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16 May 1840 — Father Joseph Chevron to his Family, Futuna

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, September-November 2011

Essentially it is a diary of his journey, begun in December 1839 with the crossing from Sydney to Auckland, and ending at Futuna on 16 May 1840.

To M Chevron, Nantua, (Ain) France.

J(esus) M(ary) J(oseph)
May the grace of our Lord be always with you.
God be praised! We have just experienced an almost apostolic week; I say almost because He has adjusted the cross to my weakness; but before telling you where we are, if the good God grants me time for it, it really is necessary to hastily tell you how, since Sydney, we got to the reefs of the Viti[1] group.
Our crossing from Sydney to New Zealand was quite pleasant, although very slow with a whimsical wind; the little schooner we were borne on seemed reluctant to carry us. It was on the day of the Immaculate Conception [8 December] that we saw New Zealand, and at noon the following day we were receiving the Bishop’s blessing on the shore of the Bay of Islands. All of us together spent about a week with him in the midst of the people of his diocese, who were tattooed mostly in a very interesting way. Tuesday the 17th December was the day of our separation. An excellent opportunity to get to the islands in the tropics turned up, and I was the one whom the Bishop designated to bring help to our two confrères to whom he had entrusted that part of the mission. My companion on the journey was Brother Attale, whom we had brought from Lyons with us. A flat calm kept us close to the New Zealand coast; we lost sight of land only on the third day. The celebrations of the Christmas season were pretty sad for us. From the 23rd the wind blew in an awful way, on the 24th one of the sailors had his body crushed by the fall of a huge piece of wood, he lived on several days, but most of the time was in a state of delirium. He was a Protestant. The violence of the wind and the frightful roughness of the sea forced the sails to be completely furled and we made no headway for four days. During that storm the rain kept us continuously in our cabin, sitting on a trunk, not having enough space even to stretch our legs. We spent those 5 or 6 days in the water, continually wet, even in our beds, but what the good God cares for is well cared for: only one of those days in France would have been enough to put me to bed: here my health has never been in the least way affected.
On the 4th January we arrived at the south-east part of the island of Viti-levu (Fiji in English), the main island of the Viti group (roughly 175º east longitude and 17º south latitude). The inhabitants of these islands, which are over-populated (if our captain and several Europeans who have lived for a long time in these islands are to be believed, in all of these islands of the Viti group there would be at least 4 million inhabitants). The inhabitants of these islands are darker than copper-skinned, they have frizzy hair but fine faces; they are mostly very big and very well built. You would find few men in France as big as those of average stature here: almost all the great chiefs whom we have seen on board must be at least six feet tall; they are very well proportioned, however they have some tendency to obesity. If you wanted to paint a Hercules, you would find fine models here. They are, it is said, the greatest cannibals in the world; I hear from well-informed people who have studied their customs for many years and are in a situation allowing them to do this; I hear from these people that it is a religious duty for them to kill and eat anyone who has been shipwrecked, even if it was their father or mother crossing from one island to another. When they can, they do not wait for a shipwreck to carry out this duty in the case of Europeans; those who live in the town off which we have dropped anchor have been a little civilised by the presence of the Europeans who have been living among them for some years. However, they still strangle the wives of chiefs after their husbands die, to bury them with them. In some parts of these islands they also strangle their fathers when they begin to get old.
My soutane and especially my crucifix aroused their curiosity. Continually they were around me to see it, to touch it. They know it is Jesus Christ our Saviour; they have two English missionaries [with them]. I have given them some medals of the Blessed Virgin, and, to the four or five kings who came on board, I gave a copper ring on which was the Blessed Virgin holding the child Jesus.
They are completely naked: that is to say, as much as the natural sense of decency which is found everywhere allows; their belts are made from the inner bark of a tree whose name I do not know. I noticed that nearly all of them lacked one or two toes or fingers: when they see their fathers or mothers in danger of death they cut off the top bone of their little finger or ring finger to appease the wrath of their god, they cut off the end of the stump of that finger to make flow from it the blood which replaces the bone. This operation is usually done with a shell or a sharp stone. I would have a thousand curious things to tell you about these people but I am afraid that I don’t have time.
