c. 20 August 1847, Report from Bishop Jean-Georges Collomb to the two central councils for the work of the Propagation of the Faith
Translated by Mary Williamson, May 2011.
- Based on the script, APM OMM 411 Collomb.
Five sheafs of paper comprising 20 written pages with Poupinel’s annotation at the top of the first page. This report was written after 16th August 1847 (the day of the arrival of the Anonyme, cf. ∫ 35 below) but before 22nd of the same month (the day that Collomb left on the Anonyme for the Solomon Islands. (cf. Rougeyron, Journal p.36); note that, on 21st August Collomb was on board the Brillante in the port of Balade and from there he wrote three letters (cf. doc. 653-656). It is therefore reasonable to assume that the current report was written between 17th and 20th August 1847.
- [p.1, at the top of the page]
- [in Poupinel’s handwriting]
- Report addressed to the central councils for the Propagation of the Faith by Bishop Collomb, vicar apostolic of Melanesia. August 1847.
- [subsequent annotations]
To the President and members of the two central councils for the work of the Propagation of the Faith. New Caledonia. Concerning the events at Balade and Poébo.
- Jesus, Mary, Joseph.
- Ad majorem Dei gloriam.
I have the honour of writing to you from Sydney at the beginning of May. Despite my unworthiness, of which I am well aware, I have accepted, as I have informed you, the responsibility of the Episcopate, sacrificing my own will entirely to that of God, who has required this of me. Consequently, I consider myself as a sacrifice offered to the Lord and one he has the right to purify by passing him through the waters of tribulation before claiming the final sacrifice. In fact, from that time on, I have been able to say, like David: I am only separated from death by a pinpoint. I have lost all the goods that your generosity enabled me to buy for the mission in Melanesia and I only saved my life by fleeing, barefoot for several hours pursued by hundreds of savages who wanted to massacre me and those who were with me. I am going to give you some details of the events that have beset the two missions at the same time and which would have made us fear for their future existence if we did not know of your inexhaustible goodness.
It is 23rd May, the day of Pentecost and I have received Episcopal unction from the hands of Bishop Viard, bishop of Orthosie, assistant to Bishop Pompallier. The ceremony took place in the church of the apostles St Peter and St Paul, at Kororareka in New Zealand. An unfavourable wind kept us in the Bay of Islands until 18th June; this was the date of our departure. It was difficult for us to leave Bishop Viard and his zealous missionaries. This painful separation we dedicated to the Lord and we had the pleasure of thinking that it brought us nearer to the poor savages to whose salvation we had dedicated ourselves. We had a pleasant passage, with only a few hours of bad weather to break the monotony of the voyage. On 29th at 5 o’clock in the evening we dropped anchor in the port of Balade, opposite the missionary establishment in New Caledonia. In this port we were expecting to find the brig Anonyme, which belongs to the French Society of Oceania and which Mr Marceau, representative of this society, had put at our disposal. How distressed we were at not seeing her there. But we had resigned ourselves in advance to accepting everything that came from the fatherly hands of the Lord. The ship that had brought us to Balade was not able to remain at our disposal any longer. To continue our journey we were obliged to take ashore all our belongings and await the arrival of a ship belonging to the French Society. I had arrived with Reverend Father Verguet; at the mission in New Caledonia there were Reverend Fathers Rougeyron and Grange, Brothers Blaise and Bertrand, Dr Baudrey and Marie Julien of the French Society, the Scotsman Georges  and some ….. and some sailors from the Seine, who survived it’s shipwreck. Several months ago the missionaries had divided up, to establish a new settlement at Téa-mouélébé, (Poebo) a populous area only three leagues from Téa-Pouma, (Balade) which seemed to offer the mission better resources.
Reverend Father Grange and his colleagues welcomed us with open arms. Reverend Father Grange, when telling us about the dividing up, which had just taken place so as to establish the new mission, did not hide from us the danger to which both settlements were exposed by this separation. He told us that on 21st May the settlement of Téa-pouma at Baïaoup had been attacked by the savages. Fortunately, our men had anticipated the attack and had been able to frustrate their plans by keeping on the defensive. Several days before, the natives from three villages, Baïaoup, Bouélate and Mamate had stolen some axes, some coconuts and a few other items, getting into the house with the help of one of their own, who had been given shelter at the mission in order to provide him with help for an illness. On 20th the natives from the village in Balade came to tell us that they were deeply upset about this theft. They offered to wage war against the three villages responsible, so as to exact justice. Their proposition was not accepted, but they were not diverted from their plan. On 21st at ten in the morning, about a hundred people from the village in Balade arrived, bringing wood that we had asked for, to make a garden fence. Knowing the treachery of the natives, we did not let them into our yard when paying them. This was fortunate, as we soon learned that, far from wishing to avenge the mission, they intended to unite with the others to kill our people and pillage our belongings. We indicated to them that they should withdraw, which they did, though very slowly, heading towards the other side of the river, where our known enemies were waiting. These latter, seeing them coming, crossed the river and made them turn back, so as to combine forces and attack the mission. Michel, catechist and minor chief of Diéréoué, ran to warn the missionaries of the imminent danger. The people at the mission were on guard and several rifle shots were fired at random, killing no one but serving to put to flight all the assailants, who numbered about 150. Since this attack we have been anxious and always on the alert.
