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13 October 1847 − Father Xavier Montrouzier to Father Gabriel Montrouzier, Woodlark

Translated by Mary Williamson, February 2014

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

Four sheets of paper, forming sixteen written pages. The addressee, brother of the writer, was a diocesan priest.

Jesus Mary Joseph
Everything through Mary!

Fr Gabriel Montrouzier priest at Clermont l’Hérault

13th October 1847.

My dear Gabriel,
Here is an incredibly sad succession of events to the eyes of people in general and which I could hardly bring myself to describe to you, if I did not know that your faith would make you see them not as a disgrace, but as trials at the end of which some consolation would be found, similar to battles after which, it is to be hoped, rewards will follow. So that you can understand them, I will have to go back a bit; I will get straight onto the subject.
The Reverend Father Collomb, having left France on the Arche d’Alliance as Bishop of Antiphelles, elected but not consecrated and coadjutor of Bishop Epalle, cum futura successione, only learned in Tahiti of the death of this vicar apostolic and hastened to get to San Cristobal, to console and give encouragement to our small flock there, left without a senior pastor. He picked me up in New Caledonia, where I had been sent for a short time and for a specific reason, but where I had not for a moment thought of separating myself from the mission in the Solomon Islands. On 11th February 1847 we had the great pleasure of embracing our dear colleagues of Makira. [1]
These worthy missionaries had begun their apostolic career very courageously, for they had already suffered greatly and one could see on their pale, emaciated faces the signs of fever and a lack of nourishment suited to their state of health. But the arrival of the Bishop, their vicar apostolic, the hope of seeing the mission begin to function in an organized fashion, the joy of welcoming some new helpers, all that helped to heal their wounds and make them forget all their past suffering. Bishop Collomb, obliged to leave again for Sydney, to receive his episcopal consecration, left us all full of hope and enthusiasm. He did not suspect that on his return we would have nothing but disasters to relate to him.
With the arrival of the Arche d’Alliance and on the advice of Dr Montargis, whose enthusiasm and devotion I cannot praise enough, we resolved to see if the island could not offer us a less unhealthy setting than Makira and the Rev. Fathers Frémont, provincial, and Crey, a new arrival, along with two Brothers, went to establish themselves in the village of the Pia, sworn enemies of the Ioné, [2] our main allies. The Rev. Fathers Jacquet, Paget, Thomassin and I, with three Brothers stayed with these latter. One month later Father Crey succumbed to the fever and went to receive in Heaven the laurels bestowed for his hopes rather than his works, [3] and as for us, we saw vanish away what hopes we had that his youth, his education, and his piety might contribute to the good of our beloved mission…..Father Thomassin went to replace him in the village of the Pia.
When leaving, the Bishop had said to us in straightforward terms: Rest until my return. If we are going to found a new mission, which is very probable, you will need all your strength. To follow his instructions and also because the fever had left us unable to manage any great physical efforts, we suspended catechism lessons that we were going to teach in the more distant villages and we did very little except for the general care which, from time to time, was necessary for our habits, linen and the management of the house. For this, it was necessary to expose many of our things to the fresh air and consequently to keep a sharp lookout, for the savages are easily tempted and they do not always resist the temptation. Even these precautions were not sufficient where the Toro or the mountain dwellers were concerned and they stole from us many times, so to prevent more thefts we found it necessary to keep them away from the house. This measure, it seems, made them furious and they resolved to do nothing less than kill us. Here is how they carried out, in part, their project. For a long time the village of Uango, situated on the east coast of the island, had been indicated to us as a place very likely to suit us. The population, the fertile ground, the port, everything that we would need to found an establishment was there. One day, when we were feeling better than usual, we thought that it would be a good idea to go and have a look for ourselves, so that when Bishop Collomb arrived back we could give him some positive information. The Rev Fathers Paget and Jacquet wanted to make the journey. I wished to too, but wearied by the fever, I had to yield to the observations of the others, that it would be unwise to go in such poor health. I submitted and today I still languish in the valley of tears while my brothers, having reached the end of their term have, I hope, received the laurels reserved for apostles and martyrs. May God’s will always be praised! But believe me, my dear Gabriel, it takes only a few years of mission work to become detached from this miserable life and for death to lose its horrors for the apostle, who no longer holds to anything here below and whose hopes are all in Heaven. But let us get back to the present. The Reverend Fathers Paget and Jacquet accompanied by our dear Brother Hyacinthe, [4] left Makira on 20th April about 5 o’clock in the morning and headed towards the village of the Toro, whose evil plans they were not aware of and on whose territory they had been well received not long before. At 9 oclock I saw a native pass in front of the house shouting out in fear: Matématé, matématé! And soon after I learned that the two Fathers and the Brother had actually been massacred by the mountain dwellers. The news was shattering; however with God’s grace I did not lose heart and that was very necessary, as I found myself in a critical position. The Toro, not satisfied with having killed three of our brothers, incited the Ioné to rid themselves of us and to pillage our possessions, and this was easy: we were only three in the house. I commended myself to Our Lady of seven sorrows, I made my act of contrition and I wrote to Rev. Fr Frémont so that he might come with all his flock before nightfall.
