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28 July 1848 — Bishop Jean-Georges Collomb to Captain Auguste Marceau, with a note from Father Jean-Pierre Frémont, Rook

Translated by Mary Williamson, December 2017

Based on the document sent, APM, OMM 208 Epistola 1845-1848.

Two sheets of paper forming eight pages, six of which are written on, the seventh and eighth remaining blank; the address being at the bottom of the first page. The § 1-15 are in Collomb’s handwriting; the § 16-18, are in Frémont’s handwriting.

[p.1, at the bottom of the page] [Address]
To Captain Marceau, Captain of the Arche d’Alliance.


One of the sacrifices that it has pleased God to ask of me, that of not seeing you again before your return to France has not been the least difficult one. Without speaking of the affection that binds me to you with every fibre of my heart, it seemed to me that a meeting of a few days was almost necessary in the interests of the mission that is in my charge and I have to tell you that in this respect my thoughts have not yet given way to more enlightening ones. Nevertheless, may the holy name of God be praised and may his will, always fair and always kind, be accomplished in all things.
It is wonderful to see how it pleases God to frustrate us in our desires, even those that seem to conform the most to his laws. Let us learn more and more to regard ourselves as nothing, destined only to glorify him, he who is everything, through this very quality of nothingness, the only one that is honest: Elegit … ea, quae non sunt. [1] What is more, this does not reduce the merit of the cross. I hope, dear Captain, that one day you will have a fine chance to show off decorations earned in Oceania, especially those that you have earned in association with us, on your last voyage. As for us, our troubles, especially since the departure of the Anonyme, on 21st December 1845 and up until her return on 24th of last April, have not been as great as your kindly compassion imagines. I find my cross heavy, because I am weak and if, as you say, your Society has been responsible, I would say rather, that there is at the most one harmless occasion, which God has made use of, to burden me, yes, this will be another link which will bind me to your enterprise.
Let us praise God, dear Captain, for the progress of the Society of Oceania in two principal areas. I mean those things he so solemnly approves of, as much by the trials that he sends us, as by the extraordinary encouragements of his curate here.
Concerning in particular the assistance that I hope for in my mission, I would simply say that according to my current ideas, which are confirmed from day to day, if you do not come to our aid in a very special way, I do not see how we will be able to uphold and continue the work entrusted to our care. I speak humanely and according to the feeble depth of my insight, as I know and believe that all our strength is in God and that nothing harms him. But since he wishes us to act as if everything depends on our care, I must tell you that I regard it as an act of conscience for me to call your Society’s most serious attention to the area of Melanesia.
It is natural to assume that the Propagation of the Faith, despite all her charity towards us, will no longer be able to continue to provide us with allocations as generous as they have been up till now; already the third, though still very pleasing and certainly worthy of our gratitude, is nevertheless very inferior to the two preceding ones. I do not find anything in that that we should not have expected. Nevertheless, rather than being less, our needs are going to grow from year to year according to what it pleases God to send us, in the way of colleagues and to provide us with the opportunities to found new establishments. You know that, in our islands, one can hardly count on the generosity of the natives; food supplies here are generally much less plentiful than in more central areas. Up till now we have had to pay for all the help that the natives have provided. We are very happy when we are received on an island without being harmed. The greed of the people, the small quantity of supplies that we might have with us, the unhealthiness of the climate on many islands, at least at the beginning, seem to demand of us that we need to construct wooden houses a bit more secure and less open than the huts of the islanders. For all these reasons and even more so to transport missionaries and visit settlements, we see ourselves condemned to maintain, at our own expense and in our name or otherwise, a ship, during a good half of the year, which, without even mentioning provisions, must create an annual expense of about 20,000 francs. It then follows that as the allocations diminish, we will have difficulty in facing these sorts of expenses which certainly, however, should only be introductory in a mission. Elsewhere one can take advantage of the more or less frequent passing of ships, but since I have been in my curacy, I have as yet only seen the brig chartered by us. If the members of a tribe of Moiu, [2] other than those who received us, have reported seeing a three-master, they have also related that the people on board stated that if the epikopo and the missionaries that the natives talked about came amongst them, the tribe would kill them.
Allow me then, dear Captain, to beg you and, through you, your honourable Society, to see that it would not be possible to establish in this vicinity a centre or even several centres of commerce or of any enterprise whatsoever and keep it operating, unless during the year there would be one or two ships of a tonnage that you would judge suitable for transporting merchandise, either from Sydney or Tahiti or elsewhere. As for us, we would benefit from this situation, to provision ourselves so that we could go to different areas of the mission. When returning from places where they would have been to sell their merchandise, your ships would be able to bring us new Fathers and Brothers that they would have found there. Even having paid their costs for freight, transport and delays etc. we would have smaller expenses to pay and far fewer concerns and troubles to put up with. It seems to me as well that whether it is hunting for baleen or sperm whales, or sea cucumbers, or buying tortoise shells or seeking different exotic timbers which can be found in these islands, it seems to me that all of that would be able to offer you sufficient resources. Nevertheless, as you well know, it is not from me that you should be seeking these sorts of information; these are things about which I know absolutely nothing. I will content myself with letting you know the urgent needs of our mission. As you are one of us, please take care of it, for the salvation of souls and for the glory of Our Lord.
I must thank you for your kindness in showing me in detail how the total sum for the hiring the Anonyme is made up. I must admit, without circumlocution, that the sum astonished me at first, as I recalled that Mr Burns, captain of the Spec, had told me that the monthly expenses of his ship with a tonnage, as you know, of 175 tons, was only 1400 francs and I know that the Marian-Watson whose tonnage I am told is 120 tons and whose crew, including the officers, is made up of seventeen people, nevertheless only costs the mission 2700 francs, without getting this rental at a cheap price.
Allow me dear Captain, to explain to you how I have understood the accounts that you have sent me.
1º I suppose that 24th July 1845 is the day on which they began to charge us for the “Anonyme” and that the expenses for the ship, from that time onwards, have been charged to our account, although actually I did not take her into our service until [3] the following August. I think that this action has been taken by the procurator in Sydney because, following the disaster in New Caledonia, I took, for us, a considerable portion of the goods that came from that mission, as at the time they could not be of any use to them. I imagine that these arrangements were made to simplify the accounts by making us the sole debtors in this matter.
2º I understand perfectly well that the brig, having been dispatched by us on 21st December 1847, to return immediately to the mission to bring us provisions, was actually under way on a voyage. However, I would point out that the works at our mission, having been completed on 27th November, it seemed to me that with an ordinary ballast it would not require all the time that had passed from then up till 21st December, the day of its departure for Sydney. Also, the Captain himself had discharged me from the expenses of the ship as from 12th December because of the delays caused by the exploitation of ebony. It is true that even from the time that they worked on the house, the men from on board the ship who were not busy on this work were already exploiting the ebony trade; but all were interested in the business of building the house.
3º I willingly agree, according to the proportion that you expect me to share, to pay half of the expenses of the brig for the time spent in Sydney. I find your reasons fair. It is infuriating that the lack of money has caused such a long delay.
4º It is clearly understood that you must not only cover the pay for the crew and the expenses for buying food supplies, but also settle on an amount for insurance, upkeep and deterioration of your ship. I believe I understood all your calculations in these different matters. One single thing has remained obscure for me; I do not understand how the brig, having been bought, unless I am very much mistaken, for 22,500 francs, could have a monthly interest on the purchase of 250 francs. No doubt it is a matter of a commercial interest rate.

