26 January 1846 -- Father Claude Jacquet to Father Para, Chaplain at General Hospital, Montbrison
Translated by Natalie Keen, May 2011
Source APM OMM 208
One sheet, “Bath” paper, folded in two to form four written pages, with the Poupinel annotation at the top of page 1. Re the name of the addressee, Chaplain at the General Hospital of Montbrison: the Lyon Yearbook for 1844 (p.33) shows “Parrat”, while the Index of Clergy in the Lyon Diocese (staffing register) records that Father Zacharie Paret (1815-1898) was curate at Saint Pierre de Montbrison from 1840 to 1848; perhaps we are seeing three spellings of the same name. The writer was curate at Notre Dame de Montbrison up till the time he left for Oceania with Bishop Epalle on 2 February 1845 (cf. doc. 422, §1,n.1)
- [in Poupinel’s hand]
- 26 January 1846 *Father Jacquet
- Jesus Mary Joseph
- San Cristobal Island, Saint Mary harbour, 26 January 1846
- Father Para, Chaplain at General Hospital, Montbrison
- When I put off writing to you from Sydney till we had arrived at the actual place of our mission, I didn’t foresee that I would have a most sad happening to report to you. I’m sure this event will inspire you to pray more and more for our mission and especially for me, so that midst all the dangers that we face day after day, I might have the blessing of a happy death.
- After our visit to San Cristobal, we set a course for Isabel, the most central and the main island in the whole Solomon group. At the southern tip there is a splendid harbour about 6 miles wide by around 23 miles long, discovered or at least described by Dumont d’Urville, who drew the map of it and gave it the name of Bay of a Thousand Ships. As soon as the natives saw us, they came in great numbers to meet us and escorted us with their fine dugouts right up to the spot where we anchored. On the first three days following our arrival, the Bishop, with three of our group, an officer from the ship and four sailors made a circuit of the bay to seek out a place suitable for a first-class settlement but we didn’t find anything satisfactory for our needs because there were few dwellings. During all this time, the natives came by boat each day to trade something and we did everything possible to win their friendship; several spent the night on board and seemed well pleased with the welcome we gave them. In the questioning sessions we had with them, they almost all agreed they should make clear to us something which they termed maté maté , and the accompanying gestures were enough to indicate that that meant unacceptable, wicked. We didn’t in fact see any small craft arriving on this side. We shared all these observations with the Bishop who told us: it is the custom of primitive people to speak thus of people to whom they are not friendly. But since we are equally friendly to one and all, we mustn’t attach importance to these unfriendly acts.
- On the fourth day, His Lordship leaves early in the morning saying to us: If I listened to my instinct, I wouldn’t be going out today, but I’ll be back early; and the boat took off straight towards the tribe marked out as threatening; this was the only part of the coast to be visited, the only one thought to be inhabited.
- Can you imagine our surprise to see the boat returning about 11 o’clock? Our thought is that either the Bishop feels tired out or that they have forgotten to take gifts for the chiefs; but soon, alas! we see bandaged heads and hear these ominous words: quickly, quickly, bandages for the Bishop. Father, you can imagine our distress and how anxious we are to do everything in our power to bring our Bishop back to life. The ship’s doctor loses no time in dressing the wounds; but looking at them, he cannot help but state that there is no hope and that it is surprising that death was not instantaneous. There were in fact five very deep wounds on the back of the head and two others less serious, one on the right arm and the other on the left hip, as well as a number of bruises.
- In addition two others had been wounded: Father Frémont, our provicar, had received two blows on the skull from a club and the officer in charge of the boat an axe blow also on the head. But the injuries although serious did not appear to be life-threatening.
- After we had recovered a little from the shock of such a happening and all the wounds had been dressed, this is what they told us: When the boat drew up on the shore, the natives - 40 to 60 of them – seemed in no hurry to come near. A single native came towards them offering a few fruits and taking a close look with an air of distrust. They offered him a piece of iron which he immediately took to a young warrior about 25 years of age, which led them to believe that he was the chief. In the meantime, the Bishop and his group had got out onto the shore. The officer accompanied them with three sailors, having left the boat in the hands of the fourth; contrary to their usual practice, they had taken no weapons at all, ashamed so it seems of showing less courage than the Catholic Bishop and his priests. As the natives’ leader seemed to attach no importance to the piece of iron they had gifted to him, the officer approached him and gave him an axe which he received with similar indifference.