The unloading of our goods took place during the first fortnight of July. Lacking a place to put them we were obliged to store some of them in the church, which is separated from the house by a terrace. During the night of 10th,, at six o’clock in the evening some natives gained entrance to the church; they stole fabrics and other goods to the value of about 300 fr. and they withdrew leaving the door open, so as to lure us into their trap. We learned later that they intended to return immediately, in large numbers, to surprise us in the church; one group of them would set fire to the chapel and the others would block the doorway, to stop us getting out. Fortunately, we acted speedily enough to thwart their plans.
The mission at Poébo was no safer than that of Baïaoup. On 12th July we received a visit from Rev. Fr Rougeyron; he informed us that a native from an enemy tribe had just been killed by the folk from Poébo, that these savages had been assigned to parade the bloody victim in front of the missionaries and that they then went and ate him not far away from their house. At this fiery gathering they had resolved to kill the white men and carry off their possessions. For three days they remained in large numbers around the missionary dwelling ready to attack it. Once again warned of their plans by a native, Reverend Father Rougeyron had come to the end of his tether in thwarting them.
On the day that Rev. Fr Rougeyron went to Téa-pouma, he suggested the re-uniting of the two settlements at Téa-Mouélébé. We gathered to consult; it was decided that it was urgent for the missionaries to re-unite in one single establishment, so that their numbers looked more impressive to the natives; this joint establishment should be sited at Poébo, where the population was larger and resources more abundant; the departure from Baïaoup would be presented as a punishment, inflicted on the natives because they had not wished to listen to the missionaries and had tried to drive them out; this regrouping would not take place before the arrival of the Anonyme, or even before the arrival of the Arche d’Alliance, if the Anonyme was late in arriving. Rev. Fr Rougeyron, before going back, invited Rev. Fr Verguet to go and spend a few days at Poébo. When the Spec finished unloading the goods it had brought for the mission, Fr Verguet went to join Fr Rougeyron.
The next day, 16th July, he wrote me a letter in which he warned us to be on guard as the rumour was circulating at Téa-Mouélébé that Bouéone, chief of Téa-Pouma wished to attack the missionaries immediately after the departure of the ship the Spec and that he had invited all the savages of his tribe to join him in massacring them. The rumour was only too true. The Spec left on 17th, the young Christians Antoine and Marie warned us that we were going to be attacked, we were anxious about how we should conduct ourselves, we had the goods most likely to tempt the greed of the savages moved from the chapel to the warehouse; Rev. Fr Grange and I were studying intently the theology of Bouvin  which was at hand, to find out what we are permitted to do in the case of an attack. We are permitted to defend ourselves; we would run the risk of neither censure nor improper behaviour in doing this. If we allow our supplies to be taken, we will expose two missions to extermination. Besides, we have with us two laymen, one of whom is a father, and these men are certainly not prepared to have their throats cut. It is not a case of religious persecution, they mainly covet our belongings and to acquire them they would massacre us if necessary. In this extreme danger our eyes are turned towards the Lord.
The next day Rev. Fr Grange and I celebrated mass, not without some disquiet. It was a Sunday. The two Brothers and the carpenter took Holy Communion. After the mass we were expecting an attack at any moment, we thought that the savages would come in a large body and overrun our house, we did not yet know just how far their treachery would go. We were absolutely astonished to be presented with propositions of peace. Around eight o’clock in the morning the minor chief, Goméne, came to say that in order to re-establish friendly relations with us the people of Baïaoup were willing to return the things they had stolen. We willingly accepted this offer. At one o’clock, Goméne came back with the high chief, Bouéone and two children who were carrying two parcels of stolen merchandise. Rev. Fr Grange noticed with suspicion that Boéone was armed with a spear and Goméne with a club; he told Br Blaise not to go unarmed to receive the restitution that they wished to make; Br Blaise reassured Fr Grange and all our men went, unarmed, to meet the two chiefs to receive, on the terrace, the goods they had brought. I remained alone in the house.