We raised anchor on the 14th, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. All these islands, and this one particularly, are surrounded by reefs which high tide completely covers, but low tide leaves dry. To leave the sort of harbour in which we were, we had to sail between two reefs no more than eighty to one hundred feet apart, at the most, in certain places, and that for a distance of about a good quarter of a league. Off the shore of the island at the far end of the exits is an islet three or four hundred feet in diameter. While we were nearing this islet everyone was watchful, whether out of curiosity to see it so close, or to receive the orders needed in such a difficult passage. We were hardly 150 feet from the islet, when we felt a scraping under the vessel; it remained motionless; we were on the bottom. It is impossible to describe for you the attitude of the crew: efforts were made to free the vessel; all means taken were useless, the tide was going down rapidly and the schooner seemed to be resting on its side. Some natives who were on the shore of the islet uttered a shout of joy and were dancing in expectation of soon having a share of our flesh; they could be seen heading hastily towards the island to warn their friends. The whole crew numbered 14 men.
(6.00pm) The vessel was completely on its side – we were awaiting the return of the tide.
(8.00pm) I lay down on the upper deck – the Brother also, while the crew were getting ready rifles, guns and other weapons needed to repel an attack at night, which was expected.
(10.00pm) I was woken by a shout. In the moonlight a great number of canoes were seen arriving, fires were seen glowing on the islet, already about ten could be counted.
(11.00pm) A canoe came near – it was offering fish (pretty early!) – it was asked to withdraw; it said that it had been sent by the king to find news of us. On the threat of opening fire it pulled back a little; several others were approaching; everyone was armed. A new demand to withdraw, it was carried out only slowly and regretfully. The fires grew in number in the trees on the islet, a multitude of confused voices could be heard.
(12.00pm) The moon was disappearing, the sky clouding over. The vessel was in its normal attitude: several times efforts were made to free it – useless! A canoe came near – it was crewed by only two natives. One of them who was recognised as being one of the chiefs was allowed to come on board in the hope that he could be used to send back the others.
(1.00am) Several big canoes approached, we were told it was one of the kings, but he was accompanied by too many men, and the other were following him too closely. In spite of the warnings, the chief’s canoe came close but alone. Each man was at his post. Some wanted to open fire. The captain ordered silence and attention. I was waiting for the first shot to go down below and prepare myself for anything. The king came on board alone, and sent away his suite; he had only come, he said, to give help in case of shipwreck, little credence was given to what he said. We again began to try to free the ship.
(2.00am) The vessel was freed, the crew gave a shout of joy. During the effort to free the ship we had commended ourselves to the Blessed Virgin; then we thanked her; but God sometimes likes to test the patience of the one who prays to Him. The moon had set and the weather was a bit overcast, there we were in the channel, carried along by the current and by the wind which had helped to free us. An order was given to reduce the sail, to drop the anchor. The anchor chain was caught up under a multitude of things – it was too short; there we were on the other side, no longer on sand but on rocks!!! A cry of distress was heard, the officers crossed their arms in silence, the captain went and sat down in a corner of the upper deck. All our eyes turned to heaven to implore Mary’s help, we said the Memorare. However the tide was violently pushing the vessel onto the rocks; with each blow it was hoped the hull would not be pierced – there would be more hope of saving the vessel.
(2.30am) Some Europeans from the island come on board. They tell me that concerning the vessel there is no more hope; concerning life, they do not risk trusting the promises of one of the kings. There are more than a thousand natives on the islet, a rifle shot away, they are all armed, and we are quite near the reef on which, a few years ago, the unfortunate French captain Bureau was wrecked, and, along with his crew, was eaten by the natives.[2] I have several times already offered to God the sacrifice of my life, I dare hardly hope to see daylight; but I am in a state of the most perfect calm. The Brother has misgivings about being too happy to die. There is talk of cutting down the masts – the work is begun but is however put off until daylight to try another method.
(3.15am) Thanks be to God we are afloat, and the anchor is dropped; everyone is calm.
(6.00am) The Europeans who had come to bring us help leave. Two other kings arrive; we have three on board.
(7.00am) The wind rises, it’s from our side, it is good for leaving, but we are too close to the reef, we have to get away from it. We throw an anchor onto the opposite reef and using a long cable we pull the vessel forward.
