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12 Oct 1836 - 18 Jan 1837 — Travel Journal of Fr Claude Bret

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, August 2006

[1] 12 October
Stay in Paris. The ship Dauphine[1] on which the Bishop [Pompallier] had booked his passage was due to sail on the 25th. At that time the loading had not been completed. Fathers Chanel and Bataillon and Brother Marie-Nizier were sent to Le Havre on the 27th to make some purchases.
[2] November 11
Departure from Paris.
Arrival at Rouen. Visits to churches. Accommodated at the major seminary. The Bishop pays a visit to the Cardinal Prince of Crois. Departure for Le Havre. Father Servant and Brother Michel stay in Rouen.
[4] 13
Arrive at Le Havre. Stay with Madame Dodard. Guests: Bishop Pompallier and his group, 3 Picpus missionaries and one Brother, one Jesuit, Father Ladavière.
[5] 14
Arrival of Father Servant and Brother Michel, and of Bishop Blanc, Bishop of New Orleans; also staying at Madame Dodard’s with some Jesuits.
[6] 15
Rain, hail, lightning, thunder.
[7] 16-17
[8] 18
Heavy sea. In the evening: hail, lightning, thunder. M Franque has written to the Bank of Paris to exchange our French money for Spanish gold coins.
[9] 19
Bad night. Wind, lightning, thunder, hail, storm. Bishop Pompallier and Bishop Blanc ask all the priests to say a prayer at Holy Mass up to the time of departure.
[10] 20
Fine weather.
[11] 21
Fair wind. The Josephine which is to carry Bishop Blanc to New Orleans must set sail tomorrow. In the evening, the wind becomes adverse.
[12] 22
Our ship the Delphine is loaded. It changes its dock. We must leave tomorrow at 9am.
[13] 23
Adverse wind. Heavy sea. No departure.
[14] 29
Storm. The docks overflow at [high] tide. A few days earlier, at the time of full moon, Le Havre would have been flooded.
[15] 30
Same weather. The Bishop gets us to begin a novena of Masses to prepare us for the feast of the Immaculate Conception and to obtain good weather.
[16] December
The weather will be better, we hope.
[17] 2
The wind drops. Rain. Bad weather till 15th. All the ships which left have come back or put into port elsewhere. Some are lost. During that time, the parish priest of New Orleans was kind enough to give us some English lessons. He has 14 pupils: Jesuits, Marists, Picpus. Father Servant is studying Spanish.
[18] 15
Better wind. Several ships leave. Bishop Blanc and his missionaries go on board to leave; they come back.
[19] 16
The wind has dropped again.
[20] 17
Bad weather.
[21] 18
The missionaries’ benefactress, Madame Dodard, is dangerously ill; we are afraid that God is granting her prayer. For a long time she has been asking Him to die when the house is full of missionaries. Bishop Pompallier administers it.[2] All the missionaries accompany the Holy Viaticum in surplices, a candle in their hands. Madame Dodard receives Holy Communion with the joy of a woman predestined.
[22] 21
10 o'clock in the evening. The Bishop gives Extreme Unction to Madame Dodard.
[23] 22
Better weather. Bishop Blanc was to leave. He is too late. The tide drops; the docks are shut.
[24] 23
At nine o'clock in the morning we were to leave. The wind became adverse. At midday, better. In the evening, good.
[25] 24
Snowing, freezing. The wind is North East, the one we have been waiting for for two months. Our captain has warned us of departure. At 9am we go on board; Bishop Blanc similarly. The two ships touch, you could stretch a hand from one to the other. At 11 a.m. the Delphine and the Josephine leave the harbour. At midday we are in the roadstead. The pilots and the others who had come to accompany us, leave. On leaving the roadstead, seasickness. The Bishop, Father Chanel and Brother Joseph took the greatest time to recover. Before nightfall, the Josephine is no longer in sight. The other ships have gone past us.
[26] 25
People on board the ship: 1 captain, 2 officers, 1 mate,[3] 1 chief steward, 1 cook, 8 seamen, 2 beginners, 1 ship’s boy, 14 passengers, i.e. 8 Marists, 4 Picpus, 1 businessman, and 1 young man who has left Customs.[4] I don't think you could find on the ship a better set of crewmen. At the time this diary entry is being written, we know the seamen best. They have all promised to observe their Easter duties (with the exception of the officers and two passengers) and seem to be really attached to us. The Industrie, a ship which left Le Havre before us, is overtaken. Some people already are turning up for meals, recovered from seasickness. We are sailing along the English coast. At 3pm we are opposite the Lisard. [5] Within 27 hours we are leaving the Channel, which Captain Rouger has not done before. [6]
[27] 26
The wind is strong, the sea rough, but we are making good progress. At eight in the evening, an order for a lamp to be put on the bridge to avoid colliding with a brig.
