11 April 1848 — Father Pierre Rougeyron to Father Jean-Claude Colin, at sea
Translated by Mary Williamson, August 2016
Based on the document sent, APM ONC 208 Rougeyron.
Two sheets of paper, sewn with brown thread, forming eight pages. The intended recipient is indeed Colin as the writer calls him “my Very Reverend Father” in § 3, 6, 7, 8, and 11.
On board the Arche d’Alliance, 11th April 1847
- In the Loyalty Islands (Ouvea or Halgan) close to New Caledonia, lives a Polynesian people, who have originally come from Ouvea or Wallis. These natives, although more savage than those on Wallis, seem to be much less so than those of New Caledonia. A large number of these natives were abducted by an English ship. On its way, this ship stopped at Rotuma to carry out the same procedure there. These savages from Ouvea escaped onto the island and it was impossible to recapture them. The Arche d’Allance, passing by this island, took them on board so as to return them to their own country. There were about thirty of them and among them a high chief. Arriving at their own island, they found all the natives armed, firmly resolved to attack the ship if it was English. But they were greatly astonished when saw a large number of their own compatriots. The old chief did not know how to express his joy to Mr Marceau for his having brought back his son. At this same time, several of these poor folk found themselves in Sydney, transported in the same way. The captain of the ship wishes to take them back home too. It seems to all of us that there is something providential in this happening, coming directly after the destruction of the mission. The young chief, having come back from Rotuma, excites the admiration of Father Vilien, Mr Marceau and everyone else. They compare him to Sam of Futuna. He has an air of distinction about him. Gifted with great intelligence, he is also endowed with good looks. This is the flattering portrait that has been painted of him. May the Good Lord see to it that we have not been mistaken in our great hopes.
- To carry out the will of God, who seems to be calling us there, one of us is sacrificing himself. It is the Reverend Father Roudaire. Without anything with him except his bible, his rosary and missionary cross, he has consented to go and spend several months amongst these people whose language he knows. The island is very poor. I do not know whether this zealous Father will die of misery. Pray frequently for him and for this mission. We hope to pick up the missionaries from Maris Stella. Then one of them will join Father Roudaire.
- As for me, my Reverend Father, I am going directly to New Caledonia with all the Brothers to found a new establishment. We hope to construct a house there sheltered from the invasion of savages and from fire. This will be a pied-a-terre for the missionaries who arrive from France and for those who are unwell or have been chased from their mission. Without huge costs we cannot think of going to Sydney and even if we wished to, where could we find ships? Instead, from any area of New Caledonia and even from the surrounding islands, one can go to Port Saint Vincent in a simple canoe. In this way, the mission will never be exposed to being wiped out at the whim of the savages who we know are so erratic. As well, this centre will serve as a depot for food supplies and other necessary goods. From there, the missionaries will set out to spread their word, taking nothing with them, so as not to tempt the savages. If these missionaries are unable to withstand great suffering, they will at least have a house of refuge where they will be able to be supported. As well, our intention is to set up a college in this area. We will choose an uninhabited area if at all possible, so as to avoid any attack by the islanders, to protect the scholars from suffering and to cultivate gardens without being robbed.
- In a few months the brig Anonyme, on her return from Woodlark, should come and visit us. If our missionaries have arrived, I will probably go with several of them to found an establishment at Hiengene. For a long time the chief there has wanted us to come and it is probably because we have not arrived, as was promised, that he has stirred up the tribes against us. His intention was to force us to set up near to him. I saw him again recently in Sydney, on an English ship. He still wants us, as much as ever. This is the high chief who is the monster of New Caledonia. He lives only on human flesh. He choses his victims in advance and is not afraid to warn them of the time when he will grind them between his teeth. It is impossible for these unfortunates to flee; they are closely watched. Often, fearing that he will run short of this type of food, he has several bodies smoked so as to preserve them, or else he will have those who have recently died dug up. This, my Very Reverend Father, is the chief who wants us to come, perhaps to eat us too and it is near to him that I intend to go.
- As Hiengene is on the opposite side from Saint Vincent, we want to set up a safe and durable establishment there, where the missionaries who live amongst the savages on this shore will be able to take refuge if they need to.
- My Very Reverend Father, I have just simply explained our projects to you. Will they succeed? Only god knows. The mission in Melanesia is not settled. There are a thousand obstacles to the savages converting promptly. So we are preparing the way forward; others will come to reap what we have sown.
