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5 October 1842. — Mr Louis Perret to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Valparaiso

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, August 2015

Valparaiso, 5 October 1842

Very Reverend Father,
As I am afraid that the letter I had the honour of writing to you about a month and a half ago may not have got to you, I am taking the opportunity offered by the ship Alfred which is going to Bordeaux, to send a second one which is little more than a copy of the first.[1] Before leaving New Zealand, I would have very much liked to have had advice from you, which is so precious to me, but my health, my uselessness at the mission, the ongoing absence of the Bishop, the deplorable state of the administration of the mission, the favourable opportunity given by a good ship going to Valparaiso, the near certainty of finding Father Épalle there, and of finishing the journey with him via the isthmus of Panama, which would shorten the journey by a month and a half; all these reasons, I say, persuaded me to hasten my return to Europe.
Allow me to go into some details. As an architect, I will not be needed for a long time. The state of suffering and financial difficulties in which the mission and the colony find themselves, will not allow anything to be done which will add to expenses. I have often heard the Fathers say, four wooden walls and a roof; that’s all that is needed here for churches, chapels and houses; and although one may be convinced of the influence that the arts could have on these new peoples, you are forced to put these things aside to bring help to satisfying more urgent and pressing needs. Seen in that way, I was indeed useless, because the most unskilled worker, without any help, would build the basic structures I have been talking about quite well.
As a catechist, I would really have liked to do that work among the poor New Zealanders. For me, it is a really consoling work, it was my entire desire, my whole ambition; but with my poor health, could I hope to carry it out; difficult journeys on foot, rivers to cross, sleeping on the ground, shortage of food, that is the usual life of a catechist where in New Zealand the tribes, who sometimes consist of only one family, are a great distance from each other. I tried several times with Father Petit–Jean, and came back sadly convinced of my inability. The languages were also a great problem for me, but you can do nothing without mastering the languages. Then there are the dangers to which you are exposed, and which become greater because of the isolation you can find yourself in, that made me afraid, I who am so weak.
About the administration. No doubt there is a lot to be done. I see it as very important. Several times I have asked the pro-vicar if I could make a general inventory, to begin an exact record of our accounts. I understood the need, the necessity, to put things in order, but it wasn’t seen as appropriate that I be responsible for that. I have the impression that perhaps it is more suitable that the administrator be chosen from among the Fathers of the Society, that a layman or a Brother would be in a false position in relation to the Fathers. As well, a really capable person would be needed, and this, in the situation in which the temporal concerns of the mission are becoming more difficult, made me think that I could not be made responsible for it.
Regarding health. Father Épalle[2] will be able to tell you how it was. I had dysentery almost continuously, which would, according to the advice of the doctor, become a serious illness. It could have been stopped, by changing our food, that is, by eating mutton instead of pork, but we were forced to use the strictest economy, having the barest of necessities. Rheumatism had developed to the point that on some days I felt pain throughout almost my entire body. The moral difficulties that I had formerly experienced came back, and were maintained by my inactivity, and, I don’t know why, it was seen to be appropriate to relieve me from the building work, and to replace me with a Father who was expressly brought from his mission, in which, perhaps, several children died without baptism during that time.
So, Father, my uselessness in the mission as an architect, as a catechist, as an administrator, the state of my health, the bad administration, those are the main reasons which encouraged me to leave the mission, to which, it seemed to me, I was attached, whose works I would very much have wanted to share in, and the Lord knows how much I suffered from being forced to admit my uselessness.
After the departure, and the first sufferings from sea-sickness had gone, I felt pain in the depths of my heart, that of not having had the honour of seeing Bishop Pompallier, of sharing, of easing his difficulties for at least some time, difficulties which are very great in the mission’s difficult circumstances. Perhaps God was asking me for more generosity, more devotion, more submission; perhaps in the islands in the tropics, where the journeys for catechising are shorter, where the climate is better, I could have been employed, perhaps God was preparing a fine reward for me there. All these thoughts occupy me and often come back to my mind.
My journey has been long, but not as difficult as Fr Épalle’s. I didn’t find him at Valparaiso, he had left two days earlier on the Aube, which will moor at Rio di Janerio. You can’t go through Panama, the steamship service is not organised, besides, diseases reign there. The Sacred Hearts Fathers[3] were so kind as to offer me hospitality, Having very little money I accepted, but God will provide for everything.