Whilst they were parleying with the two chiefs, I saw some other natives coming from the direction of the river. I warned our people, Rev. Fr Grange replied that they were bringing some fabrics. At almost the same time our dogs started barking furiously. A dozen savages rushed with spears and clubs into the rear courtyard and the ground floor of the house, which we did not have time to close up. Though unarmed, in a spontaneous movement our men threw themselves on the savages, shouting loudly and got back into the house; spears and clubs were flying all around them, Rev. Fr Grange avoided a blow from a club by ducking his head under the staircase, Br Blaise was struck by a spear as he entered the kitchen, Br Bertrand fired two rifle shots, which put our treacherous aggressors to flight, without even doing them any harm. Brother Blaise was gravely wounded, the spear having penetrated the lower left-hand side of his chest. It had broken off, three inches deep and the wooden point was embedded in the wound. Meanwhile the savages had fled. To console themselves for their defeat, they wanted to set fire to the church; a child informed us of their plans at three o’clock in the afternoon and almost at the same time we saw a burst of flames rise up from the thatched roof that covered it.
This blow was terrible for me, all the supplies for my mission were lost, all my vestments, all my sacred vessels fell victim to the flames. God demands all these sacrifices of me. I offer them up to him as the fruits of my episcopate and my discipleship. Henceforth I will be able to say, along with the author of the “Imitation”, Nudus nudum crucem sequar… . The wind fanned the flames onto the stable, which caught fire too. Soon it was threatening the house and would have engulfed it if two men had not rushed to put it out. I vowed to say nine masses to Our Lady of Fourvière for ensuring that our dwelling was saved from the fire. Rev. Fr Grange then wrote to Rev. Fr Rougeyron to let him know of our tribulations. Young Marie, sent to deliver this letter, was ordered by Boéone to turn back under threat of death.
That evening the two children, Marie and Antoine, informed us that the savages were intent on getting rid of us. Not having sufficient numbers at Baïaoup and in the surrounding area to subdue us they were resolved to share their spoils with their more distant neighbours. Their scheme was to unite all the villages of the entire Téa-Pouma tribe to attack us, to massacre us and to pillage our belongings. This general uniting is called Mouaran; they proclaim it in the evening, the day before it is to take place, by emitting a cry which is repeated amongst the villages near by and then from village to village until it spreads out the farthest reaches of the tribe. The savages gather that very night around their chief and the next day the chief issues his orders. Bouéone, high chief of Téa-Pouma assembles all his warriors in the mangroves away from the women and children so that no one can reveal the secret. It is there that he draws up his plans to successfully make the decisive attack.
It took place on Monday 19th August, the day of Saint Vincent de Paul.
At daybreak they set fire to the boats beside the river, the savages burnt them all except for our whaleboat and a ship’s boat from the “Seine” that they kept for their own use. During the morning they fired stones at us from slingshots, natives were coming from all around and banding together. Goméne called from a distance to the young natives who lived with the missionaries. He told them to leave us; Rev. Fr Grange kept them back by reasoning with them in religious terms. This precautionary measure of Goméne’s indicated to us that the war was about to begin; fearing the outcome we all prepared ourselves for death, making a full confession. I would have given Br Blaise communion if his spear wound had not made him frequently feel he was going to vomit. Fearing that the Sacred Elements might be going to fall into the hands of the infidels, I consumed them, offering my final communion for the dying, in case it pleased God to call me to him during the day. When the danger became more imminent I requested Rev. Fr Grange to conditionally baptise the Scottish sailor Georges and then to hear his confession. He has been receiving instruction for some time and was quite prepared to become a Catholic. The anxiety aroused in me by the cries of the savages made me forget to give Extreme Unction to Br. Blaise, who I suspected was mortally wounded; I made do with getting him to kiss a relic of the True Cross and giving him my blessing. This good Brother was aware of my emotions and said to me, from his bed where he lay holding his crucifix in his hands: “Why should we exhaust ourselves Bishop, what good is it to feel sad, we are only exchanging this life for a better one”.
At two o’clock the savages had surrounded us on all sides, they had smeared themselves with black and were howling like demons. The carpenter Marie Julien took up his position in the attic; Dr Baudry and the Rev. Fr Grange each stationed themselves at a window on the first floor of the new house. Fr Bertrand and the sailor Georges were at the far end of the stone house, where they had organised small openings through which they could fire at anyone who might come to set fire to the house. As for me, not being capable of using a firearm, I occupied myself with noting where there was danger and bringing this to the attention of our people; from time to time I lifted my heart to God, praying for him to put an end to this trial. At the beginning of the attack, Bertrand mis-loaded his rifle; it exploded in his hands, putting him out of action, his right hand shattered, the top of his middle finger was torn off and the little finger mutilated. As for the natives, as soon as they were within rifle range they came one by one, stone by stone until they could hide themselves behind the wall that supports the terrace of the house. From there they were near enough to hurl stones against the wooden house, stones which could smash the planks without, at the same time, their having to come out into the open. It was impossible to get at them. To smash down the house was only a matter of one hour; but the assailants did not dare to invade the terrace, they were afraid of rifle shots and began to become discouraged.
