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Br Germanique to Brs Francois & Louis-Marie, Port-de-France (New Caledonia), 23 July 1859

CSG 2. 524-539

Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS


Germanique was one of a group of eight, three priests, Jean-Baptiste Fabre, Jean Gilibert, and Armand Emprin, and five brothers, the others being the coadjutors Joseph Muraour, Pierre Barthelemy, Annet Berthiol, and Stanislaus Claret. All of them were destined for New Caledonia except Pierre, who was assigned to the Sydney procure. Leaving London on 26 July 1858, they reached Sydney at the end of October and set sail for New Caledonia on November 18 together with Poupinel, who was taking the opportunity to make a visitation. In the second week of December they anchored at Conception where the pro-vicar, Rougeyron, had his residence (rf L 113). Here they split up and were assigned their various stations.

Germanique was the first brother sent out to the missions specifically to teach. It appears he was being sent in response to a suggestion by Poupinel to Favre the previous year that the Brothers of Mary should be entrusted with the new native schools the Governor was proposing to establish. But he could not begin his work in Port-de-France (the future Noumea, founded in 1854) until the governor returned from a trip to Tahiti. In the meantime, as he was a qualified geometrician, he was given the task of surveying the properties of the Mission throughout the country so they could be recognized by the administration. This gave him the opportunity to visit the Loyalty Islands and almost the whole east coast of the mainland, as well as the Isle of Pines, and see at first hand the stations, including Balade, Wagap, Touho, Hienghene, and Pouebo. His letter thus provides a valuable survey of the Mission seven years after its permanent establishment on the main island and five years after France had taken possession of the group.

Germanique eventually opened his school in Port-de-France in temporary quarters on 3 June 1859. As the official schoolmaster he had been granted upkeep and a salary of 1800 francs (ie. about 800 francs in France; rf Introduction to L 216). The young Kanaks in his class included the sons and nephew of Kouindo, chief of the Noumea tribe, who had attacked the reductions of Conception and St Louis at the end of 1856 in protest at the settlement of people from the northern tribes in his territory. When he surrendered after a punitive expedition against him in April 1857, the governor took his children to be educated by the state, in effect as hostages against his continuing good behaviour. It was also intended the brother should in time take evening classes for the military. Rougeyron was also thinking of asking for more brothers for new settlements at Canala and South Bay (Delbos 124).

This letter appears in Lettres d’Oceanie as No 80. Large extracts were used in the Centenaire des Freres Maristes en Nouvelle-Caledonie 1873-1973 (pp 14-20). Germaniques’ earlier letter from Villa Maria [2] does not however appear to have survived, unless parts have been incorporated in the opening paragraphs describing the voyage from London to Sydney, as is quite possible.

Text of the Letter

Very Reverend Brother Superior
And very dear Brother Louis-Marie,
When I was in France I always used to look forward with pleasure to the end of the school year. At that time I would have the happiness of going to the dear Hermitage, receiving from you the kiss of peace and listening to your most fatherly instructions, so full of comfort for our hearts. Now that I can no longer enjoy those family gatherings I can appreciate the true value of those occasions of joy and delight I shared every year with my Brothers. But I hope God will accept the sacrifice I have made him of those beautiful days since he has been good enough to grant me, in spite of my unworthiness, the grace of cooperating in the spread of his kingdom among the unbelievers.
I recall, dear Brother Louis-Marie, that you told me when I was leaving, to send you an account of my voyage to Caledonia and of my time among the natives of this island, and that this would give pleasure to my confreres. I am very happy to do this and will be delighted if I can write something of interest for those dear Confreres. I think of them often and have a sincere affection for them. I will not go over our voyage from England to Australia which I wrote about in my letter from Villa Maria. We had a very fast crossing, without accident, thanks to God. We were becalmed for 10 days in the heat of the tropics. We had quite a bit to suffer from the high temperatures common in those regions. After rounding the Cape of Good Hope we had a week of very bad weather.
A strong southwesterly gave our ship a terrible buffeting and raised enormous waves which sometimes broke over the deck. Often enough the water penetrated the ship’s compartments. It had no respect even for our cabins which were invaded several times. Thick snow driven by the cold wind whistling through the rigging kept us confined to our cabins for several days. Eventually better days followed the bad ones and made us forget our sufferings. Those tormented by seasickness during the stormy days recovered their strength and their courage. Some of us suffered throughout the voyage. As for me, I was free of it after two bouts at the start of our voyage, but that was enough to make me pity the victims it held almost continually in its clutches.