In the meantime a crowd of Ioné were arriving at Makira. They all had their weapons and kept saying to me: bring a rifle, we will come with you and we will kill the Toro and then we will eat them ….. Besides the fact that their proposition was not of a kind to please me, their actual presence did not reassure me at all, as I was not at all sure that I could trust them. God would not allow them to harm me and they did not dare to declare themselves our enemies face to face, I say face to face, for we all had reason to believe that they were in agreement with the mountain dwellers and even that they had mounted the attack with the intention of making our Fathers and Brothers return from the village of the Pia, who they could not bear to see sharing in our distribution of tools, fabrics etc. It was then that I was told the details of the unhappy events. Here they are as they were told to me. Our dear colleagues when passing through the village of the Toro were received as usual. They were even accompanied ceremonially, as was sometimes done. But all that was only to lead them on further. In fact, arriving at a certain village allied to them, they uttered a cry and the attack began immediately. Father Paget received a spear thrust in the chest, Father Jacquet had his head chopped off with the blow of an axe; Brother Hyacinthe, struck first with spear which skimmed his skin, was finished off with axe blows. After this carnage, the murderers moved off as if horrified by what they had done and left the three corpses swimming in blood, but a moment later they came back, grabbed hold of the bodies, cut them into pieces and prepared to make a ghastly feast of them for themselves and their friends! … I did everything possible to claim the mortal remains of our dear brothers, I promised iron goods and anything that would tempt the savages, but it was all in vain. The Ioné did not refuse to go to the territory of the Toro, but they demanded that I accompany them with a rifle and you can understand that I could not accept this condition. Finally, the Rev. Fr Frémont arrived. Oh! How pleased I was when I saw him appear and after explaining everything to him, I handed back to him the responsibility of the house. He enlightened me with his attitude of resignation. God deals us blows, he said to me, it is proof that he loves us. The night was peaceful and the mountain dwellers considered themselves content to have killed three Europeans who had become their enemies, we do not know how.
These, I repeat, my dear Gabriel, are very sad news items for the general public, but the faith does not see them in the same way. It is true we have lost three colleagues, three co-workers, and no one understands this loss more than we do, as we see, every day, more souls descend into Hell for lack of ministers of the gospel. But after all, one single blessing obtained by their intercession would perhaps do more than their traveling around and preaching would have done. − We have not had the consolation of getting back their bodies, consecrated by the Holy Spirit, nor according them the last rites and this distress has been for us all the more painful as we know the custom the savages have, of displaying the bones of their victims in their huts. But after all, we have no less hope of seeing them one glorious day in Heaven and we firmly believe that the smallest scrap of their bones will not be lost. Above all in these events, what has lessened our regrets is that the enlightenment that our brothers have brought to us during their lives has given us the hope that God has called them to him to recompense them. On this subject, I must speak to you briefly about each one of them.
The Reverend Father Paget, born in the Catholic region of Savoie, of excellent parents, joined the Society of Mary only a few years ago. [5] But I would dare to say that he did not fail to be well enough known there to be greatly valued by all his colleagues. For myself, I can assure you that I have seen few men animated by such a lively faith and such an ardent enthusiasm, without mentioning his other virtues. I have even often thought that this faith would see him achieving great things and I fully believe that he would have achieved that, if God had left him longer here on earth. He only judged things by the affinity they had with salvation and more than once it came about that, when we were speaking about a man who was reputed in the world for his fortune, his rank or his science, he would interrupt us to ask if this scholar or this grand person had any religious principals. We replied to him in the negative. Oh! He cried heatedly, what blindness to let yourself be so dazzled by temporary things and neglect the care of things eternal! He was very learned especially in theology, but he claimed that learning seemed to him a great vanity, unless it led one to carry out further acts displaying love of God. With this faith, he was, as is naturel, always at prayer and he would often ask us as a joke how many novenas were necessary to make an improvement. Besides, his prayers were very effective and I can only recall with embarrassment at my weakness, the fervour with which, during our passage to New Caledonia, he suggested to Bishop Douarre that he address himself to God in order to stop the pain which was afflicting the good bishop. He prayed and the pain disappeared. Enthusiasm is an effect of faith; when one believes in the greatness of the master that we serve, in the dignity of the soul, in the price of the blood of Jesus Christ, nothing stops you, nothing frightens you. One preaches in good and bad times [6] to disabuse the poor victims of Satan, snatch them from Hell and lead them back to the fold of he who died for them. This is what Rev. Fr Paget has done. It could be said that his enthusiasm was great and perhaps excessive. At least that is what he proved in several missions in which he took part in France and what he proved to us in his crossing from Boulogne to London where, in spite of sea sickness, he continued to debate with an Anglican minister who he had the good fortune, if not to convert, at least to confound. He eventually proved this to us on San Cristobal, where he actually pursued, like a good pastor, a wayward lamb and on the days when we learned that some soul had escaped us he seemed overwhelmed by sadness.
As for the Rev. Fr Jacquet, he was no less impressive, but in a completely different way. With him, the dominant virtues were charity, patience and a great love of order. In charge of the sickroom at a time when nearly everyone was stricken with the fever, he was always the same towards everyone, constantly attentive and thoughtful. Especially in conversation, he made sure not to offend anyone and I do not think he ever knowingly hurt anyone. As well, it was greatly to his credit that he lived like us, he who had for a long time practiced the holy ministry in France, without being tied down by any particular vows and had consequently had more difficulty in managing the sometimes difficult life of a religious person and missionary. Neither was he accustomed to manual work; nevertheless he was never outdone by anyone where courage was concerned and although he seemed somewhat slower than others at tasks, by constant application he managed to finish the heaviest of tasks. I do not need to tell you that he had overcome great obstacles to follow his vocation. That is what normally happens, but what I must tell you for your information, is that he carried heroism so far as to face even the censure of his Bishop, [7] something which is always very hard for a good priest, rather than not obey the voice of God. He had taken his vows in the month of March, on the day of Saint Joseph and some time beforehand I had received him into the third order of Saint Francis.
Dear Br Hyacinthe also set us very a very good example. Very conscientious in his work, he nevertheless did not forget his religious practices, to which he was always very faithful and as well, something which is very precious in the mission, he was so patient with the natives, he was very kindly towards them when they brought their iron goods to be sharpened or their axes to receive new handles, so they all loved him very much.
