From Marist Studies
Jump to: navigation, search


Two days after mailing his letter to Colin, 4 October 1837, a magnificent day, un temps magnifique, Pompallier and his Marist companions set sail on the Raiatea, this time directly towards the heartlands of the Western Pacific. Having passed within sight of Palmerston, one of the Cook Islands, they reached Vava`u, the most northern of the larger islands of Tonga on 22 October. The Raiatea narrowly missed getting thrown on the reefs by a sudden contrary wind and the high swell, but got undamaged into the shelter by what even the captain considered a near miracle. They were received by King Taufa`ahau, originally the king of the central island group of Ha`apai, and since 1833 also ruler of Vava`u. The King even accepted an invitation to dine on the Raiatea. By now Pompallier could read English, but recognised the spoken English words only if the captain pointed them out in a dictionary! Charles Simmonet, a French sailor who had deserted from the Astrolabe of Dumont d`Urville in 1827 and had set up a forge on Vava`u, served as an interpreter. He was helped by Thomas Boag, an English sailor who had deserted from an American whaler, married on Futuna and settled on Vava`u where his wife had died.[1]

Earlier in the same year 1837, Taufa`ahau, encouraged if not actually led, by the Methodist minister John Thomas, had headed an expeditionary fleet and engaged in two fierce battles on the southern island of Tongatapu, in support of the Christian chief Tupou against the majority of pagan chiefs of the island. Initially ‘New Testament counsels of peace-making and gentleness prevailed’, but when resistance held out in fortified strongholds that had to be taken by brute force, it led to massacres and atrocities that were rationalized in Methodist sermons with quotes from ‘the books of Joshua, I Samuel, Chronicles and the imprecatory psalms’.[2] Although there is no sign of it in our documentation, we can be sure that Pompallier or his companions heard about it all from Simmonet and Boag. In any case, the memories of the recent Methodist victory and the influence of John Thomas and his colleague William Brooks were too powerful. The King did not allow Pompallier to leave a missionary on Vava`u, and they had to move on.

From their local knowledge Charles Simmonet and Thomas Boag could point Pompallier towards the island of Wallis, 650 km to the North of Vava`u, where nearly the same language was spoken as in Tonga. According to Mangeret it was the Wesleyan minister John Thomas who pointed Pompallier towards Wallis.[3] Although he would hardly have wanted to share the Polynesian islands with the Catholic mission, he may have seen it as a way to get them to move on; moreover he may have considered their chances close to nil. A few years earlier the Methodists had sent Tongan teachers to bring Wallis into the fold, but the Wallisians had killed them. In any case, the Methodists had not yet managed to establish themselves there. The island had a bad name among sailors and Captain Stocks was reluctant to go there, but Pompallier insisted. Thomas Boag went with them as an interpreter in exchange for free passage to Futuna where he wanted to settle again and open a trade store.[4]

Back on board there was a nasty incident. After the tricky negotiations Pompallier’s nerves must have been on edge. What triggered the outburst we do not know, but, as Servant wrote Colin later, something must have made him think – mistakenly - that his companions took a different view of the situation. He lashed out, accusing them of disloyalty, of ganging up on him and of wanting to go their own way. He threatened them with excommunication, raising his voice to the point that, but for the fact that they did not understand French, the crew would have understood what the row was about.[5]


They sailed on 28 October and reached Wallis on 1 November, the feast of All Saints. They went ashore in their long black soutanes to show that, although they came from Tonga, they were different from the hated Methodist ministers. With the help of the captain and of Thomas Boag, using the bit of English that the King of Wallis had picked up, and whatever English Pompallier and Bataillon had acquired, they managed to communicate. The King lent them a sympathetic ear, and in spite of the negative pressure from some people around him, gave permission for Fr. Bataillon and Br. Joseph-Xavier Luzy to stay on the island. Pompallier got the king to agree by telling him he would take the missionaries away again, if one day they were no longer welcome.[6]

There were a few tight moments when rowdy Wallisian youths threatened to take over the ship. Calm was restored through the intervention of the King and the missionaries unloaded their cases whereby the young carriers managed to help themselves to some of Brother Joseph’s clothing. The King gave them a house near his own compound.

Pompallier gave Bataillon a few hundred francs to buy supplies from passing ships, and a good quantity of trade goods to exchange for food with the locals. It does not seem to have been Brother Joseph’s first choice to stay on Wallis with Bataillon. He later wrote to his family that he had found it hard to be separated from Pompallier and Chanel.[7]

Having promised the two missionaries that he would return within six or seven months, [8] Pompallier sailed on 7 November. Although he now had his eyes on Rotuma, he agreed, on request of the King of Wallis, to take fourteen Futunans home first. In any case, he had promised Thomas Boag to take him there.


  1. LRO, docs. 22 [2] n. 2, 23 [4], 26 [2]. Ronzon, Delorme, p. 41. Wiltgen, op. cit., pp. 156ff. Pompallier, op. cit., p. 17.
  2. Garret, To Live Among the Stars, pp. 76ff.
  3. Mangeret, Mgr. Bataillon, p. 75; cf. Davidson, Peter Dillon of Vanikoro, p. 271ff.
  4. LRO, 22 [3], n. 3. Pompallier, op. cit., p. 20.
  5. …croyant avoir aperçu parmi nous un esprit d’aliénation à son égard… des allocutions foudroyantes jusqu’à nous traiter de vouloir faire bande à part, de vouloir nous séparer de lui, et jusqu’à nous menacer d’excommunication, LRO, doc. 55 [5]. Cf. above, p. 54, n. 57. By the time he wrote this (1840), Servant was on bad terms with Pompallier. He may have exaggerated, because, in spite of the event, Brother Luzy regretted being separated from the Bishop when he was assigned to stay on Wallis with Bataillon!
  6. The Methodist ministers were reported to beat the faithful if they got drunk cf. Jore, op. cit., II, p. 152ff. Pompallier, op. cit., p. 22ff. Cf. the story as told by Bataillon in the report dated July 1838, LRO, doc. 28 [17].
  7. LRO, docs. 22 [4], 23 [5] & 26 [3]. Nizier to Champagnat, 30.09.39, Ronzon, Delorme, p. 41, FMO, pp. 12f.
  8. Lillian Keys, op. cit. p. 69, says Pompallier made this promise expecting the second group of missionaries to be already on their way to join him. That may be so, but nowhere in his grumbling about their delayed departure does he use it as an excuse for not keeping his promise.

Previous Section A Piety Able to Cope Next Section