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Beginning of June 1848 — Unfinished report from Bishop Jean-Georges Collomb to the presidents and members of the two central councils of the work of the Propagation of the Faith

Based on the document, APM OMM 411.

Translated by Mary Williamson, 2016

Two sheets of paper forming eight pages, four of which are written on, the other pages remaining blank. Note from Jean Coste: “Unfinished report, presented at the beginning of June 1848 (one month before his death) by Bishop Collomb to the Organisation of the Propagation of the Faith.”

To the Presidents and members of the two central councils of the organisation of the Propagation of the Faith.

Since the last letter that I had the honour of presenting to you, nothing of special interest has happened at the mission: we have continued to suffer, to a greater or lesser degree from the effects of the fever. Nevertheless, several sufferers have recovered and it has become less intense for others. This state of affairs, thanks be to God, has not prevented us from regularly teaching the catechism in our village and in the villages round about, and as well we have baptised a certain number of children and even some adults at death’s door. We had, by the end of seven or eight months, the consolation of seeing most of the inhabitants of the bay sufficiently instructed in the basic mysteries of our religion and in the necessity of baptism. In general they listen attentively, especially the children, who are, in proportion, much more numerous on Moiu than on the other islands that I am acquainted with and they are very fond of the missionaries: we have even already tried to take some of them with us to give them special training; as it is a task that I regard as essential to God’s work, I expect to encounter endless difficulties, but I hope that God will bless our preliminary efforts.
I cannot yet give you any positive information about this island, which is the latest cradle of our mission. I think that later on we will have more positive news to tell you: however we know that, before our arrival, the inhabitants believed in another sort of life, with many evil spirits, especially with a distinction between good and evil and in the effectiveness of prayer; they have many religious leaders amongst them who they call on in times of sickness; I believe though that they are beginning to look upon our prayers as much better than theirs. Theirs consist of rituals that they recite very fast and with mysterious breathing and that are uttered against either ill health or the evil spirits and with spitting, with which they cover different parts of the body. All sickness is in fact the result of the ill will of an invisible male or female sorcerer who eats away at the flesh. What we have been able to find out about the customs of the islanders seems to us to be reasonably similar to what travellers say about the people of New Guinea. They do not seem to be great warriors; nevertheless they have some arms, the spear, some clubs, some arrows and shields. They generally work very hard; their plantations are vast and well cared for, taro is their main source of wealth, although they also have bananas and yams etc. There are abundant fish in the bay. They are horrified by incest and adultery; I only know two chiefs who are polygamous: that does not mean to say that they are virtuous. They are not very blessed where height is concerned nor by [- - ] most have scaly skin.
The stir caused by our arrival did not take long to spread far and wide. Soon we saw large numbers of curious people arrive from all over the island and even from other islands further away: this is how we made the acquaintance of the inhabitants of the Lauglhan islands, that the natives call Nades and that are situated about 10 leagues to the East of Moiu: their inhabitants number about 300 to 400: their sandy islands produce almost nothing but coconuts. Thus we have been, for several months and on different occasions in touch with a population that previously seemed to us much larger from all accounts: these people are communally known by those of Moiu by the name of Massine. [1] We have seen as many as 16 canoes in the bay at once; these craft are big and can hold 50 to 60 people, very fine sailors and especially admirable for their ability to sail against the wind. We do not know if the criticism made against them by the people of Moiu, that they are cannibals, is true or not; as far as this is concerned, we have not yet seen any signs of this horrible habit. It even seems that all the tribes of the island are friends, at least since, for our benefit and to come and see us, the Uamans who live on the East coast have made peace with the Guessups who live where we are.
The long and frequent interactions that we have had with the Nades and the Massines will, we hope, be the beginnings of salvation for them. Already they have been able to learn something about our blessed religion. We would like to keep some of their children with us to train them as catechists.