Let us get back to ourselves. In the first moments after the massacre, after their fury had calmed a little, the Toro feared reprisals. How blind! They did not know that following the example of our Divine Master we did not wish for the death of the sinner, but his conversion and his life and they believed that we were only waiting for a favorable occasion to get revenge. But, when they saw that we stayed in our house and left them completely undisturbed, they became more daring and one day, just a few steps away from the house, they fired two arrows at our Brother the gardener. Very fortunately they did not reach him, but that was enough to make us understand what sort of enemies we were dealing with. Obviously, the hatred of the mountain dwellers was not satisfied. We cleared the surroundings of the house in such a way as to make it impossible to hide in the bushes and we kept on our guard, leaving the house as little as possible. But the evildoers kept an even better watch than us. One evening as we were about to begin our spiritual readings, we suddenly heard our two dogs beginning to bark. Convinced that this time we were really being attacked, we looked out through the cracks in the door and saw that our roof of palm leaves had been set on fire. To go outside and put it out would expose us to being struck by spears; to stay inside would certainly mean its loss. We took the least dangerous course, we went out and were lucky enough to not be wounded. The savages, who had waited to carry out their evil plan until several days of rain had passed, believed themselves assured of their success, without the need to attack us. They were convinced that we would all be burned and were content to hide themselves on the river bank ready to spear those who would go to seek water. God foiled their plans, he arranged that the wind, which had been blowing violently all day calmed down, that our watering cans were full and, thanks be to Him, in very little time we mastered the fire. There is no need to tell you, my dear brother, that the night was not very restful. We thought, not without reason, that the mountain dwellers were hidden in the woods whilst waiting to pillage our house and we kept constant watch. There is more. Hunted as we were by the Toro, threatened by the Pia, getting very little support from the Ioné who were becoming more and more unfriendly and amongst whom several had eaten the massacred Fathers and Brothers, we felt it necessary to keep watch every night and for this we organised a system which seemed more like a military camp than a mission. The watches were of three hours and especially at the beginning they were even more difficult because, fearing dangerous happenings, we often took a falling leaf or a bird rustling in the brush for enemy movement. This lasted two months. Finally, on 28th August, a ship was seen and the next day, day of the Holy Heart of Mary, [8] we had the pleasure of receiving the benediction of the Bishop, the Vicar Apostolic. From that time our troubles were forgotten, we thought that our hardships had come to an end and we only thought of the pain that our Bishop would suffer on learning of the massacre on 20th April and the death of Father Crey. We were soon disabused and came to the conclusion that we were going to have to drain to the last dregs the chalice of bitterness from which we had begun to drink.
When the Bishop had blessed and embraced us and given free flow to his tears, he said to us; you have made me part of your suffering, it is my turn now to tell you about mine. Then he told us that he had been obliged to go to be consecrated in New Zealand, and to pass through New Caledonia where he had been witness to and almost become victim of the sad events that I can only describe to you in transcribing the statement prepared by the Reverend Fathers in charge of this unfortunate mission. What you see between brackets will be my comment and will serve as explanation.
Statement of events which took place at the Catholic mission in New Caledonia in 1847.
At the beginning of the current year, 1847, the attitude of the native tribes of Téa-Pouma (Balade) and Téa Moulede (Pouépo) [9] (these two tribes are related to each other) seemed friendly enough that we thought we could, without danger, found a new settlement with this latter tribe, reducing the personnel at the first settlement founded at the beginning of 1844. All was peaceful in fact until the month of May. At that time a severe famine struck mainly in the Téa-Pouma tribe. A large number of people went looking for food in Ienguène [10] about fifteen leagues from the port of Balade. On their return they displayed a menacing attitude. They came and related in a very challenging way the story of the death of a European who was staying in Ienguène. It was an Englishman called Sutton [11] who had just been massacred. (This Sutton was a young man of good family who, with talents enough to certainly make him shine in the world and a fortune sufficient to acquire him many of life’s pleasures, had had the singular idea of travelling through the islands of Oceania and living there like the natives. He had been to Australia, New Zealand, Tanna, Anatom [12] and finally New Caledonia. I have seen this bizarre character twice and I must say that his behaviour was a problem for me. He spoke good French, knew Latin and Greek and read Homer in his native hut!) They even claimed, though this was false, that they had eaten him and that they had found him delicious and they expressly threatened the members of the mission that they would be treated in the same fashion. What astonished us was that according to these natives, some Englishmen trading in sandalwood had said that the Oui oui (Frenchmen) were tabou (sacred) and could make other men die. This slander must have made an even greater impression on the minds of these natives as, only a few months earlier an epidemic had carried off a good third of the surrounding tribes. (I was still in New Caledonia at the time of this epidemic and already at the time we had difficulty in persuading the natives the baptismal water did not cause death.) Then they no longer held to any limits; they destroyed all the plantations belonging to the mission. They came in broad daylight and tore up the banana palms, carried off the coconuts and ravaged our gardens before our very eyes. Impunity makes them more and more daring. Some of them go so far as to force their way into the storehouse and steal various objects.
On 20th June, after having banded together, the villages of Balade, Ouébane, Bouelate, Baïaou, Maamat and Ouonbane [13] arrived en masse to take possession of the house. They had the known intention of massacring the missionaries and pillaging their belongings. A good show of composure foiled their plans. (The plot had been laid for a long time and Bouarat, the chief at Ienguène, was not unaware of it, for on 25th May, happening to be in Baïaou, he announced to the captain of the brig Anonyme, which belongs to the French Society of Oceania, that as soon as the ship departed, the missionaries would be attacked.)
