Br Jacques Peloux to Fr Victor Poupinel, Samoa, 12 June 1848
D’après l’expédition, APM ON 208 (Samoa) Peloux
Clisby Letter 74. Girard doc. 711
Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS
Victor Poupinel (1815-1884), a Norman, was professed in the Society in 1839. Shortly after his ordination in the following year he became secretary to Colin and procurator for the missions. As such he was in regular correspondence with the missionaries, but Jacques must have come into contact with him earlier during his formation, probably at Puylata where he and Maitrepierre were based. Although the association could not have been a long one it was sufficient for Poupinel to win Jacques’ trust and affection as this and other letters testify. It is not surprising, then, that the other brothers on the missions were to display similar attitudes to him when, ten years later, he came out to the Pacific himself as Visitor General to the Marist missions. Colin never visited the Pacific, but Poupinel would certainly have stayed at the house Jacques built at Mulinu’u near Apia (8)
Jacques promises several stories (2) but ends up telling only one since the recital of his sailing adventures takes up most of the letter. The others would certainly have included the arrival of new missionaries in April, their celebration of Easter together, and the untimely death of one of the Sisters, all of which he includes in a letter to his relatives in August (rf L 76).
Of the two priests who figure in the story, one, Violette, was still at Lealatele, but the other, Roudaire, was no longer in Samoa, having been called to the New Caledonian mission in 1847. He had arrived just in time to assist at the end of the mainland mission, and was now with the others at Anatom in the New Hebrides awaiting an opportunity to return. He was one of the founders of the Ile des Pins station in August 1848.
Jacques mentions a brother in Lyon in a postscript written in the margins of his letter (10). Undoubtedly he is included among the relatives to whom Jacques addressed his letter of 17 August, but he is also mentioned specifically in another letter written to Poupinel in October the same year. In the latter Jacques asks Poupinel to convey to his brother a little box of shells he was entrusting to Jerome Grange who was on his way back to France from New Caledonia on the “Arche d’Alliance” (letter of 10 October 1848, APM).
Monfat provides a version of this letter in his Premiers Missionaires de Samoa, Lyon, 1877, pages 225-7.
Text of the Letter
- Very Reverend Father,
- I have been wanting to write to you for a very long time, but when I have had the opportunity, there has always been something to keep me from doing it. But today I am taking advantage of a whaling ship which is setting sail in two days for America, to send my respects and offer proof of my gratitude. It is also to show you I haven’t forgotten you.
- I have several stories to tell you, but I don’t know where to begin. After thinking a moment, I will start with sailing.
- When we arrived in Samoa Fr Roudaire purchased a little sloop. But at the time he bought it he forgot that he didn’t have a crew to sail it. It is true that he thought that he himself would be captain and I would be mate, but neither of us had much skill in navigation. The boat was at Upolu when Fr Roudaire acquired it, Fr Violette was with him, while I had stayed on Savai. Since it was not finished, Fr Roudaire had to stay about 40 days on Upolu to have it completed. After that he came to rejoin me at Salelavalu, where he had left me to care for our belongings. He was accompanied by two brethren of the coast – that’s what they call here sailors who have deserted their ships. They were a Frenchman and a Norwegian. That’s all he had for crew. He was scarcely well equipped. As for provisions, there was nothing on board, not even water. They did not even have a container to put it in.
- After a stay of 3 or 4 days at Salevalu (sic), we left for Alatele, Fr Violette’s station, to take him a few personal effects and some provisions. During the nearly two months he had been there he had only two shirts, a pair of trousers, and his soutane. The Norwegian brother of the coast was not with us, only the Frenchman. We stayed there a dozen days and then Fr Roudaire wished to return to Upolu. He went overland to Salelavalu, where he was supposed to wait for us, and he sent me with the Frenchman to sail the boat. There were only the two of us and a native. The Norwegian was no longer with us; he had gone away. We stayed two days at Salogoa, two leagues from Alatele, waiting for a favourable wind, but in vain. It kept on blowing against us. After two days, time began to weigh heavy on us, we had no provisions. We set sail to join Fr Roudaire at Salelavalu but after spending a day beating about we recognised that there was no way of gaining on the wind in our precious sloop. The brother of the coast said he wanted no more of it. We went back inshore and dropped anchor. Then we left for Salelavalu to give Fr Roudaire an account of our sailing adventures. He thought it over for a day and decided to return to Fr Violette’s station.
