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Chapter four : 1838-1 The Second Group

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Confusion in the Pacific

Contrary to his own expectations when sailing out of Valparaiso, Bishop Pompallier managed to achieve in the beginning of 1838 what he had hoped for when leaving France: he had established missions on two Polynesian islands and, himself, he had reached New Zealand. At the same time, unknown to him, his repeated changing of plans, first to give up on New Zealand and opt for Micronesia, then to put off Micronesia and return to the original plan, had thrown other people into confusion.

While the Marists sailed to Tonga, Wallis, Futuna, Rotuma and Sydney, the Picpus Fathers Maigret and Murphy, who had come with them from Valparaiso as far as Tahiti, continued on the Europa to Hawaii as planned. In the meantime the Apostolic Prefect of Hawaii, Fr. Bachelot, had arrived there too from California, but was refused permission to stay ashore. He lived on a schooner in the port, waiting for a ship on which to leave again. When the Europa docked in Honolulu, the Queen Regent of Hawaii, Kaahumanu II, ordered Maigret to leave again by the same ship he had come on, and to take Bachelot with him, even though the Europa was chartered to go to China! Columban Murphy had kept his priestly ordination on Mangareva a secret and the French consul, Captain Dudoit, obtained in good faith permission for Murphy to stay on in Hawaii on the grounds that he was not a priest![1]

When the consul offered to sell Maigret and Bachelot a schooner that he owned, the Honolulu, they decided to buy it rather than go to China, even though Dudoit had already loaded it with trade goods. They agreed to the price of 4.000 piastres, i.e., 22.000 francs or $ 3.000, one third to be paid in cash, the remainder on arrival in Valparaiso.[2] Expecting Pompallier to do what he had said, namely to sail directly from Tahiti to Micronesia, they arranged for the Honolulu to take them first to Pohnpei (some 1.500 km), where they thought they could give the Marists a hand. In July, after its planned trading voyage, the ship would return to Phonpei and take them back to Valparaiso.

The Honolulu left Hawaii on 23 November 1837, when Pompallier was already past the Fiji Islands on his way from Rotuma to Sydney. Barely at sea Fr. Bachelot fell ill and on 5 December he died on board. Maigret kept his body in a sealed tarpaulin until he could bury him, a week later, on a small island near Pohnpei. On 13 December (with Pompallier safely in Sydney) Maigret wrote in his diary: ‘Ascension Island came into view this morning and we arrived there about four o’clock in the afternoon. The Bishop of Maronea is not here.’ There was little else Maigret could do than stay alone in Pohnpei and wait for Pompallier. Seven months later the Honolulu returned and as there still was no word from the bishop, he left on 29 July 1838 for Valparaiso, via Tahiti.[3]

Confusion in Rome

From Valparaiso, Peter Chanel had advised Colin of the presence in France of a Picpus missionary, Father François d’Assise Caret[4], one of the three who had succeeded in converting the Gambier Islands in only a couple of years. His bishop, Rouchouze, had sent him to explain in France and in Rome the situation in Eastern Oceania, to obtain wider faculties for otherwise unsolvable marriage cases and to get additional financial support. Caret had left Chile before the first Marists got to Valparaiso in June, 1837. When on 7 September he reached France he found that Fr. Coudrin, the Founder of the Picpus Fathers, had died in March and that Bishop Raphaël Bonamie had been elected his successor.[5] On 13 November, the same day that Colin received mail from Valparaiso, Bonamie[6] too received a letter from there, probably by the same ship. The local superior, Fr. Pagès[7], had written on 18 July, the day after Pompallier’s first letter from Chile.[8] Pagès reported that Pompallier had chartered the Europa, that the Marists had given up hope of getting to New Zealand and were on the point of sailing for Pohnpei in Micronesia, via the Gambier Islands and Hawaii. Caret was in Paris, read the letter and immediately saw the dire consequences of that decision: Pompallier would soon be so immersed in far away Micronesia, and from there perhaps in Melanesia, that for the foreseeable future nothing would be done about Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and, worse still, New Zealand, allowing the Protestants to consolidate their positions all over Polynesia. The fiery little Caret persuaded his new superior general to support another attempt to get these Polynesian main islands assigned to their congregation, as they had tried to do, without success, two years earlier.[9] Unaware of the fact that in the meantime Pompallier had changed plans again, dropped four missionaries in the Polynesian heartlands and was approaching Sydney, Caret left France on 4 December 1837 for Rome with ample documentation and far-reaching recommendations.[10]

