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6 January 1842 - Father Pierre Bataillon to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Wallis

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, October 2014

Very Reverend Superior,
You must have received at least two letters from me, one dated May 1839 and the other also written in May, but in 1840. In the first I gave you lengthy details about Wallis Island and the customs and morals of its people; at that time I had only a few catechumens whom harassment had already scattered. From that time up till March [---] the mission, exposed to only minor persecution, had made only a little progress, but then an open persecution was aroused against us, and at the moment when everything was thought to be lost, the master of all things raised up for himself many children and ensured his reign in the midst of those very people who wanted to destroy it. Here is how it [happened?].
Among the newly converted were two high chiefs belonging to the two main chiefly lineages that offset each other in power in the island: these two sources of authority both hated the [true] religion but, accusing each other over this innovation, none of them dared attack it openly. However, seeing that it was still making progress in their respective groupings, they came at last to discuss the matter and the King declared that if the first minister agreed to disown those of his people who had embraced the [true] religion, he would undertake to disown as well those of his family who had imitated them. The Kivarou[1] (that is the name of the first minister) agreed to that, and began by making his own son appear and, having had his hands tied behind his back, he was harassed in so many ways that eventually an equivocal answer was got from him which was thought enough for them to consider themselves victors and then go everywhere around the island to hunt out those relatives of his who had followed him, and after having bound and tied them up for two days, it was the King’s turn to deal with his own people in the same way, to intimidate them and stop the innovation in this way. It was the King’s own nephew[2] who was at the head of the catechumens. He lived on a small island[3] and most of our neophytes lived with him. So the King went there in his double canoe: it was a Saturday, the 29th February; it was the decisive day: the persecutors gathered to see, from the main island, what would happen on the small island. The whole island was expectant. If the young chief gave up, the ordinary people who had followed him would be massacred, and what would be done with the missionary? Being at the time on the main island, and not being able prudently to get to the young chief, I had a letter secretly sent him encouraging him to stand firm, and, commending myself to providence, I held our canoe and the compass ready to entrust ourselves to the sea in case of unavoidable death; but the All-powerful made unshakeable the one whose fall was going to bring about that of all the others; the King spent 4 days with his nephew but could get nothing from him either by threats, or by endearments. He had only these means in his power, because the nephew, according to the island’s laws, was free to do anything he pleased.
The King, therefore, returned quite covered in confusion, and not daring to show himself before the first minister whose son he had caused to be treated so shamefully, he remained on other little islets to give him time to clear his mind. In the meantime, the Kivarou’s faction, indignant at how he had been treated, while nothing similar happened to the King’s son, secretly hatched a plan to make war on the royal family, but having become aware of their evil plan, I was, happily, able to get them to drop the idea, and I persuaded them that the best way to punish the King was to embrace the true faith and join his nephew in spreading throughout the whole island this religion in hatred of which the Kivarou of the island had been committed in such a shameful way. My advice was followed, and all those who had been mistreated, having convinced many of their relatives, moved with them to the islet to join Tu’ugahala (the name of the King’s nephew)[4] and publicly carry out the exercises of the true religion. The King, at the end of a general council of the island, told them once again to go home but, not having been obeyed, he realised that it was no longer a time to persecute the newly-converted, because they included in their number the most influential people on the islands and, besides, he had against him all the Kivarou’s[5] faction and a great number of his own people.
Not wanting to abruptly separate myself from his Majesty, in whom I still had some hopes, I left with him Brother Joseph to maintain his friendship and also to keep an eye on our little personal property which I could not leave on its own and which I could not prudently remove, I first lived alone among the catechumens on the islet. I told them that the days of happiness had arrived, that we had to take advantage of them by building a church so that we could carry out in it publicly and legitimately the activities of worship. The work was begun immediately. It was the Wednesday of the Passion, and the building was completely finished on the Wednesday following Holy Week. I made the altar on my own on Good Friday, and the next day, having got my Brother Joseph to come, I blessed the new church and the following day, which was the great day of Easter, I celebrated Holy Mass solemnly in it and to the sound of the organ. I had then barely 300 catechumens. I taught them for the first time to use holy water, to bow, to kneel, etc. On Easter day itself I gave them two long instructions, and after that for three months I gave them an instruction every day at evening prayer. It was during this time, that is, on 9th May 1840, that Father Chevron arrived here with Brother Attale. They came from New Zealand on the Bishop’s behalf, more to look for our remains than to visit our persons, because a rumour had spread through all Oceania and as far as America that the missionary on the island of Wallis had been put to death or at least been expelled, and the Bishop had seen a report of this in American newspapers. So you can imagine the surprise and joy of the new confrère when he saw me surrounded by a great number of children who called him also their father when they kissed his hand. The number of catechumens then rose to more than 600. How admirable are God’s ways! The schooner which had brought Father Chevron had taken 4 months to come from New Zealand.[6] If it had taken only the usual time, which is a month at the most it would have arrived here at a time when our expulsion was morally certain, because it had been decided in all the councils of state to drive us out as soon as the inspecting ship arrived. A month earlier we would have had to get our luggage together, but when the dear confrère arrived here, I had just settled down. The church had just been built, and I had just enough people on my side to prevent the opposing faction from having power over me. So what joy and what consolation we experienced with this dear confrère! What acts of thanksgiving did we have to offer to our Lord for his goodness and mercy for us and for the people entrusted to us!
