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15 July, 1 September, 18 October 1847. – Letter from Xavier Montrouzier to his parents

Translated by Mary Williamson, July 2010

Based on the document sent, APM ONC 208 Montrouzier (to his family).

Seven leaves of paper comprising 14 written pages, the address left till the fourteenth page.

[p. 14]

Mister/ Mister Montrouzier, landowner / at Clermont-l’Herault / France / Herault.

[p. 1]
Jesus, Mary, Joseph - Everything through Mary!

San Cristobal, 15th July 1847.

My dear parents,
What great pleasure your letters gave me! What a consolation for me! I was beginning to feel distressed, two years without news! It seemed so long to me and I found it difficult to persuade myself that all this time could have passed without you finding a chance to write. Continue to write to me and at length, as dear Henry has done, sending me twenty closely written pages. You certainly have more to recount than me, as my savages are always just the same. Once their outlandish character has been described that is about it, there is nothing else left to say and yet I send you really long accounts, dissertations as Gabriel very accurately calls them and you, you send tiny little notes that I have read in a few minutes. But let us get on and cut short the preamble.
Firstly, let me express to you how conscious I have been of the pain endured by mother both on the occasion of her mother’s death and consequently in coping with the treatments required by her father. I have not been insensitive to either one of these two things and I have prayed for the repose of my grandmother’s soul and for the changes in temperament of my grandfather. But I urge mother not to distress herself too much with all that and I congratulate her on the way in which she has conducted herself. I am convinced that there is no suffering so great that it cannot be eased by the knowledge that one has done one’s duty, as she has done; also I think I should remind her of what Mr Guibeau said to me one day on the subject on these same sorts of things, that my grandfather, having dedicated himself to his devotions, would still be able to maintain his extraordinary ideas, God being accustomed to changing hearts but not minds. Finally, I entreat mother to accept that the disrespect that she has suffered will one day be elevated into glory and from here below raise her to the company of saints who have all had to suffer opprobrium and humiliation in following the example of their Heavenly Master, whose own parents said that he had become insane.
Secondly, let me thank you for the goods that you have been kind enough to send me. I have received everything except the fabrics from my grandmother’s estate, which have probably been left, mistakenly, at another mission or will perhaps arrive later. I am very grateful to you. If father wishes to continue to send his consignment of wine each year, as he has suggested, I would be very obliged to him. The wine is very necessary for us here, whether for Holy Mass or for our general health, for we have a very strange climate. It rains frequently and we are constantly wearied by fevers. But he should always take advantage of the vessels of the French Society of Oceania because this should be the least expensive means of transportation and everything should arrive without being tampered with. If mother wishes to continue sending me parcels she could include a certain quantity of beads in blue, red and white glass, the size of rosary beads, as well as some smaller ones, such as those with which one makes purses. These latter ones are very prized here. With a string of them five to six inches long, one can acquire seven or eight pounds of yams or taro or a dozen coconuts. As for linen, I have sufficient and even still have some shirts ironed in France. There is no point in sending me stockings as I only wear them on special occasions. If by chance you were thinking of sending some items for the church, I should let you know that artificial flowers do not survive the journey well and that the humidity here immediately attacks the golden plastered statues. Here are some articles that you could send in preference to others. I am suggesting not demanding them of you, I am speaking very frankly, but wish simply to channel your generosity. 1. A Way of the Cross, with large, coloured figures, the colours vivid and distinct. 2. Some coloured pictures, representing the mysteries of religion and the principal aspects of the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. This selection of pictures should not be oil paintings: they would be too expensive and would not be any more effective than simple watercolours. 3. Some yellow, red or blue fabrics to make some hangings. 4. Some altar cloths with open-work panels 5. A bell, etc. etc. But until further notice no ornaments or church linen except for albs and rochets and all of this, I repeat, I am not demanding. What is more, rest assured my dear parents that it is not just me who thanks you for your gifts, but also the mission. Every day, morning and evening, we pray for you and then, as well we sometimes say Holy Mass for our benefactors, you being amongst them. I would ask you to pass this on to the good souls who join with you in doing good works. Tell Miss Bouissin and Miss Espinal that I have not forgotten them in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and that their devoted works will be blessed by our savages once they have been converted. I certainly intend, from then on, to have them pray for those who have provided help for them. I have always, up till now, been prevented from offering the Holy sacrifice on Saturdays for the associates of the Propagation of the Faith, but in the future I hope to be able to do so and thus discharge my debt to them, a debt which is very dear to my heart.
