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1 April 1848 – Father Jean-Louis Rocher to a confrere, Sydney

Based on the document sent APM OP 458 Rocher.

Translated by Mary Williamson, July 2014

Sheet of paper forming four pages, three of which are written on, the fourth having only Poupinel’s annotation.

[p.4][in Poupinel’s handwriting]
Sydney, 1st April 1848 • Father Rocher.
Letter from Reverend Father Rocher, of the Society of Mary, to a Father of the same Society.

Sydney, 1st April, 1848.

It is on 5th [1] of last month (March) that we arrived in Sydney, after an absence of nine and a half months. This second visit of the Arche d’Alliance to the islands of Oceania resulted in a very positive reaction amongst the natives. They seemed less savage and less frightened at the sight of the popes, who had come to visit them again. On Rotuma the natives seemed to understand that the missionaries who were living amongst them were not outcasts from their own country, nor had they arrived by chance in their country; but that they belonged to a nation who loved them and sent large ships to visit them. With Reverend Father Verne, we paid visits to the principal chiefs of the island so as to persuade them not to be hostile towards the missionaries, nor towards those who would like to become Catholics. Reverend Father Verne hopes for the most positive of results for his mission from this visit, which is beginning to raise high hopes. What I have just said to you about the positive effect that the Arche d’Alliance produced on Rotuma, I can also say about the other islands we have visited. The strongest proof I can give you is that the devil has not ceased to create obstacles and make them undergo harsh trials by putting them, more than once within an inch of being lost.
Before I left Sydney, I wrote to tell you, my Reverend Father, how very surprised Mr Marceau was, on arriving in this town, to find neither money nor letters from Mr Marziou. The same thing happened to him in Tahiti. When we arrived in Upolu Mr Marziou found his establishment burned down; the loss was estimated at 30,000 francs in Tonga. While we were dining with our colleagues, we learned that the brig purchased by Mr Marceau had suffered considerable damage and was undergoing repairs in Sydney. At Wallis the Arche d’Alliance struck the reef; the impact was so severe that the bow of the vessel was badly damaged; and, recovering from this serious situation without having had the time to reset the sails, the current cast us onto another reef, against which the ship broke her rudder. These two accidents, happening at the same time, prolonged our stay on Wallis by two months. Nevertheless, in the midst of all these trials, God gave us a noticeable sign of his paternal goodness. Without this accident, perhaps we would not have been aware of the disasters in New Caledonia, where we would have gone quite unsuspectingly. It was not until the very day of our departure from Wallis that the French schooner Sultane, arriving from Tahiti, informed us of this terrible catastrophe.
After having landed at San Cristobal, where we heard of the massacre of our dear colleagues and the departure of Bishop Collomb and his missionaries, we set sail for the island of Woodlark, where we should have picked up his Lordship. But we had only just passed New Georgia, about 60 leagues from Woodlark, when a fierce westerly wind hindered our passage. Two days passed without any sign of the wind abating. So we resorted to a novena; but during these nine days God seemed deaf to our prayers; the storm raged on. Mr Marceau, despairing of being able to reach Woodlark and also, seeing his crew becoming exhausted and having on board only enough supplies for two months, he set sail for Sydney. It was 10th February, but our change of route did not bring any improvement in the weather, the storm becoming even more fierce than on the preceding days. On the evening of 12th, an even more violent wind, rising suddenly, took us by surprise with most of the sails hoisted. Being in an extremely dangerous position, six men were at the helm and were unable to control it. The ship, listing badly in the violent winds, threatened to sink beneath the waves, when, at last, she responded to the helm and we could see her gradually come upright and get back on course. Hope was then reborn in our hearts and our situation was a little more reassuring. But this trial was only to prepare us for an even more testing one, which was being saved for the following day. The sea, which had been whipped up by the wind for so long, was producing huge waves which buffeted our ship in a manner which was very frightening for us and very testing for our helm. So the day of 13th was hardly less unpleasant, even though the wind was not blowing quite so violently; then at 7o’clock in the evening a black cloud appeared on the horizon towards the West. It was the forerunner of a new storm; and it did not take long to strike with great fury. Our poor rudder which, on Wallis, had been replaced with one which was not quite as solid, succumbed this time to the force of the waves and disappeared beneath the sea. So, there we were, in the middle of a dark night, without a rudder, at the mercy of an angry sea, a sea called the Coral Sea, because of the numerous reefs that one encounters there and we were 480 leagues away from Sydney! If only we could have at least known our geographic position, but no; for five days it had been quite impossible to make a reading. At this time Mr Marceau conducted himself magnificently. He had total confidence in Mary. Thus, he maintained an unshakeable calm, speaking to his officers and men in a manner which seemed to anticipate almost certain hope of saving ourselves from this grave situation.
The whole night passed with a jury-rigged rudder, which used a huge cable, folded over several times, thrown into the water to trail at the stern of the ship and which, as needed, was pulled by two ropes, of which one was to starboard and the other to port. The following day and the day after, the weather was much the same as the preceding days. Nevertheless, the wind began to ease and the sea was less angry. So the third day after this accident, the sun shone down on our heads and we predicted a few days of fine weather. As the breeze was favourable and the sea calmer, the cable, which was slowing down the ship considerably, was pulled from the water letting her sail along freely. This was how Mary gave us resounding proof of her protection. No longer using the jury-rigged rudder, with all sails hoisted, with the ship making two leagues per hour and still holding her course for Sydney, just as if she had her rudder and someone steering her, we continued for six consecutive days. Here, I hope,[2] is a visible sign of the protection of the very Holy Virgin. Also our sailors could not get over their surprise, saying that, on their return to France, they would not be believed when recounting such a feat of navigation. During these six days of good weather, we set to work to make another rudder with the remains of the first one and of the second, which had just broken. The undertaking was a great success and the second jury-rigged rudder served us perfectly as far as Sydney.
Rocher, missionary apostolic.


  1. [note by Poupinel in the margin] Others say 6th March; this contradiction come from the difference between two calendars found in the diverse islands of Oceania.
  2. Read no doubt, j’espère

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