At daybreak on 30 October, we could see the coasts of Australia quite close, and several hours later we were at the entrance to the port of Sydney. Dry land appeared so beautiful to us that it seemed we were seeing it for the first time. Trees, grass, rocks, the flocks grazing on the hillsides – they were all breathtaking wonders to our eyes. When you have had only the sky and sea to look at for three months you are really happy to see the beauties of the countryside. In terms of the beauty of the site or the richness of the soil, the surroundings of Sydney are not particularly entrancing. But with the help of the art of agriculture this landscape has been embellished, its arid and rocky coasts transformed into magnificent gardens planted with orange trees, peaches, figs, vines, and many other fruits which flourish marvelously. There are also a great variety of ornamental trees forming groves, avenues, bowers adorned with flowers of the most vivid colours. While we were admiring the passing shorelines on both sides, we observed the tops of several Sydney monuments rising over a point, and when we soon rounded it, we had a view of most of the city. The houses, of very beautiful European construction, described a semi-circle like an amphitheatre around the bay. Entering Sydney I could imagine I was entering a French town. The only thing foreign about it was the English language.
In under two hours a boat took us to the end of the bay where the Marist Fathers’ priory is situated. Fathers and Brothers, all came to meet us and welcomed us joyfully. I was happy to see among them Fr Poupinel, whom I had known in France, and dear Brothers Augule and Emery with whom I had spent happy days at the Hermitage. We had a very pleasant duty to perform, that of giving thanks. So we went to the little chapel of Villa Maria to thank the good God and our good Mother, the Blessed Virgin, for the easy crossing they had granted us.
After a stay of three weeks in Sydney, we said goodbye to our friends at Villa Maria and boarded an English brig, the ‘Phantom’, which was setting sail for New Caledonia. The weather was fine and a good westerly wind soon carried us out of sight of the coasts of Australia. We had agreed to add to our number Fr Poupinel who was going to visit the missions of the Vicariate of Caledonia, and Fr Forestier who was on his way back to his mission of Conception. Our old ‘Phantom’, which bore visible signs of the vicissitudes of its long voyages, was commanded by a cheery old fellow of a captain who had grown old on the seas of Oceania. This venerable navigator had left his native city, Paris, more than 40 years ago. On the fifteenth day of sailing, the land we had been so long traveling towards at last came in sight with its mountains and hills. From a distance it closely resembled a plain from which rose little cone-shaped mounds of lesser or greater height.
Our Parisian dropped anchor in Conception Bay, at the end of which the huts of the natives stood in rows like beehives. Fr Rougeyron, who was waiting for us on the shore, surrounded by a crowd of natives, welcomed us with his usual warmth. The Conception reduction could well serve as a model for parishes in France in respect of its faith and religious practice. These people, so recently savage cannibals, in short placed on the lowest rung of the human ladder, assemble twice daily in the church to pray to God as a community. It is true that the Caledonians are weak and that they need the support of the missionary. He still has to struggle with certain of their customs which do not have much in common with Christianity, but the majority have given up their many superstitions.
The Caledonians have made no progress in the way of industry. All they know how to do are hollow out their canoe, fashion a spear or club, weave mats, build their grass huts and make fishing lines. As far as cultivation goes, they work away at their yams, taro, sugarcane and coconuts, which are the normal sustenance for the island’s inhabitants. Those at Conception must consider themselves fortunate to have missionaries who compel them, so to speak, to do sufficient work in their plantations to have produce all the year round. These people, carefree and improvident, worrying little about the future and observing the literal sense of the Gospel without intending it [ rf Luke 12: 22-30], are quite happy to cultivate a few pockets of land and harvest food for at most a third of the year. Long periods of abstinence, fish, shellfish they collect from the seashore, and coconuts are their diet for the rest of the year. The worthy reduction of Conception is threatened with extinction from a frightful mortality rate which started with its foundation and continues to claim its victims. It is not known what is the natural cause of these numerous deaths. But it is very consoling to see these good natives face approaching death with resignation after they have received the consolations of Religion.