The Good Lord must have indeed inspired you to become active in the work of the French Society of Oceania! It is a truly apostolic undertaking which is the crowning glory of all the works carried out by French charities. You cannot imagine the good that the Society can do, whether in the missions invaded by the Protestants, or the missions which are still entirely savage. In the former the Catholics are represented in [p.3] such a poor light and the French people so maligned that we really have an absolute need to be visited by ships which contradict the impression given by these malicious people. So, the Protestants, continually supported by English ships spread the word that the Papists (this is how they label us) are people without principles who have been driven out of their country, or that there, they have not enough to live on, that they only have pathetic little ships and that the King sends them in advance of his armies. You can understand that after such remarks, with the arrival of a handsome ship which honours the missionaries and distributes trinkets to the locals, these latter are absolutely astonished to see the contrary of what they have been told and turn their backs on the slanderers. As for the savages, as they are naturally only driven by fear or curiosity, it is good, it is even essential that they see ships come to visit us from time to time. That maintains their sense of respect and expectation. Besides that, as the example ordinarily set by ship’s crews is not very edifying, the sight of the sailors of the type the French Society aims to employ can only produce a positive effect. No need to tell you that the efforts to enable us to bypass England will be a great saving of money for the missions, as you will be convinced by the following figures: by way of England my passage from France to San Cristobal cost more than three thousand francs and by the Arche d’Alliance Bishop Collomb paid fifteen hundred francs……. By way of England, wine costs twenty-five sous a bottle and I am sure that by sending it from France we could get it for nine or ten sous. After all, there is every advantage for a missionary in travelling on a ship with good Christian companions when you think of the cost of being obliged, as I was, to hide away to recite one’s breviary, one’s rosary and one’s prayers before and after a meal? No, I will never be able to forget the consolation that I felt aboard the Arche d’Alliance on my crossing from New Caledonia to San Cristobal. Really it seemed paradise to me, who had had a taste of English ships. Not a coarse word, not an argument. Everything was calm and peaceful. Whilst, from London to Sydney I was only able to say Holy Mass seven or eight times, that is to say less than twice a month, there on the Arche d’Alliance I recited it every day as comfortably, as peacefully as on shore. The good Mr Marceau and the doctor never missed attending or taking communion. That is not all. The crew were organised as a community. At seven in the morning prayers were celebrated and everyone attended. In the evening at six o’clock it was the same thing and as well one of us presented a familiar story from the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. Before our arrival in New Caledonia [p.4] the Reverend Fathers Collomb and Crey offered a retreat and everyone was eager to follow the various exercises. After prayers, we went up onto the poop deck and there, while some natives who came from Wallis sang their rosary, we recited ours which we followed up with the singing of the litanies of the Holy Virgin and of the Ave Maris Stella.
