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24 July 1846 — Fr Jean-Pierre Frémont to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, San Christobal

Translated by Peter McConnell, September 2010

San Christoval Port Sainte Marie 24 July 1846

Very Reverend Father,
I am pleased to find an opportunity to give you our news. Up until now our health has been generally impaired whether from the change of climate or food, or whether from heavy work which we have been obliged to take on. We had prepared ourselves for building a second settlement when the vessel returned bringing the supplies we needed. However, because we were pretty well all convalescing at that point of time we stopped carrying out our project. Then, Reverend Father, our numbers were reduced from twelve to nine. Father Chaurain stayed in Sydney to replace Father Dubreuil. Father Montrouzier and Brother Bertrand, who were in New Caledonia for reasons already known to you, decided on their own account that they should remain in New Caledonia. Bishop Douarre, they say, dealt with all the details. He told me that he had informed you of the matter. As far as I am concerned, I told him that I was not letting him have any of my men, but, since the matter had been referred to you, we would wait for your decision.
You will be pleased to hear, Reverend Father, that our mission station gives us more and more great hopes for the future. After testing us with threats from the natives, God in his goodness, is beginning to give us influence over them in such a way that in human terms we no longer have anything to fear from those with whom we have had contacts, and our reputation is already spreading, I think, in the whole island and even in the neighbouring islands, because some natives we do not know have visited us. We are beginning to mumble some words about religion with our natives. They already understand that we are not like other men and that we have to teach them something. They tell us that we are better than seamen.
I could not tell you anything more positive about their religious beliefs. Everything that we have as yet been able to discover is that they haven’t any. There are concepts still buried in material things. We speak to them of God, of the soul, of the dogma of the next life and we notice that these truths make an impression on them. Some time ago I was showing them with the help of a map how far we had come from. They asked me if we had been driven out of our country. I told them we hadn’t but that our father had told us: Go to the inhabitants of San Christoval! Then one of the natives, understanding what I was thinking, interrupted me and he explained to the others saying that we had been sent into all countries to preach the word of God, to teach men to live better lives, etc.
We have several in our tribe who are devoted to us. At different times they have stolen various items (because they are master thieves). Well, the leaders of the tribe went with their spears to the homes of the robbers, addressing them in these words: return what you have stolen from Captain Frémont or we will kill you!
Here is an observation that I have made. I think that the settlements in our islands will be formed only slowly and will not be able to proliferate as in many other islands because of the huge work which we have to carry out if we want to make them healthy and put them into a condition where they can produce something for the lives of the missionaries, because all the islands are covered with dense jungles which are almost impenetrable and to create good settlements there we need manpower and substantial manpower.
We have recognized that our island is very fertile and judging from the vegetation that we have seen in other islands it would appear that all the Solomon lands are the same. The main food crops are: yams, pineapples, bananas, coconuts, gnari, a type of nut or excellent almond, and which gives oil which we have found superior to olive oil so the indigenous crops as well as the plants and vegetables brought from Europe will in a few years’ time put the settlements into a state of feeding the missionaries to a great extent.
All your children of San Christoval, Reverend Father, seem to love Our Lord and the Holy Virgin. They have put up with little trials which God in his goodness has made us pass through, with the patience of a missionary. Yet it seems to me that among all the priests, Thomassin is the one who has the most taken to heart the spirit of the Marist Order; his gentle nature, his clear judgement, together with much keenness, activity and ability to learn languages, makes me see him as one of the missionaries on whom one can count the most.
From time to time we read what you as our spiritual Father gave us when we left France. We keep as close as we can to the book of rules which is followed at Pilata and in the other mission stations of the Marist Order.
Reverend Father, it has been a long time in receiving your news and your advice.
I don’t have any time to make further comments. The ship is ready to set sail.
Be so good, Reverend Father, as to receive the assurance of the profound veneration with which I am your son in Jesus and Mary,