It was at Conception that our little group began to disperse. As far as I was concerned, I had received my destination before leaving France. A school could not be opened at Port-de-France without the agreement of M. de Seysset [ Saisset], the Governor of Caledonia. His Excellency was in Tahiti at that time and not expected back at Port-de-France for several months. To get the properties belonging to the Missions of Caledonia legally recognized, it was necessary to present the government with plans of those properties. I was entrusted with this work, which provided me with the opportunity of visiting the Loyalty Islands and almost the whole east coast of Caledonia.
After 14 days at Conception we set sail for the Isle of Pines aboard an English schooner, the ‘Clarence Paket’ [sic]. The next day we moored in the bay of this charming island, its shores shaded by forests of magnificent coconut trees. As soon as our ship came in sight, Frs Goujon and Chapuy and Brs Bertrand and Michel came down to the shore to welcome us. Our arrival attracted a crowd of natives who vied with one another to carry our few effects to the missionaries’ house, built on the gentle slope of a hill about ten minutes walk from the sea. A stream of fresh, clear water had its source a hundred metres above the house and the water gushing from it was enough to power a sawmill, which furnished all the neighbouring missions with wood.
The inhabitants of the Isle of Pines, about 1,200 or so, are almost all Christians. Those who are not yet regularly attend instructions to become so. During our stay on the island about thirty were admitted as catechumens. The head of government on the Isle of Pines is a little girl of about 10 who has been given the name of Queen Corona [Hortense]. The day after our arrival in her kingdom was a Sunday and that day the little queen was dressed in her finery. Truth to tell, her attire left much to be desired; she appeared quite happy all the same in her French-style dress with its broad red stripes, although her woolly hair showed no influence of style and her walk was unhindered by stockings or shoes.
Four days after our arrival at the Isle of Pines we left this laughing island to set sail for the island of Lifou or Chabrol, a day’s voyage to the north-west of the Isle of Pines. Frs Palazy and Montrouzier welcomed us warmly and led us to their straw hut. A tiny compartment serves as chapel. It was in a poor lodging, more wretched than the stable of Bethlehem, that we celebrated the great feast of the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The inhabitants of Lifou are much more friendly and open than the Caledonians. They would come up to us in a way that inspired confidence and shake our hands affectionately. This mission, still in its infancy, offers very promising hopes for the future. Already a large number are regularly coming to hear the good news of the Gospel and the missionaries are building a church to gather together their audience who are on the verge of becoming Christians. The people of Lifou do not find it easy to gain their sustenance from the soil. Bare coral is evident almost everywhere on the surface of the ground. Some shallow layers of soil spread over this rugged crust provide the only places available for agriculture. One might say the island is unwilling to supply its inhabitants with what they need most to exist. Water is very scarce, and to obtain what is so grudgingly offered they have to go down to the bottom of deep pits.
Quite close to the missionaries’ hut there is a little mountain which we climbed. While walking under big leafy trees, whose thick roots had buried themselves in cavities in the coral, we noticed little piles of stones, obviously the work of man. Fr Palazy told us that before the inhabitants of Lifou had given up their superstitions, it had been the custom to bring the boys up this mountain as soon as they reached the age of twelve. Once on the summit they piled some stones around a branch of shrubbery and the boy had to eat its leaves down to the very last one. It was only after performing this ceremony that the youth, who had just successfully played the role of goat, passed from childhood to adolescence.
Fr Poupinel had arranged with our captain that we would stay four days at each mission. At the end of that period we left Lifou and set out for Ouvea. While we were there two adult catechumens were admitted to baptism. Frs Bernard and Bariole, responsible for tending this part of the Lord’s vineyard, have the consolation of seeing the Gospel seed is not falling on arid ground. It’s true that they have to counter the efforts of the Protestant catechists, but Catholicism has the advantage of the battlefield, and its zealous missionaries, protected by the shield of Mary, are happy to see how the number of their Catholics grows day by day.