You perhaps do not understand, my dear parents, why one can attach as much importance as I do to a few hymns and public prayers. It is simply that you have never been deprived of the beautiful and touching ceremonies of our religion and that, as he who has never been ill does not appreciate the gift of good health, you cannot fully understand privations that you have never experienced. But if you had passed a long period of time without public worship, with no other spiritual support than prayer and the sacrament, ah! you would feel your heart soar at the first notes of a hymn and perhaps a few gentle tears would betray your emotion. Man is not just a spirit, he has senses which like to be satisfied and God, who understands our nature has, not without purpose, established a religion with solemn rites and majestic ceremonies. Even in heaven our happiness will not be solely spiritual adoration, our eyes will see marvellous things and our ears will hear sublime melodies…..Sunday was celebrated suitably aboard the Arche d’Alliance. At six o’clock there was a first Mass for the communicants and later a High Mass was sung, followed by the blessing of the very Holy Sacrament and of a third Mass to partake of Holy Communion. In the evening there were vespers and a sermon and everything else as per usual. It was aboard the Arche d’Alliance that I sang High Mass. Oh! How intense my emotions were when, on a sea scattered with islands still unconverted, I sang the first words of the Creed: I believe in one God! How intense it was when, surrounded by seas which, until today had been traversed only by crews driven by avarice or ambition, I intoned this wonderful invitation of the introduction: Lift up your hearts! How uplifting it was when, finally, holding in my unworthy hands the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world, I blessed these thousands of islands, still untamed, amongst which we are sailing. If the French Society of Oceania prospers, those who have contributed to it will have greatly benefited the missions and I do not doubt that if we had only half as much money to spend the missionaries would be obliged, much more than they now are, to have to deal with the English, who fleece us and, not content with that, cause us a thousand difficulties with the savages by going even so far as to supply them with guns. [p.5]
Let me finish replying to your letters. The sentiments of faith that you have expressed to me, my very dear parents, brought tears to my eyes. Father realises that a soul at peace is the ultimate treasure. His only ambition is to see his two daughters and young Ernest grow in virtue and piety. Mother realises that God has poured balm on her wounds. What more could I wish? My dear parents, continue to evaluate things in this way. No, nothing that happens is important. The pleasures and pains of this life are nothing, for they hardly last an hour; what is important is to ensure our eternal life. It is for that that I have come to the ends of the earth and please God, let this not be in vain. As for what you tell me about Henry, the little twins and Earnest, I can only praise the Lord and ask him to continue his goodness to us. I am writing, by this same mail, to Marie and Amelia; for Ernest, tell him, please that I thank him for his letter and that I will write to him when he has made his first communion.
And now, my very dear parents, what can I tell you about my savages, who are yours also, for I am sure that you love them very much already, without even having seen them! Alas! Since my arrival from New Caledonia we have not achieved anything with them. The unfortunate accident, of which I have given details in my letter to Gabriel and its aftermath has left us prisoners in our own domain and rather than expose ourselves unwisely and thus receive another setback, we are having to wait patiently until the situation improves and the vicar apostolic arrives from Sydney and decides what to do. So I have nothing very satisfactory to report to you on the religious front. What is more, the mission has still made very little progress, at least on the outside. The distance between us and any native huts and our almost constant suffering from fever has prevented us from learning much of the language. We can only teach the first few words of the catechism. Whilst waiting for more fruitful results I am going to try to describe to you the island and the savages who are entrusted to us.