Pompallier’s letter from Valparaiso[11] would have been on Fransoni’s desk when Fr. Caret called on him. The bishop’s change of plans, practically writing off New Zealand and Polynesia, must already have alarmed the cardinal. The panicky analysis of the fiery little Breton straight from Polynesia, who knew the situation intimately, could only confirm his worst fears.

At the same time the cardinal received Colin’s letter of 1 December[12], laconically reporting that the Marist missionary team was on its way to the ‘islands of their destination’. Fransoni concluded that Colin did not understand the strategic implications of this turn of events. Colin had added that he was getting three or four priests and two brothers ready to leave ‘during the course of 1838’.[13] His letter was low-key and did not show the sense of urgency and frustration that both Pompallier’s letter and Caret’s exposé exuded. Colin, moreover, offered to send two or three missionaries to Rome to obtain at the very centre of the Church the faculties and the instructions needed. The flattery was wasted on Fransoni and the last thing he needed just then were Marists on a leisurely visit to Rome. Things moved fast. Caret arrived in Rome the 15th; the next day Fransoni had his secretary deliver a fast riposte to Belley, telling Colin not to waste time and money sending missionaries to Rome, but to get them on the way to Oceania quam citissime.[14] On the 17th Caret had a private audience with Pope Gregory XVI that nearly changed the missionary map of Oceania.[15] Colin was out of tune.[16]

The memorandum that Caret submitted to the Pope stressed that the major Polynesian island groups, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and especially New Zealand had much larger populations than the islands in Eastern Polynesia. The Methodists had been active everywhere for years. Unless immediate action was taken, they would soon be so entrenched that they could bar entry everywhere to Catholic missionaries. That Pompallier had in the meantime shifted his interest to Micronesia was not mentioned in the memorandum, but must have been added orally. The secretary of Propaganda, Mgr. Mai, took up the matter again with the Pope on 14 January 1838 and Gregory XVI extended Rouchouze’s jurisdiction westwards, as far as, and including, New Zealand. On 25 January Fransoni wrote to Pompallier. He told him that, given his involvement in other areas that would surely take up his time, his attention and his resources for years to come, Bishop Rouchouze had been authorized ‘on an interim basis’ to extend his missionary work to Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and New Zealand. A similar communication went the same day to Bishop Rouchouze. To both bishops went identical, extended faculties for solving marriage cases. Caret got a special subsidy of 3.000 Roman scudi, with the stipulation however, that the money could be used only for Eastern Oceania.[17] A sign that Fransoni himself was uneasy about the rather irregular way he had been led to solve the problem?

What then happened, or rather, did not happen, is strange. There is no trace of any attempt to inform Father Colin, the superior general of the congregation to which the territories concerned were officially entrusted! After his visit to Rome, Caret met with Colin.[18] There is no sign that, after that meeting, Colin knew of the new arrangement in the Pacific. It therefore looks as if Fransoni and Caret had agreed to keep Colin in the dark. For the moment, Colin was not only out of tune, but out of grace as well!