But you will understand better than I can express it, the delight and consolation I experienced on the arrival of the new confrère. For a year we had been in trials, without news from anywhere, without even having a priest to whom I could go to confession. It was also that for the first time I received any news about the Bishop. Imagine after that, my joy and thanksgiving! What made me rejoice very much as well, was your very short but very precious letter,[7] which was sent me with some others coming from France, and which informed us all the still growing zeal of the faithful in our country for the spreading of the faith among their wretched brothers who still did not have it. The dear confrère could only stay five days with us: I had interpreted the Bishop’s intentions, and as Father Chanel’s mission had not yet opened, I had resolved to keep Father Chevron on Wallis where the work was already considerable, but having gone on board to take his possessions just when the schooner was setting sail, the winds and other circumstances did not allow him to go back.[8] So he went to Futuna island where the schooner had to leave him to then go to take our letters and news to New Zealand, so that his Lordship might then come himself to visit us, because he told us in his letters that when the schooner returned, he would immediately put to sea to visit us. Now here we are at the end of September and I do not yet see the Bishop arriving.
Since Father Chevron left, the number of catechumens has more than doubled, because I count, at present, more than 1200; they are nearly all ready to receive baptism, but I am putting off that ceremony until the Bishop comes. For five months now the liturgical ceremonies of the mission have been properly carried out. During the first three months, I only gave public instructions on Sundays, Wednesdays and Saturdays; but on those days, I gave two separately, one for the children and one for the adults, and as well I gave a third on Sundays for the old women. We are now dealing with the sacraments, and everywhere they can be heard struggling to pronounce the words for confession, contrition etc.[9] Several of them, particularly among the young people, already know very well how to go to confession. The natives are really much more open-minded than I would have thought. Right now there is perhaps not a single old man who doesn’t know at least the basic things needed for salvation[10] but the young people have much wider knowledge. I have, in particular, some young people with extraordinary memory and understanding; several of them know how to read and write, which is a great help to me in the multiple works of the mission, because when I want to teach them a new prayer or a new hymn, or a new item of the catechism, I only have to distribute some copies of it to those who know how to read, and the whole island is then quick to know them, without costing me any more effort.
From the start I entrusted my island absolutely to our common mother, and have always attributed its conversion to her powerful intercession; so I had many reasons to speak to them about this common mother of all the children of Adam. They all know her, from the smallest to the greatest; they invoke her at every moment; they all call her their mother and protectress. I had only a few medals here and I made many jealous when I handed them out; the supplies of rosaries being still piled up in New Zealand, I got Brother Joseph busy making some with necklaces made of glass which the natives got on board ships, with the result that now I have the pleasure of hearing them everywhere reciting the rosary, and with great devotion paying that tribute of homage to her whom they call their refuge in God’s presence. Another rendering of homage we have begun to pay to the Blessed Virgin has been the exercises of the month of May. They have consisted only in a decade of ‘Hail Marys’ every day. Brother Joseph has made me a fine confessional, and I have begun to hear my dear children’s confessions both to give them practice and to know those who are ready for baptism. Apart from the difference in language, you would not pick that these are only poor natives who have only just converted to the true God. How admirable is God’s work in souls. We know this truth through faith and it has been experienced in every part of the world, but it can no longer be doubted when one has witnessed the conversion of an island like Wallis. It is only a few months since, still sitting in the darkness of paganism, and given over to all the vices that go along with it, they were happy, alas, to blaspheme the thrice holy God whom I preached to them, and now, prostrate in his temple, they adore Him with faith, respect and submission. In place of their ridiculous customs and pagan ceremonies, you now see them carrying out in a devoted way all the exercises of worship, kneeling with recollection in the church which is never deserted neither by day or by night; reciting their rosary in their houses or on the pathways, making the sign of the Cross at the beginning of everything they do, singing at every time and everywhere the praises of God; reciting the catechism, instructing each other, and often spending whole nights talking together about God and his law which they scrupulously put into practice as soon as they know it. Finally, it’s only a few days since I found myself among an enemy people who had wanted to kill me, and suddenly I see myself surrounded by a numerous family who all call me their Father. Quam admirabilia sunt opera tua, Domine[11]. Yes, how wonderful is God’s work, and how insignificant are the instruments in everything they bring about.