The island of San Cristobal, which one can sight from quite a distance away because of the high mountains which encircle it, or rather from which it is entirely formed, is very pleasing at first glance and to the eye of a traveller-artist is enchanting with its sweeps of greenery. But as with anything which is uniform, the end result becomes monotonous and uninteresting and soon produces a sort of disenchantment in those who, hoping to find a pleasant valley can only find great dense forests and hills covered with woods. The vegetation is so dense, the trees and undergrowth so all-invading that it is with difficulty that one can see, here and there, a stretch of shoreline on which there are usually some of the native’s huts. Everywhere else there are sheer rock faces, crowned with thick bush and beaten by waves which, crashing against them, cover them with foam. The whole length of the coast is interspersed with coves and headlands which seem to suggest, at least from a distance, the presence of several anchorages. [p.6] Here nature offers great riches and infinite variety. The woods are full of unusual plants and inquisitive animals and the sea has no less a selection of wildlife of an interesting nature. I will not list for you all the plants, birds, insects and shells found on San Cristobal, I will simply say that there is a tree here called “pourou” whose fruit, as big as a lemon, when crushed and kneaded forms a sort of cement which dries after three days and which, after that time, can be soaked in water without deteriorating in any way at all. The natives use it to cement the planks of their boats. An insect called “moamoa” by the natives, gives off a liquid which smells like a rose when grasped in the hand. There is a fish which, near the tail, holds in a sort of sheath two powerful lancets, which it releases suddenly and with which it can cause serious wounds. I can recount that in the woods there are large green iguanas which are just like lizards but with a crest on their backs; little red and black boas, which devour the rats and are remarkable for their passivity; a sort of cousous that the natives call “honto” and that they eat with delight; there are little animals about the size of a cat with tails half of which are hairless and whose gait resembles that of a bear, huge green parrots, budgerigars with pink breasts, a magnificent lorry almost entirely red with a yellow crescent under the neck, all sorts of pigeons amongst which there is one which has green wings and a cherry-red beak, another with a snow white head, the upper side of the neck emerald green and the underside hyacinth. I must finally tell you that the sea teams with beautiful pearly shells displaying vivid colours and also with very delicate fish amongst which I would name the tuna. The heat, which raises the thermometer to 27º to 29º degrees, is tempered by sea breezes and we frequently have earthquakes. I will not speak about other things which would interest learned naturalists, that would be more than one letter could contain. From describing the countryside I will move on to the inhabitants.
The natives are of modest height, black bordering on yellow, quite strong limbed, their teeth blackened by the use of betel, their lips and tongues a fiery red, an effect also of the betel. This gives them an appearance which is unpleasing at first, but to which one rapidly accustoms oneself. They go about almost completely naked, but on the other hand they do not hold back on ornaments. The forehead, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, neck, ankles, nose, all of these have their own special trinkets to which our black friends are as dedicated as are the grand ladies of France to their bracelets and rings. In truth, who is the most vain, the one or the other? I do not know and it would be difficult to judge.
They live in villages which are not very big, build houses which are an elongated square with a double pitched roof and each one has his own piece of land where he cultivates his gardens. A particular custom regulates land ownership amongst them and if a certain number of moons pass without them going to their property it is taken over by their neighbours. It has been said that the government of the Solomon Islands is despotic and that one only has to cross the shadow of the King to receive the death penalty: that is perhaps the case in the other islands, but is certainly not true here. Here there is not a special chief and the government is, if one can express it thus, entirely aristocratic. In each village there are several Saelaa (nobles) who, being richer or more warlike than the others have a certain influence, but their authority is very minimal. The lowliest member of the tribe considers himself just as important. This is an obstacle for the prompt propagation of the gospel. Where there is one chief, once he is won over, the task is completed. But here we have to work on each individual. There is some polygamy amongst our natives, but it is not common and I think it will be fairly easy to abolish.
A village always has its allies and its enemies. With its allies it maintains friendly relations, such as markets, visits and celebrations. The markets take place on certain days and the natives never mistake the day; each person takes along his merchandise. Ordinarily those who live beside the sea take along fish and those from the interior bring coconuts, yams and taro, breadfruit and betel etc. Most often the market functions on exchanges, but when a purchaser has no produce in kind to give in return, then he pays with the currency of the country. You will perhaps be wondering what this currency might be. It consists of little pieces of shell with a hole pierced through the middle which they thread like pearls and with which varied ornamentations are made such as bracelets, belts etc. It takes an infinite amount of time to create these coins and that, I think, is why they have such value. The natives pay visits to each other from time to time. If they go to their friend’s place in their own privately owned small canoe they pay for their own food. If they take the large craft, called “solima”, which belong to the village, then their food is free. Also there are feasts to perhaps celebrate a victory over an enemy (or some such thing) and then they invite their friends. They kill some pigs, which can be acquired for the occasion, they make some “taouma”, a pate of yams or of coconut and the whole event finishes with a feast and dancing and often some plans for making war against a common adversary.