- You see, my Very Reverend Father, that the missions, unproductive though they may be, demand our greatest consideration. A lot of issues need attention and a lot of money is needed. As I have already said, we cannot hope for these savages to supply us with food for a long time and we frequently need ships. These ships, no matter who they belong to, cost the missions enormous sums of money. Thus, so that you can have some idea of this, my Very Reverend Father, here is what we are going to spend on the cargo from ships. Now in Sydney, we charter the Arche d’Alliance to take us to New Caledonia. Well, we give Mr Marceau ten thousand francs, as well as twelve hundred francs for his crew. Despite all this, our food on board is not included. It will probably cost us fifteen hundred francs. Let us add all this up: 10,000 + 1,200 + 1,500 equals 12,700 francs. On top of all that, Father Roudaire being taken to Ouvea will cost us at least 4,000 francs more. If we add this 4,000 to 12,700, we reach the figure of 16,000. That is not all. If I am going to found an establishment at Hiengene, I will be obliged to keep a ship for three months, which will cost the mission 7,000 francs. Adding this sum to the other, we have a total of 24,000 francs spent on freightage. If only that was the end of it, but no: these various establishments having been set up, it is necessary to leave food supplies for each one, so we must go to find them in Sydney, and consequently charter a ship for almost four months at 2,500 francs per month. That makes a total of 10,000 with 5,000 for provisions. That makes 15,000 francs. So 15,000 + 24,000 = 39,000 francs spent by the mission for ship’s charters and food, without including clothing, tools and timber for the houses, which we have to get from Sydney. Half of the sum allocated by the Propagation of the Faith is spent in France or en route by the missionaries who are setting out. Judge for yourself, my Reverend Father, whether what we have received up till now is sufficient. It seems to me that if the needs of our missions, especially in Melanesia, were really understood by these gentlemen of the Propagation of the Faith, they would double their allowances. It is there, if I am not mistaken, that the greatest need lies, provided that this is for the most distant missions, because they are most in need of visits from ships; because they are more or less the only missions that are established amongst really savage people; and finally because the islanders, being the poorest and most deprived, they expect less where resources are concerned whether it be food or implements.
- From this summary, you can see that I need large allocations every year. Well, from 1845 we have only received 20,000 francs. As the final misfortune, we have lost everything in New Caledonia. We have arrived in Sydney with only the clothes on our backs. Nevertheless, it has been necessary to think about reestablishing the destroyed mission and buying the basic essentials. For the Melanesian missions, it is also a question of paying for the first shipload of cargo. Where can we acquire or find so much money, this is what causes us such terrible anxiety. We have no other means of rescuing ourselves from this critical position than to take out a draft on your account, my Very Reverend Father. We were about to send it when Father Rocher, for all sorts of good reasons, endeavoured to dissuade us. Witnessing our miserable situation and touched by our misfortunes, he was not afraid to put himself about and deprive himself, so as to come to our aid. So we have once again chosen to suffer even longer, rather than cause the least inconvenience to the mission in Lyon.
- But, my Very Reverend Father, even though we are in distant and dangerous countries, we are no less your children. And children, when they are too hungry, turn to their father, who gives them a morsel of bread when they ask for it, even if he has to go and knock on someone’s door. Thus, in spite of our goodwill, if the ship Stella Maris does not bring us the cash sum of 15,000 francs, we will be obliged, despite our reluctance, to take out a draft equal to the sum that we are waiting for. We hope that you will honour it, rather than leave us to die of hardship on our island. We are waiting for this sum so that we can send a ship to Sydney to gather provisions that we cannot acquire just now because of lack of funds.
- If at the moment you do not have money for our mission, could you not, my Very Reverend Father, borrow in the name of Bishop Douarre till such time as you receive the first allocation settlement.
- I should tell you, my Very Reverend Father, in writing you this latest letter, that we have found some brothers in Sydney, in the form of the Fathers at the procurator’s. They understood your position and have sacrificed themselves to give us assistance. May the procurator’s headquarters continue to be compassionate and devoted and then there will no longer be only one voice to proclaim its importance, I could even say its indispensability.
- Of the two ships, the Arche d’Alliance and the French corvette Ariane, that should have been going to visit Bishop Collomb, neither has been able to get there because of the bad weather. Father Vilien, who was on Rotuma, is going to rejoin the Bishop on the brig Anonyme. We are very worried about this mission. We greatly fear some deaths natives or others. Bishop Bataillon is on Futuna. We have received no news from Fiji.
- Be so kind, my Reverend Father, as to give our news to Bishop Douarre and be good enough to commend us to the Reverend Fathers of the Society, so that they will pray for us. Do not forget us either, my Reverend Father. We all need you to pray for us.
- Note in a later handwriting: “Read 1848”
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