(8.00am) There is a wish to drop the anchor in the middle of the channel, but soon we were again on the rocks. The rudder, struck by the rock, jumps about in a frightful way; it breaks, we begin the same manoeuvre to get away, we are again out of danger; but soon the current carries us onto the rocks; the manoeuvre is begun for the third time, then we are carried back a fourth time onto the rocks. While all these efforts are being made, and everyone, I as well as the others, is taking part, several canoes want to come near; the kings signal to them to keep back. As they are not promptly enough obeyed, one of them fires off three rifle shots; each time the bullet makes the water fly very close to the oarsmen; fortunately no one is hit.
(12.00 noon) At last, for a fourth time, we are out of danger, but this time safely anchored.
(2.00pm) We eat in peace, every man lies down on his side to have a little rest; the kings have just left.
Thursday 16th (8.00am) The wind is blowing strongly, we would like to go back into the harbour to shelter from any danger and repair the rudder. We try twice, but it is useless. The wind is twice as strong; the sky clouds over and indicates the approach of a storm. The canoes arrive in a crowd, the islet fills with people; we have been told since that there were nearly two hundred canoes from all around; a canoe carries no fewer than 8 to 10 men; the big ones at least 30 to 40. Work is being done on making a new supply of cartridges. A native bearing the title of governor of the island, and carrying out his functions with great authority, comes on board accompanied by a high chief, under the pretext of defending us, through his authority, from his countrymen in the event of shipwreck. In order to turn back an attack which is feared, is acknowledged, I give them both a ring with the Blessed Virgin on it.
(11am) The wind redoubles in strength, the sea is raging, the vessel leaps about terribly, so that the anchors lose their grip; at each shock we head toward the rocks. The two natives appear to be inspecting everything as they would anything that was about to fall into their hands. They are quite open about it. A lively discussion between the interpreter and the governor develops. The latter wants to assert the rights of the islanders over vessels that are wrecked; it’s not very reassuring. The interpreter says that they are promising to let us live; the first mate, who knows perfectly the language of the island, smiles wryly at this last remark.
(12.00 noon) We sit down to a meal; the captain and the two ship’s officers eat almost nothing. Terror is clearly seen on their faces. Some crew go back to the upper deck: the storm is frightful. We are almost on the rocks; there is talk of felling the masts. Only the Blessed Virgin can save us now. The thought of St Francis calming a storm with his crucifix comes to my mind. I bless a medal of the Blessed Virgin and throw it into the sea to act as an anchor for us. The Brother and I recite the Memorare, the Salve Regina and the litanies. The rain becomes heavier, we go below. The sails and the upper parts of the two masts are taken down, the storm continues to get stronger. Thunder is heard. No more hope. Very likely we will soon be in the presence of God. The Brother asks me to hear his confession; after his confession I prepare one of the crew who is working near the companionway going to the upper deck. I would like to be able to go to three other Catholics, they are very busy on the upper deck with their companions, where the rain is coming down in buckets.
(2.00pm) The wind suddenly drops – hope is reborn.
(2.30pm) The wind begins again and redoubles in strength. The Brother points out to me that the vessel has shown respect for the medal of the Star of the Sea. We haven’t lost an inch from our position. The vessel again begins to leap about horribly, which arouses fear for the strength of the anchor chain, but the medal is there and the Blessed Virgin is in heaven.
(3.00 pm) The wind seems to drop; then it begins again.
(4.30 pm) At last the wind changes slightly and drops completely. May God be blessed and all the earth praise the Holy Mother of Our Lord. There is fear of a night attack by the islanders whose canoes are covering the sea all around the islet.
(Friday 19th)[3] The weather is magnificent. Work is being done on repairing the rudder; men are also working on getting the vessel out of the channel and getting it back into the harbour.
(3.00 pm) All efforts are useless. There is a division among the crew. There is a desire to go with the wind and the current which are carrying us into the open sea, but it would involve losing an anchor, and one has already been lost.
(4.00 pm) The vessel is freed once more. The Europeans who came to help us, leave. The sailors are threatening to go back to the shore with their belongings, if the ship is not taken out of the channel, if we do not head for the open sea - they fear for their lives in a night attack. We say Matins to obtain peace. Everything calms down. We again receive visits from the kings who thought we had been lost. Some natives tell us that they have lost all hope; they leave; we have the king of the archipelago on board.
