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24 November 1846 — Father Charles-Eugène Mathieu to his brother, Wallis

Translated by Peter McConnell, September 2010

Dear brother,
I am writing to you in the middle of frantic preparations caused by the next departure of three ships with six missionaries without counting the bishop and the Brothers. The Arche d’Alliance arrived about a month ago. Its arrival was followed by that of our schooner returning from Sydney and a brig belonging to the French Society of Oceania. The Arche d’Alliance is about to leave to take the bishop to the Navigator Islands and from there to transport the successor to Bishop Epalle to the Solomon Islands, then to Sydney, where he must get his official papers, bring him back here where he will be consecrated, then transport the bishop into the various mission stations where the French Society wants to create settlements.
The schooner is going to Futuna and from there to Rotuma to drop off two priests destined to found a new mission station there. From there it will go by way of Fiji and go to the Navigator Islands to bring the bishop back here.
The brig is going to New Caledonia by way of Tonga. As for me, I am staying here until I receive new orders. I am staying with a colleague who does not yet know the language. I have some worries about the state of the mission station. The Arche d’Alliance has brought me the crate which you sent me with letters which have arrived from Tahiti by various routes, among others by the packet boat of the South Seas. There were three or four from you bearing different dates. I think that I have received all you sent me. The crate was in excellent condition and protected from all kinds of damage. The fine medical supplies which you put inside the crate were the only thing to be damaged, but the damage was only inside the crate. Either the bottles had not been well packed with their lids or the liquid contained in them had deteriorated during the passage. Three were broken; the little pots of opium were scattered too, and all that caused rather a lot of damage. Yet I succeeded in cleaning it all up, and with the exception of those three broken bottles and some little pots of opium scattered around, everything else was in good condition and will be extremely useful for me. The two doctors who are on board the Arche d’Alliance admired the selection of medicine and instructed me how to use them and the way too of using the little books which you sent me.
As for the seeds, they are in perfect condition. Not having at all time to grow those seeds myself, nor the hope of having them grow here where we don’t get European plants, I entrusted everything that dealt with medicine to a botanist doctor who is going to spend some time in New Caledonia, a land where plants from Europe grow very well, on condition that he sends me some of their products with notes on how to use them. That doctor, Mr Baudry, was extremely happy with that offer, and as he has green fingers, he hopes to make use of them. That would benefit all the mission stations, if we could obtain the necessary medicine from New Caledonia. It is, I think, the first time that a collection of seeds as complete and in such a good condition has arrived in Oceania.
As for vegetable seeds, I kept some here to try them out. All the rest of the seeds that you sent were in good condition. It is difficult to tell you what pleasure I got in receiving them from you and from so far away. All I can tell you is that everything was really beautiful and really good for a poor little missionary like me.
The Arche d’Alliance brought me too a very beautiful bell, weighing near on 300 pounds, which it picked up for me at Tahiti from the packet boat of the South Seas. All the documents of the bursar in France say that it was my parents who sent me that bell. Yet as all your letters make no mention of it, I don’t know how to explain this enigma all the more as the inscription on the bell says that it was made in Nantes to be sent as a present to the mission station of the Sandwich Islands. Had an error been made in Le Havre? I find it hard to believe that an error had been made in dealing with an article of his type and of that value. All the documents of the captain and bursar bear my address. If it is a present from one of you, please tell me so that I can thank the person responsible for it. At the moment the bell is hanging near the main church of Wallis where it delights the ears of our converts by its majestic notes. They say that they have never heard such a beautiful tone.
I have nothing in particular to tell you this time concerning the mission station at Wallis, other than the shortage of time to do it. We are always in a state of truce which does not allow us to catch a glimpse of hope of a coming time of peace. The young chief Tuugahala has been converted and baptized; that’s one less hurdle. The king (Vaimua Lavelua) is married legitimately and seems bound more than ever to religion. But we still have here Fébuséens (Febusians) who harass us and who still don’t seem to want to be converted. Perhaps it is the intention of Providence wanting us to hold our breaths and to stop us from being over confident in ourselves. God in his goodness will do what he wants with this poor little race whose future fate I cannot yet foresee.
I wrote a few months ago to Angélique by way of the Adolophe and I sent her two catechisms in the uvean language, one of which should be sent to the Bishop of Amiens, should they arrive safely.
Tell Angélique to thank the sisters of the Sacred Heart on my behalf, for sending me very lovely crosses and rosary beads. I will wait for the Arche d’Alliance to return from France to send you some artefacts of this country, if I can. This letter is an express one I am sending by way of Sydney; hat is the quickest route. You could write to me to Sydney by addressing your letters to Messrs Joubert and Murphy, French traders who are in contact with the mission station and are aware of the departures of ships for Wallis. Don’t worry about my health. As I am about to have heaps of work, that is a sign that it is good. Offer my regards to the bishop, to father, to all our relations and acquaintances.
Your brother, Mathieu, missionary.
Wallis, 24 November 1846.