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20 Apr 1845 Fr Antoine Dubreul to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, Sydney

Translated by Peter McConnell. May 2010

Very reverend father,
I have just been informed that there is a ship sailing for London. It is too late to be able to send with it details of our voyage, but I am writing straightaway a short letter to give you information about our successful arrival in Sydney and some news which is vital that you should know without delay. You will soon receive more detailed accounts by the first ship that sets sail.
I gave you our news last September. I believe you have received them. Having left London on 27 September we reached Sydney on 12 April after a voyage of four and a half months. It is a very lengthy passage but we were compensated by almost continuous fine weather. While at sea we enjoyed rather good health after paying more or less the demands of a first sea voyage. For two months we had enough amenities on the vessel but when we reached the equator circumstances became difficult and dangerous. Our behaviour which has always been as it should be caused us distressing trials on the part of the Protestant minister and certain people who were on board. Thank Jesus and Mary who protected us in the midst of our troubles and used these methods to test and strengthen the courage of your three poor children. [1]
Very reverend father, we finally reached our intended destination on 12 April, a Saturday. We worshipped Jesus and addressed our prayers to Mary and all the guardian angels of the area and of the people where we arrived. We were not able to land until the following day because of nightfall which fell suddenly while laying up the ship at Port Jackson. On the Sunday morning after a doctor was sent on board and after we were allowed to disembark, we lowered a launch and went to the cathedral to offer our thanks to Jesus and Mary for protecting us throughout our voyage.
After high Mass we were introduced to Bishop Polding, who received us with the kindness which you know is his. He allocated us rooms at the small seminary and we had meals with him. We will stay here until we can find our own accommodation, that is finding what is suitable.
On our arrival we learnt the following news.
First of all, in New Zealand the natives have rebelled against the Whites. That is said because the Europeans tricked them out of their lands and did not give them a fair price for their purchases. They also complained that were not given enough freedom. Using these excuses, they set fire to almost all the missions in the Bay of Islands. They killed some people and chased away all the Whites. Bishop Pompallier has been respected. So as not to burn the Catholic church and the bishop’s residence, they knocked down everything around all the wooden houses which were there. 600 soldiers have left Sydney for the Bay of Islands. There will be a lot of bloodshed because the natives are determined to defend their independence. They say that the most important chief, who is a Catholic, did not want to take part in this massacre and remained in his house during this regrettable disaster.
Here are quite important reasons for our setting up in haste a mission at Sydney. What would become of our priests were they were driven out either by the natives or by the government? Everybody here is fully supportive of plans to buy a house. Bishop Pompallier wrote to Bishop Polding that it was not right time to send anything to him because the natives could at any moment pillage anything. Therefore we will keep the funds until we inform him of our arrival in Sydney. I will send him a letter on the first vessel. They are quite frequent and get there in ten to fifteen days with a tail wind.
Secondly Bishop Polding was not at Sydney when Bishop Pompallier arrived. The latter stayed three months in Sydney awaiting our arrival. Two months ago he left Sydney for New Zealand. Bishop Polding spent three weeks with Bishop Pompallier. It appears that Bishop Pompallier told Bishop Polding all about his troubles. I have the impression that the priests of Sydney are aware of all our business, at least the major ones. Bishop Polding told me the day after we arrived that Bishop Pompallier was a holy bishop, a man of God. Bishop Polding’s secretary told me that he was amazed that the Propagation of the Faith gave so much money to Bishop Pompallier especially as he had not been sent any clergy for two years. [2] In the Annals they check the amount of moneys allocated. I have as yet been non-committal in that regard. I am waiting for Bishop Polding to speak to me more frankly in that regard and I will explain to him matters as the occasion arises.
Before going departing the two prelates agreed on the following points: Firstly Bishop Polding would give one of his English priests to Bishop Pompallier and he would send Father Petit-Jean in exchange. [3] From what I gather, that will make a very bad impression among our priests in New Zealand. This is because, I guess, Father Petit-Jean being a Marist called to mission work in western Oceania and belonging to a society to which the Holy See has entrusted these missions and because Rome allows the Marists freedom to choose its own bishops, Father Petit-Jean, in my opinion, will have difficulty in coming to Sydney, living with Benedictines (that is what we are guessing) and abandoning a mission where he is so needed and where according to hearsay he does so much good work. As we are expecting Father Petit-Jean any day now that is the stance which we should keep in these circumstances. Firstly I will tell him that in all circumstances he should stay with us and follow the rules of the mission. Secondly if we can achieve this goal prudently he should return to New Zealand because in six months together with Father Rocher we will have performed to Bishop Polding the services that were required by Father Petit-Jean in exchange for the priest given as a companion for Bishop Pompallier.
Sydney, New Holland, 20 August 1845
Bishop Polding does not talk about this matter and I don’t think that I am able to speak to him about it yet because if Father Petit-Jean is in transit, as they say he is, I would not change any of the arrangements. If he is not on the way I will write to Bishop Pompallier and to Father Petit-Jean that there are two of us in Sydney. So it is right in saying that it is of no use having another person who is unable to speak English. However, he will eventually understand that it is not essential to come to Sydney, if he is of more use in New Zealand because it would deprive our mission of one of the best priests in sending him to a city of Catholics who will let him go more easily than our poor natives especially in the present circumstances. Furthermore how discredited our society will be if the bishops can isolate our priests in this way and send them into mission stations where they won’t find Marist missionaries.
Thirdly you will be able to conclude, very reverend Father, from what I have just written, that a house well-established at Sydney is of vital importance. For a week we have been searching high and low for such a place, because we are short of time. Land is increasing in value and workmen are beginning to be a little more expensive and not so plentiful. For three pound seventy-five we can still get what we could not have got two years ago for twelve pounds. Bishop Polding says that we could do more this year with three thousand pounds than what we could do next year or in two years time with eight thousand. We can’t find any lodging for less than 1500 and were we to find a suitable place it would cost three thousand. Therefore I make the following conclusions: the site of the community is an important factor; present circumstances are pressing; and keeping costs down for the Propagation of the Faith are real. We can count on an allocation of 60,000 for next year. Be so kind as to send us on receipt of this letter 30,000 which we have in our account! This sum of money together with what you will be able to give us in the next two years would be enough to purchase a house and establish it on a sound financial footing. If on the other hand you are unable to send us immediately that small amount of money you will leave us in a quandary and perhaps quite distressing embarrassment if we had to host numerous colleagues. In my next letter I will explain to you all these reasons. It is easy to purchase pretty well everything in Sydney. There will be a great saving of money for our missions. Bishop Polding does not even believe it prudent to go out of the city to establish a house of the type we want.
Farewell, very reverend Father, the vessel is setting sail. I will take it my letter. Bless me when you receive it! I need your fervent prayers and those of all our priests. I thank you again for the fine colleague that you gave me in Father Rochet. He is well; he is presently at the house where I am going to join him. Brother Auguste is also well. We will all write to you and send the letters on the next boat.
Give our respects to all our reverend Fathers! Pray for us and be assured that we are your devoted and very obedient children!
Antoine Debreul
PS. Give my respects to the members of the Committee of the Propagation of the Faith. I do not have any time to write to them today but the letter I will be writing to them at the same time as a copy of this one will probably arrive as soon as today’s one.


  1. Father Antoine Dubreul, Brother Auguste Leblanc and Father Jean-Louis Rocher
  2. The last Marist missionaries to be sent to New Zealand arrived in February 1843; there would be no more while Colin was superior general.
  3. In fact Bishop Pompallier did not send Father Petit-Jean to Sydney but allocated him to a new mission set up near Kororareka.