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20 July 1848 — Father Jean-Baptiste Bréhéret to Father Claude Girard, Fiji

Translated by Mary Williamson, October 2017

Based on the document sent, APM, OF 208 (Fiji) Bréhéret.

Folded sheet of paper, measuring 13 x 21 cm in its folded state, forming four pages, three of which are written on, the fourth having only the address and Poupinel’s annotation.

To the Reverend Father Girard, priest of the Society of Mary / Saint Barthélémy Rise No 4 Lyon France.

[in Poupinel’s handwriting]
Reverend Father Bréhéret 20th July 1848.


Islands of Fiji. Lakemba. 20th July 1848.

My Reverend Father,
If you only knew how much pleasure your letter of the month of March 1847, that I received in July 1848, gave me! I read it and reread it and I will reread it many more times. We had not received any other news except of Fiji when, finally one fine morning some shouts announced the presence of vessel. The word apapalagi [1] made us realise that it was a European ship. I quickly picked up my glasses and went to see. It was the French flag. It was the Bishop who at last had come to visit his mission in Fiji. You can guess how joyful we were! For more than a year we have waited for him every day. Every day our eyes scanned the ocean, but always in vain. We imagined a thousand reasons for the cause of his delays and not one was true, we knew quite well. What pleasure to see him again! How many things for him to tell us! Out of date it is true, for the rest of the world, but brand new for us. We start a new existence.
The news we received, about the progress of religion in almost all parts of the world, swelled our hearts. Nothing more consoling for a missionary. It does not matter where one works, provided that one saves souls, that one populates Heaven with the chosen, that one glorifies God. Our progress is slow for several reasons. Nevertheless, we have not been useless. We lead the way in Fiji, we have made a start amongst them. Among our new converts, some of them say their beads, often morning and night. With patience and help from on high, which will not be lacking, we will gather in, in Fiji too, the Lord’s chosen ones. With the help of your prayers, we will polish new stones for the heavenly Jerusalem. We will speak to them lengthily about Mary and reciting the rosary always has a novel fascination for them. Here the mass does not move them yet. Until now we have only gathered in folk who have come from various islands in Fiji, Tonga etc.
For the moment things are quite calm. Apart from some who insult us, the rest do not speak to us. Our lives do not seem in danger. Perhaps they will be later. They are frightened of the warships. We have a King who is quite peaceful and a political scene which is the same.
Although we are in our winter season, we still suffer more than you from the heat. So what will it be like in the month of January? Last year I was soaked through to my soutane when saying holy mass at midnight. This is very common during the year. You understand that one has to take a great deal upon oneself to be able to give oneself up to serious study as one would do in France. You become sleepy very early and you must divert yourself with some manual work, which is not lacking, because here you must be able to carry out all the trades and have vast knowledge. Each missionary needs to be a Pic de la Mirandole[2] of his kind, a joiner, carpenter, tailor, launderer, boot maker, gardener, blacksmith, doctor etc. To build our houses, I made more than 1500 brasses, [old measurement of about 5 feet] of plaiting (this is a little flat string of coconut fibre and we then twist three of them together). Two storms that we have had this year and that have caused a shortage of food, as well as earthquake and a fire that destroyed a large part of the King’s village the day after the Bishop’s arrival, will perhaps open the eyes of the natives and perhaps incline them towards listening more favourably to the message of religion. In Europe, with all your ideas of progress, you no doubt imagine that we are thinking of civilising our natives in European style. This is not so. All they need of civilisation is religion and with it they will have everything they need. They are very well acquainted with the skills that they require, that is the cultivation of their yams and their taro and in this matter ideas change according to the place of planting. Good knives, good axes, good hoes, these above all are what they lack and what are the most useful and the most necessary. In Fiji they make strong and fine-looking pottery, they know certain remedies with which they cure several illnesses. Some carry out very delicate surgical operations.
I finish by commending myself, as well as the mission inFiji, to your prayers and to those of the Society and all pious people. Good wishes on my behalf to Father Favre, Father Dusurget, Father Déclat, Father Vienot, Father Delaunay, Fathers Carret and Gouchon, Father Codino, Father Mayet, Father Lagniet, etc. etc, and Father Battu.
Father Roulleaux sends his respects and excuses himself for not having written to you, because of his ill health and asks you to pray for him.
Every month I say two masses for the members of the Propagation of the Faith, one for the dead and the other for the living.
Your very humble and devoted colleague in Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
Jean-Baptiste Bréhéret,
Missionary apostolic.


  1. Read: for papalagi ( = foreigners)
  2. A reference to the multi-talented Renaissance man, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494). Among many other things he was the author of a book entitled De omnibus rebus et de quibusdam aliis, "Of all things that exist and a little more"

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