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1 August 1848 — Bishop Pierre Bataillon to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Wallis

Based on the document sent, APM OC 418.1 Bataillon.

Translated by Mary Williamson, February 2018

Three sheets of “Bath” paper, forming twelve written pages, the twelfth having one single word, “Confidential”.

+ Mission of Our Lady of Good Hope - Island of Uvea,
1st August, 1848

To the Very Reverend Father Colin.

My Very Reverend Father,

A letter sent in haste via Tahiti. I will write you a longer one and send it via Sydney five or six weeks from now and this later letter will possibly reach you sooner than this one.
I am now back on Uvea, having been absent for nearly ten months. I spent 8 months on Futuna and the rest of the time was spent visiting the missions in Tonga and Fiji. It was on Futuna that the good Father Palazy and Brother Sauveur joined us with your letters and everything that had been sent on the Stella del Mare. [1]
You should be up to date, my Reverend Father, with the mission on Futuna and everything we have done there, from the long letters that we have sent from there. We left Father Palazy there to replace Father Favier, who then went to replace Father Villien on Rotuma. On Futuna, we own a vast piece of land, rich and magnificent, where we have founded an establishment, (Our Lady of the Hermitage) the main aim of which is to train some Marist Brothers. Following our plan, Father Grézel and Brother Joseph Luzy are heading this mission, and we await better things.
We have a dozen young people there who are living off what we have planted ourselves. We have the greatest of hopes for this establishment and I beg you to immediately send us, as soon as possible, a Father as director (or Superior) and two Brothers, of whom one would be in charge of everything and chosen by you personally. This would not be an increase in expenses for the curacy, but a helpful resource and a great asset for the future, if everything succeeds. The mission on Futuna is on a good footing now; we have given them a help along which should have a lasting effect and it is certainly, of all the missions, the one that offers the surest guarantee for the future.
Our mission in Tonga continues to make slow progress; we have two main establishments there, served, as you know, by Fathers Chevron and Calinon, who are doing well according to all reports, as well as the good Brother Jean [2] who is not managing too badly.
From Tonga, I went to Fiji; there I had the consolation of finding the two good Fathers Roulleaux and Bréhéret, about whom I was rather anxious, in good health. Circumstances had not previously allowed me to visit them myself — but I had the painful experience of not finding our dear Brother Annet there. He had died not long before from a haemor;rhage, an illness that had carried off forty natives in that year, not only in Fiji but also in the surrounding islands. He did not suffer greatly according to the Fathers; it was the heavy work involved in the reconstruction of one of their houses, blown over in a hurricane, that could have contributed to the illness. The Fathers, for his treatment, had recourse to the Protestant ministers who, on this occasion, showed exceptional goodwill. It was not that our missionaries lacked medical supplies; on the contrary they had plenty and they found that they had all that was necessary to treat this illness, but unfortunately it happened that the two Fathers that we had there understood absolutely nothing about medicine. May God’s will be done. Brother Annet received all the help and consolation of the church and he died in a tranquil frame of mind. What more could you wish for, my Reverend Father, for your children. I commend him to the prayers of all the Society. The rest of us have said numerous masses and conducted a large number of communions for the repose of his soul. I have placed a cross on his grave.
Perhaps it will be he who achieves the conversion of this island of Lakeba [3] which has up till now has shown itself rebellious towards grace. There, the small amount of progress that the mission has made is not amongst the folk of the island itself, but amongst the Tongans and Fijians of the other islands of the archipelago. We have some catechists there from almost all the Fijian islands excepting Lakeba.
During the 12 days that I stayed with the Fathers, I was more occupied with the natives of the mission than with holy ministry. I taught them all that I knew about medicine so that in the future they might become doctors. It is almost the only method of conversion at the moment in all our missions. As well, I helped them build cupboards, install tables, and build an oven to cook their bread, etc. etc. They have already thrown the flour outside; they still had three barrels left, of which one was completely spoiled and they would die of hunger beside the others, because of not knowing how to make use of them. They had excellent lettuces that they left to die because they had no oil and they were flabbergasted when they tasted a salad that I had made with some dripping. There was a sack of coffee beans and some sugar left in their storeroom; they were disappointed at not being able to make use of such an excellent tonic in their tropical countries and they were extremely surprised when I made them an excellent coffee to drink, having crushed the beans with a wooden pestle. It is a great misfortune, my Reverend Father, when the missionaries do not know how to manage, as they suffer, with the few resources that they have, and the poor Superior, if he cannot act as their mason, their cook, etc. seems to be their executioner. However, the Fathers in Fiji are excellent priests, very courageous and virtuous, being very united and very resigned to the thankless situation in which they find themselves.
