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Br Claude-Marie to Fr Champagnat, Goree (Senegal), 25 March 1840

CPC 189-191


From Brest the “Aube” sailed across the Bay of Biscay into the Atlantic and down the west coast of Africa, calling in at Santa Cruz on Tenerife on 4 March, at St Louis on the 12th, and at Goree, ,an island off Dakar, on the 14th. The last two anchorages were in French Senegal. They stayed at Goree over a week. Claude-Marie's letter was confided to another French frigate, the “Favorite”, returning to France, possibly the same day they set sail themselves (refer Letter 18 paragraph(1)).

Text of the Letter

Very Reverend Father,
I could not pass up the opportunity this stay of a week or so at Goree provides of writing to you about our voyage and various other things you may find of interest.
I had the privilege of writing to you from Brest on the 25th January thinking we would be leaving in a few days, but contrary winds held us up until the 19th February. We found it very frustrating in that town. We didn't know anyone and we didn't know where to go except for the inn where we were spending a lot. So we decided to go aboard where we would be able to eat for nothing. It was half-past three, on the 29th, the feast of St Francis de Sales, whom I had taken as patron of the month, when we went to dinner for the first time on the ship which is taking us to our promised land. It didn't take long before we had our first taste of seasickness but it wasn't serious. From that time to our departure we had the good fortune of going to Mass and communion fairly regularly. The wind eventually turned in our favour and on the 19 February, about 8 o'clock, we set sail and left harbour. My confrere and I joined the priests in their cabin and together we asked God to grant us a good voyage through the intercession of the best of Mothers. We prayed for France, our beautiful homeland, for the people we were leaving who were dear to us, and finally for all the people on the ship. Once finished we went up on deck and then to the stern for a last look at the beautiful land of France. But to our astonishment, instead of seeing our beloved land, we saw only a few rocks, the sky and the sea. We were overcome by sadness. We could not stop the tears flowing and we renewed our sacrifice to God.
From the very first day we experienced seasickness. The next day we were up for a time but feeling very weak and sick, and the day after I did not get up at all. The Fathers and the Brother got up for a short time but they were shaky, ate very little, and vomited a lot. The following day I felt much better, got up at 7 in the morning, and was able to be of help to the others, who did not begin to improve until the 28th. As for myself, I felt very relieved to have paid my tribute to Neptune with two days of sickness and 4 or 5 bouts of vomiting at the most. On the 25th the sea was running very high. An hour after midday a violent gust caught up one of the sailors on the prow and hurled him into the sea. Immediately there was a cry of "Man overboard!" I went up on deck straightway and, running into Fr Pezant, told him what our good confrere Fr Petit had done in a similar situation.[1] He then pronounced an absolution over the unfortunate victim of the waves. They got ready a boat to go to the rescue but a very big wave came along and he disappeared from sight. Then the cry was "Our man is lost."
The days following were very fine. On the 1st of March we observed Porto Santo (Madeira) about eight leagues away. On the second, we had several ships in sight. One of them, English, came very close to us and wanted to know our position. After the two ships had traded information about their ports of departure and their destinations they took leave of one another by exchanging salutes. At 8 am on the third we could see the mountains of Tenerife, most notably the highest, about 20 leagues off, but since we had an almost flat calm we could not approach. The next day, the 4th, Ash Wednesday, we anchored about 10 o'clock in the roads of Santa Cruz and gave the town a 20 gun salute. The town authorities and the consuls of the different countries present honoured the French in return by hoisting the flags of their respective nations. At 11 o'clock our Fathers, the Brother and I entered the town with some of the officers. We were surprised to see so many young people there sitting around idle. Most of them stared at us and followed us out of curiosity. What they found surprising were our Fathers in soutanes and especially their three-cornered hats. We visited the church and found it very beautiful. We were very pleased to learn from the French consul news of Monsignor Pompallier who had spent two months in this town on his way to his mission. We then did a few pieces of business and left the town to return to our corvette at 4 o'clock in the afternoon.
On the 5th, at 2 in the morning, we set sail and departed. The 12th, at half-past eleven in the morning, we were off St Louis. We thought we would be only a few hours there but the captain had a lot of business with the governor and we had to drop anchor. At midday the next day we raised anchor, and on the 14th we let it down again very early in the roadstead of Goree where we were due to stay for a few days. At half-past eleven we went to call on the parish priest who received us very warmly. He has done everything he could for us. He wanted us to stay with him while we were here. We thanked him but did not accept his invitation because of the very great expense we would be putting him to. We also had the pleasure of meeting the Prefect Apostolic who was most gracious.
The Zealander I mentioned in my last letter comes to our cabins now and then, but with us not familiar with his language and him not understanding ours it will be rather difficult for us to instruct him. Still, we do what we can. His name is Etaca. Here are a few words we have learnt from him or from one of the sailors who has been to those islands: Monday, kite mani; Tuesday, te toure; Wednesday, wainere; Thursday, tahire; Friday, prahede; Saturday, saradei; Sunday, ra tapou; a week, tika (or latire) ; a month, marama; a year, tuau... etc etc[2]
Br Claude-Marie


  1. This incident appears to be the one referred to by Br Elie-Regis in his letter of 12 January 1839 para (4).
  2. As we are dealing here with a copy, the original having been lost, we cannot be certain we have the Maori words exactly as Claude-Marie transcribed them. However, these are quite close to the forms given in William’s Maori Dictionary: mane, turei, wenerei, tairei, paraire, saradei, re tapu; the days of the week are, except for Sunday, Maori approximations of the English ones. The alternative for week, however, remains a mystery.

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