(Saturday 20th)[4] We spend the whole day putting the vessel in order again. Supplies are brought to replace those lost. Again, some canoes are seen.
(Sunday, 6.00 am) The anchor is raised, the sea is calm, we are carried along by the current. We are forced to use rowing boats to steer and pull the vessel.
(7.00 am) We are in a complete calm, between two terrible reefs where the waves are breaking in violence; we are not yet very reassured, everything is silent.
(8.00 am) Here we are, in the open sea.
(Monday – midday) We are still in the middle of the reefs near the island of Ovalau. We are forced to pull the vessel along with rowing boats; this task goes on until nightfall.
(9th April[5] Hapai group, Friendly Islands or Tonga) A lot of time and distance since my last date. God be blessed! We have covered the Fiji group, we have visited almost all its islands. How difficult it is for me to describe these islands for you, so beautiful that they seem to have been taken as models by the poets when they wanted to speak about the enchanted places where their heroes dwelt; but also in that island group especially, you are really a long way from the golden age. Each evening sentinels have to be put in place on the vessel, weapons in their hands, rifles loaded, sometimes even ready to fire a cannon to warn that enemies are on board. At Rewa where we returned to spend about a week (Rewa is the principal town of the main island of Fiji, where we had such a narrow escape)[6] at Rewa we caught a shark which was, we were told, twelve feet long (from its liver alone 20 or 25 pounds of oil was taken); as the people of these islands are fond of these monsters, it was taken to them. It arrived at the right time, there were celebrations and games in the town; for the main meal they need a dish appropriate to the worth of the person honoured. And the shark arrived just in time to be placed next to the roasted body of a poor wretch who had been chosen as a reward to the victor. I was asked why I had not gone to attend the feast, you must be able to guess the reason. It is in this island especially and in some neighbouring ones that meals of human flesh are common: to celebrate the least happenings, even so slightly out of the ordinary, the king offers his friends the limbs of some wretches. An eye witness told me that a month before our first arrival, near his hut he had seen 17 prisoners killed and cut into pieces, they were the number set aside for this town out of a hundred wretches spared in a massacre by the victor to be shared round to other kings, his friends. You get so used to these stories that the idea of one day being served up as roast meat or cooked in a sauce doesn’t worry me in the least. And then at each island, at each reef, you are told that this or that vessel has been wrecked, that some seamen from this or that vessel were massacred by the natives. God be blessed! Our lives are in His hands, He can do with us what seems good to him, a single hair cannot fall from our heads[7] without the permission of Him to whom we have sacrificed everything we have on earth. How much all these poor people need a missionary!
From Fiji we went to Lakeba, then to the pretty little island of Oneata.[8] From there the schooner last headed for Wallis, which was our destination; after three days, having made only a little progress because of contrary winds and calms, we were told that the direction of the vessel had to be changed. The March equinox was approaching; at this time there are terrible storms in the tropics, and woe betide the vessel which is not in a good harbour. So we headed for the Friendly Islands group.[9] The natives of these islands are much more humane than those in the islands of Fiji; for fifteen years they have had English Protestant missionaries who have civilised them but who, while making Christians of them, have made some of them more cunning and treacherous traders than can be imagined. It’s got to the point that, after having paid 50 francs for the right to enter the harbour and fifteen francs for permission to get water, they still made us pay 20 francs a barrel for the water. To light his pipe, a woman demanded either a knife or scissors from a sailor.