[28] 27
Some hailstones, and the days beforehand.
[29] 28
Already it is warmer than in France. In the evening we all go up to the bridge to enjoy a spring evening. The night is fine, phosphorescent. The porpoises leap around the ship which seems to be on fire. The breeze plays in the ropes in the moonlight. We are making good progress.
[30] 29
Some drops of rain. Good speed: three leagues an hour. [7]
[31] 31
The wind has changed. A gust of wind, that on land we call a tempest. We are, however, doing three leagues[8] an hour.


[32] 1 January
The tempest lasts still. During the night the ship was very restless. The sea was rough. At 4am all sails were reefed. Only one is left unreefed to hold the ship [on course]. It is carried along by the wind. At five o'clock a lantern is asked for on the bridge. None too soon! We were bearing down on a ship, and we were nearly hitting it [nous brisions]. Fortunately we were able to get out of danger. 11am -- the wind fell and we made good progress. The Bishop was still in bed. He received a letter from the mate in the name of all the seamen -- good wishes for a happy New Year, and a good voyage. The Bishop thanked them with a New Year's gift. Evening -- calm. No wind. The night was peaceful. The ship, not making any progress, was tossed about by the sea which had become rough during the tempest. The groaning of the masts, the continual motion which made everything roll around the cabin, were harder to put up with than the tempest.
[33] 2
Calm. The captain was worried the whole night. In the morning, his worries grew even more. An accident that happened to our rudder forced us to look for a harbour. When we left the docks at Le Havre, the harbour master had hung an amarre (a thick rope) from one side of the dock to the other to stop the ships from all leaving together. This amarre was found to be stuck between the rudder and the stern of the ship. As we were unaware of what was preventing us from leaving, we used all possible force to free ourselves, and once we were free, no one was concerned to find out if any harm had been done. However of the four tenons which secured the rudder to the ship, two were broken and a third badly damaged. This was observed only today, when the Captain saw that two tenons were missing, and the third had dropped. There remained only one, the rudder was secured to prevent it going into the sea. An extra one was made in case of its being lost. We are steering towards the Canary Islands to put into a port. We are about 80 leagues[9] from land. In the evening, one of the officers thought he sighted the peaks of Tenerife; it was a cloud. At that time the wind changed, became quite contrary. We were obliged to tack.
[34] 3
At midnight, flat calm until 9am. At nine, a contrary wind, we tack. An English ship goes past beside us, salutes us by raising a flag; we do the same. Rain.
[35] 4
Rain. Evening -- rain, lightning, thunder. Contrary wind. We tack.
[36] 5
Slow progress. At 9am the clouds obscure the sun. We raise a distress flag in sight of an English steamship; it replies by raising a flag, but goes its way without approaching us. We are approximately 64 leagues[10] from Tenerife where we have to find a harbour.
[37] 6
In the morning, land is seen to the southeast. We were steering towards this island. As it is not Tenerife, we turn to the South West. At 10am the chains are taken out of the hold to lower the anchor. The peak appears to the south, another to the southeast. The islands which the captain did not know are the Salvages, inhabited, three in number, which are kept above sea level by rocks against which ships are driven by the currents. They could extend over 10 leagues. [11] The captain still doesn't know where Tenerife is. At midday it is seen. We are 35 leagues[12] from the island. At five o’clock we catch sight of the peak to the southwest.
[38] 7
Everyone gets up in the morning to see the sunrise. It is hidden in the clouds. The peak is lost in the clouds. We are 10 leagues[13] from the island. Flat calm. At 1pm we were doing roughly half a league[14] per hour. A schooner approaches. We go to it, hoisting a flag. We ask through a megaphone for a pilot to guide us. A canoe is put into the sea. The master of the schooner, a native of Lanzarote (Canaries) trading between these islands, comes on board our ship. We are still four leagues[15] from the tip of the island. Santa Cruz, where the harbour is, is five leagues[16]from this point. During the night we round this cape. On the coast, fires and fishing boats can be seen.
