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Br Ptolomee to Fr Yardin, Tongatapu, Tonga, 16 December 1861



In 1861 Ptolomee was stationed at Ma’ofanga, near the port of Tongatapu and the capital, Nuku’alofa. This station had been founded by Calinon in 1855, and when he moved to Ha’apai in 1859, he was replaced there by Joseph Monnier. Monnier (1825-1874), a Marist since 1848, arrived in the Pacific in 1856 and worked first in Samoa before his appointment to Tonga. Ptolomee joined him in 1860.

The brother appears philosophical about the difficulties he refers to in [2] but they seem to have been more serious than he allows. In fact, they appear to have been largely of his own making and to have caused the priests to ask for his removal. In a letter to Favre, written only a month before this one, Poupinel complains of Ptolomee’s lack of judgement, but says Monnier had consented to give him another chance (letter of 18 November 1861, APM).

The identity of the “greatest maneater of Fiji” is not known, but his rescue by a Tongan Catholic runs somewhat counter to the norm. The Tongans in Fiji were generally hostile to the Catholic mission and in 1861 one chief, Fifita Semisi, found himself deported to New Caledonia for carrying on a campaign of terror against the Catholics in the Yasawa group (Knox 28). Things only improved after King George of Tonga signed a treaty in April 1862 limiting the Tongans’ influence in Fiji affairs.

The translation was made from a photocopy of the original in the APM.

Text of the Letter

Reverend Father,
Please excuse me if I am a little late in writing to you. It is certainly partly from my negligence, partly wanting to know all about what has been happening, and partly from considering I would be telling you nothing new.
There have been difficulties at times, but everything is settling into place bit by bit. Although things are not all roses one should have no cause to complain about them. There is no place where everything goes according to one’s wishes, that’s for sure, and one still finds things better than one expected when leaving France.
We had a favourable voyage from France to Sydney. We were very fortunate under all aspects. Arriving at the Procure you could imagine yourself in a French mansion. We stayed there until shortly before our departure for the islands. But then the fine days were gone for good. Once we set foot on the Carroline [sic], life was a misery. The first day we almost perished on that wretched ship which leaks like a sieve. We turned back to have it patched up. It didn’t end there, as we recall only too well. We almost came to grief in a storm. Two days before reaching Wallys [sic] lightning struck our ship twice, breaking a mast and shattering chains in more than a hundred pieces, so we were told. I believe all the demons had come out of hell and boarded the old wreck to torment us. It is so true that one (is never free) from the misery of one’s enemies.
Tonga where I am is a very beautiful and fine country, one of the best islands in Oceania. The people are not savages, as they are called, not as much as those of our French countrysides. They have improved a lot in character. One is happy to be among them. If it wasn’t for these oil traders who call themselves Protestant ministers, this place would be a paradise on earth. Everywhere there is some obstacle to one’s hopes. God wills it, so let his holy will be done in everything and everywhere.
In this land it is necessary to turn one’s hand to anything and to be self-sufficient and to render services to all the natives. But one has to rely on very meager means. I have just drawn the teeth of one of the greatest maneaters of Fidji [sic]. He had eaten so many that he would have certainly have ended up as a meal himself when his turn came, but one of our Catholics was there and saved him by bringing him to Tonga. I have the practice all to myself as I am the only one of this trade. One is not so skilful in the beginning, but with the confidence that the good God will make up for the lack of ability, and having him as guide, one is always successful. For the rest, nothing matters, obedience will suffice. The good God takes it all into account.
Best wishes, my good Father Yardin, best wishes, my very reverend Father Superior General, and all the good Fathers and brothers. I take the liberty of commending myself to your fervent prayers, so that Jesus, Mary, and Saint Joseph assist me to remain faithful in my vocation until death. For my part, I never forget you in mine. I pray the good God will continue to favour your Society with every blessing and prosperity. That is what I wish for you with all my heart.
I am, with profound respect and entire submission, my Reverend Father Superior,
Your very humble and very obedient servant,
Brother Ptolomee

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