It was time to look for a harbour. We were surprised by a hurricane one day from Vava’u, where we had a most difficult time entering the harbour. (On picking up the paper which I put under my hand to prevent sweat staining my letter, I realise I am going sideways. I am forced to write on my knees: at each line I am upset.) The weather was awful, we were forced to distance ourselves from the coast of Vava’u. It was only in the evening of the following day that we could enter, and in the moonlight. The thought that Bishop Pompallier had been miraculously saved from shipwreck off this same island gave us reason for hope of being saved, if the need arose, by the same hand. The harbour could be divided into three quite distinct harbours; we wanted to get to the last one, where the main town is situated. We got to the entrance of this harbour at 9 o’clock in the evening; we had only half the light of the moon, which clouds were covering; but we felt we would soon be thrown onto the rocks; great was the consternation of the crew, but at 2 o’clock we were still afloat. We wanted to leave this harbour, open to an awful wind, the next day; but every attempt failed, but how could we endure there the equinoctial storms? A new attempt cost two anchors, we had only one small one left, but too light to give hope that it could stand up to the storm. We had to face up to the teeth of the sharks which had been seen ranging round the vessel. Fortunately we succeeded in catching the biggest one. The wind got stronger each day. I have not heard it blow like that in my entire life and we were in the most exposed place in the harbour. Sails, ropes, yards, the upper part of the masts, all were taken down, to leave as little as possible exposed to the wind. For five entire days we remained in this terrible situation, amidst pounding rain. One morning it was seen that the anchors were dragging – we were on a sandbank, or against rocks which left no hope for the vessel and very little for life; we were less than a hundred paces from the shore, but to want to cross that space would have been to cast ourselves into obvious danger. I then thought of the medal at Rewa; I admit that the clear signs of danger lessened my confidence; however I again threw a medal towards the side which presented the danger for our lives. Three hours after, we were lying on a sandbank in a frightful hurricane. The equinoctial winds hadn’t been as terrible as this year for a long time; several islands had been reduced to famine. We remained in the position until the day’s end, when the high tide almost got us afloat again. Helped by the strength of the wind and by giving more length to the anchor chain, the vessel crossed the sandbank and floated once more, but in what situation? A frightful wind, an awful night, the anchors on a sandbank, and across from us downwind, two hundred paces away, awful rocks. All was confusion. The ship’s owner, tears in his eyes, told me: I trust only in God, may his will be done; if the anchors fail, everything is lost! The Brother and I were calm. The anchor which had saved us at Rewa, the Blessed Virgin’s medal, was in the sea, and, as well, next day was St Joseph’s feastday, 19th March. We went to bed at the usual time, but dressed, after having put our souls and our lives in the care of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. I was not yet asleep when I heard a demand for large knives; it was to cut the last of the rigging that secured the lower part of the masts. Only one rope on each side was left, and the axe was at the foot of the masts when, blessedly, the wind changed, and we found ourselves sheltered by the hill which before that was increasing the violence of the storm. Everyone on the shore thought we were lost, without daring to bring us help. The next day, the wind, being a little less strong in the evening, allowed us to steer the vessel near to the town with the help of two little sails; but only once again, in the middle of the night, to be forced onto the rocks for a third time. The crew, worn out from the efforts of the preceding days, abandoned everything to Providence; it wasn’t possible to wake up most of the seamen. I really don’t know how we got afloat again, and how the vessel wasn’t damaged this time; we had spent a fortnight in this harbour. The men of the crew, who were mainly experienced seamen, said they had never seen a vessel exposed to so many dangers in one single voyage. We had been promised that we would be got to Wallis in three weeks, and we have been here four months. They claim it is a punishment for that conduct towards us. Since our arrival in Fiji we have had constantly contrary winds; I worked out yesterday that because of the contrariness of the winds we have lost 7 or 8 weeks in that time. But we see in that only the will of God, whom we bless with all our hearts.
Of all the dangers our vessel has experienced, the greatest was the departure from the harbour at Vava’u. We had been looking for water on one of the other islands which form the harbour. During the night the wind changed and drove us towards the shore from which we were only a hundred paces away. When the anchors were raised, it drove us towards the rocks. The greatness of the danger aroused alarm among the crew; they didn’t hear the orders any more, the sails were not yet in position; when they could have been of use to us, we were hardly six feet from a rock shaped, it seemed, purposely for a shipwreck; three paces further, and the ship would have been in pieces in a moment.
What astounded everyone was going so close to danger without receiving the slightest scrape. Alas, these poor people didn’t know that we were being prayed for at the Bay of Islands and in France. It was certainly due to the prayers of the associates of the Propagation of the Faith and particularly to those of the people who were in a special way concerned for me that we owed such visible protection from heaven. May those good people continue their prayers – the good God will reward them for that. But I would prefer that they pray more for the needs of my soul than about the dangers to my body.