[39] 8
We are, finally, a quarter of a league[17] off Santa Cruz. The Blessed Virgin has protected us. For eight days we had had calms, or bad weather or contrary winds, were able at any minute to lose our rudder and remained exposed to all the dangers which could come from those things. From seeing the concern and gloominess which held sway on the faces of our officers, we had everything to fear. During these last eight days we had done barely 100 leagues,[18] and during the first eight days after leaving Le Havre, we had gone past Madeira. The calm weather not allowing us to enter the roadstead yet, Holy Mass was said on board for the first time since our departure. The Bishop said it, all received Communion. 9 am, the anchor was lowered. At midday, the health enquiry group arrived; the interviews done, we were allowed to go on shore. The French Consul was waiting for the Bishop on the mole; he took the Bishop to the Governor at his house. At the house of the naval commandant, the Bishop asked to visit the church. The Consul went with the Bishop. There was an attentiveness, and affability about him… He was quite French!
[40] 9
The Consul came on board to pay the Bishop a visit. The Bishop, accompanied by all the priests, went to the church, at the door of which the clergy were waiting for him. The Bishop said Holy Mass, the other priests as well. During this time the organ was played. Return on board; lunch; then a tour around the island. 8pm -- a French frigate anchored next to the Delphine.
[41] 10
Mass on land. The frigate Venus, 60 guns, having arrived yesterday, greets the town with a 21 gun salute. It was answered from the forts. 9.30 our anchor chain breaks -- we lose our anchor; if not for the haste and quick reaction of the officer of the watch, the ship would have collided with an American brig. Quickly another anchor was thrown down. We come back on board in a rough sea. 2pm -- a Spanish Brig has anchored in the roadstead -- it has lost a mast. 3pm -- the Venus gets underway; an hour later we lose sight of it; it is going to make a voyage round the world, to go as far north as Kamchatka. 6pm -- the breeze freshened.
[42] 11
Rough sea. Our dismounted rudder in a bad state, a new one is being made. At 2pm the English steamship to which we had made a distress signal, moored in the roadstead for six days to take on coal and repair some damage, ups anchor, fires two cannon shots and leaves for Bombay. 3pm -- our dinghy, tied to the ship, comes loose, breaks its bow, is carried away by the waves, swelled by the wind. It is saved by the American brig, our neighbour. After dinner, [as] ever since we have been in the roadstead, we sing the litanies of the Blessed Virgin on the bridge. Still a rough sea. 10pm -- the wind stronger. Our anchor chain, too taut, unwinds with a crash after having broken the iron clips which held it in place. We thought it was broken; everyone rushed to the bridge, there were shouts, the officers were called. In the disorder people did not know where to run. We were driven on to the American brig which did not want to move away; but seeing itself near to being dismasted, it let out a bit more anchor chain. (General commotion at the time of the event.) Until 3am the wind was in fury. The alarm at night, a rough sea, a violent north-easter, an enormous anchor chain resounding and holding the leaping ship, a nasty hen which squawked at the ringing sound of the chain, some cats yowling at the coming of storm, all made for an awful night. On land, the wind was stronger. The captain, who was in the hotel, was like a cat on hot bricks, hardly had day broken when he was on the mole to see whether the Delphine had sailed away, sunk, or had been driven onto the coast.
[43] 12
Several people slept well in spite of the storm. The construction of the rudder needs at least eight more days in the rainy season. It is to be feared that the roadstead is unsafe. The Bishop is looking for accommodation on land. Lunch on board. Everyone goes ashore, except a Picpus priest and a Brother. We are in the [8] dinghy, ready to get onto the jetty. One of the Picpus priests, who had been frightened by the crossing from the ship to the land, jumped from the dinghy, missed the ladder and fell into the sea; he was soon pulled out, and goes and gently asks permission to download the few things that we want to bring ashore. We are settled into a huge room furnished with chairs and two tables. The Bishop receives a visit from the[19] (a judge in a church court). In the morning, the ex-governor of the island of Palma had brought the Bishop a letter from the Cathedral chapter of Laguna, a service town in the area where we were.[20] As we have brought nothing from the ship, the Brothers go off to get provisions. There we begin to live like missionaries: after prayers, we lie down on the floor, wrapped up in our blankets. The Bishop is on a sorry looking mattress which the owner of the house has brought.
[44] 13
The Bishop pays a visit to the Vicar [general?] of the town, and makes a reply to the chapter of Laguna. We are sent provisions from the ship. The sea today is as flat as ice. A search for the anchor is going on. We visit the forts on the sea coast. Another anchor has been found, but not that of the ship.
[45] 14
After Mass, the Bishop, accompanied by the Garrison Chaplain and two missionaries, goes to Laguna, two short leagues[21] from Santa Cruz, to see the Bishop of Tenerife. The Bishop had already left to forestall Bishop [Pompallier] but by another route. On his arrival, Bishop Pompallier received at the good wishes of the Chapter, then came the Bishop who gave Bishop Pompallier all faculties and at the same time offered him accommodation which he refused.