As for enemies, they are always at war with one another. To surprise them, to eat them, this is the peak of happiness. Here it is not a case of pitched battle. The nature of the terrain does not allow it. But if it is known that the enemies are going somewhere, they hide in ambush, wait for them and if they have sufficient numbers they attack and then try to carry off the dead bodies. About ten months ago, a savage from Ioné, the village nearest to our house, was going to his plantation when he saw a woman and a small child from Pia, a tribe of deadly enemies busy looking after some plants. Immediately he attacked and killed them then called on his friends to carry off the bodies. That evening there was feasting at Ioné and the two unfortunate victims were roasted and devoured. Well, several days ago they wished to celebrate the memory of this glorious event. “Taouma” were prepared, drums were beaten and friends gathered but then towards daybreak, whilst everyone was sleeping, having passed the night in merrymaking, the Pia, having been galvanised into action by the father and husband of the slain women, emerged from an ambush where they had been hiding in the shadows, threw their spears, wounded two people and immediately ran away. Then cries of alarm were raised and each man armed himself to pursue the runaways, but they were already far away. The next day, the folk from Ioné went and laid waste the plantations of the Onaou, allies of the Pia. What was really astounding was that , the crisis having passed, the feasting resumed. The heart aches, my dear parents, when one goes to a village and in the meeting house where the people gather for their celebrations, one can see, hanging like trophies, the heads and bones of enemies who have been eaten. It is also very painful to find, during the periods of alert, everyone, even the children, busy making spears, arrows and clubs, as if the devil was encouraging them in their ideas of destruction.
No doubt you would be interested to know what types of food the natives eat, what they work at and what their habits are. Here is what little I know about these things.
Our native’s food supply is healthy and abundant and in this respect they have a great advantage over the New Caledonians. It is an advantage for us too because, apart from the fact that it is distressing for us if we always have people at the door pleading hunger, we can hope that one day we will need to receive only our clothing from Europe and that we will find everything else we need here. However they hardly eat anything except fish and fruit. Although they raise pigs, they rarely eat them and the meat, to which they are particularly partial, is reserved for feast days. In general they live on breadfruit, yams, taro, “ana” a fleshy root similar to a potato but sweeter, coconuts, bananas, sugar cane, “niaris, very oily little nuts, “ahia”, fruits about the size of a small apple, “etapi”, very large almonds, “ouri”, or “pommes de cythere”, mangoes etc. They add to these their fishing catch, which is usually very plentiful and which provides them with beautiful bonita, auxides, mendole, pagel, certain shellfish and sometimes, though not very often sharks, dolphins and tortoises. And finally they endlessly chew their indispensable betel, which does not just help to pass the time, much as, in Europe, cigars do for smokers, but also nourishes them at the same time and might also protect them from the fevers so common in their country.
The natives usually cultivate their plantations on steep slopes. No doubt this is so that the rains can flow away easily, without rotting the yams, taro etc, something which would certainly happen given the frequency of the rains. To prepare the ground they have to pull out and burn the weeds, which grow here with frightening speed. Then they plant in the ground a piece of yam which still has as eye in it, or a stem of taro from which they have eaten the root and that is all they have to do. As well, it is obvious that they are not as lazy as the New Caledonians. Hardly a fine day passes without some of them going to the plantation and we are all hoping that once converted they will produce a wonderfully abundant crop.