A voice from the other side of the river shouted out to them to set fire to the house. Two savages rushed out to set our dwelling alight. Georges wounded the first; the other one got to the house and lit fires at the base of each support. So we found ourselves in a state of extreme confusion. To put out the fire by throwing water from the windows was impossible, because the fire had been set on the inside of the ground floor. To stay in the house was to commit our selves needlessly to a certain death. To go down to put out the fire would allow our enemies the time to invade the terrace and we would expose ourselves to their blows. We saw that it was useless to try and defend ourselves. So all our thoughts turned towards God and the future life, which we thought was already beginning. Nevertheless, Rev. Fr Grange and I made a vow to say one hundred and nine masses each if we were saved. We all gathered together in the chapel. Even Br Blaise left his bed and, struggling along as best he could, came and joined us there. His demeanour was calm, his brow peaceful, a smile on his lips. “I come”, he said to us as he came in, “I come here to await my final blow”.
The gentle good humour of this dear Brother so impressed the new Catholic Georges that, having witnessed it, he could not help saying: “Yes, I believe in religion”. Without wasting time, seeing that we were all gathered together, I asked for absolution and plenary indulgence from Rev. Fr Grange, to whom I had made my confession that morning. When I had received this blessing, everyone knelt before me and I, in turn gave them general absolution and plenary indulgence in articulo mortis. These consoling duties having been fulfilled we all embraced each other and said goodbye until we arrived in Heaven, where we hoped to meet again very shortly. We did not fail to mutually recommend each other in our prayers, above all so as to achieve perfect contrition. God gave us the strength to offer him, wholeheartedly, the sacrifice of our lives. I had offered mine for these poor New Caledonians, no less blind than the Jews and even more so for my dear Islanders of Melanesia and Micronesia.
We were struck by the thought that in leaving the house to be pillaged we would perhaps be able to come out of it with our lives saved. Rev. Fr Grange and Br Blaise offered this proposition, through the window, to the mob outside. Two chiefs, Oundo and Gomène, consented to sparing our lives and stopped the assault. Oundo indicated that Rev. Fr Grange should go down. The latter replied without moving away from the window and received a blow from a spear, which fortunately just brushed the skin on his left side at stomach height. It would be impossible for me to describe how terrifying it was to look at this multitude of barbarians armed with spears and clubs, their faces smeared with black; scenting victory they uttered wild cries of joy and only replied to our propositions to a peaceful settlement with terrible shouting, accompanied by spear throwing and blows with stones. To thoroughly convince them of the spoils available and to redirect their attention towards a goal capable of holding their complete attention Mr Baudry threw them the key of the storeroom; the savages rushed there en masse. We opened the trapdoor to go down and attempt to save ourselves by fleeing. We had to pass through the midst of these cannibals. We were expecting to be struck down when we reached the bottom of the ladder, on the ground floor, where the chiefs and a large number of our aggressors were gathered. My God! What a pathway.
Rev. Fr Grange went first, the doctor following him. I arrived next, hiding my pectoral cross and my ring. I blessed the barbaric crowd and the route by which we had to pass. Boéone was the first native I met. At the sight of this chief, the cause of our misfortunes and of the state of reprobation into which New Caledonia seemed soon to be plunged, I could not restrain myself from using very energetic gestures to threaten him with the anger of the Lord. He responded animatedly and with an air of triumph and unchallenged authority. I passed through this angry mob without anyone harming me. We had all come down to the ground floor. Br Bertrand, his arm in a sling, was the first to set off towards Poébo. I ran after him, all the while astonished that I had not been wounded. I was followed by the doctor, the carpenter and Georges. Then a native threw a spear at me, but the carpenter and Georges each fired a shot at him, sending him fleeing towards the house. Finally we saw Rev. Fr Grange emerge, pursued by a native throwing stones at him; he fell twice before reaching us, but fortunately was not wounded. He had stopped to speak to Oundo and was not able to flee until he had given him his rifle. Then we made a tally; Br Blaise was missing. I asked what we should do. It was impossible for this Brother to follow us and to attempt to carry him would inevitably mean death for all of us. We found ourselves in the painful position of having to leave without him. We hoped that the natives, having nothing to fear from him and being happy with the spoils that we had abandoned to them, would let him live. Rev. Fr Grange had commended him to the two chiefs Oundo and Goméne and Br Bertrand, when bidding him goodbye, had begged a native called Cari, who was present, to take him under his protection.