[46] 15
Sunday. Some of us went to the High Mass and found the church almost empty. In this entirely Catholic country, people are far from being present at religious duties as in the country we have left.
[47] 16
Our sailors come and visit the Bishop [Pompallier]. Our anchor has been recovered: the dinghy is being repaired.
[48] 17
One of the Picpus men, getting down from the ship into the dinghy, and leaning against the ship, pushes the rowing boat away and falls into the sea. He is immediately pulled out by the sailors.
[49] 18
The Bishop goes on board. At this time the Archdeacon and a Chaplain arrive from Laguna. Immediately someone goes to fetch the Bishop.
Tenerife. NB. What we did not see ourselves we have learned from informed people who seem to speak from first hand knowledge.
Tenerife! -- one of the inhabited Canary Islands. [22] They are seven in number, divided into two dioceses (-- in Spanish – Tenerife, Hierro, Gomera, La Palama) (Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura). Tenerife, to the north west of Gran Canaria, about 66 leagues [330 km] around, with a population estimated at 100,000 to 120,000 souls; some towns of 10,000 to 12,000 souls, such as Santa Cruz, Laguna, Orotava. Situated near the torrid zone[23]the Canaries enjoy the advantages of that climate. Alongside our European produce all tropical fruits are found: orange trees, lemon trees, banana palms, palm trees, sugarcane, Indian figs which feed the cochineal [insects] raised in these islands etc, etc. The land provides the inhabitants with all they need for food. The wind and fruit there are delicious. On the island of Tenerife is found the famous Peak, the highest point in Africa [sic - but mistaken. Teide volcano is 3718m,[24] it serves as a landmark for mariners who can see it from 50 or 60 leagues[25] when it is not lost in the clouds. It is in the interior of the island, about 10 or 12 leagues from the edge of the sea. Some people say it can still be seen smoking, others, no. Whatever be the truth of that, this land is volcanic. We walk at each step on the scoria[26] and ash which give it fertility. We were not able to visit the interior of the island which is said to be enchanted. (Le Tasse in his Jérusalem delivrée[27] made of it his enchanted palace). We only saw the bad side of the island, arid, burnt by the sun with an horizon marked by the rocks[28] which border the coast and stretch inland. These rocks look like pyramids piled one on top of another. There the winter is only the rainy season; when the clouds are over our heads, the rainbow hourly gilds the mountains. A colony of the Spanish, Tenerife as well as the rest of the Canaries is not, like the mother country, prey to the horrors of anarchy and civil war. [29] It has followed the lead[30] given. The convents are closed, the monks driven out of the country are secularised, the constitution of 1812 proclaimed[31] but here everything up to now has gone calmly. The Governor seems to be a fine man. The police are tough; people cannot leave or come back into the town when the set time has passed. To question the regulations would be risky for the one who tried to do so. Our Captain, who wanted to go back on shore at 6 pm, had a rifle pointed at him.
Santa Cruz, a port of call for ships, is at the inner end of a roadstead sheltered from winds from the north and the west. Nevertheless it has its dangers. Three or four forts defend the town with a Garrison of about 100 men. Their dress is not very regular, their music still in its infancy, organised only for a year; their drums not very resonant and even more poorly looked after. The town rises like an amphitheatre facing the roadstead; its streets are regular, clean, well paved, with footpaths. The houses are all built roughly according to the same plan: a big reception room between two smaller rooms opening onto an interior covered gallery which surrounds the courtyard. The vegetation is so vigorous that grass grows between the paving stones. You walk on lawn beside the paving stones of the footpaths. We are in the month of January and it is not colder than the month of June in France. No harmful animals on the island. The camel, the horse and the donkey are the domestic animals used for transport; no vehicles, we have seen only one. The camel, as dirty and thin as it is docile, comes from Lanzarote where it breeds; it can carry 10 to 12 quintals.[32] The horse, which is smaller than in France, with its spindly legs wonderfully serves the horseman travelling across the dangerous rocks. You have to know it is surefooted to risk travelling like that. There as elsewhere the donkey awaits patiently from its master, who thrashes it with blows from a stick, the meagre ration which suffices it to live. On the roadstead big fish play in the waves, leaping over the waves without harming the fishermen. The people are good, docile and gentle like the climate they live in. Never any murders, never any robberies. You can travel alone covered in gold, in greatest safety, from one end of the island to another. There you have Santa Cruz, and Tenerife, such as they have been described to us, such as we have seen them with our own eyes. What a pity that there is a down side to all that: these people -- so gentle -- are poor, miserable, accustomed from childhood to hold out their hands. Beggarliness is there, I believe, with all its vices except theft. It was pitiable to see us surrounded, pursued by men, women, children, covered in rags, beside us a half naked woman, her two children who make you lower your eyes, a Negro whose speech alone makes him seem to be human, a big young man not wearing even a loincloth steering a small craft, men in shirts as black as the lava of their extinguished volcanoes going from one island to another in boats loaded with marrows, wood for barrels, give us an idea of what waits for us among savage peoples deprived of the blessings of religion and civilisation. Santa Cruz especially offers the disgusting sight of this poverty and laziness. It is the refuge of a vagabond people who want to live without working. Fortunately the Spaniard, the inhabitant of these islands, is abstemious. These vagabond beggars live like the savages of the South Seas. Little fish roasted on charcoal, no bread, that is their food. When evening comes, then the nonchalant Islander, lying on the pavement, plucks the guitar which he accompanies with a song as monotonous as the instrument he makes vibrate with his fingers; the rocks against which the sea breaks are covered with these miserable people.
