From Marist Studies
13 August 1847 – Official Report on the events occurring at the Catholic Mission Station in New Caledonia
- At the beginning of April this year, 1847, the attitude of the natives of the tribes at Balade and at Pouébo seemed rather good for us to be able to found without danger a new settlement with the latter tribe, by reducing the staff at the former mission station which was founded at the beginning of 1844. In fact all was quiet up until May. At that time an extraordinary famine was experienced particularly by the tribe at Balade. A large number went to Hienghène looking for food. It was about 15 leagues from the harbour of Balade. On their return they appeared threatening; they came and told us boldly about the death of a European who lived at Hienghène. He was an Englishman called Sutton and had just been slain. They even added, what was incorrect, that they had eaten him and that they found him very good and they threatened in particular to treat the mission staff in the same way. What surprised us, going by what the natives said, was that Englishmen collecting sandalwood at Hienghène would have told them that the French (Oui-Oui) were taboo men who wanted to kill other men. That calumny would have made as much an impression on the minds of the natives as did an epidemic a few months previously. It killed a third of the population of neighbouring tribes. The missionaries were suspected of witchcraft; now, a witch doctor on the island was slain pitilessly. So they no longer keep any restraint; they destroy all the plantations of the mission station; they come in full daylight to steal the bananas, take away the coconuts, plunder our garden under our very noses. Impunity makes them bolder and bolder; they reach the point of entering the storehouse where they steal several objects.
- On 20 June after being stirred up, the villagers of Balade, Ouébane, Bouélate, Baïaoup, Mamate and Ouonbane came in great numbers to seize the mission station. They had the well known intention of slaying the missionaries and stealing their property. When we stood up to them their plan was wrecked.
- On 25 May Bouarate, the chief of Hienghène, came to Baïaoup, and said to Captain Raballand, of the brig The Anonyme, which belongs to the French Society of Oceania, that as soon as the ship left the missionaries would be attacked. What everybody swears, it would seem that to take revenge for our not going and setting up a mission station with him, as Bishop Bataillon had promised, he got the two tribes of Balade and Mouelebe to rob and kill us.
- Such were the circumstances when Bishop Collomb, bishop of Antiphelles, apostolic vicar of Melanesia and Micronesia, came to Balade on board the Spec, accompanied by the Reverend Father Verguet. His Lordship brought provisions for his mission station and for the brig The Anonyme. In addition there were exchange objects for the French Society and there were some items for various people. The natives prepared for the landing and stayed calm until ten o’clock. The church where we had to store most of the gear was invaded by several natives who took away 300 francs worth of goods for exchange. We learnt later that they intended mainly to draw us all into the church and take advantage of the chaos to burn us there or to slaughter us there. Fortunately we got out early enough to thwart their intention.
- On 15 July the Reverend Father Verguet went to Pouébo to spend some time there with the Reverend Father Rougeyron; the following day he wrote to Bishop Collomb to warn him that there was a rumour at Pouébo that immediately after the departure of the Spec, the settlement at Baïaoup would be attacked by the collective forces of all the tribe at Balade.
- On 17 July the Spec set sail for Batavia. On leaving Sydney, His Lordship planned to find the brig the Anonyme at Balade, where it had been agreed that it would take on board gear destined for his mission station and that it would itself go to the Solomon Islands. The bishop asked the captain of the Spec to take him to his mission station. Arrangements made between the captain and the ship owner did not allow that trip and the bishop then realized he had to wait for another opportunity. At that stage there were at the settlement of Baïaoup: Bishop Collomb, the Reverend Father Grange, Brother Blaise and Brother Bertrand, Doctor Baudry, left by the Arche d’ Alliance to do some scientific explorations in the island, Marie (Julien), a carpenter also left by the same ship and the Scotsman George Taylor.
