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26. Br Marie-Nizier to Mgr Pompallier. Wallis. 19 December 1841

AM 583 - 589


Pompallier was at Akaroa when Bataillon's report of the death of Chanel reached him in November, delivered by the commander of the French corvette "Heroine" which had called into the Bay of Islands. The letter informed him that "Father Chanel ... had been massacred by the order of the king of the island; that in consequence the mission established in that place was going to ruin, and the mission of Wallis Island was also in the greatest peril.” (Pomp. p77). Pompallier therefore set out with Viard for the tropics on the "Sancta Maria" at the end of November, escorted by the corvette “Allier”. By the time this letter was written they were well on their way to Wallis. Whether Pompallier ever read it or not, the letter was certainly known in New Zealand since Louis Perret copied most of it in a letter to one of his friends in Lyon (rf PC 123). He also included a copy of the letter of 1 May (L 23), though it is not clear whether this was included by Marie-Nizier with the December letter or loaned for the purpose by him when he was staying at the procure at Kororareka in the early months of 1842. A draft of the December letter found among the Brother's papers is in the APM. Rozier has included it in his work (PC 123-6). It differs in certain minor details from the text in AM.

Text of the Letter

My Lord,

[1] What have I to tell you? ... You have probably received all the details about Futuna I gave in my verbal report to Fr Bataillon. I don't know. On the crossing from Futuna to Wallis on the ship "William Hamilton" I began to write down the main circumstances of what happened in Futuna, but was prevented from continuing by seasickness among other things. But I don't think I have forgotten much.

[2] We can date all the stratagems employed by the king to arrive at his present state to the return of an old chief of Futuna who had gone to Wallis before the war in his homeland. The chief returned, his head filled with ideas against the faith he had picked up from the king of Wallis.[1] He was already himself a dangerous conspirator and he didn't have much trouble influencing the king against the faith and against us.

[3] Up to then, the king had been our friend (at least outwardly) and our foster father. He began by neglecting us, then by forbidding his subjects to go near our house to do us any service, then by commanding them to steal what they could without their having anything to fear on his part. This last command they faithfully obeyed.

[4] The king's intention was to make our stay so difficult and uncomfortable that we would be forced to abandon our post. He was sadly mistaken, for the patience, goodness, gentleness, zeal, charity, humility, which the first martyr of the Society of Mary possessed to such a high degree, were not in the least affected by these malicious procedures. I heard him say in these moments of trial: "The time of mercy has not yet arrived." To bring this time forward he ordered frequent novenas. Since he regarded himself as an obstacle to its realisation, he said one day in his humility: "Let's make this novena so that God will remove those who are an obstacle to the conversion of the island. If I am one, well! ..."

[5] The old chief had been laid low for several days by an affliction of the leg which made it impossible for him to walk. It was to see him that I had been sent while they were plotting our fate.

[6] I was on my way back to Poi when a native, Matara, came to tell me of Fr Chanel's death. I hardly knew what I should do on meeting my saviour when he constrained me to turn back. On our arrival among the Conquered, Matara took it upon himself to announce the sad news. Immediately the doleful cry: "Pierre is dead! Pierre is dead!" rang out on all sides. Oh, how many times I felt my heart pierced on hearing those words being repeated! Adults and children gathered around me, taking me by the hand, their eyes full of tears, and weeping with me.

[7] An hour after we arrived, one man, a Wallisian who is on Futuna, came hurrying to the European's house where we were gathered with the stated intention of finishing off us other whites. In the house itself he took up an axe to carry out his plan, but Providence was watching over us. Someone noticed him and Matara snatched the axe from him and declared himself my defender against anyone who would attack me. All the Conquered showed us great friendship, protesting that if any attempt were made on our lives, it would succeed only over their dead bodies. Night fell and there was still a great crowd of people around us. The Wallisian was not to be put off and returned at night with the same purpose. The first time they took away his weapons, a bayonet with a handle, and an axe. The second time, he was warned that if he had the ill fortune to carry out his designs he would be the first to die. After that he didn't give us any further cause for alarm, but, at the same time, he stayed on watch all night for a chance to finish what he had started. We were escorted into the bush where a number of islanders spent the night with us.

[8] The young men of the conquered spent the night standing sentry in turns. They did this for several nights. The next day someone came to tell us that the king and some of the elders were waiting for me in the village where the old chief was sick. He had come, they said, on the pretext he was angry about Fr Chanel’s death. I wasn’t keen to go. I offered up my sacrifice in my heart, then I descended the hill. At the bottom I found Matara waiting for me. He went to fetch the others, that is, the other two Europeans and two Americans, an d we all made our way to the king's presence. On our arrival. Niuriki clasped me very tightly and began to weep bitterly, assuring me he was the one responsible for the crime committed the previous day. He asked me why I had not come right to our house that day - he would have saved my life. The traitor! He had already bitterly rebuked Matara during the night for making me turn back.