On the Monday of Easter, the 24th of last April, the Anonyme arrived from Sydney, the same brig, belonging to the Society of Oceania, that transported us to Moiu last September. This time, she brought us the Reverend Father Villien, who belongs to the same mission, but who had been kept back at the centre for personal reasons. So as to become better acquainted with Moiu, I asked the captain to sail around the island in his ship, with Reverend Father Montrouzier on board. This little excursion took nearly a week. We discovered numerous dangers on the western side. We realised that the island is bigger than it is generally shown on charts; but unfortunately it does not seem to be widely inhabited.
On 8th May, I left the Reverend Fathers Montrouzier and Thomassin with two Brothers at the settlement at Guessup; and the Reverend Fathers Frémont and Villien, one Brother and I embarked to go and look for a suitable island for a new station. We tacked first to the South, not that we intended to find a place to establish ourselves there, but because we wanted to acquaint ourselves with the territory of the Massines. During the two or three days that we spent on these explorations, we did not see very much habitable land in the near vicinity; we felt that some of the Massines could well there; but that others would probably be on the expansive and elevated lands that we could see in the distance to the South-East and that, according to our observations, belonged to the Encastreaux islands. It is also possible that some might belong to the Trobriand island that we had sailed along for almost its entire length when heading towards the Strait of Dampier; this island is high but not mountainous, heavily wooded, beautiful and undisturbed: On the East coast we were not able to find any other signs of habitation, apart from a few shabby huts with no sign of people round about.
On 13th, in the morning, we sailed into the strait. A poet would have been able to provide a magnificent description for you, by depicting the beautiful vista before our eyes, as we suddenly saw appearing, on one side, the plains, the deep valleys and the lush green summits of New Britain; on the other side the grand and majestic New Guinea, whose mountains in this area rise to a great height above the clouds; and in front of you a large number of islets beyond which one sees the island of Volcan [2] with its summit ablaze in several places; the island of Tupinier, cone-shaped like the previous one, and with its wider base entirely clothed in greenery; then the island of Lottin [3] which offers a similar aspect; and finally, the island of Rook, behind which is hidden a long island shaped like a banana.
The island of Rook attracted our attention most: we sailed along it fairly close in, in the direction of the East coast: from that particular side it is one of the most beautiful that I have yet seen; smoke rising from numerous villages and multiple plantations, gave us the impression of a considerable population; but I would rather not mention a very miserable anchorage where we spent the night from Saturday till Sunday; we had to reach the Northern region to find a harbour; we named it Saint Isidore the Ploughman, whose feast day we celebrated on 15th, [4] the day that we visited there. The area offered many advantages, but as it is extremely important to choose the location of a mission with great care, we wanted to see all around the island. The calm periods, the contrary winds and the innumerable reefs dotted around the West coast meant that we had to sacrifice about 15 days on this short trip. During this period, we spent a week in quite a pleasant harbour to the South-East. We named it after Saint Joseph. We found neither the area suitable nor the population large enough to establish ourselves there. So we returned to Saint Isidore. It is there that I left the Reverend Fathers Frémont and Villien with our dear Brother Optat. The new base is under the protection of Saint Joseph. The village where the missionaries are stationed is very populous and not too far away from several others of more or less considerable size. The natives received us without hostility and despite their extreme suspicions they seem friendly enough; May they, in converting themselves to the one true religion, help us to install ourselves in the two large islands of New Britain and New Guinea, which are so close to them.


  1. Cf. doc. 695, § 5, n. 1.
  2. Perhaps it is the island of Vulcan (Manam) which is about 450 kms to the West of Rook (Umboi) and about 10 kms from the coast of New Guinea.
  3. The island of Lottin (Tolokiwa island), even smaller than Woodlark (Umboi) is situated about 30 kms to the North-West of the latter.
  4. Saint Isidore the Worker, a farm labourer in Spain (cf. Internet: saint/1129/Saint-Isidore-le-Laboureur.html). His feast is celebrated on 15th May in Lyon (cf. Annuaire de Lyon 1844, calendar)

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