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16 June 1847. – Letter from Etienne Chaurain to Jean-Claude Colin

Translated by Mary Williamson. March 2010

From the document sent”, APM OP 458


Sheaf of four written pages.


Sydney, 16 June 1847 - Sydney.

Very Reverend father,
You will have received, some time ago I think, the letter from Rev. Father Rocher, dated around 17th or 18th May in which he informs you of his departure from Sydney aboard the Arche d’Alliance. He had enough confidence in me to leave me alone in Sydney during his absence which, according to M. Marceau himself, should be from 12-15 months. For as you know, the Arche d’Alliance has just left Sydney bound directly for Tahiti, with 96 cattle and 370 sheep aboard. From Tahiti she should pay another visit to all the central missions and those of Melanesia to deliver to each island the goods that we have stowed aboard for this purpose.
Apart from the natural pleasure felt by Father Rocher in going to visit these islands and the colleagues that he has heard about for so long, he bowed to the wishes of M. Marceau and his officers who were very keen to have a priest on board. The Rev. Father Collomb, now a bishop (I think) seemed to have convinced them of the necessity of having a minister with them for instruction and confession, as he had given them half an hour’s religious instruction each day.
Finally the main reason that decided Fr Rocher to take this course was that he was hoping, in making personal acquaintance with the needs of the missions, to be in a better position to offer them further support.
The only precautionary measure he had to take, before leaving Sydney, was to put into my name the money that the procurator and the missions were holding in the banks in Sydney and to give me unlimited power of attorney to use and administer any money I might receive during his absence. Having arranged this, he seemed very happy to leave. (20 May 1847)
When he left the procurator was about to take possession of a property that we had agreed to and even promised to buy provided that the title was in order: but we are not yet the owners. Today the bill of sale was passed (in the name of Mr MacEncroe, a Sydney curate, Mr Gregory, vicar-general to Monseigneur Polding, and Mr Somner, another clergyman of Sydney) We were obliged to do this, as our position as French citizens does not allow us to securely own any real estate in our own names. But in a second deed these men are accepted as having payed for this property with our money and would be obliged to sell it at our request and would not be able to dispose of it in any way without our authorisation; as English law allows us, like all other foreigners, to own as much furniture and money as we are able to accumulate, it follows that Fr Rocher and I, having used our own money to pay under these borrowed names, are the actual owners, in the name of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. At first we thought it better to use only one name (that of Fr Rocher), on this second deed; but our lawyer, who seems to be a prudent and astute man, brought to our attention the fact that since we will be buying in the name of the Society, it would be much wiser to use both names so that in the case of the absence of one or other of us, it would not be necessary to acquire new documents.
All these cautious steps have been recommended to us by our closest and most prudent friends in Sydney and were agreed to by Fr Rocher before he left.
Since then I have already had an new will prepared, naming Fr Rocher and Fr Forest, in case I should die with the power of attorney for the mission’s money in my name.
I could go on for ever, M le Superieur if I were to recount to you all the extraordinary precautions that we have been obliged to take to ensure that the property that we now own was not mortgaged to the hilt and that we could be certain we would not be stripped of it later by some legal process. In a country like this you almost have to put your head in a noose to unearth all the means by which you can be misled. They even went so far as to offer us a property for sale, the vendor having just got rid of it in a secret deal, secretly administered.
1854 Painting of the property
Monseigneur d’Amata has no doubt spoken to you about a very suitable property that we promised to buy with him, but the title was not found to be sound, as we told him in our letters. The one which we have just bought is also very pleasantly situated. It is six miles from Sydney; it is accessible both by land and sea; it is on the same river as Birch Grove; it has a more beautiful and productive garden; the house without perhaps being quite as large, is in better condition and in better taste; it is built on a slight elevation with a nice outlook over the garden and most of the property. Everyone who has seen it has said that it should be very advantageous and particularly suitable for our purposes. The property also has a small vineyard with a type of vine very much sought after in Sydney and said to come from the Cape of Good Hope. The orchard has at least 200 trees, the orange trees in particular looking very promising; it is irrigated by a small flow of water which they say never dries up and a branch of the Paramata river flows along almost the entire length of the property; so without having to leave the property missionaries who are unwell will be able to make their choice between fresh and saltwater bathing. Briefly the property consists of a house with six rooms, a kitchen, a stable and storeroom, a little gardener’s cottage and a wooden wash-house as well as 18 acres of land, including the garden. The buildings alone, even though very ordinary, are estimated, according to what they would cost right now if they were being built in Sydney, to be worth £800 sterling – and the whole property cost us £1100 sterling – that is to say 27,500 fr. Add to that an old horse and cart, six beehives and a round table and a few other small pieces of furniture and we have done very well for ourselves.
