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13 August 1846 — Bishop Guillaume Douarre to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, New Caledonia

Translated by Peter McConnell, September 2010

Very Reverend Father,
I am using a moment when the sea is a little less strong to give you an account of my trip to San Christoval. It took five days from New Caledonia to Port St Mary. My heart was heavy, it was very restless. But on entering the harbour and being surprised by the calm, I saw several native outriggers and according to the details that have been given to me and the knowledge that I had of those people, I understood that our men were still alive and I was so much more confirmed in that belief when I saw them pleased to take a note to our missionaries. Some thirty minutes later, I saw a whale-boat coming. At the helm was a missionary with a pale face; it was Father Verguet; Father Payet was scarcely better. There was only Father Jacquet who was still fine as he had been at the time of his going to New Caledonia. Hearing about the loss of colour the Brothers would not let him go to the priests; our men had not paid tribute to hunger but because of the unhealthy air at San Christoval where it rains continually. It is even less surprising that you scarcely find on the beaches any cleared areas where the natives build their huts. The mountains, the shore are only a dense jungle.
That is the bad side, Reverend Father, and your heart will suffer from the suffering of your children, for eight of the nine are sick. Brother Charles and the one who deals with clothing were still confined to bed; Brother Charles only from the eve of our arrival. Yet I dare hope that these good missionaries, full of courage and hope, will get used to the climate and succeed in doing great things. I advised them to transport their hut without demolishing it to the water’s edge where they will have more air. They bought some trees which they chopped down and as soon as the natives know the value of missionaries they will have the pleasure themselves of helping them to get a healthier air by helping them, far from opposing them, to chop down the trees which prevent the free circulation of the air. Because they were asked by several small tribes, their idea was to split up, something I counselled them against, telling Reverend Frémont that he had to take into account the health of his missionaries. Also that good priest does not believe in moving quickly and prefers waiting to do just that when good health is completely restored.
Although I am far from wanting to speak as an oracle on the mission stations, may I tell you what I think about the mission station at San Christoval and of the Solomon Islands. The people, at least those of San Christoval, really delighted me; they appear to be much more intelligent than those of New Caledonia. They are a little unthinking, having taro and yams in abundance and always there because they plant and harvest continually, without worrying about clothing for men and women, but there are graces of state for the missionary. Accompanied by some of our men and by Father Junillon, I visited the village of Toros one of whose men struck Father Montrouzier; the New Caledonians who knew me would not have welcomed me better so, despite the risks to be taken, they are not to be feared more than those in New Caledonia. That does not mean that precautions should not be taken. Those men have assured me that at Isabel at least the tribe or the village responsible for the bishop’s death had the same feeling and that, had they been able to understand their language, he would not have had any difficulty in avoiding a similar piece of bad luck. There you are, very Reverend Father, something which can certainly reassure you, and the same goes for those who are going to share the work of those men.
As far as the works are concerned, they are considerable. These men can’t even evangelize their nearest neighbours without the use of a dinghy if they want to go into the villages which are on the mountain, and they have to do it, they will be able to only through exhausting climbing because the tracks are steep, but with a little wine, some brandy, some stout shoes, the tracks are always wet and every slippery; these men have come to the ends of their tether. What the mission station will spend more in cash, they will make up for in savings on food. The station will be able to have a good chicken-run. They have plenty of pigs which they have no difficulty in raising by means of their plantations which will always be respected because the natives, having more yams than they can eat, will have fun going and stealing those from our men, and a little flour, some barrels of pickled pork which they mix with yams what you can always get out of a difficulty with. Those men will themselves have given you details concerning their mission station; for my part, Reverend Father, I can repeat only one thing, and that is that the Solomon Islands after being drenched in blood of their first pastor cannot fail to bring precious fruits that the one who is responsible for this mission station has to be full of confidence for the future. The provisions which have stayed in New Caledonia will be of better use later on than they would have been at the moment; those men are sufficiently provided for.
I will speak about those who were shipwrecked and about New Caledonia when I return to base; but having contrary winds all the time we will be very happy if we can do in a fortnight or even in 20 days a journey which we have done in five.
Everything was going well in New Caledonia. Our priests were showing with admirable enthusiasm hospitality towards our poor compatriots. Father Grange is preparing a first communion; Father Montrouzier is full of energy and devotion. He was a little worn out by the letter he wrote to Father Frémont who wanted it as well as Brother Bertrand. As far as that Brother is concerned, he has been legitimately ceded to me by the Bishop of Sion who told me that he did not want to sacrifice half-heartedly. As for Father Montrouzier, the mission station at San Christoval is too difficult for him and the air too unhygienic for him to live there for more than six months. Those gentlemen of San Christoval are more than sufficient in numbers for the present needs of the island. It is true that Father Montrouzier is a person of very great merit, however, when all is said and done, I believe the mission station of San Christoval would lose nothing if he were replaced by another whom I would send at my expense whereas the mission station of New Caledonia would lose much now especially that this good missionary speaks a little of the language and that he has to replace me, having decided after giving considerable reflexion before God to travel to France for reasons that I will share with you face to face; but still in the interests of New Caledonia which will learn very shortly of its being helped, if we want to continue the good which its bright future points to.
I need your advice, very Reverend Father, and you will not be angry to learn a lot of things which you need to know in the interests of our missions stations and of our children.
My absence will not harm the mission station; we try to establish it solidly; but we lack so many things. Providence is there and you too, very Reverend Father.
I am not skilled; I haven’t what you would call a cent for my journey. I was a little richer when I was made a priest, I had four francs. He who came to my help will not abandon me again.
I was balancing some considerations; I wanted people to think that I was looking for praise in France but after examining our position the delay which the mission station would experience if I delayed, so I did not weigh up pros and cons any more. I consulted Fathers Montrouzier and Rougeyron on the matter. The latter whom you cannot give too much praise to is my provicar for the area which is entrusted to me. I have not as yet spoken to Father Grange about it. He is too new and one whom I would like to try to win for the missions station in New Caledonia. I will discuss my plans with him so as not to upset him. I have already told him that I wanted to send him with a new missionary whom I am waiting for impatiently to set up a mission station in Hienghène which is more pressing than Pouébo because of the Protestants. I am going to leave one of these days to purchase some land there and I will take with me that priest. They were preparing material in my absence for the house at Pouébo, and those whom I chose for Pouébo will serve for the settlement at Hienghène.
Next week we will erect a house which has given us a lot of trouble but it will be solid and clean; it will be entirely of ironwood. Our stone house will be used as a shop.
I am really anxious that you won’t be able to read my letter, very Reverend Father; however I can’t redo my letter.
I have the honour of writing to Bishop Bataillon to warn His Lordship that I was going to leave for France and Rome and that I have appointed Father Rougeyron, my provicar, for part of the vicariate which had been entrusted to me. I have assured His Lordship that I was not going to France to complain about him but only to make our needs known there and the hopes that New Caledonia promises, that the things I had on my heart I had had the honour of expressing them to His Lordship and that, whatever the good intention of sending us help, its expenses have been too much for us and to pull us out of the languishing state where we are, that because of the lack of resources we must take only half measures, we can do nothing substantial as long as this state of affairs lasts. That is, very Reverend Father, the essence of my letter. Do not forget me to all the priests and brothers, and please accept yourself the renewed assurance of the profound respect with which I have the honour of being,
very Reverend Father,
your son in Mary,
Guillaume, Bishop Douarre