Fortunately, the extension of the Picpus Fathers’ jurisdiction did not lead to friction in the islands. In August 1838, probably before Caret had reached Valparaiso, Captain Dupetit-Thouars on the frigate La Vénus, on orders of the Affaires Étrangères in Paris, exacted punitive reparation on the government of Tahiti for the expulsion of the Fathers Caret and Laval, both French citizens, in December 1836.[19] The Venus trained her guns on the capital Papeete and the captain requested a written apology from Queen Pomare to be addressed to the King of France. He imposed a fine of 2.000 piastres, insisted that the French flag be raised on an island in the port and saluted by twenty-one shots from the guns of Papeete fortress. The poor queen had to borrow the money from the Protestant mission. She wrote the apology but when the flag was raised, the queen’s gunners had to beg for gunpowder from the Venus! The ramshackle guns of the fortress just managed twenty-one shots and French honour was restored. More important for the future of the missions, French citizens were guaranteed freedom of movement in the realm of Queen Pomare: the Picpus Fathers now could work in Tahiti.[20] At the same time they had found an opening to start work in the Marquesas Islands; no dearth of opportunities in the Eastern Pacific. By that time the Picpus Fathers in Valparaiso also knew of the presence of Marists in Wallis and Futuna and of Pompallier having settled in New Zealand.[21]


  1. Rademaker, op.cit. pp. 68f
  2. Jore, La goélette «Notre Dame de la Paix», in Bulletin de la société d’études océaniennes, Papeete, nr. 116, September,1956, p. 585. Cf. below, Excursus G, pp. 185ff. Jore suggests the trading voyage of the Honolulu may likewise have been to China.
  3. Jore, L’Océan Pacifique etc. II, p. 35ff, 64f, n. 17 & 149. Wiltgen, op. cit., pp. 161ff. Peter Chanel heard about these events from Baty c.s. during their visit, EC, p. 430f, on 08.05.39.
  4. EC, doc. 34 [1]. Caret was born 1802, in Miniac, diocese of Rennes, information from SS.CC. archives.
  5. On the Roman happenings cf. Wiltgen, op. cit., pp. 142 – 150 & Jaspers, op. cit., pp. 206 – 208.
  6. The letter was addressed to Fr. Coudrin. Pagès did not know that the Founder had died.
  7. Frédéric Pagès, SSCC, had come to Chile with Bishop Rouchouze in 1834 and handled day-to-day business in Valparaiso. Cf. EC, 38.
  8. Cf. above, p. 54.
  9. Cf. above, p. 11f.
  10. Chanel’s letter from Valparaiso, telling Colin about Caret, had reached Colin with the rest of the mail from there, so he knew about Caret being in Europe. But from the tone and the content of Colin’s letter of 1 December (CS, doc. 23) we must conclude that there had been no contact between them before Caret left for Rome.
  11. ACPF, Congressi Oceania I, 424r, 424v. Cf. LRO, doc. 18 [9].
  12. Dated on 1 December from Belley, the letter would have taken ten to twelve days.
  13. CS, doc. 23 [3].
  14. CS, doc. 24.
  15. Wiltgen, op. cit., p. 145. He presented the Pope with the statue of the ancestral spirit-god TU of Mangareva. P. O’Reilly Le Picpucien Honoré Laval, p. 375, n.1.
  16. In the margin of Colin’s letter of 19.05 somebody in Propaganda has written: quanti ahimè ritardi! ‘Too bad, even more delays!’. CS, doc. 35.
  17. Wiltgen, op. cit., pp. 146 ff.
  18. There is only negative evidence for the assertion that Colin did not hear of the arrangement: namely the fact that there simply is no mention of it, not in Colin’s next letter to Fransoni of 19 May (CS, doc. 35), nor in any of Colin’s letters to the missionaries. Colin tried to get the second group of missionaries to travel with Fr. Caret to Valparaiso. Colin tells this to Fransoni in a way that suggests he then knew Caret (CS, doc. 35 [2]). Ten years later Colin spoke of having discussed the missions with Fr. Caret (MM IV, 550). As Caret did not return to Europe for a second time and died in the Gambier Islands on 26 October 1844, there can be no doubt that Colin and Caret met during Lent 1838, although there is no trace of it, either in the Picpus, or in the Marist archives (information from Jean Louis Schuester, SSCC archives, Rome).
  19. Cf. above, p. 59.
  20. Jore, op. cit., II, p. 234ff. Wiltgen, op. cit., p. 216. Jaspers, op. cit., p. 197.
  21. Wiltgen, op. cit., p. 216.

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