After visiting the Loyalty missions we headed for the east coast of Caledonia. The stations along this coast are Ouagap, Touo, Hyenguen (this station, founded about the period we were passing through, no longer exists) and Poebo. By now Fr Poupinel had assigned almost all his personnel. He had left a Brother in Sydney, another at Conception, and three Sisters. A Father and a Brother were left at Lifou. Fr Gilbert [sic] was stationed at Ouagap and Br Joseph at Hyenguen with Fr Montrouzier, who had left Lifou. There remained only Fr Emprin, who was destined for Belep, a little island to the north of Caledonia. While we were still at Touo we heard the sad news that the church at Poebo had been burned down. The scoundrel responsible was named Philippo, a former chief of the Balade.[1]
On arriving at Poebo we were saddened to see the remains of the church reduced to ashes. On the same foundations they had already raised a large shed which was a temporary replacement for the burned-down church. The day after our arrival, the natives in great numbers were busy laying down grass to cover the roof of the edifice which was supported by coconut trunks sunk in the ground. It is impossible to describe the shouting, cries, outlandish whistling of this enthusiastic crowd. They went to gather grass on the plain several hundred paces away. These Kanaks would jump in unison and then, skipping and shouting like people possessed, hurl themselves together into the grass, to grab a handful each. They would then return waving their grass in the air and throw it up onto the roof for those who were laying the covering. The temporary church, 10 metres wide and 30 long, was covered in the space of a morning. The unlucky arsonist was arrested by the French soldiers stationed at Balade. He has been sentenced to the firing squad and the one who set the fire is in irons at Port-de-France. It could be said that the savages of Balade have been struck by a curse. They persecuted the missionaries in the past, to the extent of expelling them three times from their territory. The once quite numerous population has been virtually wiped out by the wars it has been involved in and by a mortality rate which has decimated it in a short time.
Four days after we arrived in Poebo I said goodbye to Frs Poupinel and Emprin who were sailing on to Belep. It was a very painful parting for me. I sincerely missed Fr Poupinel. By his kindness, gentleness, edifying and witty conversation, he had made the long days of our voyage a pleasure. He returned to Conception sailing the length of the west coast of Caledonia, and returned to Sydney a few days later.
The next day I began surveying the territory of the Poebo mission. Half a dozen little natives were assigned to help me. I needed some patience to train them. My main difficulty was that I could only make myself understood by using sign language. However, my lessons succeeded beyond my expectations and at the end of a few days my little woolly-headed Negroes were able to manoeuvre wonderfully in the tall grass which often rose above our heads. I believe I would have finished by turning them into skilful geometricians had I been able to. It was at the hottest time of year that I did the survey at Poebo, a property of 174 hectares where the missionaries could gather all the natives in the eventuality of trouble with the colonists. Having only just arrived in this hot climate I frequently felt the need to take a rest in the shade of the coconut palms. Then I would signal to one of my little Kanaks to climb one of the trees to collect some nuts. It was wonderful to see him climb just like a monkey up this leafless tree right to the top which is sometimes very high. He would detach half a dozen big coconuts full of a fresh, sweet water the heat renders so delicious. Accustomed to this country’s climate and to romping on the tracks in the shade of the long grass, my little jokers, not at all tired, laughed uproariously at seeing me covered with sweat. Since they were not thirsty either, they willingly let me have the refreshing coconut water while they ate the soft white flesh which was beginning to form on the insides of the shell. I found myself becoming very attached to my little surveyors. They often gave me demonstrations of their affection and always had the consideration to give me the finest coconuts. Sometimes, by way of reward, I would give them a piece of red ribbon for hanging medals around their necks. I don’t believe I could have given them anything that pleased them more. My red ribbons were a sensation. They caught the eyes of grown men who came along looking for some small service they could do to obtain the coveted ribbon. I gave one to a chief who is a regular visitor to the missionaries and he received it with every sign of satisfaction.
The mission of Poebo is the best established of all in Caledonia. It counts numerous Christians who regularly attend the services and catechism classes. Already confraternities have been set up as in our parishes in France where the faith is still strong.