One of my great difficulties has been to put into the language of the country the various prayers and the teaching of the Church of Rome. To be solely responsible for this sacred trust of the word of God, entrusted to a new people and in a new language, to be forced to determine quite on my own the choice of expressions [needed] to state exactly the various dogmas of the orthodox faith, was a burden for me that I found very demanding. It was a responsibility which I would have rather shared with some confrères, but being quite alone, I was obliged to entrust myself more to God and He was the one who did everything in that matter, as in everything.
The seat of the mission is still on Nukuatea. This little island, formerly almost deserted, has now become the home of all the most notable people in Uvea. The place where the church is situated has become like a little town because of the multitude of houses which the newly converted coming from the main island put up there each day. They are not giving up, for that reason, their villages and plantations on the main island. The young people look after them and when Saturday comes they go in crowds to Nukuatea to celebrate all together there the holy day of Sunday. They also come there on catechism days, and on the other days each one goes to work in his or her respective village on the main island. For us, our main home is also on Nukuatea, especially since the little hut, which we had on the main island near the King, collapsed. That was, for us, a chance to separate from his majesty without offending him too much. I do not, for that reason, stop visiting him, because the holidays on the little island I usually spend on the main island visiting the still pagan villages to try to win them for Our Lord. I usually go on these journeys with some chiefs who are catechumens. We call these journeys fishing trips. It is unusual if we come back from them without some new fish, and those we cannot bring when we come, the Blessed Virgin brings them on Saturdays.
But here is something new: just as I am ending these first pages and am telling you that peace seems to be assured in the mission territory, I am hearing people talking about war. The pagan faction, it seems, is plotting new trouble. They are sharpening their axes, sharpening their spears, preparing their clubs and their guns and are beginning to walk, with all this gear, through the various villages of the new converts to overthrow and destroy [the houses?] and to expel from them those people whom they cannot win to their side. The real creator of these troubles was not the King himself, but certain lesser chiefs who, motivated less by hatred against the true religion than by a spirit of jealousy against the converted chiefs who insensibly are attracting to themselves all the influence on the island, had plotted the ruin of their rivals. To have a better chance of succeeding in this they undertook and managed to get on their side a very influential chief, recently converted and who for some grounds of dissatisfaction among our catechumens, was cowardly enough to abjure the true religion and to put himself once more on the side of the persecutors. The latter, right now, would be strong enough to exterminate us, and they maintain no moderation in their annoyances. They flock to the villages which face our little island, spy on our catechumens, strip them, pursue them, burn their houses, cut down their banana palms and breadfruit trees and destroy all the food so as to reduce us to starvation and in this way to force the catechumens to give up, or to go to the main island to accept combat. Already these persecutions had gone on for more than three weeks, food supplies were diminishing on our little island, a collapse among our new converts was feared, most of them being as yet little instructed and not strong in the faith. What had to be done? Our chiefs wanted to repel these unjust persecutions, and they thought they were strong enough to do it; but did they need to endure them? The question was delicate for just that reason, that the King of the island was seen as being among the number of those who were persecuting us, because as religion was only the occasion, and the mutual jealousy of the chiefs was the real cause of these persecutions, I saw the affairs as a civil matter, so that the question amounted to knowing whether, in an island like this, in which each man has barely the justice he can secure for himself, some lesser chiefs could repel the persecutions of other lesser chiefs perhaps, but who had the King on their side in the sense that he tolerates these persecutions. People can argue about it if they wish – it’s rather pointless; I had to answer the repeated questions of our worried and frightened chiefs, and I had recourse to him alone whom I could consult, and I decided finally to let them go across to the main island to appropriately repress the ravages of the pagans, and to respect those who were not so brave only because we were far away from them. I gave them a flag of the Blessed Virgin and told the young chief Tu’ugahala to entrust himself and all his people to Mary, their presence alone would put the enemy to flight, that following Mary’s standard, they