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2 April 1848 − Father Grégoire Villien to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Sydney

Based on the document sent, APM OP 458.2 Mission. trans. (1845 - 1860).

Translated by Mary Williamson, July 2014

Sheet of paper forming four pages, three of which are written on, the fourth having only the address; on the ED2 register had the number 39. See the following document for the “follow up” sent by the author at about the same date.

[p.4] [Address]
Mr Colin junior in Lyon • Montée Saint Barthélemy, No.4 • France.

[Post marks]
PAID [SHIP] LETTER SYDNEY AP 3 1948 − COLONIES &c.ART.13 − SV 6 AU 6 1848 − ANGL. BOULOGNE 8 AOUT 48 − LYON 10 AOUT 48 (68)

Sydney, 2nd April 1848.

Jesus, Mary, Joseph.

My very Reverend Father,
In my last letter to you, I promised to send you news of Woodlark as soon as the corvette Ariane arrived in Sydney; Oh well, the Ariane arrived on 30th March; But no news from Woodlark. The weather, which was almost continually stormy during January, February and March prevented the corvette and the Arche d’Alliance from extending their route. It also caused considerable damage; but the warship went to San Cristobal, to the port of St. Marie, which our missionaries had had to abandon.
A letter from Reverend Father Frémont, found by chance at the port, informed the captain of the corvette of the disaster which had struck the mission on this island, then a plan was made to avenge the murder of our colleagues. Guided by twenty natives, friends of the Fathers who they mourned, ninety armed men from the corvette, experienced in manoeuvres against the natives in Tahiti, climbed the mountain where our three companions had fallen victim and advanced three Leagues into the interior; they took by surprise the native enemies called the Toro. [1] they burned down two big enemy villages with 60 huts in each one, as well as all the possessions within the huts. The natives were only able to save themselves. Guided by the friendly islanders, the French did especially not spare the village that had been the scene of the disaster; it was reduced to ashes; they fired at several individuals who aimed arrows at them. They could have created great carnage, but the captain only wanted to display the power of European arms and fill them with fear of such exploits. Having succeeded in this undertaking, the men from the corvette went back down to the coast, but the Toros, absolutely furious, armed themselves with spears and arrows and they too went down towards the coast, but furtively and hidden by the dense bush. They headed off the men of the expedition close to the shore and soon rained a hail of arrows and spears on them; one of the spears struck the head of a naval cadet and pierced it right through near to the eye; another spear wounded a sailor. The young officer died three days later but the sailor recovered. At this unexpected attack from the natives, the French responded with a burst of rifle fire on the natives, a certain number of whom were struck down and the firing did not stop for several minutes; it did not seem that the number of dead or wounded was very large, considering the singular method of fighting of the natives, who jumped about, dancing forward then back, hiding behind trees and flattening themselves on the ground at the sound of firing. A sailor who died of fever was buried near to the grave of Father Crey. [2].
The natives of the port of Saint Marie, who had extended nearly two years of hospitality to our Fathers, continue to hold them in esteem. They still keep the cows and the other animals that could not be taken when they left. The captain of the corvette, who was greatly in need of supplies, wished to buy some, but was not able to procure any, despite offers most likely to tempt the natives; the chief of the tribe repeatedly said that the belonged to Father Frémont, who had promised him that he would come back to be with them later. The folk on the corvette had gathered together some books, that they distributed amongst the natives, along with the barrel of a broken rifle. The captain was kind enough to return all these to us from the office of the procurator. These books were oddments and somewhat damaged by the rain. A fierce wind had torn up trees, broken branches, blown over the house of the Fathers, the cross on Father Crey’s grave and caused other extensive damage on the island, especially on the higher ground.
Nevertheless, all this does not relieve the very perilous situation of Bishop Collomb and his missionaries on Woodlark. In September 1847, they only had enough supplies for 6 months and here we are at seven months and they have not received any new goods and have the problem of the fever threatening them. How I am longing to get there in the brig! What sort of state will I find them in? The outlook frightens me. It is true that, on the island, there are small supplies of foodstuffs that the natives could provide them with and perhaps they were able to take some from San Cristobal, but all that is not reassuring where the fever is concerned. Certainly, the departure of the brig is scheduled for 4th April and if the wind is not too unfavourable, I hope to embrace my dear colleagues by the end of the current month.
The brig will be available to Bishop Collomb for another few months; with this help, he will be able to visit some of the islands of his vast curacy, which would seem to him quite helpful to the mission. The Fathers of New Caledonia should be able to leave in about 15 days time, on the Arche d’Alliance, for port Saint Vincent. If this happens, Mr Marceau gives solid proof of his devotion to the missions; with the hardship he finds himself in where money and other necessary goods are concerned, he has agreed to lose both time and profit to offer them help. Others will give you fuller details about this.
I once again commend myself, my very Reverend Father, to your prayers and the holy sacrifices, as well as to the good works of all the Fathers and the Society.
I am, with deepest respect, your very obedient and very devoted child in Jesus Christ and Mary,
Villien, Society of Mary.
Post Script. Kindly forward this letter to Mr Martinet, to whom I offer my sentiments of respect and friendship.


  1. the name Toro refers to the interior region, mountainous and covered in forest, of the island of San Cristobal (formerly Makira) in the Solomans and, by extension, to the people who live there; the people from the coast called those of the mountains by the name Toro, or, more often i-toro (which means those from the bush, to use the pidgin name.) These people called the people from the coastal zone i-asi (asi =the sea). They all spoke the same language and one could not say they were from different tribes, even though they had been at war with one another. In the past the people lived in the hills, where the soil was better, where there was less malaria and where they were better hidden from marauders arriving from the sea. Because of internal struggles, some small groups would have been pushed towards the coast on both sides of the island. Thus the frontiers of language and tribes extended out across the island. (information received from Peter Tremewan on 24th April, 2008 and from Jan Snijders on 5th May, 2008). After the thefts by the Toros, the missionaries felt it was necessary to keep them away from their house, which enraged the Toros. When Fathers Jean-Marie Paget and Claude Jacquet and Brother Hyacinthe Châtelet went to visit Uango, a Toro village, the Toros massacred them, on 20th April, 1847, then ate them. (cf. doc.674, ∫ 5-6)
  2. Cyprien Crey, died of fever on 15th March 1847, a month after his arrival at the San Cristobal mission. (cf. doc. 681, ∫ 6).
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