Such were the circumstances when Bishop Collomb, bishop of Antiphelles, vicar apostolic of Melanesia and Micronesia arrived in Balade aboard the Speeck, [14] accompanied by the Rev. Fr Verguet. (It is not unhelpful to tell you why the Bishop passed through New Caledonia before going on to San Cristobal. Since the events at Isabelle, the Solomon Islands have such a bad reputation in Sydney that there was not a captain who wished to approach them and the captain of the Speeck did not wish to ever go as far as our place. So it was necessary for Bishop to make do with bargaining with him for his passage from Sydney to New Caledonia where he hoped to find Captain Raballan, who has never lacked in devotion to our missions. As for the presence of Rev. Fr Verguet, alas! I cannot explain it to you except by saying that the poor young man was disgusted with the missions where he was continually ill and wished to return to France.) Our Lord Bishop was bringing supplies for the mission. He also had some for the missionaries in New Caledonia and for the brig Anonyme. As well there were some items of exchange for the French Society and various effects for a variety of people. (I received the wine that you were kind enough to send me.) The natives helped with the unloading and remained peaceful until the 10th. On 10th July at 6 o’clock in the evening, they entered the church (not yet consecrated) where we had been obliged to store most of the goods and carried off goods to the value of three hundred francs belonging to the French Society. We have since learned that their main intention was to attract us all to the church and profit from the disorder to burn and massacre us there. Fortunately we came out of the church early enough to make their plan fail.
On 15th July Rev. Fr Verguet went to Pouépo to spend a few days with Rev. Fr Rougeyron. The next day he wrote to Bishop Collomb to warn him that the rumour was circulating in Pouépo that following the departure of the Speeck the settlement at Baïaou would be attacked by the combined forces of all the Téa-Pouma tribes.
The Speeck set sail for Batavia. At that time in the settlement at Baïaou there were Bishop Collomb, Rev. Fr Grange, Brothers Blaise and Bertrand, Doctor Baudry, [15] left by Mr Marceau as a representative of the French Society, to carry out scientific explorations in the country, Marie Julien, carpenter from the Arche d’ Alliance and the Scotsman Georges Taylord. [16] (These last three people found themselves by chance at the missionary establishment where, whilst waiting to acquire a solid house the missionaries had been happy to offer them hospitality. They were all attached to the French Society. George Taylord was a Protestant). The very day of the departure of the Speeck the two young Christians, Antoine and Marie (I had the pleasure of baptising them) warned us that the next day we were going to be attacked. We did not pay enough attention to their words. Around eight o’clock in the morning, [17] the minor chief (Aou) Gomène came to say that in order to regain our friendship, the natives agreed to return all the objects stolen on 10th. We accepted their offer. At one o’clock Gomène came back with the high chief (Téama) Bouéone and two children carrying two parcels of stolen goods. Bouéone had his spear, Gomène his club. While we spoke to them on the terrace of the house, a dozen natives armed with spears and clubs rushed upon us, entering the ground floor of the house which was not yet closed off. Though unarmed, we charged at them. Brother Bertrand managed to get into the kitchen where the rifles were kept: a randomly fired shot which did not hit anyone sufficed to put them to flight. At the same time Br Blaise was wounded with a spear which penetrated the left side of his chest. His wound was obviously mortal. Rev. Fr Grange hastened to write to Rev. Fr Rougeyron. Young Marie, who was carrying the letter, was stopped and ordered on behalf of the high chief Bouéone to go back under threat of death. On her return she announced that they were going to set fire to the church. Almost immediately flames appeared at the top of the roof which was covered with thatch. Impossible to save anything. That evening, Antoine and Marie informed us that the plan of the chief was to gather together all the villages of the tribe to launch a general attack the next day to kill us and pillage our belongings. We kept vigilant watch all night.
At daybreak, on 19th, they set fire to the ship’s boats from the Seine. [18]. (The survivors of the shipwreck of the Seine, not having been able to take their ship’s boats aboard the Arabian, which was too overloaded, had left them in storage in New Caledonia.) Thinking that this day could well be the last of our lives, we all made our confession; the Bishop took the Eucharist and Georges Taylord, who had been receiving instruction from Rev. Fr Grange for some time and who was prepared to become a Catholic, received conditional baptism and was admitted to the sacrament of penitence. By two o’clock we were surrounded on all sides by savages. They were smeared with black and uttered fearsome shouts. They were hidden behind large rocks not far from the house and sheltered by the wall that supported the terrace. They were throwing large stones which broke through the cladding of the house. It was impossible for us to reach them. Nevertheless they did not dare invade the courtyard. Perhaps they were even beginning to tire, after an hour and a half to two hours of fierce fighting. But a chief called out to them from the other side of the river to set fire to the house. Immediately after, the supports of the ground floor were set on fire. It was impossible for us to put it out. We were extremely anxious. To stay was to perish in the fire. To go down was to be felled by blows from the savages. We gathered together in the chapel. Even Br Blaise left his bed and dragged himself, as best he was able, to come and join us. His bearing was calm. His expression serene, a smile on his lips. On entering, he said to us, I have come here to await the final blow. A few minutes earlier, when the Bishop appeared emotional when giving him his benediction, he said to him: Oh! Why do we trouble ourselves. We are only exchanging this life for a better one….. The gentle cheerfulness of this good brother so impressed the new Catholic, Georges, that he could not help saying: this is certainly the true religion. When the Bishop himself had received a last absolution and plenary indulgence in articulo mortis, all the others knelt down and received from his hand the same blessing. After that we all embraced each other and said goodbye until such time as we reached Heaven where we all hoped to meet again in a short while. The Bishop and Fr Grange made a vow of one hundred and nine masses each, if it pleased the Almighty to rescue us from this extreme peril. The thought occurred to us that if we abandoned the house to be pillaged, we would perhaps have a chance of being saved. Fr Grange went to the window and, addressing the masses, he proposed that he hand over the key to the storehouse on