After three weeks with the fine tribe of Poebo, I said farewell to Frs Gagniere and Villard and good Br Mallet to go to Touo, where I had been already, to carry out the same work. To make the 20 league trip I took advantage of Fr Montrouzier’s returning to Hyenguen. He had come to Poebo in a simple canoe. We left in rain and with the wind against us. We were unable to use the sail and our rowers had to really struggle against the waves; we didn’t get very far that day. We landed before nightfall at a little village and spent the night there. The natives gave us a hut to lodge in, but it was impossible to close one’s eyes for the mosquitos. The unwelcome attentions of these creatures plus the suffocating smell of the thick smoke, which had no way of getting out except the little opening for entry, made us look forward to the return of dawn. The fire the natives had lit was not because of the season, but our clothes, sodden from the rain and the sea breaking into our canoe, were certainly in need of drying. We left this place without much regret as soon as day broke. The day was fine and a little breeze filled out our sail. Our rowers had recovered from their fatigue of the previous day and we reached Hyenguen in the evening, as the sun was disappearing below the horizon.
The missionaries were still using the episcopal palace of the Bishop of Amata, dead some years previously at Balade, who had formerly tried to evangelise the people of Hyenguen. But the terrible cannibal Bouarate, chief of this tribe, menaced the lives of His Lordship and all his people; they were destined to be eaten on the occasion of a feast. But Providence was watching over them. It revealed to them the evil designs formed against them. They avoided their fate by fleeing the country. Bouarate is now a prisoner in Tahiti. The French have taken this frightful maneater who depopulated neighbouring tribes as well as his own to have meat on his table. [2] They say that on seeing him you would find it difficult to imagine he is as wicked as his reputation. He is quite affable in his manner, but that is no guarantee in his favour. It is under the guise of this pretended peaceableness that the Caledonians have massacred and eaten a great number of Europeans. His brother, Mouhehahou, has succeeded him as leader of the tribe. He had called in the missionaries to dispel any suspicion that he had been implicated in the Poebo arson. But his bad disposition as well as those of his people have forced Fr Montrouzier and Br Joseph to abandon that mission once more, five months after they re-established it.
I mentioned above that the missionaries were lodged in the Bishop of Amata’s episcopal palace. I had the honour of living there a month at different times. The palace was nothing but a wretched hut, very dark, where rats kept up an infernal din. It had once served as a place for cannibal feasts. Since becoming the residence of the missionaries this place, defiled by such horrors, has become the sanctuary where Our Lord is pleased to come down every day. I have had the good fortune of hearing Mass there and receiving Holy Communion many times.
I had as yet 8 leagues sailing to reach Touo. The day after reaching Hyenguen, I left in midmorning in the same canoe which had brought Fr Montrouzier and me. Hardly had we left the bay when a strong wind arose and forced us to land soon afterwards in a little village about two hours from the mission. All day long I was surrounded by a crowd of natives, shouting, laughing, jesting they would break my head. Some asked me for tobacco, others for a pipe. Their eternal refrain on seeing a European is: “Tobacco! Pipe!” If I had wanted the whole village running after me I had only to give a few of them what they asked for. Pipe and tobacco are the currency of the Caledonians. With this currency I bought yams and coconuts for my three rowers and myself; to those we added the biscuits and bananas Fr Montrouzier had kindly given me. If I had wanted to buy all the things people were willing to bring me for pipes and tobacco, I would have filled our canoe. The Caledonians are mad on the pipe; men, women, children, everyone smokes.
I was preoccupied with many thoughts during the day I spent alone among the savages. I saw around me old men come almost to the end of their days without having known the good God who gave them existence; children scarcely started on life’s path, left to themselves, deprived of Christian and civilized education. I compared the lot of these poor children to that enjoyed by those attending our schools in France, and I was moved by the unfortunate state of these poor little creatures.
Towards 4 o’clock in the afternoon, the Kanaks who had been following me around all day finally left me alone to wander on the shore. While I was sitting gazing at the rough seas, I was greeted by half a dozen little natives who lit a fire close to me for roasting a huge rat. Following their custom, they did me the honour of offering me a choice portion. I let them know as nicely as I could that I was not hungry. They did not need any parasite sharing in their feast since they quickly stripped it clean. Night came but the wind did not drop, a thing which very rarely happens. We had to face the prospect of spending the night ashore. I stayed in a little hut belonging to three Englishmen who were producing coconut oil. It would be hard, I think, to find a single part of the globe where you won’t come across inhabitants of the British Isles. Next day, late in the morning, I called my men to leave, but the east wind, which had dropped a bit during the night, had risen at sunrise as strongly as the day before. We tried in vain all morning to make some headway, then turned round and returned to Fr Montrouzier’s place to await a favourable wind. We were able to set out four days later, and, although the weather was not good, we reached Touo safe and sound the day after leaving Hyenguen.