[9] He told me he had buried Fr Chanel in our house. I believed him, but have since found out they buried him beside a rubbish heap in a trench not long or deep enough, and that they had broken his back to make sure his head would not show above the grave mound. I was also informed the body had been washed and oiled before being buried.

Paragraph 10

[10] The king advised me to return to Poi (the name of the valley where our house was). We stayed with him about two hours, then returned to the village we had been in the day before, for they said all this only to lead me into a trap. I would probably have let myself be caught, but by the advice of the Conquered I avoided the trap. "Why did he weep on seeing you," they asked me, since he permitted the killing of Fr Chanel? Why does he want to get you to Poi? They have stolen all you had, they have killed Fr Chanel - what would you find at Poi? Where are your relations from Poi? They only want to take you so they can kill you more easily. Stay here and you have nothing to fear. We have been conquered truly, but they are still scared of us. They are afraid of our guns, etc. etc." I remarked that their intention was good, but that if the king came to threaten them or gave them presents to deliver us up to the Conquerors, they would do so immediately. "Don't be so mad as to go back to Poi. You have no cause for concern here. If the Conquerors come to do you any harm, we will all take your part. We will hide you in the bush while we fight, and you will be the last to die. When they come looking for you, they will speak to you with honeyed words, etc. Don't listen to them, they are treacherous. Look at what happened to Fr Chanel. We don't want to appear to be restraining you, but refuse to go with them, etc." The advice they gave us was not misleading, for all the things mentioned have been carried out, almost to the letter (how important it is to know the customs!) A few days later the inhabitants of Poi came in a crowd to take us with them. It was the exact fufillment of what we had been warned of. I let them think I would probably go back one day. The young men of Sigave distinguished themselves by their care for us.

[11] Despite all these fair appearances, I was still suspicious. The sick old chief we used to visit from time to time made us fine promises but we did not know if they were sincere or made to lure us more easily into the trap. Things continued in that way.

[12] My position with my companions, the Europeans and Americans, was scarcely more reassuring. One was a Catholic, two were Protestants, and the last a Quaker. Influenced by fear and the discouraging reports we were hearing, they wore themselves out with prayers: "O my God," they would say, "Deliver me, just as you delivered Daniel from the lion's den, Samson from the Philistines, etc."

[13] But as soon as they heard something encouraging, their language changed. One of the Europeans was always trying to stop me making the sign of the cross or to use my prayer books, the "Christian Manual", and my office book on the pretext the natives would be annoyed. "If you had not brought your religion here," he told me, "my life wouldn't be in danger, etc."

[14] This did not make me give up my exercises of piety, which were my only consolation during the 14 days that passed between Fr Chanel's death and my departure.

[15] The 9th of May, the king came to visit the old chief. On the 10th I went to see him. The elders of the Conquered were there in conference. They received me with reserve.

[16] They decided that the sick man should be carried to the Conquerors to put him under the protection of the so-called great god of the island and to settle finally what should be done about us. On the Ilth, the day of the journey, a party of the young men of the Conquered volunteered to carry him. I was much affected by the departure, for I had a fair idea of its consequences. Our enemies, it seemed, were already triumphant, but the unseen hand directing all events was there. At 9 o'clock in the morning someone came running to advise us there was a ship in sight. This ship, called the "William Hamilton," was an American one. Great was my joy, but it didn't last long, since the elders of the Conquered gathered to prevent us from embarking in their canoes. More frustrating still, they sent news of the ship's arrival to the king of the Conquerors in order to find out what his plans for us were.

[17] Oh! I was almost certain then I would not see the next day. Thomas and I went to the home of the chief minister of the Conquered to find out the reason for these hostile actions. "What we don't want," he told us, "is for the Conquerors to say it was our fault you embarked, because they would be angry with us." "Alright, but why send a message to the king, if not because you are as bad as the others?" He protested again that nothing would happen to us and that we could embark the next day. Providence arranged an earlier opportunity for us. That same evening, a whaling boat landed. Some elders still tried to prevent us embarking but the chief minister and the son of the king of the Conquered did all in their power to get us away. While all this was going on, Thomas and I slipped away. The messenger did not return until night. Some catechists and 2 or 3 young men, Matara among them, came to tell us on board that the king had ordered us kept ashore and that the crew of the whaling boat should be killed. The, after they finished their trading, they set sail for Wallis. We arrived there only the 18th or 19th of May. How many times during the crossing I turned to look back at Futuna, that treacherous island, reminding myself of the glorious relics buried there.

[18] Please excuse me, my Lord, for these details more or less important. But I was trying to give you the exact truth.

I have the honour of being, My Lord, with profound respect,
Your Lordship's
most humble and obedient servant
Brother Marie-Nizier.


  1. Marie-Nizier has more to say about Lavelua, the king of Wallis, and his role in his Memoirs many years later (rf PC 233 [61]). After his experience with a group of Wesleyan converts from Tonga a few years before, Lavelua was deeply distrustful of the new religion. Niuliki was then simply following procedures Lavelua was already applying against the two Marists on his island (rf eg Letters 32, 43).

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