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5 January -28 February 1846. — Fr Léopold Verguet to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, San Cristobal

Translated by Fr Charles Girard SM, 2010

from Port Saint Marie [Makira Bay on San Cristobal Island in the Solomons] 5 January 1846 — Jesus Mary Joseph

My very reverend Father,
I take the liberty of sending you a little roll of drawings representing several aspects of our trip. My colleagues, in their letters, will doubtless speak to you at length about the subjects of these drawings. Here, I will only give you a short explanation, numbering them in sequence, sheet by sheet.
No. 1. View of the coast of New Caledonia. I took it from Port Balade about a league from the house of Bishop Douarre. You can see that house on a slight elevation at the foot of high mountains. A little to the right you will notice on the shore between some coconut trees three native cabins. On the right of the picture there is a boat of that country. It is made of two pirogues held together by planks.
No. 2. A close-up view of Bishop Douarre’s house. A: the missionaries’ house; B: stables; C: site of the chapel; D: cabin sold to the bishop by the natives; that is where we slept during our stay in New Caledonia; E: garden; F-G: river and limit of the property. The house is surrounded by pastures, the river is navigable enough for a canoe to get up to the garden. There are great advantages to such a position.
No. 3. Approximate map of Port Saint Jean-Baptiste and of Port Saint Marie. The former was named in memory of Bishop Epalle. The map is detailed enough to dispense me from further information. I put in a corner of the drawing a map of San Cristobal Island, called Arosi by the natives. At the north-west point of the island there are two bays (ab) (bc) which are interesting because of the good dispositions of the natives. The first (ab) has a ship anchorage which is not very good. The unloading of a ship is very difficult because of the way the raging sea breaks on the shore. Midway along the bay is the Marou tribe, next to whose village is a large river. Behind the village there is enough arable land for an establishment of the missionaries. The inhabitants all along the coast (a,b,c) until Port Saint Marie are friendly toward the Europeans and they speak the same language. At Port Saint Jean-Baptiste the language is different. The natives from the coast are at war with those from the interior. The coast (bc) is full of reefs and does not have any kind of port for ships.
No. 4 The bishop, after visiting Port Saint Jean-Baptiste, said he intended to send a map to Commander Duperrey. In order to make it easy for you to comply with the wishes of His Lordship that I am including another map with the one I am sending you.
No. 5 Portrait of Mahia, chief de the Maro tribe, whom we have found to be well disposed toward us.
No. 6 Young warrior from San Cristobal. On his forehead he has a crown of seashells. His nose is pierced by a mother-of-pearl ring. The earrings and the necklace are made with dogs’ teeth.
Nos. 7 and 8 Heads of some inhabitants of Guadalcanal and Isabel. The ends of their hair are whitened with lime-wash.
The following drawings, very reverend Father, portray a very sorrowful subject, the death and burial of bishop Epalle. I was afraid at first of grieving you by sending you these sketches, but I thought that you would overcome your sorrow so that you might know in detail all the circumstances of such an unexpected yet glorious death.
No. 9 The Bay of the Martyr, which our captain [Captain Richards] calls the Bay of the Massacre, has a good port. I put a hatchet in the place where the bishop was struck down. In front of the Opi tribe, there is a bay where a ship can be anchored. The peak E serves as an alignment to locate the bishop’s burial place. At the foot of this mountain there is a small bay where a boat can land without danger, an abundant stream, a good terrain, and a people who seemed to Father Paget and me to have peaceful dispositions. This is the Alitumbala tribe.
No. 10 Scene of the fatal incident of 16 December 1845 when bishop Epalle was killed. The picture is sufficiently self-explanatory. I should only point out that I should have put many more natives in the background of the picture. When the action began, there were about fifty natives; toward the end, the number had doubled; they kept coming out of the woods.
No. 11 The wounds of bishop Epalle and those who accompanied him. The two wounds (ab) (cd) should lean a little more toward the right, especially the wound (cd). This is what Doctor Guise observed. The doctor was born in the English colonies in India. His father was English and his mother Indian. In New Caledonia he asked to remain in the mission with us, but since the bishop’s death he changed his mind. He is a Catholic.
(No. 12) The night before the bishop’s burial. I was mistaken when I colored the cassock violet. It should be black with red buttons. The shoes are black. His bishop’s ring was forgotten.
No. 13 The funeral convoy is moving toward Astrolabe Harbor. The bier is in the second canoe; it is in red cedar wood; it was not covered with a shroud so as not to attract the attention of the natives.
No. 14 Drawings which may be used to find the burial place of bishop Epalle; they are well enough explained in the picture.
28 February 1846 — No. 15 A few faces in color of natives of New Caledonia and the Solomons. In the background of the page I have drawn a few pirogues.
No. 16. View of several houses of the Oné tribe.
1. Palace of the chief. The roof is held up by 12 carved columns. They are statues embellished with all the natives’ ornaments. On the back of the sheet I have drawn the head of one of these statues. There you can see quite well the kind of tattoo adopted by our natives.
2. Small house held up on stakes.
3. The most ordinary form of houses in the Oné style.
N. 17 One of the statues of the palace of Maemara with the names of the decorations with which it is adorned.