We have taken 6 days to get to Ha’apai – it normally takes only 8 hours. It was thought that we would spend a fortnight here – but there is no business to be done; they are almost reduced to famine as a result of the recent storms, which have devastated their plantations, and also because of the war which the king of the island group has to keep going in the island of Tonga [Tongatapu] against a part of his subjects who, not wishing to submit to the gospel, refuse to submit to the rules written by the Protestant missionaries. We are going to set out for that island. The ship is carrying goods for the missionaries living there.
(25 April, Tongatapu) We have been here for a fortnight. We have been through a very sad Holy Week. May God be blessed! The good God has once more brought us to see death close at hand, but in very painful ways. No doubt he wants us to become used to it. May His holy will be done! I cannot tell you anything more about this. Judgement Day will bring to light many frightful plots that Providence thwarts each day. Two American warships have been here since yesterday, a third one is expected. Last evening there were some natives killed in a fight between the Christians and the pagans. I haven’t been able to understand well enough the reasons for the war to be able to come to an opinion about it, but everyone on board our ship blames the English Protestant missionaries.[10]
I don’t think there are any Jews in Europe who could give lessons in business to the natives of this island group. They are cunning beyond belief. They especially know how to take advantage of ships in distress to extort payments or outrageous demands from them. There is nothing of the gospel in that, the schooner’s owner told me again this morning. May God be blessed – each one will receive what he has sown.
Wallis (12th May) We have been here since the 9th. We left Tonga on 1st May. Preaching in Mahomet’s style, gun in hand prevailed. The previous evening ten unfortunates had become victims of their obstinacy. At the time when we were raising the anchor, the Christian king’s army was marching along the shore, to go and exterminate what they called the Dev’lo[11] (devils; that is, the pagans). The commanding officer of the American warship[12] had wanted to make peace between the islanders. The Christians refused it. And meanwhile nothing could be done except at the pleasure of the Protestant missionaries. This is certainly not the way in which the apostles preached, but by its fruit the tree is known.
We were very pleasantly surprised to find here our beloved confrère, Father Bataillon. According to all the reports which had been given us by people who described themselves as eye witnesses, the Father and the Brother[13] had been massacred, and we had come here only hoping to pray at their graves. They have had much to suffer. The island has had its confessors of the Christian faith among the catechumens, but for some time now all has changed, they now number 800, and new ones come every day to join their number on a little island[14] which is the cradle of the faith and like a holy camp; to set foot on it is to make one’s profession of faith. Yesterday we paid a visit to the king who is desolated at soon seeing himself alone on his main island. Father Bataillon is giving Father Superior[15] very interesting details about this mission, which no doubt you will read in the Annals of the Propagation of the Faith. The day of my arrival was for these poor people a festival day. For these poor catechumens it was a day of triumph – I was, for them, a sign of the concern shown for them by their brethren in Europe. All were allowed to shake my hand, and some old men only, the greeting involving pressing of noses together. Here it is indeed that a priest must make himself everything to everyone, [16] but I believe that there are graces of state as much gained acting in this way as in all the others. In the other islands I had only seen with repugnance the making of what is called kava, here I drank it almost with pleasure. Kava is a root which some of those present chew, then this root, chewed like this, is mixed in a big dish of water and poured through a strainer made of tree bark. This liquid is the wine of the country; it is offered to those who come and visit you, like tea in England, or some refreshment in France. Kava is accompanied by a multitude of ceremonies; the right arm [the spokesperson for the chief] of the chief calls out to the guests one after the other according to their status, then you are very delicately brought the kava in a half coconut shell which you then return to the one distributing it, and which is soon offered to another person. On Sunday morning there were more than 200 people gathered for kava in the house next to the chapel; then they all lunched together sitting on the ground cross-legged, and, of course like French soldiers, not all out of the same mess-tin, but from the same banana palm leaf. What very much amused me was that to show me honour my neighbours would go to the bottom of the stew to find for me the pieces of fish they thought to be the best and would delicately offer them to me with their fingers; forks are not known here. I thought myself fortunate however not to be honoured with a piece of fruit coming from the mouths of some chiefs; however for the glory of God I would have had to submit myself to this honour which however in the island of Fiji I had refused from the queen who was beside me at dinner. May God be blessed! After lunch 200 natives had their names recorded as catechumens. How happy we are to hear God’s praises come from the mouths of these poor savages, for the recollection of those who take part in the services here rivals that of those in France. Evening and morning they gather for prayer, singing hymns and catechesis. Several still bear with remarkable patience the marks of the blows they received while not wanting to agree to giving up the religion in which they wanted to be included. In vain were they threatened with death, they replied that they wanted to become Christians. What a difference between Tonga and Wallis, Catholicism and Protestantantism.
