3]

Only now did they hear of the rumour, published in the Annales de la Propagation de la Foi, that the Delphine would have taken shelter in an English port while ships that had left the same day on the evening high tide had perished. Not knowing that the last bit was untrue, Chanel commented that they had been lucky to get away in time.[4]

The joy of being able to write letters home was toned down by the disappointment that there were no letters waiting for them. For Pompallier this also meant that, in spite of his urgent requests from Le Havre and the gentle reminder from Santa Cruz, there was no money. The 8.700 francs that Colin had arranged to be forwarded in April or May had not arrived. Nor did anything reach them during their seven weeks’ stay.[5] Pompallier was angry. In his second letter (20 July) he vented his feelings:

I wrote to you on 16 January from Santa Cruz. Did you receive my letter? For important things we must get used to keeping copies. Since I have left France I have received nothing, no letters, no answers. Still, ships have left Bordeaux long after our departure, and have arrived in Valparaiso before us. They could have carried mail. But then one needs to know when there is an opportunity. Therefore one has to have someone in the ports who is alert and willing to be of service. Or one has to rely on a shipping journal that carries such news. Alas, Rome, Lyon, Belley, all are cloaked in silence as far as we are concerned, and, dear superior, we had wanted so much to get some news of the congregation, the priests, the Sisters and the Brothers. We are very mortified to have to leave Valparaiso without having received any word…. Now it may be another year before we can be contacted.[6]

Even when writing to his mother Pompallier showed his bitter disappointment.[7] The other men were less outspoken, but Chanel and Bataillon too hinted at the pleasure it would have given them to get mail from home. Mail could have reached them if sent with the Colibri.[8] Chanel alluded to the name of the ship that took their mail to France: the Télégraphe: if only the mail was as fast! He was a bit homesick. When two French naval vessels, the frigate Andromède and the corvette Ariane appeared in the port of Valparaiso, his heart beat faster at the sight of the impressive ships with their mighty guns and the tricolour: ‘At once we felt like being in our dear France. How proud we were to be home again!’.[9]

There had been occasions to get mail to Valparaiso. The news of the marriage of the Duke of Orléans, on 8 May, had reached Valparaiso by 8 August: just three months after the event.[10] The things Pompallier now mentioned were exactly the things he had begged Colin to do. He had asked Colin to note down mail sent and received and to acknowledge receipt when mail arrived. Later he himself often began a letter by indicating what he had received and what he had sent, when and from where.[11]

Colin’s own letters were always courteous, concise, methodical and to the point, but he was not good at chatty letters, which is what they now needed. He may well have been irritated by the bishop’s windy and chaotic writing, and his often patronising and nagging tone. Pompallier’s insistence on detail, and his habit of repeating what he had already said, betray his misgivings about Colin as a practical manager. The absence of money and mail, rightly or wrongly, confirmed his fears. Whatever did or did not happen: it was a sadly missed opportunity.

Colin was not the only beneficiary of Pompallier’s grumbling. Writing to Fransoni he points out that he already had sent three letters to Rome without receiving an answer. He did not tell the Cardinal how unhappy he was with Colin for the same reason, nor did he tell him that the information he had received in Rome, had not been of the best. He did share with the Cardinal the poor impression he had of the Church in the Canary Islands and in Chile: the low moral standard of the clergy, the money exacted from the faithful for the sacraments and the poor level of religious instruction.[12]

He also wrote to Archbishop de Pins with a second copy of Bataillon’s diary.[13]


  1. Partly published in the Annales de la Propagation de la Foi, LVI, January, 1838, pp. 236f.
  2. LRO, docs. 1419. That everyone wrote personally to Colin follows from Mayet op. cit., 7, 815, cf. FA, 216. Pompallier’s letter to the parents of Claude Bret has not been preserved. Pompallier to his mother: LRO, doc. 16. For Pompallier to Champagnat see LC, doc. 194, a letter that may have been not from Chile, but from Tahiti. Bataillon to Étienne Séon: LRO, doc. 19. Chanel to his family: EC, doc. 35, to his sister Françoise: EC, doc. 36; to Colin and the boys in Belley: EC, doc. 34, to Bourdin: EC, doc. 37.
  3. 14.06.1837, LO, Clisby006.
  4. EC, 35 [1].
  5. From Le Havre: LRO, docs. 7 [4 – 7] & 11 [23]. From Santa Cruz: LRO, doc. 13 [5].
  6. LRO, doc. 17 [10].
  7. To madame Solichon: LRO, doc. 16 [6].
  8. EC, doc. 33 [1].
  9. Bataillon: LRO, doc. 19 [8, p. 3]. Chanel: EC, doc. 34 [1], 35 [4], 37 [11 & 14 & 15]. The tricolour of the Revolution had been reintroduced by the July monarchy of 1830, after having been set aside in the Restoration.
  10. EC, 37 [17].
  11. LRO, docs. 8 [1], 9 [2], 18 [11].
  12. ACPF, Congressi Oceania I, 424ff. LRO, doc. 18 [9].
  13. LRO, docs. 15 [3].

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