would go around the island and would return only after having brought over all their brethren to the faith. Indeed, hardly had they arrived on the main island when terror and consternation spread among the pagans; however, not wanting to seem disconcerted, they sent a message to the catechumens to get ready for a fight the next day, and they did, indeed, turn up at the promised time to give battle to us; but Mary alone had to fight for us. All gathered round her flag, we urgently implored her intercession and all chanted her praises in loud voices. As soon as the enemy was close enough to us to hear us, they stopped as if amazed, they were seized with sudden fear, their strength left them, their weapons fell from their hands, they did not dare to advance, they deliberated, and soon we saw messages coming. They proposed peace, but our chiefs had to go to them to determine its conditions. Suspecting them of being in bad faith, we sent back the messages without accepting the conditions of peace; they were sent again, same response. Finally three days went past like this, with messages from the pagans, and these people, seeing that they could get nothing from us, gradually dispersed and each man went back to his villages, taking with them shame and confusion, with sorrow at having taken part in such unjust persecutions against a religion in which more and more they recognised the truth, and which they saw themselves embracing the next day. Indeed, hardly had the pagans got back to their respective villages when, to profit from the blessings Mary had given us, I suggested to our chiefs that they go round the island with the protective flag to enrol all those who wanted to embrace the true religion following the success it had just had. They followed my advice and we all set out. Everywhere the flag of our great protectress was welcomed and respected. In 4 days we completed the journey round the island, and on our return I counted more than 600 new catechumens; five entire villages were converted. Without wasting time and to better affirm the new converts, I suggest building churches, and in two months we built four of them on the main island. Only a few days ago it[12] was quite entirely the camp of the persecutors and suddenly it is re-echoing everywhere with the praises of the true God.
From January 1842
The last events described just up to here took place a year ago. Not having any opportunity to send you my letter, I had put it aside, while still waiting for the Bishop. Finally he arrived just last week with the French corvette L’Allier and his schooner. It was the news of Father Chanel’s death which finally determined him to come and visit us. These two vessels are leaving tomorrow after a stay of only 5 days, but the Bishop is resolved to stay in Wallis two or three months at the end of which the schooner will come and get him. The corvette will go to Futuna to carry out the orders it has from the government. From Futuna it must go directly to France and I hasten to give you a quick continuation of the events from last year up to now.
After the building of the 4 churches on the main island, the number of catechumens kept on growing until there remained only the single village of the King and some scattered families who were not yet converted. Finally we did so much in all sorts of ways that in October last year the King himself abjured paganism and was converted to the true God, with the small number still remaining. It was at that time that we erected, in the King’s village itself, the sixth and final church on the island. Dominus regnavit, exultet terra, laetentur insulae multae.[13] All the Uveans usque ad unum [to the last man] are singing the praises of the true God. But I was not yet able to do any baptisms because of the Bishop’s delay. At last his Lordship arrived, and it is in order to baptise them that he is staying some time with us.
I have many edifying and consoling things to tell you, but I haven’t the time, and a great difficulty which remains still in the mission takes away my desire for it:[14] this difficulty I described to you at length in a letter I sent you a week before the Bishop arrived. You should receive it about the same time as this one. It concerns a young chief, full of authority, who alone is significantly holding up the progress of the mission by his spirit of pride and pretensions and the opposition he shows to all our works and efforts. I hope that the presence of the Bishop will sort everything out, and that he will baptise pretty well the whole island during his stay.
I commend the whole mission to your prayers and holy sacrifices. Formerly it was the King who did not want to convert; today it is the young Tu’ugahala, who, having been the first to convert, now wants to create a religion accommodated to his passions. I can see great difficulties, and I strongly call for the help of the whole little Society of Mary.
I have received the letter you were so kind as to send to all your children in Oceania,[15]along with good Father Champagnat’s will and testament. Accept my gratitude and thanksgiving for them. I hope to give you some interesting details when the Bishop leaves here. The schooner should come back to get him the three months.