May Jesus Christ be praised! (Wallis 13th May, 8 pm. It has just been decided that I am staying here. A violent outburst against the religious group is being planned; Father Bataillon, he says, needs a confrère in these dangerous times when the fate of his beloved catechumens will be decided. Two ships are in the harbour: a whaler and our schooner. The anti-religious group plans to attack them tonight or tomorrow; the two captains have been warned. In the aggressors’ plan, these ships and the supplies they contain will be used to destroy the group belonging to the white men’s God; a watch is mounted along the shore; the catechumens are ready to die rather than abandon the great God, however they are in big enough numbers to repulse their attackers, are getting ready for that. Do not be surprised at this warlike attitude of these new converts; they are still too much beginners to understand those beautiful words of Our Lord: if any strikes us on the left cheek, offer him the right one.[17] They were very careful to ask if they could go to heaven if they were killed before receiving baptism. In spite of all Hell’s efforts to destroy this new vine, we fear nothing. Aren’t we the missionaries of God and Mary, and the month of May is consecrated to this good Mother as truly here as in Europe? I think that if our schooner does not fall into the power of the islanders tonight, it will raise its anchor at dawn tomorrow. So I am forced to end, while commending myself to your prayers and to all the good people who are interested in me. I beg you to offer my respects and good wishes to all those people I owe them; I have no time to name anyone.
After God, I am all yours,
J(oseph) Chevron
We were 12 hours ahead of you; since we have been here we are 12 hours behind.

After the crisis I will probably go and spend some time in Futuna (or Allofatou),[18] S(outh) E(ast) of Wallis (Ouallis).

(15th) 7 in the evening. Our ship is not giving us time to organise our belongings, it is outside the harbour, we cannot go back into it, we are forced to follow our first direction. So here we are on the way to Futuna, even without a breviary, may God be blessed.
Futuna (16th May) We have got here and at last we are going to have a little rest, I mean on land; because our real rest will be the grave. In Wallis, where I hope to return in a few days, we had reason to fear the natives, here danger is from nature. For some time there have been violent earthquakes here, there were nineteen on one recent day; this island, or rather these two islands, because there are two of them, seem by their shape to belong to the class of volcanic island; will it be a volcanic eruption that will end our lives; everything is in God’s hands, we might as well go to heaven through fire as by water. In any case the good God knows we are here. Religion here has not made any progress here yet; that is a cross of another sort for a missionary.
You must try to excuse me a little if my writing is still bad; if you were some time at sea you would understand.
My respects to Mr and Miss Burondel, the reverend parish priest and his curates, Mr and Mrs Brachet etc etc etc.
I embrace you all without any exception, all the little nephews and nieces. Once more, pray for me. And soon we will see each other in heaven. All yours after God and Mary.
J(oseph) Chevron
I should have written to the Reverend Girard, master of the choir children at Belley; I owe him a lot; not having had the time, I have told him to ask the curate at Nantua to get from you some details of my journey, and I ask you to give them to him.
When will I receive news of you? – in a long time, perhaps. God be blessed in everything.