As for fish, the people of San Cristobal catch them with a line or in nets. Their line consists of strong reed and a twine to which they attach a lure without a hook, the lure usually being made of mother-of-pearl or tortoise shell. They do not use bait and preferably choose to fish when it rains, as they have noticed that that is when fish come to the surface, perhaps mistaking each drop of rain for an insect. In this way they catch plenty of small fish called “pouma” which are not unlike our sardines. Their nets are of two kinds; some are small with fine, close mesh and are similar to the square and circular nets which our French fishermen use. These are used to catch bonita and “auxilles” a species of tuna, which they usually try to encircle and crowd into an end of the bay. They have other much bigger nets, much stronger and with bigger mesh to catch tortoises. As well they can often be seen standing upright in their little outrigger canoes, holding a long spear which they suddenly hurl, like a harpoon and often pull in with a fish on the end. And finally, one often sees them plunge into the water to bodily seize “kilio” or dolphins which they have been able to shepherd towards the shore where they run them aground. This sea mammal is, for them, a very sought–after food and in this case I must say their taste is not amiss, for having one day eaten a piece which they brought for us, I enjoyed it almost as much as the flesh of pork.
What time is left for our natives after they have tended their plantations and gone fishing is not spent doing nothing at all, as the New Caledonians would do. Although one could find more industrious peoples, nevertheless they are not completely idle. If you pay them a visit you will find them hollowing out canoes, very light and elegant, which they decorate with mother-of-pearl, sometimes engraved with fish, sometimes birds. Perhaps they may be making a large dish on which to put their “ taouma”. They have three types of canoe, the most simple being very narrow, so they can only hold one person and even then it requires a certain skill to stay upright. It is not uncommon to see them capsize. They cannot go out in rough seas. They are provided with an outrigger. The next type is the “ora”; they hold from three to seven people, are shaped like a half crescent and cope very well with the open sea, but one has the inconvenience of being constantly wet, as one has to sit in the bottom of the canoe and it is rare for it not to take on some water. Finally, the most handsome and largest craft are the “solima” which are similar to the “ora” except in dimensions. They can carry up to thirty people. Apart from their canoes and their dishes the savages spend their time making their weapons, which are simple spears and spears with barbs, bows and arrows, a sickle-shaped club and a club in a flattened lozenge shape; their nets and bags they make from a fibre from a type of hibiscus with leaves like lime tree leaves. Their articles of adornment consist of decorated combs, necklaces, bracelets and belts. Sculpture is not unknown to them and they decorate their meeting houses with crude statues.
‘ A word, my dear parents, about some of the customs of our San Cristobal inhabitants. Slavery is not unknown amongst them. Parents sell their children and in return for five measures of the country’s currency, which is the price of a pig, they are no longer in charge of the child. Despite the barbarity of this custom, it shocks us less now, except in principle, because we can see that these slaves are treated more like adopted children than slaves. Their masters take great care of them, call them their sons and treat them as such. They also have a taboo law here and at certain times they put a taboo on the coconut palms and no one, not even the owners, can touch them. This law is very practical and you will understand that, as you know that in your home territory, without a law forbidding hunting at certain times, there would soon be no game left. It seems that this law exists throughout Oceania.
The customs here relating to mourning are somewhat unusual. The head of the mourner is fully or partially shaven depending on the closeness of the relationship to the dead person. The head is covered with a woven matting which is worn day and night for several months and yams, taro and certain fish are not eaten. For several nights they utter mournful chants. As for the dead, they are not buried, but wrapped in leaves and then placed on a burial mound, a habit which is not slow to introduce infection into the village.