When I had completed the survey of the Touo mission I proceeded to Ouagap to do the same. This tribe is settled south of Touo only four leagues away. Fr Vigoroux has been there for 4 years and this zealous missionary has achieved no success. It’s a case of people full of prejudice against Christianity and its ministers. These treacherous and wicked savages have several times threatened the missionary’s life. The elders, who have great influence in the tribe, tell the young to do the opposite of what the priest tells them. They frighten them especially by saying that baptism will cause their deaths. I have not seen anywhere men as savage looking as those of Ouagap. You get quite a fright when on the track you meet one of these fierce-looking men, daubed all over in black, woolly hair tied in a tuft on the top of the head, and always armed with a spear, a club, and a sling.
Once the survey of Ouagap was finished, I returned to Touo where I had left my belongings to wait for an opportunity to go to Port-de-France. Some days later, Fr Montrouzier also wanted a plan of his station and I went to Hyenguen for the third time. I made the voyage with Br Joseph [Reboul] of Touo who was going to help Br Joseph [Muraour] of Hyenguen to build a house a bit more comfortable than the miserable hut the Father and he had been living in for several months. Ten days later, we put out to sea with an excellent wind, but the sea was very rough; a strong northerly had been blowing for several days. While we were shooting along under full sail into the port an enormous wave threw us onto a coral pinnacle poking up out of the water. A second wave pushed us over this pinnacle and our canoe ended up on its side jammed between two rocks. Each wave on its return lifted our water-filled canoe, almost righting it, and once past, dropped it with its full weight on the coral points. In this unfortunate predicament we kept a firm grip on the sides of our canoe to avoid being smashed against the rocks by the waves passing over our heads. We confided our fate into the hands of Providence and recommended ourselves to the Blessed Virgin and then threw ourselves out after a wave had just passed in an attempt to swim as far as possible from this area where the sea was breaking with such fury. We reached the sandy base of a large rock some hundreds of metres from the place where our craft had been wrecked.
A large number of natives soon came out in canoes to help us. One of them came to fetch us from the foot of our rock and carried us to shore, while the others tried to save our canoe and the few belongings we had. These men can swim like fish, and they succeeded in floating our boat and bringing it back to the shore. Since these people have come into contact with Europeans, and especially since the Missions have been established in Caledonia, there has been a great improvement in their respect for human life. If we had been shipwrecked a few years previously we would certainly have been robbed, killed and eaten. That’s the way they used to treat any poor wretch who fell into their hands after surviving shipwreck. The next day, with our canoe up on dry land at low tide, we could see it was holed on both sides. We set to making repairs, and 5 days later we bade Fr Montrouzier and Br Joseph farewell once more. We set out again for Touo, arriving there without mishap. The natives, who are superstitious people, blamed our misfortune on me. I had been unwise enough to put two stones into the canoe to act as ballast, and the stones were tabou (sacred) because they had belonged to a chief.
The natives of Touo are much better disposed to receive the good news of the Gospel than those of Hyenguen and Ouagap. Fr Thomassin has the consolation of seeing the number of his flock increasing daily. When Fr Poupinel visited this mission, he baptized 180 adults. But the presence of pagan tribes in the vicinity hinders the efforts of this zealous missionary. A big number would willingly embrace Christianity if they were not put off by the fear that baptism would cause them to die. The father of lies has his minions in these tribes and the gullible regard them as oracles. These extraordinary men, or rather, these instruments of Satan, who are called grand priors, have great influence over the people, who believe they have power to provide fine weather, rain, wind, etc. They use this credit to dissuade those who are so disposed from going to listen to the instructions of the missionaries. They threaten them with a thousand calamities if they have the misfortune to go and listen to the Papouales (Whites). But their false and lying predictions are soon seen for what they are, and despite all his efforts, Satan sees his empire in Caledonia shrinking day by day.
During my stay at Touo, war broke out between a pagan village of this tribe and a village of a neighbouring tribe. We were concerned about the outcome. It was said that the war was instigated by a chief of one of the inland tribes, and the battlefield was not far from the mission. It appears that this chief, Kaoua by name, intended to set all the tribes in the neighbourhood at war in order to massacre the Christians, and the missionaries in particular.[3] But Providence foiled his plans. He was driven off with the loss of 8 men who were eaten by the victors. Cannibalism still exists among the pagans of Caledonia and if they indulge in this barbarous activity less frequently now, it is only from fear of being punished by the French.