I have visited or seen almost all the islands of the archipelago. I have placed on one of the larger islands one of the high chiefs who I have been working with for a long time and who I baptised on Futuna. He is waiting for some priests there. There is another island that has asked for this too, for their chief. The time of conversion in Fiji has not yet arrived, but it is time and more than time to achieve this, otherwise the heretics who have been there in waiting for a long time will inevitably succeed. They have lately made great progress. Almost all the smaller islands have turned to them. We need another four to six priests for all of Fiji. It is all that is needed for quite a while, to stop the progress of heresy and make the Catholic religion known everywhere whilst awaiting the time of their conversion. It would be shaming for the children of Mary to cede this archipelago to another group just because it presents more problems than other islands. After all the population is not as numerous as has been said. It is, at the most, according to us, not more than 200,000 souls. So I am of the opinion that we must not give up this archipelago to other religious bodies, but must claim it for your Fatherhood of Marists and no one else but the Marists. This is the wish of all my collaborators.
Everything is flowing along in its ordinary little way on Wallis and I can even say that there is something good there that we have never seen before. It has happened that the two most influential chiefs on the island, who have caused us problems up till now, have finally given in and are now cooperative. The king[4] especially seems to be very friendly. We are delighted with this. We attribute their conversion to the prayers of the arch-brotherhood[5] to whom I commended them. The island has been peaceful for a long time. Several Protestants have been converted. We have not had any defections for a long time. The heretic chiefs that we have there no longer stir things up as they used to and we hope that with the help of our prayers and those of the arch-brotherhood, our beloved island of Uvea will soon be entirely Catholic. Our small college of the Immaculate Heart is already on a good footing. I have not yet had the time to go and see it since my arrival, but it is said that it is doing very well. Father Mériais is exactly the man necessary for the job.
We have recent news of all our Fathers in Samoa. They are all well and we have made sure that they lack nothing. That archipelago is currently at war. Pray that peace will be restored as soon as possible.
We do not have any recent news from Rotuma, but we always make sure to send the missionaries there any help that is necessary.
Now, my Very Reverend Father, a heartfelt matter, a matter which is strictly between us. What is happening over there, that all the letters that you send to us and to others are all fraught with some sort of trouble or anxiety of which we do not understand the cause and which we cannot guess at. Nothing makes me suffer as much as knowing that your fatherly heart suffers because of us. I feel ashamed to speak to you in this way; it seems as if I want to justify myself, appear infallible to you and win acceptance for all my ways of thinking and doing, but believe me, my Father, that is not the source of my pain, for it is God, above all, that we wish to please. What makes me suffer when you suffer, is the great, the very great affection and the profound veneration that I have for your respected person, it is that which makes me speak so as to reassure you. Another thing that has made me speak out, is the obligation that I am under, to oppose anything that unjustly harms the missions that I am in charge of and for which I am responsible. If it was not for these matters, I would let some things be said or done, satisfying myself that God is the witness of my conscience. Please do not see any ill feeling in my words and excuse the disorder of my thoughts. I have too many things on my mind to sort them out well, being short of time as I am.
So what is it, my Reverend Father, that troubles you so much and why do you not send us the colleagues that I have asked for, whilst you send a great number of them to the new curacies where, following your restricted foresight, the excess of people and equipment upsets rather than helps at the beginning, when there is not yet any accommodation. Is it because of a lack of funds or some problem that you have with the administration of the centre. If you have what is required to send them to us, we have what is required to receive them; if it is because of your worries arising from reports that have been made to you, make sure of the truth of these reports and tell us clearly what you wish us to do.