Poor Br Blaise was thus left in the hands of the natives. I repeat, it was impossible for us to carry him. Without him we would have left Baïaoup the day before the attack, on the night of 18th to 19th, but we had not been able to make the decision to abandon him. We headed as fast as possible towards Poébo. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. The pillaging was keeping our enemies occupied; they left us time to gain ground. Arriving at the village of Diréué, we learned from the catechist Michel that the people of Baïaoup had given the order, all along our route, to kill us. Michel was unwell; he had found out about the war that Bouéone had just declared and had immediately sent his brother Neia to Tea- Mouélébé to let Rev. Fr Rougeyron know about this occurrence.
Rev. Frs Rougeyron and Verguet had no idea of the danger that we had been exposed to; they went walking in the mountains near their house and were very nearly massacred by the natives. They owed their salvation to the child who was accompanying them; this child, hearing the savages plotting their death, took Rev. Fr Rougeyron by the arm and begged him to return quickly to the house, warning him of the danger. Back at the house Rev. Fr Rougeyron found Neia, who gave him a vague account of what was happening at Baïaoup. Hearing this news, Rev. Frs Rougeyron and Verguet sent the young Christian Loius to Téa-Pouma and told him to return as soon as possible to give them the precise details. If the battle was still going on they should, on Louis’ return, abandon the establishment at Poébo and all go together to Baïaoup to strengthen their position there, as all the provisions for the two missions in New Caledonia and Melanesia were stored there.
We met Louis at the boundary between the two tribes. We were pleased to hear that war had not broken out at Poébo at the same time as at Baïaoup. In our time of trouble the Lord had provided us with a sanctuary and he sent a kindly angel to meet us and lead us there. Louis fulfilled all these duties for us. He knew how to help us to skirt around all the dangers, either by making us take detours to avoid ambushes which might have been laid for us, or by going to speak in our favour to natives who we met and who raised our fears. The willingness and the intelligent energy of this excellent catechist moved me to tears. He carried me on his shoulders to help me cross the numerous rivers that we encountered on the route; on the climbs he held my arm to help me manage, he did not wish to leave me the task of carrying my breviary or of patching up the light shoes, already badly torn, that I was wearing when we fled and which soon left me barefooted. He wanted to run ahead of us to try and find some food. Although we had eaten almost nothing for two days, the presence of this excellent guide was too essential for us to do without him for a single minute.
We at last arrived at the settlement of Poébo between eight and nine o’clock at night. We were so overwhelmed with tiredness that we could hardly hold ourselves upright. Rev. Frs Rougeyron and Verguet came out to meet us, a short distance from the house. Br Bertrand, who had arrived shortly before us, had already informed them of the disaster; we embraced each other at the foot of the cross, our hearts so overflowing that we could hardly speak. Nevertheless we reaffirmed, in the midst of our tears, the sacrifice of all things, according to God’s will. We ate a little food, Dr Baudry put a preliminary dressing on Br Betrand’s wound and after having completed this harrowing journey with a prayer, we went to try and get a little rest.
On 20th July we deliberated and decided, unanimously, that our position in New Caledonia was no longer tenable. We would find a means of leaving as soon as possible. We dedicated some masses to this undertaking and one ex-voto to Our Lady of Fourvière. We finally decided that Br Auguste and the sailor Aumérand would go to Yenguene to find out if there was a ship there, as we were hoping, because the English often go there to load sandalwood. At the same time we were anxious to send Louis, Augustin and Nangaro, children attached to the mission, to Baïaoup, look for Br Blaise and bring him back in the boat of the Christian Gregoire. Louis returned that same day.
Here, briefly, is what he reported. After our departure Blaise, not wishing to witness the pillage and the destruction of our establishment, dragged himself to the road where he put himself under the protection of Cari, husband of Elizabeth our admirable first Christian in New Caledonia who died about six months ago. Cari promised to protect him. In fact, he protected him for a few moments. Blaise, touched by his loyalty, told him that in recompense, he would give him his trunk and that he could go and look for it. At that moment a savage named Dan came up and struck Blaise several blows with his club and went off believing him dead. The wife of Ouabate came to strip him of his clothes; Blaise, who was still alive, could not bear to see himself unclothed by a woman; he rallied his forces, picked up a stone and chased her off, reproaching her for her barbarity; he added that he would rather die than see himself stripped of his clothing. Exhausted by this effort, Br Blaise fell unconscious. The woman returned and removed his clothing. When the poor Brother regained consciousness, he tore out some clumps of grass to try and hide the total nudity in which he had been left and to wipe the blood that flowed from his wounds. He saw beside him the young Christians Antoine and Marie who, despite the scorn of the other savages, were weeping on seeing him left in such a pitiable state. Blaise gently said to them that they must be hungry and that they could go to the house and look for some food. Antoine went on his own and the faithful Marie stayed at his side and was witness to his death. In the meantime the same savage who had wounded Blaise with his spear the day before arrived back. Furious at finding him still alive, he threw himself on him with blows of his axe and almost entirely severed his head. Marie shed floods of tears at this sight, she recited her rosary beside him, dug a pit with a piece of wood and buried the body of Blaise.