Now I come to the character of our natives; they are by nature happy, cheerful, love music and dancing and, for savages, are as happy as it is possible to be without religion. As for their vices, they do not take long to reveal themselves. They are inveterate liars and one never asks them a question without leaving them vulnerable to misrepresenting the truth and as far as I am concerned, I sometimes have misgivings about questioning them, convinced that I am making myself responsible for their lies. The children are especially skilful in this art. During the last few days we gave a knife to a young savage; the next day [p.11] no doubt so as to acquire another, he came and told us that someone had stolen it from him and he so accurately described the way it had happened and the circumstances of the theft that we were almost tempted to believe him. However, as we did not hasten to replace the object said to have been stolen, the savage finally admitted to us that he had wanted to cheat us and expressed his regret that his lies had not had the desired result. As well as this, they are skilled thieves and it must be said that they carry out the task very well. So sometimes, to steal a pig from us they tempt him with a piece of yam, lead him far away from the house then carry him off to their home; sometimes, taken by surprise up one of our coconut palms, they gravely come down, gather the coconuts and bring them to us saying: we were going to gather these for you because they would have passed their best if left any longer on the tree. Shall I tell you about their attitude towards death? They are like animals in this respect. And their idea of restraint? Used to not being restricted by anything but brute force, as soon as someone stands up to them, if that person is weaker, they explode in uncontrolled anger; if he is stronger they hide their feelings but not without vowing revenge. They are deceitful and ungrateful, in other words, they have all the vices and few of the virtues. That is our savages; it is for us or rather for God to change them. But what am I saying! Change them?
At the time of writing these lines, Bishop Collomb, the successor to Bishop Epalle, has just arrived and on seeing the state to which the fever has reduced us, as well as hearing of the sad happenings of which I have given details to Gabriel, he did not feel justified in leaving us at San Cristobal. So we are going to try to pitch our tent elsewhere and reestablish a mission. We are given to hope that we will find a better situation than the one we are leaving. God grant it! But always let His will be done! We are in His hands, He watches over us; we have nothing to fear. Men will perhaps set traps for us! O well! If the Lord extends to us His grace, which is not for a miserable soul like me, we will not be the losers. We will suffer with Jesus Christ and one day we will be rewarded along with our worthy Master.
So, be courageous my parents, do not be afraid for me, or if you are afraid let it be solely in the fear that by some well-justified misfortune I fail to respond to the sanctity of my calling. Apart from that, be at peace. I am playing a game where I have nothing to lose, because in the end you and I, we have our faith and faith teaches us that he who loves his soul will lose it and he who has lost it will regain it. For myself, I assure you that I am not afraid. The thought of God’s judgement frightens me somewhat, but after all I am happy to submit myself to His mercy. The greatest anguish I feel in this regard is to think that perhaps you fear too much for my safety. I am stopping now and will continue my letter later, giving you some details of my new situation. San Cristobal, 1st September, 1847 [p.12]
On 3rd September we left San Cristobal, accompanied by numerous canoes, of which not a single one displayed any sign of hostility. My heart is heavy at the thought that perhaps many years might pass before a mission will return to establish itself among the natives who we lived amongst and who, even though they did not profit from our instruction, are nevertheless no less dear to us. We are heading towards Woodlark, a small island recently discovered by an Englishman, who must have named it after his ship. It is not yet marked on most of charts and is situated near the Laughland islands at 9º 7’49 latitude and 151 longitude. The captain who first sighted it gave it a favourable report. The land produces enough to feed the natives, who seem to be of Polynesian extraction and have much more benign customs than those of the Melanesians, according to most travellers.
In the following days I have been wearied by fever or sea sickness.
On 8th we sighted Woodlark. What a happy coincidence. It was the day of the birth of the Holy Virgin. Does this worthy Mother not wish us to understand, from this, that she is going to be born into the hearts of our dear savages? God knows the answer; we can only conjecture and we love to hope. Inconvenienced by the winds and obliged to sail close to shore to try and discover a harbour, we could not drop anchor till the 11th. Even then the anchorage was not very sure. Nevertheless, we stayed there for several days, looking for a passage which would enable us to get inside the reefs which border this side of the island whilst also constantly observing the demeanour of the natives who come on board.
On 15th we weighed anchor to go and try our luck elsewhere. Thanks be to God and to Mary, a few hours later, from the masthead a harbour was spotted. The problem was to get in. It was enclosed by a reef and we could not see a passage. The captain had the sails partly furled, so as to catch less wind, then we headed straight for the shore. The sounding line showed a depth of only three and a half fathoms and the ship drew more than two. We turned pale briefly but then the danger was past; we were in the harbour. The Good Lord sent us, at the same time, a native who seemed more intelligent than the others and, knowing a few words of English, seemed to us capable of serving as interpreter. His name was Pako.