  1. Fiji
  2. Captain Jean Bureau (cf The Cyclopedia of Fiji p 70; Routledge p 59, called ‘des Bureaux’ by Derrick p 59, and Burns p 56, a ‘real crook’ according to officers of Dumont d’Urville’s crew, Derrick p 59), involved in the bêche-de-mer trade, was, in 1834, with his ship the Aimable Josephine on the Tailevu coast (the east coast of the island of Viti Levu). The tragic following events have been described in two ways: 1) According to Routledge (p 59-61), quoting Osborn, who was living in Bau at the time, Mara and Seru Tanoa ( known also as Cakobau, and who wanted to restore his father Tanoa to power in Bau) were responsible for seizing Bureau’s ships , and they killed him and his officers. They forced the rest of the crew to take them to Nasilai, a tributary of the Rewa on the south-west side of the delta, where the warriors of Bau lost everything when the ship broke up on the reef. 2) According to another tradition, Bureau, in exchange for goods, helped some rebel chiefs who were controlling Bau after having deposed the chief Tanoa, in their pursuit of the latter. The Bauan rebels, coveting the French ship, seized it on the night of 19th July 1834 and massacred Captain Bureau and most of his crew. Namosimalua and his nephew Varani, chiefs of Viwa, joined in the plot, and it was the nephew who was the actual killer of Bureau; his name, the Fijian equivalent of France, was given him because of his role in the capture of the French vessel. With the help of the surviving sailors, the rebels decided to attack Masilai, a village on the Rewa River. While leaving after a successful attack, they ran the vessel onto the reef (Derrick p59-61, Burns p56-7). Four years later, in October 1838, Dumont d’Urville, commander of the French corvettes Astrolabe and Zelée, avenged the massacre by destroying the chief Namosimalua’s village on Viwa island (Derrick 61-62, Burns p65)
  3. Read: Friday 17th
  4. Read: Saturday 18th (that is, Saturday 18th January, 1840)
  5. Ha’apai, a group of island in the middle of the Tongan archipelago.
  6. Rewa, in the south-east of Viti Levu, was a town in the sense that it was made up of a series of contiguous villages which extended over 2.4 km on the bank of the Rewa river. Its chief was one of the five great chiefs of the island group. The name today is that of the district as well as that of an important River. This town no longer exists, but in that locality is found the village of the chief of Rewa, Lomaikoro (a name made up of the Fijian words for ‘middle of the village’.
  7. Cf 1 Samuel 14:45: Not a single hair of his head shall fall to the ground; Acts 27:34: Not a hair of your heads will be lost. Cf also Mt 10:30-31: As for you, every hair of your head has been counted.
  8. Lakeba is the biggest of the Lau group (a group of islands in the eastern part of the Fiji archipelago) and the seat of the great chief of Lau; Oneata, smaller, is 34 km south-east of Lakeba. In 1844 Fathers Bréheret and Roulleaux set up the Catholic mission in Lakeba, but the Methodists were already established there and the Catholic mission made little progress there; however, the Marists remained there eleven years.
  9. Tonga
  10. On 24th April (1840), the evening before the day on which Chevron wrote this paragraph, Captain Harles Wilkes, of the American exploration expedition, arrived with two ships at Nuku’alofa, the main town of the island of Tongatapu. The Protestant missionaries, Nathaniel Turner and Stephen Rabone, asked its help in establishing peace in the civil war which had raged for almost four months between some rebel chiefs on one side and, on the other, Aleomotu’a (Tui Kanokupolu, the most powerful chief on Tongatapu), Tauta’ahau (sovereign of Ha’apai and Vava’u) and their allies. Now, Taufa’ahau, who had been a Christian since 1833, was supported by the Protestant missionaries (Wesleyan) and it seems at this time that the war was between the Wesleyan Christians and the pagans. After some enquiries, Wilkes would put the blame for the troubles in Tonga largely on the shoulders of Taufa’ahau and the Wesleyan missionaries. However, at the time of another civil war in 1852, this essentially political rivalry would pull into each side pagan, Wesleyan and even Catholic partisans. (Let us recall that Tuafa’ahau, grand-nephew of Aleamotu’a, would be chosen as successor of the latter in December 1845, taking the name of George Tupou I, and that he would then succeed in imposing himself as the King of all of Tonga, with his dynasty continuing up till the present). (cf Wood pp43-47, 49-52, 61; Latukefu pp83, 89, 93, 95, 127)
  11. The author writes the word as he thinks he hears it. The Tongan word for ‘devil’ is tevolo
  12. No doubt Captain Charles Wilkes (cf [44] above)
  13. Brother Joseph-Xavier (Jean-Marie Luzy) who was in Wallis with Bataillon
  14. The islet of Nuku’atea (cf Doc 28 [19])
  15. The Marist Superior-General, Father Colin
  16. Cf 1 Corinthians 9:22: I have made myself all things to all men so as to be sure to save some.
  17. Cf Matt 5:39: “And I tell you not to resist the wicked man. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, offer him the other”. A parallel verse is Luke 6:24.
  18. Cf Rozier Écrits Chanel, p 294. “The natives call this island Futuna, the geographers give it the names of Horn or Aloufatou.”

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