condition that they put out the fire and spared our lives. Two chiefs, Ouando [19] and Gomène replied in the affirmative. They put out the fire. Ouando signalled to Fr Grange to come down. During their discussion, he received a blow from a spear which just brushed the skin. Dr Baudry threw them the keys of the storehouse. The savages rushed towards it. We opened the trap to go down. Fr Grange was the first to emerge. While he was talking with Ouando, the Bishop and Br Bertrand escaped and left the courtyard. Next came the doctor, Marie and Georges. Two natives, armed with spears, saw the Bishop and Br Bertrand. They came up to attack them. The doctor showed his rifle with a threatening expression and they stopped. Marie and Georges, who were following, seeing the danger to which the Bishop was exposed, fired some rifle shots which put the natives to flight. Meanwhile Fr Grange continued to talk with Ouando. Soon he ran towards us, followed by the natives, throwing stones. Twice he fell and got up again. At last he rejoined us. Then we counted ourselves. Br Blaise was missing. The Bishop asked what we should do. We all replied that it was impossible for the Brother to follow us and that to attempt to carry him would inevitably mean the death of us all. Besides, we hoped that, having nothing to fear from him and happy with the booty that we were leaving them, the natives would not take his life. Fr Grange had already commended him to the two chiefs Ouando and Gomène. We headed at speed towards Pouépo ( where the settlement is about three leagues from Baïao.) Arriving at the village of Diaoué, we learned from the chatechist Michel that the people of Baïaou had given out the order to kill us. We feared, after our first attack, that the establishment at Pouépo had met the same fate as that of Baïaou. We were happy despite our distress to learn that nothing of the kind had taken place. Before we arrived at the first village of the tribe of Pouépo, we met two children, the catechist Louis and Mouéaou a novice. Rev. Fr Rougeyron, warned by the brother of Michel of what had happened to us the day before, had sent them to find exactly what had happened. These two children were extremely useful to us. They knew how to help us avoid all the dangers. We reached the establishment at Pouépo at eight o’clock in the evening, so overwhelmed with fatigue that we could scarcely stand up. The Bishop and Dr Baudry were without shoes. The Rev. Fathers Rougeyron and Verguet came out to receive us, mingling their tears with ours and making our sacrifice with us. (I do not need to point out to you, my dear brother, the hand of providence in the retreat of our Fathers and Brothers, but I must tell you that it struck me forcefully. Enraged savages were surrounding the house and we came out into the middle of them but were not harmed, then we walked for three hours without them thinking of pursuing us; in my opinion that is a quite inexplicable fact. So it serves us then to entrust ourselves to He who has said: vestri capilli numerati sunt, [20] And elsewhere: cum ipso sum in tribulatione eripiam eum et glorificabo eum. [21].
On 20th July we delibrated and we unanimously agreed that our position in New Caledonia was no longer tenable. The events in Baïaou were going to give the savages new ideas, after having already tried several times to kill the missionaries. It was decided that Br Auguste and the sailor Aumeyrand (he stayed on after the Seine had left with two companions Bocherel and Cadourteau [22] and we kept all three occupied at the mission as workmen) would go the Ienguène to see if there was a ship, as we were hoping, because often the English came looking for sandalwood. At the same time we hastened to send to Baïaou the children Louis, Augustin and Nangaro, who were attached to the mission, to look for Br Blaise and bring him back in the boat of the Christian Grégoire. Louis came back that same day. Here briefly is what he reported. Not long after our flight from Baïaou, Br Blaise had been pitilessly massacred. He was stripped of his clothes; indescribable horrors were inflicted on his body. The inside of the chapel had been ravaged, the ornaments desecrated and the sacred vessels thrown in the dirt. All the religious objects and been trampled underfoot. (Whilst the savages indulged in these excesses in a satanic frenzy, young Marie showed them by her example what God’s grace had done for her. In the presence of these cannibals, she had the courage to say the rosary beside the body of Br Blaise and to bury him to the best of her ability. Five times the body was dug up; there was even discussion over whether they would eat it; the fortitude of this child was more powerful than the fury of the murderers. To God alone is the glory! He alone is able to make savages capable of this heroism. But happy is the missionary who serves as the instrument in the carrying out of such marvels! [23]
The events at Baïaou aroused the people at Pouépo to the heights of greed. We had already learned that they had formulated a similar plan. We addressed ourselves to God; each of the missionaries made a personal vow. At the same time we took safety measures and organised ourselves to keep guard night and day so as to avoid any surprises.
On 22th July, Br Auguste and Aumeyrand arrived from Ienguène. They had not found any sandalwood traders there. We found ourselves obliged to await the arrival of a ship at Pouépo. We knew that the folk of Baïaou wanted to make use of the missionaries buildings which had not been destroyed by fire to lay a trap for the ships which would come to anchor at Balade. They would promenade on the terrace in soutanes, fire a few rifle shots to attract the ships into the port and hide themselves in the mangroves ready to massacre the crew members when the disembarked. They had even enlisted the people of Pouépo to do the same. Anxious about the fate of the Anonyme and the Arche d’Alliance, which we were awaiting, or of any other ship that might arrive, we accepted the need to burn the buildings at Baïaou. The children attached to the mission carried out this project in the night of 5th to 6th. The mood of the natives towards us was becoming more and more menacing. We were awaiting a catastrophe. Several times we saw them gathering round the house in large numbers with hostile intentions. One night the inhabitants of two villages gathered at our nearest neighbour ready to attack us immediately. They were turned away. Nevertheless they plotted new schemes, but one particular plan pleased them more than the others. They would await the arrival of a ship which would bring some goods to the mission; Then they would be able to pillage even more successfully. The old chief (the young one was still in training) recommended that his followers protect the house and certainly not burn it down. He wanted to make it his dwelling when we had been killed. Informed of his plans, we redoubled our vigilance; we tried by our kindly conduct towards the natives to calm them down and make them be patient until the arrival of the first ship that would come to our aid.