After a sojourn of five months among the savages, I boarded a warship, the steamer ‘Styx’, which was returning from Balade and visiting the mission stations on its way back to Port-de-France. I was happy to have as fellow passenger Fr Poupinel, who had taken advantage of the ‘Styx’ s voyage to visit the missions of his Vicariate. I left the excellent Fr Thomassin and the good Br Joseph with regret. I was saddened by the thought I would no longer be living among the natives. These people, in truth, have many faults, but they possess qualities one would be well pleased to find among Europeans, and, on reflecting that these copper-skinned men are created in God’s image, one can only hold them in sincere affection.
On our arrival at Port-de-France, we found that the Governor had been back from Taiti [sic] for several days. Fr Fremont, chaplain at Port-de-France, had already spoken to him about the opening of a school – or rather, about a Brother schoolmaster, since the school was being run by a sergeant who wanted nothing more than to be rid of it. His Excellency had no difficulty in adopting Fr Fremont’s proposal. It provided that the government would provide my daily upkeep and that I should have an annual salary of 1800 francs starting from 1st June 1859. This salary would appear quite fabulous for a Brother in France but in Caledonia it is considered a minimum because of the high cost of everything. A simple labourer, knowing only how to dig, is paid as much.
Two days after my arrival in Port-de-France, on the 3rd of June, I began my career as schoolmaster. My class consists of 17 pupils, 6 French, 2 English, and 9 Caledonians.
Although these children are of different nationalities they all understand a little French and are learning the French language. I would be embarrassed, anyway, to have to teach them any other, for I have only a few words of English and these I murder horribly. My little Caledonians live with M. Durand, the town commandant. They are prisoners of war taken in a tribal revolt two years ago. You cannot know the joy I experience, Reverend Brother Superior, and very dear Brother Assistant, hearing French words on the lips of these little copper and bronze faces. I will soon even be able to instruct them so that they can be admitted to the grace of baptism. I live and have my meals with Fr Fremont and I hold my classes in the first house of the town of Port-de-France. The architecture, as one can imagine, is not the most elaborate; it is a simple straw hut. But they are building me something better, and in a few days I will be able to assemble my pupils in a new classroom.
There are already many colonists settled at Port-de-France and ships bringing others are expected daily. If it happens that any of my dear and well loved confreres from Notre Dame de Saint-Genis wish to come and share my work, they would be welcomed with open arms. The governor intends to found a school in a beautiful valley called Kanala, not far from Port-de-France. The valley has a population of 2 or 3 thousand natives and some French. On his return from Hyenguen, Fr Montrouzier was appointed chaplain to this tribe by the governor. He was even guaranteed a salary for the Brothers and Sisters, and the Brothers and Sisters are still in France. It will mean, of course, separation from our good Superiors, leaving cherished confreres, abandoning one’s homeland. But, my very reverend Brother Superior, I am convinced that the Brothers, submissive to your will, will be ready to make those sacrifices when you judge it time.
The Caledonian climate is very healthy. Since I have been here, I have not had the slightest sickness.
It is a long time since I have had news of you or the dear Brothers of the Hermitage. I am happy to hear the Society of Mary has been recognized by the Holy See.
Please remember me in your excellent prayers, my very dear Superiors. I commend myself also to those of all my dear Confreres. I trust that Mary, whose children we are, will unite us again one day around her in heaven.
I am, with profound respect and tender affection,
Your very humble and very obedient servant,
Br Germanique


  1. Felipo Boueone, chief of Pouma and brother of Bourate at Hienghene, mentioned later [22], both opposed to the mission and active in promoting trouble in the north.
  2. Bourate was exiled to Tahiti for five years and returned in 1863 with twelve others, including the Pouebo church arsonist. They received a formal welcome from Guillain’s administration (Delbos 143). It was left to his grandsons to lead his people into the mission at the turn of the century.
  3. Kawa, chief of Poyes, was involved in the destruction later, in 1862, of the Touho mission. He was opposed to the new religion which “takes away our freedom and destroys our customs” (Delbos 133).

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