5º I must make a brief comment in your favour about the balance that you have sent me. In the column owed to the mission, the calculations would give me a total of 37,855 francs 35 centimes instead of 37,755 francs 35 centimes: in adding up only the first three numbers, I have a total of 23,486 francs 16 centimes (expenditure up till 15th January 1848), which subtracted from the assets of 37,755 francs 35 centimes leaves us with a balance brought forward of 14,269 francs 19 centimes, that is to say 100 francs less than you have given me.
6º If I have made a minute examination of the elements of which the total of the expenditure of the brig is made up, it is only to inform myself and fulfil what seems to me to be my duty; it is understood for example that I do not wish to make any deduction for the time lapse between 12th December and 21st December 1847.
7º Lacking the facts, I would be hard pressed in the matter of what I owe you for all the expenses and all the delays of the Arche d’Allaince during the time that you spent hoping to come and visit us at Moiu, as I had begged you. It seems to me that I can do no better than to leave you to arrange this matter yourself (as well as the matter of the passage of the Reverend Father Villien) with the Reverend Father Poupinel, our procurator general in Lyon, to whom I will not fail to write.
[ all that follows: in the handwriting of Frémont]
My dear Captain
I am sending on to you all that Bishop Collomb had written to you and must inform you at the same time of the painful news of his death. He had not been able to finish the letters that he had prepared to be sent aboard the Anonyme. He came to establish us, the Reverend Father Villien and me, on Rook, with the intention of returning to Woodlark on the same ship, but at the time when he needed to leave he was already so weak that everyone agreed that it was not possible for him to embark. Indeed, on the third day after the departure of the ship, on the morning of 16th July, the day of our Lady of Mont-Carmel, he died in our arms after having been provided with all the succour of the church. His death like his life was salutary and holy. It is reassuring to believe that in Heaven he will be a protector of his mission and, for all his friends, a devoted intercessor. The feelings that he expresses to you, concerning the needs of our mission for the help of your Society are those of all the other Fathers who are in our mission. It would seem that those of his successor will not be different.
Kindly, then, accept the expression of deep attachment and sincere respect with which I am, Captain, your very devoted and very affectionate servant,
Pro Vicar.
Rook, 28th July 1848.


  1. 1 Co 1.28: …et ignobilia mundi et contemptibilia elegit Deus, quae non sunt, ut ae, quae sunt, destrueret. (That which is of the world is vile and despised, that which is not, God has chosen it so as to reduce to nothing that which is.)
  2. Muiu (Mouiou) is according to Verguet (Verguet, Histoire, p.287, n.1), the native name for the island of Woodlark, also known by the name of Murua. Collomb established a mission there (cf. doc. 625, § 9-10; Verguet, Histoire, p. 287).
  3. A space is left before the word “August”, no doubt for writing in the exact date later.

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