My spiritual director, who is a confessor of the Faith in the Sandwich [Hawaiian] Islands (Father Patrick)[4] encouraged me to return to Europe, however the voyage around Cape Horn made him fearful for my health. (The doctor thinks that I can do it, especially if I stop at Rio di Janerio). The Father would like me to stay here in their college or to join their mission which is less difficult than that of New Zealand; he seems to give me to understand that that would be more perfect than returning to Europe. It would cost me a lot to leave the Society of Mary, to which I am very attached; I am aware of my uselessness on a mission because of my health, my lack of virtue frightens me, the sufferings I have experienced at sea, the difficulties and afflictions of the mission have really weakened me, and on the mission there are many great trials which demand a lot of courage and virtue. Perhaps a secluded life in your house in Lyons, while occupying myself with good works,[5] would better suit my lack of courage, virtue and health. But wouldn’t that be cowardly? However, Father, if you believe that I should go on the mission, please tell me so, as soon as possible, by the French ships that come here directly. I am very ready to obey. Only obedience will be able to bring peace to my soul; can I hope to receive your reply? Wouldn’t it be indiscreet for me to stay such a long time with the Fathers of the Sacred Hearts where I am, however, trying to make myself as useful as possible? The kindnesses they are showing me must make me even more discreet.
Please make sure of telling Father Épalle that the series of promissory notes which Father Superior here thought had been lost have been found again (1080 pounds sterling). Three series were sent by two different ships to Father Murphy, the Vicar-General[6] who will trade them in favour of the New Zealand mission. That way of sending money is very risky. The ship (Sancta Maria) has not got here yet; it is thought that it could be sold for five thousand piastres.[7]
I think that if the Society of Mary could set up a college in Sydney, apart from the good it could do for the young people who entirely lack education and instruction, it would be a financial support for the mission, and would also be used as a procure house; I see, on the basis of what the college of the Sacred Hearts here creates, an income of more than thirty thousand francs, over and above expenses.
Everything that can help get for each mission in New Zealand a piece of land that is well-cultivated and in good keeping will be of the greatest value in assuring the mission its future. M Dupetitoire[8] (a French Rear–Admiral), has just taken possession of the Marquesas islands; a fort has been built and three hundred French colonists have been landed. I fear that the good which that expedition might bring about may be nullified by the scandals that sailors and colonists usually create.
I am sending to the Council of the Propagation of the Faith a box of seeds of Araucania pines, one of the finest trees in South America, along with notes on Patagonia and Araucania[9] which my brother will be able to send you if you wish.
I earnestly ask you, Father, for your formal reply about the course of action I should take.
Please accept my respects to the Fathers of the Society, in particular to the Superiors, to Father Cholleton[10] and to your reverend brother. I commend myself to everyone’s prayers, and ask you to believe me to be
Your most humble and devoted servant
Louis Perret.
Notes which will be useful for dear Philippon[11] (10), for the picture of the martyrdom of Reverend Fr Chanel.
The natives of the island of Futuna are generally tall in stature, with coppery coloured skin, without tattooing, for clothing they have only a wide band of tapa [tape] edged with fringes. This band is sometimes made of grasses which are found on the seashore and are called seaweed. Their hats are like little umbrellas, almost flat, in the centre of which is a skull-cap in the shape of the head; these hats are plaited and white in colour.
The chiefs have a special coiffure which is made of fine rooster feathers in a semicircle and gathered together on a sort of roll of the flesh which takes the shape of the head.
They wear ear-pendants made of stone or whales’ or pigs’ teeth. Their weapons are clubs, bows, arrows, muskets, spears. Father Épalle has taken to France a fine collection which you can see.
Their hair is long, smooth and black; they take the greatest care of it; they look after it with coconut oil. Some have moustaches and long beards
The main trees on the island are the palm, the banana and the coconut.
It’s thought that their houses are like those of Wallis, that is to say, four wooden posts and a slightly inclined roof, with two or three openings, some bamboos tied to each other by little ropes fill the space from one post to the next. Usually in each house there is a mat and a bowl for making kava (a sort of liquor).
Kava is a root which the natives (chosen for this task) chew, put into a wooden bowl, crush it well with a stone, then with some oakum take it out of the bowl to offer it to the guests in coconut. [12] The notes sent by Father Bataillon can be consulted, as well as a letter sent me by good Brother Marie–Nizier, and which I have sent to M. Deplace in Lyons; he lived with Reverend Father Chanel.