I am always ready to conform to your requirements. You have dealt me a nasty blow in confiding in me about the behaviour of others. I have always believed that to put things right it was necessary to let me take charge so as to have things well conducted. I see from down here, that this message is heard very high up, that it is not suitable to abandon everything to the arbitrary decision of one single person. No doubt the arbitrary decision of a Bishop would not do the task any better than the arbitrary decision of a provincial, but it seems to me that in our case there is nothing of an arbitrary nature. We are assisted in all things by the advice and the enlightenment of our collaborators. There cannot even be any arbitrary decisions because the Superior General is always there to impose a ruling where needed and does that with the greatest of efficacy and as much ease as one of his representatives, placed in isolation on one of our islands, without seeing what is happening on the others and for the fact that we do have our regulations. Do we need a procurer, a monitor, a council even? How would all that be arbitrated? You still have the resources of a visitor from France. But, it is said, the facts speak for themselves: thus what is retained is what is addressed to private people.
My Father, do not believe from all that, that I am trying to prove to you (since it could seem so) that all that has been reported to you on this subject is either entirely false or has been badly explained to you. So, for example, Bishop Douarre writes to me that we have opened his boxes on Wallis and having taken from them all the best things, we did not even take the trouble to nail down the cases again to protect the almost nothing that we had left him. If you believe such stories, my Father, it does not surprise me that you are feeling anxious. Oh well, ask Mr Marceau if the boxes for New Caledonia left the Arche d’Alliance or if someone has gone and opened them on board. Also I have here with me a letter of retraction from Father Calinon to Brother Joseph [6] who he had accused of theft in several other preceding letters. But how does all this come about? I have no idea. Things can get stolen on board or get lost in some other way. One of these people who hangs around the islands could make a false report to a mission about someone else who he has a grudge against, without it being true. The fact is that all or almost all of the reports of this kind, that have been made against the centre, have had as their cause either spite or the desire to lie or a mistake or some misunderstanding.
But the funds are not equally shared. We have sent you some returns of our accounts; you can ask for others.
The missionaries are left to suffer - good health is destroyed, I could say endless things about this subject. Perhaps some of the missionaries of the centre owe their survival to their enforced poverty. Look at what is happening in New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands with this new system of funding the missions. I abstain from judging, but factually, have all the heads of missions conscientiously report the way in which they have lived up till now and you will see whether there is need to shout out what has been done. Above all no one will be able to say that, if he has suffered from hunger, that is our fault - we who see these things with our own eyes and have done so for a long time. We shudder to see how these things are reported in certain letters - but it is not possible for me to tell you, in this letter, all that I could, that will have to be for another time.
This is not to quibble with you, my Reverend Father. You will not find this unpleasant, as it is a question of facts, which are distant from you and very close to us. May I make a few remarks about what you said to me in your last letter.
First of all, the business concerning Father Villien was legally sorted and if he had not remained on Rotuma, perhaps he would have been eaten by now.
(2) As for Fathers Mugniéry and Verne, I did not act arbitrarily. You have no doubt forgotten that, in your letters, in two different places, you said to me that if New Caledonia received reinforcements, I would be able to keep these two Fathers for the centre. Well, New Caledonia received Father Grange and we sent him Father Roudaire, so I followed your intentions in keeping the two new arrivals to replace them.
(3) You tell me that you were upset about the fact that I was offended by a letter that Father Calinon sent to you. I have no knowledge of this letter. I saw it for the first time in the Annals. [7] I was not even aware of its existence. Now that I am acquainted with it, allow me to say what I think of it, without further judgement. The fact is that there are some entirely untrue things in it and that in general everything is exaggerated. I think that that is the general opinion. I believe that Father Calinon now thinks more or less the same. When I showed it to him, he said that he was very surprised that you had had it printed, that if he had known that it was going to be printed, he would have done it quite differently, that there were things that he denied having said, that he had misunderstood other things and that he would be obliged to make some retractions etc. I have already told you what I thought of Father Grange’s letter. Besides, it is difficult to give a fair idea of a country when one is only writing about one aspect of its history; a general history is really necessary. We will see to that later. In the meantime it is necessary to be very discrete and think about our relationships, so as not to be contradicted later and treated with thoughtlessness and childishness. The system of presenting things in the most flattering and favourable of lights is certainly not ours. It would be sufficient for you to know the instructions in writing or in person that we continuously address to our missionaries to convince you of this. As for the question of dealing with the natives, it would require a whole book to tell you everything that I would have to say to you about this. That will have to be for another time. Just because a certain procedure will be followed in New Caledonia, do not think that it should be followed here.