- The very day that the Spec left, two young Christians, Antoine and Marie, warned us that the following day we would be attacked.; we did not take enough notice of the words of those children. About eight o’clock, the main chief Gomène came and told us that in order to be friends again with us, the natives all agreed to return the things they stole on 10 July; the offer was accepted. A one o’clock Gomène returned with the head chief Bouéone and the two children, carrying two packets of stolen goods. Bouéone had his spear and Gomène his club. While we were talking to them on the terrace in front of the house, a dozen natives, armed with spears and clubs came rushing at us going into the ground floor of the house which was not yet closed. Although we had no weapons, we pounced on them shouting out loudly. Brother Bertrand succeeded in reaching the kitchen where there were two rifles. A shot rang out and hit nobody but it was enough to make them flee. At the same time Brother Blaise was wounded by a spear in the lower part of the left side of his chest; his wound was deemed fatal. The Reverend Father Grange wrote to the Reverend Father Rougeyron smartly. Young Marie who carried the letter was stopped and ordered by the head chief to return under pain of death. On her return she announced that the natives were going to set fire to the church. Almost immediately afterwards, fire appeared at the top of the roof which was covered in thatch; it was impossible to save anything. In the evening Antoine and Marie told us that the chief’s plan was to rally all the villages of the tribe and make a general attack the following day to slaughter and rob us. We kept good watch all night.
- At daybreak on 19 July the boat the Seine was put to the torch. Thinking that that day would probably be our last, we all made our confessions. The bishop consumed the communion wafers and the wine. The Scotsman George, whom reverend Father Grange had been instructing for some time and who was quite ready to become a Catholic, received conditional baptism and then made his confession. At two o’clock we were surrounded on all sides by the natives. They were smeared with black dye and uttered ferocious screams. Hidden behind huge stones a little higher than the house and sheltered by the wall which retained the terrace, they hurled large stones which broke through the walls of the house. It was impossible for us to reach them. Yet they did not dare invade the courtyard. Perhaps even after ninety minutes of a determined attack, they started to get tired of it; but a chief cried out to them to set fire to the house. As soon as the fire started burning the studs of the ground floor, we couldn’t put it out. We were terribly frightened; if we stayed we would perish in the flames; if we got out of the house we would be clubbed down by the natives. We all gathered in the chapel. Brother Blaise himself left his bed and dragging himself along as best he could joined us there. His bearing was calm, serenity showed on his forehead, a smile was on his lips. As he entered the chapel he said to us, “I have come to wait here for the final blow.” A few moments before, as the bishop was giving him his blessing, he seemed moved and said to him, “Oh why should we be bothered, we are only exchanging this life for a better one.” The gentle happiness of that good brother so edified the new catholic George that he couldn’t help saying: “This is really the true faith”.
- When the bishop himself received the last absolution and the plenary indulgence in articulo mortis =in the danger of death, all the others knelt down and received from his hand the same blessing. After that we embraced one another and said our farewells until we met in heaven where we hoped to join one another in a short time. The bishop and Father Grange each made a vow of 109 Masses if the Almighty were to deliver us from the extreme peril. The thought came to us that by abandoning the house to be ransacked, we would perhaps have the chance of salvation. The reverend father Grange went to the window and addressing the crowd, proposed giving it the key to the storehouse on condition that they put out the fire and allow us to live. Two chiefs, Ouondo and Gomène agreed to the proposition. They put out the fire. Ouondo signalled to Father Grange to come down. During the palaver, Grange was struck with a spear which fortunately only grazed the skin. Doctor Baudry threw them the key of the storehouse. The natives rushed inside it. We opened the trapdoor to get down. Father Grange went first. While he was talking to Ouondo, the bishop and Brother Bertrand escaped and left, left the courtyard too. Next came the doctor, Marie and George. Two natives armed with spears noticed the bishop and Brother Bertrand; they approached them to spear them. The doctor aimed his rifle at them in a threatening way. They stopped. Marie and George who came next, also ran the risk that His Lordship had run; they fired two shots which put the two natives to flight. Yet Father Grange stayed parleying with Ouondo. Soon he ran towards us, with a native throwing stones at him. Twice he fell and got up again. Finally he joined us. Then we had a headcount; Brother Blaise was missing. The bishop asked what we should do; we all agreed that it was impossible for that brother to follow us and if we tried to carry him maybe we would all be killed, no doubt about it. Besides we hoped that having nothing to fear from him and happy with the booty which we left them the natives would not make an attempt on his life. Father Grange had moreover recommended him to the chiefs Ouondo and Gomène We headed for Pouébo with all speed; it’s about three leagues from Baïaoup. When we reached the village of Diréoué, we learnt from the catechist Michel that the people of Baïaoup had given orders everywhere to kill us. We were scared ever since our first attack that the settlement of Pouébo would experience that same fate as that of Baïaoup. In our misfortune we were happy to learn that nothing had apparently happened there. Before arriving at the first village of the tribe of Pouébo, we met two children, the catechist Louis and Mouéaou, who was taking instructions. Warned by Michel’s brother what had happened to us the previous evening, Father Rougeyron sent him to find out exactly what had happened. Those two youngsters were a great help for us. They know how to make us avoid all dangers. At last we reached the settlement of Pouébo at eight at night. We were in a shocking state and so overwhelmed with exhaustion that we could hardly stand. The bishop himself and the doctor had lost their shoes. Fathers Rougeyron and Verguet came and welcomed us. We melted into tears and we concelebrated Mass.