On 9th August the battleship, the Brillante, under the command of Mr Du Bouzet arrived. [24] This excellent captain immediately applied himself to our deliverance.
The written report ends here. Here are the following events. As soon as we had seen the Brillante pass by, we sent three men with a letter to the ship, which had dropped anchor at Balade. In this letter the position of the mission was laid out and we begged them to come and anchor at Pouépo. Although there was only three leagues distance between one port and the other, as there was a head wind the Brillante could not sail right away; but the worthy captain, Mr du Bouzet, immediately sent three ship’s boats, heavily armed and under the command of the second officer, Mr de la Motte. They arrived to aid our collegues on the evening of 10th and thirty men went immediately to the settlement. There, at the request of the officer, Bishop Collomb made up his mind to go aboard the ship to discuss the situation with the Captain. So they left again straight away. Rev. Fr Grange accompanied the Bishop. On 11th, mid morning, they boarded the Brillante. Mr du Bouzet, in full uniform, received the Bishop, who described to him the past events. The captain then said to him: I cannot help but punish the New Caledonians. I would be failing in my duty if I left their revolt unpunished. The Bishop explained to him how painful it would be for the missionaries to see the blood of their adopted children spilt. I understand what you are saying, replied the captain and I am impressed by it, but I too have my obligations to fulfil. But now, let us occupy ourselves with the deliverance of the mission. It was decided then that it would be necessary to go and anchor at Pouépo to carry out the rescue more easily. They set sail immediately and the next day, the 12th, they were anchored. The Bishop went ashore with Fr Grange. They were escorted by thirty well armed men who nevertheless did not do battle with the natives, as you will be able to judge from the following facts: Passing a savage, The Bishop saw in his hands a pontifical from the pillage at Baïouo. Here is a precious book, he said. One of the sailors then wished to buy it to return it to the Bishop, but the savage proudly replied to him: Tchéguène, as we would say: do not touch it. The men were furious and without the intervention of the officer, who forbade them to do anything which might provoke a clash, they would have taken extreme action. Reunited at the house, the missionaries held a last consultation to resolve the major question: should they abandon New Caledonia? They replied in the affirmative and from then on they busied themselves with moving out. At first this was carried out with the natives being reasonably calm, but by evening the numbers were rising and they were resolved to attack the establishment during the night. Heavy rain prevented them carrying out this plan. Besides, the captain had sent a few more men as reinforcements.
On 13th the Bishop, who had returned to the ship, and who had taken with him the children who were attached to the mission, sent them back with a letter in which he observed to Rev. Fr Rougeyron that if the departure of these children was going to be a cause of warfare, it would perhaps be better to leave them. Obviously Providence inspired Bishop Collomb. You will see how. The children left on the ship’s boats, crewed by 86 very well armed men and they learned that the natives were awaiting their return and that to surprise them they were aiming to hide themselves on the side of the river at Pouépo where they thought the men would pass and they warned Rev. Fr Rougeyron of all this plotting. Arriving at the house, the sailors loaded up all the belongings of the house, then set our on foot to return to the ship. Young Louis led the way. They drew near to the river. Then instead of taking the usual route, they continued to skirt the river. The natives were disconcerted, they shouted that the men had taken the wrong route, but seeing that they were not making any impression, they raised the stakes. Then from all sides they rushed at the sailors throwing their spears. The sailors replied with rifle shots and a continuous barrage which did not cease till the boats were reached. This retreat was disastrous, one native was killed, and several were wounded and among the sailors five received spear wounds. A junior seaman was quite seriously wounded. And the beloved children of the mission, where were they? Ah! The good Lord, in the midst of all these trials wished to console the missionaries. Augustin, Raphaël and Nangaro, having learned that there was some doubt over whether they would be taken, had gone to rejoin the convoy by a side path so there was no danger in taking them. Louis stayed with Fr Rougeyron. So four children accompanied the Fathers. By evening everyone was aboard.
A few days later they set sail for Balade. There, the captain wished to go ashore as he had planned, from the 10th, to punish the savages. On the 20th the missionaries saw the preparations being made. They then wrote a letter to Mr du Bouzet in which they protested against any measure of revenge. The Captain replied with dignity that before having received their protest he understood their feelings of charity and he would perhaps have respected them if it was only a question of the mission, but with the clash at Baïaou, the government of France felt itself insulted, because the ship’s boats of the Seine and several belongings of the French Society of Oceania had been burned and he was obliged to exact vengeance. As a consequence, on 21st, he went himself, with a shore contingent, to burn the huts, destroy the coconut palms and ravage the plantations of the savages. The latter showed themselves very audacious; they tried several times to attack the sailors, but they did not wound anyone.
It must be said in fairness to Captain du Bouzet that aside from the zeal he exhibited in all these unhappy affairs concerning our colleagues, he displayed the heart of a missionary where the natives were concerned. During the day of 21st, he would have been able to kill many of them; it would even have pleased his crew if he had let them act thus. He always replied in these compassionate words: I do not wish to massacre the New Caledonians. If he did them any harm, it was uniquely in not letting them have the upper hand.