N. 18 Copy of a drawing which I found on a beam in the palace of the chief. This design, roughly executed, represents a fight between those of the Oné tribe and the inhabitants of the mountains; the latter are called Toro. They were conquered, and those of Oné perpetuated the memory of their victory by representing it in the ornamentation of the royal palace.
No. 19 View of the establishment of the missionaries of the Society of Mary at Port Saint Marie on the island of San Cristobal (called Arosi by the natives).
No. 20. Portrait of the chief of the Oné tribe, the one closest to the mission station.
I will not end this letter, very reverend Father, without saying a word about the accident which happened here just a few days ago. We built our house in the midst of continual fear. Every day we were under the threat of the coming of the Toro (the mountain people) who had, it was said, committed themselves not to allow a single white man to settle on Arosi, and who, after the ship left, were to attack us and put us to death. Several times strangers came in large numbers, and well armed, to see us and to examine the work we were doing. Once they wanted to massacre us during dinner; we were eating at the place where we worked. The strangers were always around us; it would have been easy for them to do what they wanted. The Blessed Virgin protected us and we were aware of the danger only after we had escaped from it. From what our friends told us, these natives had chosen as their first victims Father Frémont, Brother Genade and Prosper. Afterwards, so as to be safer, Father Frémont allowed those of us who wanted to bear arms. Since then I have always had a pistol in my belt.
One day, it was the 4th of February, around 5 o’clock in the evening, I happened to be on the terrace of the house. All of a sudden, I heard someone crying in the valley from the side of the stream: “I’m dead! Help! I have a lance through my body.” I had no doubt that the Toros had come to attack us and I wanted to deliver Father Montrouzier, whose voice I recognized, and who I thought was in their hands, I fired the pistol and ran up to Father Montrouzier. He was on his knees, with his arms stretched out as on a cross, leaning against a fallen tree trunk which obstructed the way. He did not have the strength to get over it. In that position he was abandoning himself to God, he was offering the sacrifice of his own life. There was nothing more edifying than his words: “My God, I am happy! You are good, Jesus! Mary, you favor me! Yes, God, I give you my life, ... may your holy will be done,” etc. He kept repeating the names of Jesus and Mary. Because he thought his life was about to end, he was asking for absolution. I gave it to him in the presence of my colleagues who had run from all over to be near him. We helped him to walk up to the house. When he saw me reloading my pistol and heard the gunshots fired by the sailors, he begged us not to do any harm to the natives and particularly to the one who had wounded him. The name of that man is Orimanu. A sailor had taken too much liberty with his wife. Orimanu, who could not avenge himself against the sailor who was too well armed, chose his victim among us. With his lances in hand, he hid near the stream in the bush, hoping that someone would come and get some water before nightfall. Father Montrouzier, alone and unarmed, went to wash. He noticed the native and, seeing that he was coming toward him with the determination of doing him harm, he became frightened. He fled and was hit by the spear in his back spine. Never would the native have dared to strike him if he had been seen bearing arms. Father Montrouzier’s wound was not serious. But the fright he experienced cause his heart to beat violently and he almost died from that. Father Paget gave him the sacrament of Extreme Unction on board the ship on 8 February. Since then, fortunately, Father Montrouzier has kept getting better and better. Today he has completely recovered.
I wanted to report this to you, very reverend Father, as a proof of the usefulness of firearms in the archipelago of the Solomons. I am not talking about the sad day of the 16 December. Without the two gunshots the cannibals would never have let go of their prey. If Bishop Douarre has been successful in New Caledonia, he admits that, after God and our holy patrons, he owes this success to the firearms they had. I would consider it a good idea if in Melanesia the missionaries were to have firearms, not for killing men but so that they might be respected by the natives who would be seized with fright when they saw our men killing birds. I also think that they would be safer if their could put on a vest lined with zinc when they left the house.
Aside from these precautions, I would advise the superior of the missionaries who would go to found a station, to get from France or from Sydney a prefabricated house made of wood so that it might be set up upon arriving at the place of the mission. There would be much to be gained from that under several headings: 1. under the heading of the health of the missionaries who, upon arriving in a torrid climate, would otherwise be obliged to exhaust themselves in order to build a solid house. 2. It would avoid part of the disorders which the sailors indulge in ... 3. The house built of dry wood would last longer. 4. It would cost less because we would not have to hold for such a long time a ship which would cost around 130 francs per day. The 4 walls of our house cost, according to this calculation, about 10,000 francs. Prosper says that if it had been made in Sydney it would have cost from 4000 to 6000 francs.
Please forgive me for making these observations, very reverend Father; I have in mind only the greater good of the missions.
After the death of the bishop, we elected a father provincial by secret ballot. I voted for Father Frémont because I think he is the one among us who best demonstrates the religious spirit.
May I dare to ask you to assure our Fathers and our Brothers of my respect and my friendship. I commend myself to their prayers. I have the honor of being, very reverend Father, your very humble and very obedient servant,
Léopold Verguet apostolic missionary