The savages of Baïaoup did not even want to leave him in this grave, but wished to dig him up the following day and eat him, but they did not do it immediately, being too busy pillaging. The children, who went almost every day from Poébo to find out what was happening, saw him on a heap of stones. They undertook to bury him, but the natives would not allow it; they had to resign themselves to hiding him in the bushes, so that the cannibals could not easily find him. Rev. Fr Rougeyron, wishing to obtain some sort of grave for him, sent a man from Poébo to undertake the task of burying him. Not being able to carry this out because of the opposition from those at Baïaoup, this man attached the body to some large stones and threw it into a deep part of the river. The next day the body broke free and floated to the surface. Bouéone had it lifted out and placed near his house, so as to keep a better watch over it. He wanted to take the bones and keep them as a souvenir of his victory. During the night Cabo, wife of the chief Bouéone, helped by another woman, carried the body of the Brother well away from the house and buried it in a marshy area. When her husband asked her where the body was, she replied that perhaps the wind had carried it off into the sky, as this was a holy man. Bouéone accepted this explanation. Later the deceased was once again disinterred and his head taken to Poébo. I will say nothing about the barbarities that the people of Baïaoup subjected his body to, the hurtful insults that they hurled at him. The blows with feet and clubs that they delivered were nothing compared with the vile abuse that they indulged in.
It was not only on Br Blaise that they exercised their impious acts. Having pillaged the house and laid their hands on the vestments, the sacred vessels and our pictures of the saints, they subjected their people to the sight of a performance that was no less impious than that which took place in France in 1793; they were guided by the same master as the one who had inspired the revolutionaries. The sacred vessels were subjected to profane usage, then they were kicked about and thrown in the rubbish; the processional cross, having been the object of derision, was chopped into pieces. My bishop’s robes, which had been used only on the day of my consecration, were cut into pieces and scattered all through the house, on the dung heap, in the dust and in the grass. Everywhere there were torn images, pieces of rosaries, medals and crosses; they even went so far as to hang medals around the animals’ necks. Gomène, a minor chief, one of the most influential leaders in the whole affair and who, unfortunately, was only too well instructed in our holy mysteries, dressed himself in one of my cassocks and took my sash and my hat with the green tassels; another put on a chasuble; a third a cope; several others were wearing cassocks and albs; Gomène paraded amongst them; they gave him the title of Bishop and they took the names of priests. Dressed up in our holy vestments, these creatures aped some of our ceremonies, which they had been able to witness and at other times they pretended to recite prayers, imitating our reading from the breviary; they finished this impious behaviour by chasing each other and tearing up their vestments.
We also know that these unfortunate people treated, in the most impious manner, the statue of St Austremoine, which had, like all the rest of our possessions, fallen into their hands. They put a cord around his neck, dragged him through the dirt, cut off his nose and broke one of his arms; they wanted to tattoo him. These indignities and others he was subjected to are even more deserving of being wept over, because these maniacs thought that the statue was Jehovah, our God, about whom we had often spoken to them. All there details were related to us by the catechist Louis, who had had the heartache of having been an eyewitness of these horrors. He was not able to contain his indignation and threatened them with the fury of the Lord, who would be able to avenge these desecrations and the death of Br Blaise, just as he had punished the authors of the death of Fr Chanel, on Futuna. These threats of Louis’ made an impression on them only momentarily.
If you should ask me the cause of these deplorable events that I have just related, I could list them in a few words. 1. It is the inspiration, in other words the work, of the Devil, as was evident in the type of impiety that was exhibited in the behaviour of the natives towards Holy objects. 2. The greed of the savages who, deprived of everything and always hungry, think only of stealing and pillaging. 3. The gentle nature of the missionaries, who have always preferred to lose stolen belongings rather than kill the thieves. The savages regard this behaviour as timid weakness and so become more and more daring. 4. The jealousy of Bouérat, chief of Yenguen, whose influence is vast in this country. He wanted to attract the missionaries to his area so as to benefit from their goods or at least from their gifts. Not having been able to entice them immediately, he wanted to force them, by having them driven out of Baïaoup. 5. The slander that the English have circulated about us amongst the natives. They make them believe that we are sorcerers and that in baptising them we make them die. 6. Finally, the successes that the natives have had, in other parts of the island, where they have killed the white men and where they have even taken control of a small ship, whose crew they massacred.