- While the Bishop, those of us who were with him, and all the sailors were endeavouring to gain the goodwill of this group whom they saw in a threatening stance and were cautiously moving towards the boat only a few steps away, they noticed that the eyes of all the natives were fixed on His Lordship whom they saw as the probable chief, and a young man noticing his ring insisted on having it for two miserable-looking fruit. Suddenly, an axe is raised behind the Bishop and splits his head open; hideous screams ring out at the same moment and all the clubs are raised simultaneously. The Bishop, wounded, holds his two hands on his head as he lets out a cry of pain and immediately falls down, felled by a second blow.
- The attack becomes a free-for-all; Father Frémont, twice felled by clubs, is nevertheless able to get up and drag himself to the boat; the officer receives a blow on the head from the very axe he had presented and he too reaches the boat. Father Chaurain got off with a few light bruises, thanks to his self-control and his skill at dodging the blows aimed at him. Prosper Rouené, our carpenter saves himself by swimming away; all the sailors arrive uninjured and among the first at the boat which they find taken over by a dozen or so natives trying to sink it; but a loud well-timed rifle shot put them to flight.
- However Reverend Father Chaurain already in the boat casts his eyes on the shore and sees the Bishop dragged along the sand by the natives desperately trying to strike and strip him. Deciding to die with him rather than abandoning his Bishop into the hands of these cannibals, he leaps into the water in spite of the shouts of the sailors who want to hold him back, a second rifle shot by them manages to put to flight those who are still hounding their victim; finally he arrives beside the Bishop whom he finds bathed in his own blood, his body all bruised, clothes torn and covered with blood; he tries to lift him up and calls him, but there is no response whatsoever, no sign of life. At this moment, he feels he is almost fainting and calls for help; but all the sailors could think of in their terror was to load their arms until Reverend Father Frémont and Prosper Rouené, taking the oars themselves, arrive at the shore and come to help Reverend Father Chaurain to carry the body of our Bishop. Seeing their victim slip from their hands, the natives let out a further cry of terror. This sad scene lasted five minutes at the most.
- The Bishop was placed in the boat on the knees of his priests, and it is in this deplorable state that we took him on board. In spite of the doctor’s opinion, we were hoping that the Lord who saw our situation would hear our prayers and bless our ministrations and bring back to us our priest whose preservation was so necessary to the success of our mission, but alas! the Lord didn’t consider us worthy of being heard; our bishop breathed his last in our arms on the 19th December after four days of a continuous and fiercely raging fever and without giving us the least sign of consciousness. Our only comfort was being able to give him the last rites due to him as a Bishop and to hope that the blood of the first bishop and first martyr in these islands would be a fertile source of graces to obtain the conversion of their many inhabitants. But what a terrible blow for a mission just beginning its work!
- So deeply affected by all this, we deemed it unwise either to separate or to remain at Isabel, and we all returned to San Cristobal where we believed there would be fewer dangers.
- I’m not giving you, Sir, further details of our journey because I have given them to Father in the letter [p. 4, in the margin and crosswise] I have written him; but before signing off, I am asking with all my heart for the support of your prayers and Masses to obtain Heaven’s blessings on our early labours, and beg you to offer my respects along with my requests for prayers to your nuns, to Messrs Baron, Paret, Tardy, Pagnon, Vinson, Surieu and Parissot etc., Reverend Father Alphonse and the nuns of Saint Claire. Your most respectful and grateful
- Jacquet, apostolic missionary
- Fathers Etienne Chaurain and Jean-Pierre Frémont and Brother Prosper Rouesné were the three Marists who accompanied Epalle, at least on the day of his death, with Blémy, second officer on board; it was the Marian Watson which carried the missionaries from Sydney to the Solomons (cf. below, §8; and doc.439, §4; 488, §14 and 19; also, Verguet, Histoire, p. 87-88)
- Members of the Mangha tribe, with their chief Londo, were enemies of those natives who were friendly to the newly-arrived missionaries.
- Cf. above, §2, n.1; and Verguet, Histoire, p.90.
- Londo (cf. above, §2, n.2)
- Doctor Guise, doctor on the Marian Watson, according to a letter from Verguet (doc.457, § 12), who writes the name “Guior” in his Histoire (Verguet, Histoire, p.94)