Perret sketch.jpg

[Written at the centre of the third design "Kava bowl"]


  1. The sections [2 -5] (and a part of [1 and 6] of the letter that he wrote on 19th August 1842 (cf doc 188) are only slightly modified in [2 – 6] and a part of [1 and 7]) of the present letter, which goes on to include many additions and omissions in comparison with that of 19th August (doc 188)
  2. Épalle, who was “at the Bay of Islands by reason of being the first pro-vicar, so as to watch over more particularly the missions in the north, and in general over the whole mission, replacing Bishop Pompallier in his absence” (cf doc 103 [1]).
  3. The Sacred Hearts Fathers: The Fathers of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary – SSCC - translator’s note
  4. Patrick Short, Picpusian priest (doc 18, [5], f/n 3,4, 21 [15 f/n26)
  5. Perret did not forget this idea. In January 1846 he spoke to Colin about a plan for a lay and contemplative institute, whose difficulties Colin emphasised. To have this plan discussed, and to decide on its aims, Perret went to Rome in April 1846, and to an audience with Pope Pius IX. He pretty nearly stayed several years in the Eternal City, where he pursued his famous studies on the paintings of the catacombs, and gave some service to Colin when he was in Rome. (cf OM 4, p 327)
  6. Francis Murphy, vicar – general of the diocese of Sydney from 1838 to 1843 (cf doc 176 [2] f/n 1)
  7. Already in March 1842, Comte wrote to Colin that Pompallier was intending to sell the mission schooner in Valparaiso, after having brought three missionaries to Wallis, and then to continue, on another ship, to return to France (cf doc 136 [16]). In July of the same year, Petit–Jean said that it will be necessary “to sell our ship as soon as possible” but saw difficulties and doubted that a good price would be got (cf doc 176 [11]). Finally Garin, in a letter dated two days before this present one, declares that “ the schooner will go to Valparaiso to be sold there” and that Brother Joseph–Xavier (Jean–Marie Luzy) will accompany it, but then come back to New Zealand (cf doc 202 [1]. (See as well mentions in docs 185[6]; 188 [9], 190 [6]).
  8. Read as Du Petit – Thouars (cf doc 188 [7] f/n 2)
  9. Araucania, a region of South America, in the southern part of Chile, between the Andes and the ocean. Patagonia, a region of South America, in the south of both Chile and Argentina, who in 1881 shared up this territory.
  10. Jean Cholleton (cf doc 188 [11] f/n 5)
  11. Jacques–Antoine Philipon (1806 – 1887) studied painting after his secondary schooling; like Perret, he became a tertiary Brother of Mary and with him went to Rome, where they saw Pompallier, and offered to follow the Bishop to the mission. In November 1839 he entered the Marist novitiate, no doubt preserving, at that time the desire to go to Oceania, but his health prevented him from doing that. He was ordained priest on 17th December 1842 and was religiously professed on 25 September 1843. We owe him a portrait of Father Chanel, along with some other portraits of Marist personalities, and pictures with religious themes. (cf OM 4, p 328 -329)
  12. shells – translator’s note