On the following days some of us went, turn about, to explore ashore. Except for the ground, which is sand and the fresh water, which is yellowish and scarce, we found everything to our liking. The savages do not carry weapons and around their homes we see neither spears nor clubs, which at least indicates to us that wars are not frequent. They have very fine plantations that they maintain with great care, which shows a certain degree of civilisation. We notice that they have numerous children and it is the children who are the hope of the founding missions. The terrain is flat, unlike that of San Cristobal and is much less difficult to manage, which is quite a consideration for those who are unwell, which includes most of us. As well we see nothing which indicates the likelihood of fevers. We have indicated to the islanders that we intend to stay in their territory. They seem delighted and have already provided us with some land.
Finally on 23rd, we began work on the house and at present it is far enough ahead for me to hope that it will be finished within five weeks.
Up till now we have had nothing but praise for our natives. They have shown us a lot of good will, though in return for rewards it is true and several times, of their own volition and without asking for anything in return they have brought us taro, yams and pork already prepared. Pako is particularly zealous in supporting our interests and thanks to him we have already learned a good few words of his language. Here is how he came to learn his few words of English. It would seem that a ship ran aground on the reef. Five men escaped in a small boat. They came ashore and remained for some time until another ship arrived and took them on board. These shipwrecked sailors were English. If the facts are true, as it would seem, the savages of Woodlark were not as barbaric as those of many other islands, where the survivors would have had the choice of being devoured, either by the cannibals or by the sharks. I find the territory very pleasing. It is not very mountainous, which makes us hope that the rains will be less frequent than on San Cristobal. Although formed entirely of sand, it is fertile and produces large yams, enormous and delicious taro, coconuts and various tasty fruits. There are banana palms and breadfruit trees but the natives do not know how to cultivate them. Finally, the island is teeming with game, wild pigs and plentiful and there is an abundant supply of fish. One day the crew killed 85 pigeons. With all of this we are not likely to suffer from hunger.
For me personally, here is my current position. My health is still not good. I am still not free of fever. It affects me quite often and I am still weak, but I believe it is an aftermath of the exertions and sleepless nights on San Cristobal and of sea sickness. As well, although I have my problems as a missionary I always count myself happy and, most certainly, I would not wish to change my position with that of any other person. My only regret and it is often overwhelming, is to not profit, as one should, from all the worthy opportunities that present themselves; but apart from that I never think about looking back. Pray for me often, so that I can successfully carry out God’s will and be worthy of the laurels of evangelism. We have our sufferings, I do not deny it. We suffer when we see so many souls lost for lack of a priest, but these sufferings will one day be mainly recompensed and that day is not far away, for life is but one hour relative to eternity. So do not pity me. Farewell my dear parents, farewell . I embrace you through the holy hearts of Jesus and Mary.
Your worthy son for life,
Xavier Montrouzier,
Missionary apostolic,
Woodlark, 18th October, 1847 [p.14]
Post Script. Remember me to the Dervaud family and my good cousins Bourguenod and Flottes, to Marion, to Messrs Alunzet, Cavaillé, Atagé, Reynès, Coste, Bernadon and Bounioles. Give my regards to Bishop d’Urgel,[1] Send me some devotional books if you can. Goodbye!
Captain Raballan, who brought us to Woodlark and who is a protégé of Captain Bérard is sending the latter a box of shells and curiosities (I don’t really know exactly what). He has asked me to inform Mr Bérard through you, as intermediary. I would be pleased if you could carry out this commission for me, Goodbye.


  1. Simó Rojas de Guardiola i Hortoneda, OSB, bishop (1827-1851) of Urgel (Spain), exiled for political reasons from 1835 to 1848.

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