Such, in brief, are the causes of the misfortunes, which deeply grieve us. On seeing the natives in such a frame of mind, we consider that it is expedient for us to leave this country as soon as possible; as I have told you, we sent two men to Yenguen to try and find a ship. They come back on 22nd July not having been able to locate one. So we have set ourselves the task of fortifying our dwelling and surrounding it with a barricade to keep the natives at a distance. We keep guard day and night in case they come to set fire to it or to surprise us. The people of Poébo were no more kindly disposed towards us than those of Baïaoup. They were convinced that all our riches  had fallen into the hands of our enemies; that we hardly had enough left to feed ourselves until a ship arrived; that this would soon appear and that it would bring us many more riches than those we had lost. We have left them to believe this; they intend to attack us when our house is re-stocked with riches, to kill us and to carry off the goods. In advance they were sharing out our possessions, the old chief Pauporea reserving for himself the house, which he had forbidden them to burn down if we were attacked. Every day he came to see it and encouraged us to work diligently, as it was not yet finished. More than once, however, the patience of the natives seemed to us to have run out. They constantly threatened us with war. To calm them, Rev. Fr Rougeyron plied them with gifts; he gave them food, clothing, knives and even a whaleboat. The natives from Baïaoup brought them some of the spoils taken from us. A distressing sight for us! Then we saw them arriving in front of the house dressed in soutanes. They suggested we buy back from them some of the scattered volumes from our library; if we refused to pay the price they demanded they would tear them up before our very eyes.
Such was our situation in Téa-Mouélébé when, on 3rd August, we heard talk of a ship which had been sighted off Balade. Rev. Fr Rougeyron sent two children to Balade to try to verify this news and he entrusted them with a letter asking the captain to bring his ship to Poébo. When the children returned they told us that the ship had departed at nightfall and had not returned the next day. The people of Baïaoup were already preparing themselves to massacre the ship’s crew. Boéone and some others were walking about in soutanes on the veranda of the mission house, so as to make the ship’s crew believe that the mission was still in existence and to make the white men come ashore; others positioned themselves with rifles in the mangroves along the river bank to fire at the people in the ship’s boats.
At this news, we all had the same idea, which was to set fire to the buildings at Baïaoup so that the savages could not make use of them to set such a well organised trap for the sailors and one which might remove all hope of our being saved. Four of our children, Louis, Augustin, Nangaro and Raphaël took on the responsibility of this task. They left on 5th August, towards evening, so as to arrive at Baïaoup at nightfall. Passing through Diréoué, they informed Michel of their project and as he was unable to accompany them, as he was unwell, sent with them his brother Neia. They arrived at Baïaoup at nightfall. The inhabitants of the village were unsuspecting, the house was deserted, and the children had no difficulty in setting it alight. At the sight of the flames the savages feared a surprise attack and instead of trying to put out the fire, they stayed huddled in their huts. When Louis arrived back in Poébo he recounted his foray to us.
We learned that the Christian Michel, who has some authority in the tribe at Téa-Pouma, wished, in conjunction with Can-Ouin, another chief of the same tribe, to declare war on the high chief Bouéone. Michel had seen, with indignation, the behaviour of Bouéone towards the missionaries and Can-Ouin could not bear to think that he had been deprived of his share of the booty, the attack having taken place in his absence. The battle took place the next day. There were wounded men everywhere; amongst others Gomène received a spear wound in the lower abdomen. Michel and Can-Ouin had the advantage. In the following days Bouéone gathered more supporters around him and Michel was beaten. His plantations and those of Can-Ouin were ravaged and their huts burnt. Michel had waged this war of his own accord, without consulting us; we would have dissuaded him, as he was too powerless to effectively help us and he exposed himself to the risk of death. As for us, we continually offered to God all our prayers and all our masses in the hopes of retaining peace until the time of our deliverance.
There had been fighting at Téa-Pouma since 8th August; on 9th in the morning, we were told a ship was in sight; the rumour was confirmed and soon we saw for ourselves a large three-master, flying the French flag. This sight was even more welcome when the ship headed towards the port; we felt that our ordeal would soon be over. The ship had only passed by Puébo; it dropped anchor at Balade. Rev. Fr Rougeyron gave several natives the task of delivering a letter from me to the ship’s captain; later, so as to reassure ourselves that the letters had been delivered, we sent aboard three men from the mission; we saw them returning the next day with several other ship’s boats. The wind was against them and very strong. During the afternoon we could see them; there were three, a landing craft and two dinghies, each one flying a French flag; we could see so many crew members on board that we no longer doubted that God had sent us a warship. That was the most fortunate thing that could happen to us in our situation. Around eight o’clock in the evening a detachment of thirty well-armed men arrived at the house; they marched, accompanied by some natives, lighting their route with flaming torches. A brave officer, Mr Fournier, accompanied by two cadets, commanded this detachment. The officer handed me a letter from the captain of the corvette Brillante. The captain was the worthy Mr du Bouzet, already well known to us from his first voyage to the central missions. Informed of our situation by two of my letters, which had reached him, he wished to do everything in his power to help us and to assist us in forgetting, so to speak, our misfortunes.