- The day we arrived we were at the spot where our boat was anchored, intending to leave the same day for Upolu. It was calm, and we put off our departure until the next day. The following day we set sail, but it so happened when we were in the middle of the passage we didn’t have enough skill to manoeuver. We couldn’t get out and ran a great danger, but we escaped accident. Seeing that we couldn’t cope, Fr Roudaire arranged with an Englishman to take us to Salelavalu for 20 francs, thinking that once we were here we could easily go to Upolu. We stayed a day with the Englishman to repair our rudder which had come loose. That evening I slept with Fr Violette at Alatele. I returned the next morning as I had promised but a bit late. Fr Roudaire gave me a little telling off for taking things too casually, but I had plenty of time to do what needed to be done that day. At about 2 o’clock we raised anchor. There were six of us on board, Fr Roudaire, the English captain, me, and three natives. We did not put up sail because the wind was against us. We took to the oars and had a lot of trouble clearing the passage but we succeeded, unfortunately. As soon as we were outside, the wind dropped, and we were carried by the current into a bay (Matautu) three miles downwind. Once there we had no way of getting out. We didn’t know what to do and dropped anchor.
- After some minutes of deliberation we raised it again, although there was not much chance of resisting the waves, which were enormous. It was decided it would be better to sacrifice the boat by running it on the reef and that those who could, could then try to save themselves by swimming. As we came close to the reefs we could see the rocks rising 5 or 6 feet out of the water. We all thought the boat was going to be wrecked on the reefs. The three natives and the Englishman jumped into the water and started swimming. Fr Roudaire said to me, I see it’s all up with us. I tried to reassure him. We recited the Memorare, but recited it from the bottom of our hearts. I said to him, Father, you see how it is. We haven’t any time to lose. Let’s try to save ourselves too. And at the same time I jumped into the water. Fr Roudaire remained on board alone, perhaps because he didn’t dare throw himself into the water, even though he knew how to swim. In a moment I found myself, I don’t know how, on the reef without any injury except for a little scratch on the stomach, but that doesn’t count at moments like that. The waves were so big that the sloop was carried on to the reef as if lifted by a hand. It was holed in six places. All the natives of the locality came to help us and save us from being wrecked. The Protestant minister came too. He invited us to a meal and offered us dry clothes to change into. But Fr Roudaire thanked him very sincerely and we went off to Fr Violette’s to offer thanks all together to the very holy Virgin our good and common Mother for helping us in our danger.
- We stayed there about a month, during which we commenced the construction of a church. Then we left for Upolu, Fr Roudaire and I, taken by the natives in one of their canoes. I stayed there about 5 months and then returned to Fr Violette’s station to finish his church and to help him build a house. Then I came back to Upolu where I am at present.
- At this moment we are busy building a house. I forgot to I inform the Reverend Father Superior. Please let him know. It will be completely European in style. It will have four rooms around a salon, with doors and windows in all the rooms. You can tell Reverend Father Superior that one of them will be reserved for him when he comes to see us in Samoa. There will also be one for you. Two young natives have helped me saw all the wood. We had problems at first. They did not know how to saw and I was not much better. But now it’s better. Our two youngsters are very good at sawing.. Sometimes we have produced as much as 150 feet of planks a day. But that has not happened often because when they have been working for a while they want to have a rest,. They say that it is fau Samoa - the custom of the country. The time does not last long, but it is too long for me.
- I pray for you every day. Charity and gratitude oblige me, for it is to you and Fr Maitrepierre that I owe my vocation. Please do not forget me either in your prayers.I am, with profound respect, your very devoted and obedient servant,
- Br Jacques,
- If you have occasion to see my brother in Lyon, please pass on news of me. It is almost two years since I wrote to him or any of my relatives. Tell him that I am very well and that I am very happy.
- Fa’a Samoa - the Samoan way - a proverbial expression in Samoa.
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