- On 20 July we had a discussion and agreed unanimously that our position in New Caledonia was no longer tenable. What happened at Baïaoup inspired new plans by the natives who had already on several occasions thought of killing the missionaries. We decided that Brother Auguste and the seaman Aumérand should go to Hienghène to find out if there was a ship, as we hoped, because often the English came there looking for sandalwood. At the same time we were keen to send to Baïaoup the children Louis, Augustin and Mangaro, who were attached to the mission station to look for Brother Blaise and bring him back in the boat belonging to the Christian Grégoire. Louis returned the same day. In a few words this is what he told us: a few moments after our flight from Baïaoup Brother Blaise was pitilessly slain; they clubbed him several times and cut off his head; they stripped him of his clothes and committed unspeakable atrocities over his body. The interior of the chapel was ransacked, the accoutrements were profaned and the sacred vessels thrown into the filth. All religious items were trampled underfoot.
- What happened at Baïaoup excited to excess the greed of the inhabitants of Pouébo. We have already learnt that they have the same plan. We again call on God. Each one of the missionaries made a private vow again. At the same time we acted prudently and we organized a guard day and night to avoid any surprise. On 13 July there were thirteen of us in the settlement of Pouébo, six from Baïaoup and in addition the Reverend Fathers Rougeyron and Verguet, Brother Auguste, the carpenter Prosper and three sailors left by the Seine: Bocherel, Cadousteau and Aumérand. On 22 July Brother Auguste and Aumérand arrived from Hienghène. There was no ship looking for sandalwood there. We had to wait at Pouébo for the arrival of some ship.
- We knew that the people of Baïaoup wanted to use the settlement of the missionaries which had not been burnt to lay a trap for ships coming to moor at Balade. They would walk along the terrace wearing soutanes, fire shots to make the ships come into port and hide in the mangrove swamps to slaughter the crewmen when they disembarked. They had even got those at Pouébo to do as much. Worried about the fate of the Anonyme and the Arche d’Alliance, which we were waiting for or any other ship, we saw that it was necessary to burn our house. The children of the mission station carried out that plan in the night of 5 and 6 August.
- The attitude of the natives towards us became increasingly threatening. We expected a catastrophe. Several times we saw them rallying in large numbers around the mission station with hostile intent. One night the inhabitants of two villages gathered at the house of our nearest neighbour to make an immediate attack. He turned them away. Yet, they plotted afresh; but this plan seems more ridiculous than the others. They would wait for the arrival of a ship bringing some stores for the mission station. Then they would pillage it with more advantage. The old chief recommended his men to save the house and especially not to torch it; he wanted to make his home there when he had slaughtered us. Informed of these plans, we redoubled our vigilance day and night. We tried by our courteous behaviour towards the natives to pacify them and to make them patient until a ship arrives.
- On 10 August the war corvette the Brilliante arrived, under the captaincy of Du Bouzet. That excellent commander immediately took charge of our rescue.
- On 13 August we all went on board the corvette.
- We end our report at this point, leaving the commander to inform you himself of the measures he took and the generous behaviour of his crew to whom we owe our safety.
- + Jean Georges, Bishop of Antiphelles, vicar apostolic of Melanesia and Micronesia
- Leopold Verguet,
- apostolic missionary.
- The English vessel ‘Speculator’
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