The Captain assumed that we wished to immediately withdraw and sent his ship’s boats for this purpose. Not being able to all leave at the same time, I left first with Rev. Fr Grange, to go on board and consult with the Captain as to what should be done in the best interests of the mission. Rev. Fr Roudaire, who had come from Wallis to join the mission in New Caledonia, stayed at the house with the two Fathers. Under the protection of Mr Fournier and his courageous escort and with great difficulty we reached the sea. Mr Lefer de la Motte, lieutenant aboard the corvette, was waiting for us near the boats. He welcomed us wholeheartedly and transported us, safe and sound, aboard the Brillante, where we arrived at four o’clock in the morning.
The Captain welcomed us in such a cordial manner, that we could not help but see him as the most suitable man to rescue us from the critical position in which we found ourselves. On 12th August the Brillante came and dropped anchor off Poébo and a detachment, under the command of Mr Trogoff, came ashore to take on board some of the mission’s possessions. The natives were alarmed; they foresaw our imminent departure and wished to prevent it. They planned a night attack, but rain prevented them from carrying it out. The next day, they lined the sides of the path, which led to the ship’s boats, so as to attack the landing party while it was protecting the withdrawal of the missionaries. Captain Du Bouzet had foreseen the danger. On 13th, he sent ashore double the number of men sent on the preceding days. He sent three ship’s boats; they carried sixty-four men, commanded by Lieutenant De Lamotte, Mr Trogoff and three cadets. Sixteen men guarded the boats. The others, undeterred by the torrential rain, went to gather up the missionaries and as much of their belongings as they could carry. The children, who remained at the mission, warned Rev. Fr Rougeyron that the natives were preparing to attack. Mr De Lamotte, having been informed, took a different path from the one that he had come by. The young Christian Louis directed the progress of the column. The group carried out its withdrawal in an orderly manner; it was hardly out of rifle range of the house when the natives launched their attack. The sailors responded to this attack with rifle shots, but did not manage to disperse them. The savages tried to set up an ambush near the route that the column would take and where they could throw their spears without being seen. In this way they wounded five men from the ship’s crew, amongst whom was Mr Raymond’s cadet. We hoped that these wounds were not serious. We do not know how many natives were wounded. We only know that one of them was killed and God allowed this to be the man who had taken the head of Br. Blaise from Baia and carried it to Poébo; Louis recognised him.
Finally, we had the good fortune to find ourselves all reunited aboard the Brillante on Friday 13th August at one o’clock. Each year, on the same day we will celebrate a mass of thanksgiving in memory of this auspicious deliverance; our magnanimous liberators will not be forgotten in our prayers. The children, Louis, Augustin, Nangaro and Raphaël who, during our time of trial demonstrated a constant fidelity, have asked Rev. Fr Rougeyron’s permission to follow him. They had no trouble in obtaining it. God is perhaps retaining them to become, one day, apostles to their unhappy country. The thing that could console us most in our sufferings, the arrival of the Anonyme, eventuated. She arrived and dropped anchor in the port of Poébo on 16th. She had some provisions for the New Caledonian mission. The mission having been abandoned, I took for my own use some of these provisions. The Brillante had given me some of hers, which would allow me to continue my journey to the Solomon Islands, without being obliged to return to Sydney immediately.
The tribulations that we have just endured will result in even more suffering, unless you can come to our aid. We are stripped of everything, we have lost everything. When I arrive in San Cristobal I am going to find our missionaries ill and without supplies. I will be obliged to shift the mission to a more salubrious country and to send to Sydney, to obtain fresh provisions and medications. What huge expenses these voyages are going to entail! After God, it is upon you that I rest my hopes and we count on your charity. In the midst of our travails and feeling even more intensely the need for your prayers, we urgently beg them of you; as for us, not a day passes when we do not lift our hearts to God, to present to him our suffering and to share the merits of it with our devout colleagues.
- I have the honour of being, gentlemen,
- Your very humble and devoted servant,
- Jean-Georges, Bishop of Antiphelles.
- Your very humble and devoted servant,
- I have the honour of being, gentlemen,
- George Taylor (cf. doc. 661, ∫ 21,23; 647, ∫ 18-19.
- Jean-Baptiste Bouvier, Bishop of Mans, author of several works, among which are Institutiones theologicae ad usum seminariorum 1836, in six volumes, with subsequent revisions (cf. Dictionary of French Biography , t. 7, col. 80)
- Cf. Nudus nudum Jesum sequi (Imitatione Christi libri quatuor, liber 111, cap. 37)
- [note from the author, in the margin] they use this word for everything we might have
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