There, my dear Gabriel, are the sad events. A mission abandoned, some savages killed, the provisions of another mission lost, there some heavy crosses to bear! But in all that there is only one thing to say, from the time that one is a Christian: Fiat voluntas tua! [25] What is more, as God never tests us beyond our strength and as he knows our weaknesses, he blends some gentleness into these bitter events and if all the New Caledonians of Baïaou and Pouépo have saddened the hearts of the missionaries others have gladdened them. Yes, the conduct of Louis and other children at the mission, as well as that of Marie and Michel has caused them to shed tears of joy. Augustin said, when he feared that he would not be able to follow Fr Rougeyron: “The first ship that comes , I will approach it and beg them to take me to San Cristobal to be near Fr Montrouzier who will hear my confession”. Michel, seeing the Brillante which was going to drop anchor at Balade, after the day of 13th, waved a large tapa cloth so that they would come and get him. Someone was sent to find him. When he arrived on board, he was overcome with grief, his sobs prevented him from speaking. He promised Rev. Fr Rougeyron to reunite the Catholics and instruct others and baptize them at the moment of death! Providence has also several times shown his compassionate actions. We awaited the Anonyme, but when would it arrive? We did not know. If it should come after the departure of the Brillante, the crew would go ashore unsuspectingly and would probably be massacred. It arrived on 16th and was warned in time of the painful circumstances in which we found ourselves.
Our mission suffered great losses in New Caledonia. Bishop Collomb, who could not have foreseen the events of 20th April and the death of Fr Crey, and who besides had seen from the state of health of the men that they would not be able themselves to build the houses for the new settlements, had bought in Sydney two wooden houses. He had also bought sufficient supplies and as well he had with him his chapel, some ornaments etc. All of that had been pillaged or burned.
Let us go back to San Cristobal. The night of his arrival in port, the Vicar Apostolic learned, through a letter from Rev. Fr Frémont, of our misfortunes and our position. Not knowing exactly what he should think of the danger for a small ship, such as the Anonyme, in going ashore in such dangerous conditions, he consulted the crew and asked them what they wished to do. They replied that they would risk everything to save the missionaries and immediately several made their confession.
When the Bishop had given us all these details, he came to this important question: What should we do? We prayed, we deliberated and we believed that we were not safe enough at San Cristobal to obey the express instructions of the Propaganda to remain on this island. These instructions indicate that one should flee from martyrdom. Besides, other reasons brought us to the grave decision that we took. Among them, I would cite that of the noticeable weakening of our health.
It was necessary to move out our things and, where this was concerned, there were two problems; the natives did not look upon it favourably; the ship, which had not been able to unload its cargo in New Caledonia, would not be large enough to take everything. We began on 1st September. On that particular day the natives remained passive; They believed only that we were going to move elsewhere, but remain on the island. The next day, I do not know if the Devil had revealed our secret, but all the same they seemed changed. They crowded into the house and we could not make them leave. Finally, at midday, the ship’s captain arrived and told me that the ship was full. Left in charge by the Bishop of the embarking, to mislead the natives, I left on the riverbank a few not very precious trunks and I thus led them to believe that we would be coming back. Then I got everyone aboard and thus we all came to be on the ship safe and sound. Only then did we realise that among the trunks regarded as not precious was one full of books. It was too late, it would have been unwise to return to shore. It goes without saying that we were not able to take away the planks of our house and many other things which we deeply regretted.
So there is another mission abandoned! And now where will we go? A newly discovered island, which has been named Woodlark, has been suggested to Bishop Collomb and the people there seem friendly. The island is small and that suits us, as we are disgusted with large islands. We are going to try to pitch our tent there. On 3rd September we left San Cristobal, on 8th we saw Woodlark, on 11th we dropped anchor, but we raised the anchor again on 15th and a few hours later we were in the port from which I am writing this letter. The island is situated at 9°7’49” latitude and 151 longitude. Another time I will give you details of the island and its inhabitants. All I can tell you is that we are pleased with the nature of these latter and we think that perhaps here at last God will put an end to our trials. But as for the rest, we are resigned to everything and we only ask one thing of Him, patience, love and the cross. Add your prayers to mine, my dear brother, so that I can achieve that grace and you will also prove to me that you truly love me. The cross! Yes, that is what a missionary should always envisage, he who can truly also say: Cum exaltatus fuero, omnia ad me traham. [26]
Let me reply now, my dear Gabriel, to your various letters. I thank you for the good news that you have told me about. The entry of our dear Auguste into the Lazarist’s fold gave me great pleasure. For some time I had hoped to see him come and join us, but what does it matter what society he has chosen, provided that his salvation is secure and that finds himself in a position to do more good. With that we should be satisfied. If you see him, congratulate him on my behalf and recommend me to his prayers. What you have told me about our friend, the good Mr Mauzet, also gave me great pleasure. He is winning some souls for God. It is a fine thing. He has his troubles too; that is none the worse. He is on the right road. Remember me to him, especially before God, and tell him that I have not forgotten the promise he made me to come and join me. And your ardour in preaching the propagation of the faith, what can I say to you? Nothing else if not that you yourself, who preaches, you have no idea of the scope of your subject, of the degradation of our peoples, of the difficulties that we find amongst them. Do you want information? Here are some facts.
At San Cristobal, some time before our departure, a great warrior died. To honour his ancestors, a human sacrifice was necessary and such was the enthusiasm for finding this person that it was resolved that no one would touch any coconuts until he was found. This would perhaps make many people shudder, but for us, we see such horrors so often that we talk about it as if it was something very ordinary.
Do you want to know what is the god of the people of San Cristobal? Alas! It is the snake, before which they offer libations and of which the most devoted carefully preserve the image. As for the powers attributed to it, it lifts the heart of those who have respect for this divinity. According to them, it rouses them to war and they know that it is responsible when a leading warrior is seized with a sort of trembling which resembled the convulsions of the Sybils.
The lives of our savages are occupied with doing harm. Given free rein to all their passions, knowing no other control than brutal force, once they are the most powerful they believe that anything is permitted. From this stem the thefts which are committed in their homes, the murders, the wars. Hates are perpetuated and transmitted with mother’s milk. A child of two years hates the enemies of his tribe and his tiny hands help to make weapons. I repeat, if one could see the savages, no sacrifice would too dear to help in the work of their conversion.