Concerning the legal fees, they should be considerable because of all the research we have had to do; but the vendor, having not acted very honestly, is being made to pay the major part of the fee, around £31 or 77.5 fr; something which Fr Rocher wasn’t expecting to happen when he left. We were expecting our share to be around £44 , whereas now I expect to settle for £10 or thereabouts.
At the moment I have £1225 for the procurator in the banks in Sydney and when we leave the house that we are occupying at the moment, I have £15 to pay on the lease. When we take possession of the one we have bought we’ll pay £1000. In a months time I will complete the purchase, paying £100. As well, it will be necessary to spend a certain amount for shifting expenses, over and above the lawyer’s costs. New household items, new plants for the vineyard etc. £50 at least. This should see me settled in my new establishment, with about £50 in hand. Our personnel for the moment comprises Br Taragnat, an Irish cook and a little Wallis islander, in all four people and £50. We will certainly be able to manage for several months; but not if it should happen that we need to send something to the missions, or if the procurator has to make a monetary advance to the missionaries, as we have often had to do for the missions in New Zealand, and in particular for Mr Forest, Mr Sion, Fr Petit-Jean and Monseigneur Viard; we also had to do this for Monseigneur d’Amata when he was leaving for France; and we have just done so again for the mission in New Caledonia via the Arche d’Alliance; and do not think that these particular examples are figments of our imagination; as well as the sad news that I’ve just heard, that Monseigneur Bataillon’s ship will soon be back in Sydney for further repairs where there is no money at all for the central mission, I have also heard today that the Anonyme, (the vessel bought by M Marceau in Tahiti) has arrived in Sydney this morning, needing repairs. This brigantine was made available to Fr Rougeyron, who has made use of it for several months and benefited from its use in founding a new establishment which looks very promising. But a considerable leak has forced the sailors on board to pump night and day for more than a month and to return to Sydney, where the ship has arrived in very poor condition. The repairs are said to be going to cost £400-500 sterling and the worst is that the captain has arrived with no money at all. What can we do? Mr Joubert and Mr Murphy (agents of the Societe francaise) have just asked me if they can borrow money for these repairs; no need to tell you my response! When one has no money at all one is relieved of the responsibility of deciding what to do with it. That’s still not everything. By the same ship I have just received two letters in which Fr Rougeyron asks me to send him, on the Anonyme’s return passage, numerous small purchases apart from what we have already sent him on the Arche d’ Alliance. But as for money, he has not sent me any; he simply says that he has in hand a 1500fr note which M Marceau was not able to cash. He is asking me to give him credit, adding that the amount spent on him will soon be paid back. In this case, I am rather more embarrassed because of the permission, given to us, by Monseigneur d’Amata, before he left for France, to draw on him, for his mission up to 10-12000 fr. and for the procurator up to 4-5000fr. Fr Rougeyron’s need is very pressing and that of the procurator very obvious. Here we are with a house in need of a thousand repairs, some land that needs clearing then planting with vines and fruit trees. I will therefore soon be obliged to draw a draft on Monseigneur d’Amata and if he defaults, on yourself, very Rev. Father. I would dearly wish to await news of the arrival of the Lord Bishop in France but I do not think I can wait that long, considering the urgency of my needs. As for the amount of this draft, I think for now that it will not exceed £400, that is to say, 10,000 fr.
I’ll have to hurry to finish this letter; the shifting of our furniture and its transportation to our new home is keeping me fully occupied. I will send you more details by the next ship, which will leave for London. I received the letters that Fr Poupinel sent us, dated from 4th December, 1846 – I will also write soon to Monseigneur Douarre and to my parents.
I am beginning to carry out some ministry in Sydney and it seems I will soon be able to preach a little in English.
Please pray for me, very Rev. Father,

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