I reread this morning the scribbles that I made during the past night, when overwhelmed with fatigue. I truly believe that you will understand nothing of it. I resume because I have a few minutes left.
(1) I am grieved, my Father, that you feel so upset and troubled about the affairs of the centre, although, thank God, it seems to me that things are going passably well and so well that I only ask one thing, that they will always continue to go just as well.
(2) I am hurt (a child can speak thus to his father) that you are not sending us the staff that we have asked for, even though we have such a great need of workers.
(3) All your flock at the centre are well, are provided for or are going to be, seem happy, courageous, get along well with each other, are steady, benefiting spiritually, good religious workers, take care of the Brothers, who themselves are all well for the moment.
(4) With what the Society owes us and our remaining money, we have enough to feed and maintain several more workers for some time. If you do not receive from the Propagation whatever is necessary for the attire and passage of our missionaries, send them anyhow; we will cater for them once they are here.
(5) Here are our urgent requirements that I have already presented to you many times without success. 4 to 6 priests for Fiji with 4 Brothers, 4 to 6 priests also for Samoa and at least 3 Brothers with, for the establishment on Futuna a Brother who is a chemist, but also a good Brother. For our Brothers, we need virtuous people, that goes without saying, but a Brother no matter how virtuous, if he does not know how to do anything, or is a slowcoach in everything he does, he is not suited for Oceania. We need workers or at least active men who know how to manage. Do not forget our house on Futuna. We need there a well-chosen man who knows how to get along with children, a Brother who knows how to train others. We think that one day this establishment will serve as a retirement home for veteran missionaries.
Please excuse, my Reverend Father, all the trouble that we cause all of you with our awkwardness and misunderstandings. Continue to love us - pray for us, inform us and although I might seem to be like a child who argues against all the observations of his father and who never wants to be wrong about anything, do not hesitate to always make your observations and to warn me of my mistakes; if I cannot promise you that I will never again stir things up, I believe that I can at least assure you that I have the will to do well and to always do better, if that is possible.
One thing that I must still say to you: it seems to me that one must not too quickly have faith in all that is said to you or written about Oceania, not even what comes to you from us. It is not a good idea to take action or to settle something because of a first report that is made to you. We are at the beginning. We feeling our way, we are searching, we are experimenting; time will fix everything.
A thousand pardons, my Reverend Father, for all my scribbles. Pray for me anyhow and please believe that I am always in union with prayers and holy sacrifices, my Reverend Father,
Your very humble and obedient servant
and the least and most devoted of your children,
Pierre Bishop Bataillon, vicar apostolic of Central Oceania
Post Script. The short little letters that you have had the goodness to send to each one of your children makes an impression on them. I thank you in everyone’s name and ask you to kindly envelop all of us in your paternal solicitude. We are all making our annual retreat. I share with all of them what you have said to me about beating ones breast and other recommendations that you have suggested to me.


  1. From the thirteenth group of missionaries, travelling aboard the Stella del Mare, François Palazy and Brother Sauveur (André Conil) stayed with Bataillon; ten others were heading for New Caledonia and the Solomons. Fathers Hippolyte Mondon and Charles Nivelleau, who had separated from the group on the island of Madeira because of Mondon’s illness, arrived on Wallis on 2nd May 1849 (cf. doc. 886, § 2; 902, § 27).
  2. Brother Jean Raynaud, in Tonga since June or July 1844 (cf. doc. 337, § 1; also doc. 312,§ 14, n. 9)
  3. Island in the Lau group in Fiji.
  4. the king Vaimua Lavelua.
  5. the arch-brotherhood of the Holy and Immaculate Heart of Mary (cf. doc. 376, § 3 and n.4; 478, § 5, n.3).
  6. Brother Joseph (Jean-Joseph Muraour who was on Wallis, or perhaps Brother Joseph-Xavier (Jean-Marie Luzy), who was also on Wallis
  7. Cf. doc. 406, of which the revised text was printed in the Annals of the Propagation of the Faith, volume 18 (1846), p. 420-441.

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