I hasten to end. The corvette is near setting sail. May I ask for your fatherly blessing and am, with deepest resect,
Very Reverend Superior,
Your most humble and obedient servant and son,
Miss(ionary) ap(ostolic)

6 January 1842

PS Good Father Chanel, about whose martyrdom you will receive a report, had sent me Father Chevron 6 months before his death.[16] It is a year since he was with me.
It is to be desired that the zeal for the Propagation of the Faith is maintained among the faithful of Lyons and all France. Our natives are desperate for clothes and they expect to be clothed from the charity of the Lyons faithful whom they call their parents. Oh! How very desirable it would be that they continue to send quantities of blouses, shirts etc. Much good can be done with them, especially in the tropical mission. Think of us, Reverend Father, clothing, all sorts of rags.


  1. “Kivarou’ – Kivalu in modern spelling (see below [3], f/n 5, also Doc 28 [17] f/n 30)
  2. Tu’ungahala (cf Doc 28 [19] f/n 40 and below [3] f/n 4)
  3. Nukuatea, of which Tu’ungahala was the chief.
  4. Tu’ugahala was not the nephew but the cousin of the King Vaimua Lavelua: he was grandson of Queen Toifale and, through her, the great grandson of King Manuka; King Vaimua Lavelua, brother of Toifale and grandson of Manuka. Tu’ugahala was also the son-in-law of the King after having married Naukovi, one of his daughters; however in 1849 she was beaten to death by her husband, who was drunk at the time. (Henquel p 26-27, 38, Poncet p 12) On his changing relations with the mission, see Doc 28 [19] f/n40.
  5. ‘Kivarou’ – to be read, no doubt, as Kivalu. It was a title rather than a personal name. Since the eighteenth century the title-holder had occupied the second rank after the King (Burrows p70). After the assassination of King Tufele (the father of Vaimua Lavelua), a certain Kivalu joined three other chiefs to appoint as King Kulitea (Henquel p 26). During the persecution of the catechumens which began in 1840, the Kivalu and Puliuvea went and hunted out catechumens to force them to abjure. But it happened that resentment of the Kivalu’s family against the King gave rise to the plan of killing Puliuvea of the royal family. Bataillon, having heard talk about this scheme, suggested to Makatuku, the most influential chief of the Kivalu’s family, to take revenge on the King, not by a murder, but by embracing the religion he was persecuting. Makatuku ended up by adopting this suggestion; he and his whole family became catechumens (cf Poncet p24-5). That is why Bataillon says here that those of “the faction of the Kivarou” (Kivalu) stood against the strategy of persecuting the converts, among whom they then counted themselves.
  6. Having left the Bay of Islands in New Zealand on 17 December 1839, the vessel carrying Father Chevron and Brother Attale went by way of Levu to the Ha’apai Islands (the central islands of Tonga), again to Viti Levu, the island of Lakeba (Lau islands east of Fiji) to Vava’u (in the north of the Tongan archipelago) to arrive in Wallis, at last, on 9 May 1840 (cf Doc 62 [2-3, 6-46])
  7. No doubt the letter of 21 November 1840, sent by Colin to Bataillon (cf CS, Doc 2017). No letter from Colin to Bataillon, dated in either 1841 or 1842 is preserved in APM.
  8. Having arrived in Wallis on 8th May 1840, Father Chevron had to stay there; but on 15 May at 7 in the morning, the mission schooner left harbour without being able to re-enter and went with Father Chevron and Brother Attale to Futuna where they arrived the following day (Doc 62 [46, 48, 51-52]. Chevron hoped to go back to Wallis “in a few days” (ibid [52]) but he didn’t leave Futuna until 20 November 1840 to go back to Bataillon (cf Rozier, Ecrits Chanel p 496, and the less precise indications in the present document [19] and also Doc 94 [1]).
  9. Were the words they were struggling to pronounce the Latin words or the Wallisian equivalent? I decided for the latter but am not certain - translator’s note
  10. les choses de necessité de moyen
  11. Cf Ps 91 (92):6, Ps 103 (104):24 (How great are your works, O Lord) and Ps 138 (139):1 (Your works are prodigious)
  12. the island - translator’s note
  13. Ps 96 (97):1 – “The Lord is King. Let the earth exult, let all the islands rejoice.”
  14. m’en ore l’envie]
  15. No doubt the letter dated 21 November 1840, addressed by Colin to the missionaries of Oceania.
  16. Cf Doc 94 [1]

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