This is a long letter, my dear brother, but its length is well worth it. Endlessly preoccupied with a thousand worries, I have not been able to organise it . You will easily forgive me I think. Pray for me often. I assure you that I need this more than you could believe. I am, it is true, in a position to receive a lot of credit, but I do not always profit from it, far from it.
Please thank on my behalf the good souls who take an interest in our mission. Tell them that every time that I have the pleasure of approaching the altar, I make special mention of them at the time and besides that, I sometimes offer for them the very holy Sacrifice. Tell them that my colleagues do the same and that morning and night we recommend them to God. Oh! Could I forget them! Our savages do not yet give us any consolation and it is only through our friends in Europe that we are able to find some joy.
If you wish to continue to send me things for the mission, what I need most at the moment and which would give me the most pleasure is to have some religious books. Ours have been lost. For preference choose the lives of saints. [27]
Goodbye, my dear Gabriel, goodbye. Courage and prayers. I have opened my heart to you, recounted our suffering. I must tell you, so that you know everything, that I am unwavering. Virtus in infirmitate perficitur. [28] Comfort our good parents in always reassuring them of a God who watches over us; they have too strong a faith to not understand that this is the best of all protections. I embrace you from the bottom of my heart in Jesus and Mary, your affectionate brother,
Xavier Montrouzier,
Missionary apostolic
Woodlark, 13th October, 1847
Post Script. Please pass on to Henri the details that I have given you on the happenings in New Caledonia. Farewell.


  1. The mission was established beside the bay of Makira (which was called port Saint-Marie) on the island of San Cristobal. Collomb, Crey and Brother Optat (Bergillon) arrived there on 4th February, according to Collomb (cf. Doc. 609, § 8).
  2. Verguet writes One (cf. Doc. 457, § 17, 20, 22, 24) and also: Laracy, Marists and Melanesians, p.18.
  3. Crey died on 15th March 1847
  4. Jean-Marie Paget, Claude Jacquet and Brother Hyacinthe (Joseph Châtelet) were part of the eleventh group of missionaries who arrived with Epalle at the island of San Cristobal on 2nd December 1845.
  5. Jean-Marie Paget (1816 - 1847) made his profession of faith on 15th October 1843.
  6. Cf. 2 Tm 4.2: proclaim the message, press it home on all occasions, convenient or inconvenient, use argument, reproof and appeal with all the patience that the work of teaching requires.
  7. Cf. Doc. 421, § 1, n. 1.
  8. During a certain period in the nineteenth century, the feast of the Holy Heart of Mary was celebrated on the Sunday after the octave of the Assumption (Dictionary of Catholic theology, t. 3, col. 354). In 1847, this Sunday fell on 29th August.
  9. Read: Mouélébé (Pouébo) (cf. Delbos, p.72).
  10. Read: Hienghène.
  11. Robert Sutton (cf. Doc. 651, § 1and n. 6).
  12. Tanna and Anatom are islands of the New Hebrides (Vanuatu).
  13. Of these villages around Balade, the spelling varies according to the source. For Baiaou, Delbos (p. 43) adopts the spelling Baïao; for Maamat the spelling Mahamate (ibid., p. 37).
  14. read Spec (cf. Doc. 625, § 6).
  15. Cf. Doc. 581, § 2 and n. 4.
  16. Read: George Taylor (cf. Delbos, p. 70).
  17. The morning of the next day, 18th July 1847.
  18. The report written by Rougeyron (signed by him and Grange, Br Auguste Leblanc and François Cadousteau, a sailor from the Seine) affirms that the supplies and ship’s boats from the corvette, “left in storage on the island”, were “destroyed in a fire started by the savages” on 17th July 1847 (cf. doc. 645, § 1). If this was correct, the other events of the current paragraph, concerning the attack of the mission itself, would have taken place on 19th.
  19. read Ouondo (cf. Doc. 651, § 9; one finds elsewhere the spellings Oundo and Ondo).
  20. Cf. Mt 10.30: vestri autem capilli capitis omnes numerati sunt ( As for you, even the hairs of your head have been counted). Lc 12.7: sed et capilli capitis vestri omnes numerati sunt (More than that, even the hairs of your head have all been counted).
  21. Cf. Ps 90 (91). 15: Clamabit ad me et ego exaudiam eum; cum ipso sum in tribulatione; eripiam eum, et glorificabo eum (When he calls upon me, I will answer; I will be with him in time of trouble; I will rescue him and bring him to honour.
  22. François Cadousteau (cf. Doc. 645, signature).
  23. [note of the author on an angle in the margin] You can see how the Devil shows himself always in the same manner. Following the pillage in Baïaou he encouraged the natives to the same excesses as our revolutionaries commited in 93. These unhappy people dragged a Saint’s statue in the mud, cut off its arms and nose and believed that it was our God!!
  24. Cf. Doc. 133, § 2, n. 2.
  25. Mt 26.42: “thy will be done!”
  26. Cf. Jn 12.32: Et ego si exaltatus fuero a terra omnia traham ad me ipsum (And I shall draw all men to myself, when I am lifted up from the earth.)
  27. [note from the author on an angle in the margin:] If you could procure a certain number of copies of a small work which is sold in Toulouse, at the shop of Garrigues, bookbinder, Boulbone n° 26, entitled Manual of a Christian serviceman, you would put me in a position to do some good amongst the sailors who I have occasion to see. It is a book which suits them very well and which I have already found useful. It is short and that is what is needed for our sailors, whose souls deserve our care.
  28. Cf. 2 Co 12.9: et dixit mihi: Sufficit tibi gratia mea; nam virtus in infirmitate perficitur (but his answer was: “My grace is all you need; power comes to its full strength in weakness.”)

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