In the streets one meets only ordinary women,[33] having on their heads a veil which is draped over the shoulders and gathered on their breast. On top of this veil, a man's hat. These veils are often in rags like the rest [of their clothing]. The gentlewomen[34] leave their homes only to go to church. Their hair is done up, without a hat; veiled, but without a hat, holding a fan in their hands. The sex in general shows little modesty. In the evening you meet some women dressed more appropriately, but there are offhand manners show up clearly enough these unfortunate women who destroy themselves in destroying others. They are only too numerous in Santa Cruz, open as it is to all the foreigners who bring in their vicious habits there. Most of the men wear cloaks as for winter. At table, you see you are not in a French environment; there are different dishes, different ways of eating. Undiluted wine during the meal, pure water during dessert etc, are not according to our customs. The currency is Spanish, but there is no agreement as to how to count it. It is not uncommon to see the locals in a predicament, the way the foreigner manages it. The churches are beautiful, rich. The most beautiful in Spain is on the Grande Canarie,[35] the island 12 leagues[36] from Tenerife. Laguna, a town two leagues[37] from Santa Cruz, is the residence of the Bishop, the first in this newly created see. Of French descent through his mother, the Bishop cultivates letters, he speaks French quite well, is familiar with our country's literature. A quite cordial goodness and affability distinguish him. A talented man, he is surrounded by ecclesiastical servants. The rector of the faculties of theology and law is worthy of the position he occupies. The priests are more respected here than in France, but our liturgies are more moving, our faithful more recollected, our churches more frequented. From Lyons to Tenerife we have still not found the city of martyrs. [38] In this entirely Catholic country abstinence is observed only on the Fridays of Lent and Holy Week. Instructions are rarely given, no catechism classes, no public first Communion. How much good a mission would do there. ...

Table of Contents


  1. Later Delphine - translator’s note
  2. Viaticum - translator’s note
  3. maître d’équipage
  4. sorti de la douane
  5. sic – Lizard
  6. Father Bret seems to be thinking of the speed of the journey so far - translator’s note
  7. about 8 knots – 15 km - translator’s note
  8. about 8 knots
  9. about 400 km
  10. 320 km
  11. 50 km
  12. 175 km
  13. 50 km
  14. about 3 km
  15. 20 km
  16. 25 km
  17. about a kilometre
  18. 500 km
  19. vicaire -- curate or, more likely, Vicar General - translator’s note
  20. ville de services dans la position où nous sommes. ‘Ville de services’ might also be ‘ a military base’? - translator’s note
  21. à deux petites lieues
  22. The islands got the name from the number of large dogs -- canis in Latin -- which used to be seen there -- translator’s note
  23. The islands are between 27° and 29° North latitude, so just north of the Tropic of Cancer -- translator’s note
  24. Mt Cook in NZ is 3760m - but Kilimanjaro in East Africa is c. 5860m - translator’s note
  25. 250 to 300 km
  26. pierres calcinés
  27. ‘Jerusalem set free’
  28. mornes -- rocks?
  29. During much of the 19th-century Spanish history was dominated by struggles between liberals -- in the Enlightenment tradition -- and traditionalists, and there were frequent persecutions of the Church --translator’s note
  30. mouvement
  31. it strongly reflected French revolutionary thinking --translator’s note
  32. Collins’ dictionary defines a quintal as: 1) 100 pounds; 2) 100 kg. I think the first is more likely in this case -- translator’s note
  33. des femmes du peuple
  34. les dames
  35. Gran Canaria
  36. 60 km
  37. 10 km
  38. he seems to mean a place where the Catholic faith is really taken seriously -- translator’s note

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