From Marist Studies
1 August 1848 - Father Charles-Eugène Mathieu to his brother, Wallis
Based on the document sent, APW OW 208 Mathieu.
Two sheets of paper forming eight written pages, the eighth also having Poupinel’s annotation.
Translated by Mary Williamson, March 2018
- [p.8] [in Poupinel’s handwriting]
- Wallis 1st August 1848 / the Reverend Father Mathieu to his brother.
- My dear brother,
- I have just received, all at once, your three letters of January, June and September 1847. I believe all three have come on the same Sardinian ship, the Stella del Mare, which anchored a few months ago in Samoa and then went to take some missionaries to China. Since the last letters that you received and which were taken to France by Father Dubreiul, I have written to you from here, I do not know how many times, as I never let a ship leave, whether it going to Tahiti or Sydney, without sending some letters for you. They will perhaps have taken some time.
- I have duly received, and thank you, for the fine pharmaceuticals that arrived on the Arch d’Alliance and which I continually use for my sick people. As I have no hope of seeing seeds grow on this island, where every attempt of this nature has failed up till now, I handed them on to Doctor Beaudry who has just left to go and try out this type of thing in New Caledonia, which has a much fresher climate. You will have heard what has since happened to that mission.
- Although you tell me, my dear brother, that plant based medications are more suitable for inexperienced people, I would have difficulty in going along with this, firstly because the plant-based medications require preparation, careful attention and other accompanying measures that we are not able to provide. The natives have no vessels in which to boil water or prepare a tisane. We have to be doctors and care givers at the same time, which does not work well with my duties and the spread of the population. Secondly, the medications, if it was necessary to get them sent, are too voluminous. Also, their effect is too slow and does not inspire enough confidence in these poor folk. What is more, whilst I am far from rejecting these sorts of remedies, while waiting for them to be sent or grown here, we cannot leave sick people to die.
- Up until now inorganic medicine has been very useful; I have saved the lives of many people by curing them of scrofula with mercury, and also dysentery with a mixture of ipecac, opium and mercury. I take notes from all the doctors who pass by and I modify them from the experience I have of the temperaments of the people here. Up till now, I cannot blame myself for any accident caused by my remedies. When I do not know the illness, I take care to not treat it other than with poultices or massage. I would very much like to have some iodide of potassium. According to the books that I have consulted and the doctors I have seen, this medication would suit most of the illnesses of this country and I would like to try it. Do not fear that I would ever abuse these drugs myself; I detest drugs and, thanks be to God, I have had no cause to use them myself.
- That is quite enough about remedies. If you should see the doctor of the Arche d’Alliance, Mr Montargis, he will be able to give you lots of details about this subject, as we spent a lot of time together; he helped greatly during an epidemic and was kind enough to make some notes for our use.
- I have sent you, on the Arche d’Alliance, a box containing many local objects, such as a kava bowl, fine mats etc. and a long letter in which you will see that I have a few good laughs here.
- The small oak chest with your letters has just reached me. It is so well packed and has been so well wrapped up that there is neither a dent in the wood nor even any rust on the lock. It is in the best condition that one can imagine after a long voyage. Nevertheless, the small lead shot had spread throughout the box, as I think it was only wrapped in paper; but it did not cause any damage. One must be careful, when packing, that each item is secure and protected from any bouncing around, that the heavy things are firmly secured, so that the container can be turned over and over, rolled about and squeezed without any danger to its contents. In a container like the one that has just reached me, not only are the goods that it contained without damage, but the chest itself is an item of furniture that is extremely useful to us.
- Let us talk about agriculture, even though it is not my job. I have succeeded in growing some excellent beans. I planted them like the yams, at about one meter from each other, in staggered rows. They grow so high into the trees, that I left them to serve as beanpoles and one is obliged to climb up on a ladder to gather them. Their stems become as thick as a finger and they do not die off. They can be harvested for several years, as long as one needs them. I am soon going to make a new plot of them near to the house and I am going to try a new system. I will plant them at intervals and grow them to the height of a man with equally spaced stakes and some traverse stakes to support the others; it will be like a hedge. This will avoid the necessity of climbing a ladder.
- European potatoes do not survive here; all the attempts we have made have been unsuccessful. They are replaced with sweet potatoes which do not compare, but which grow very quickly from cuttings. I believe that we could have three or four harvests of sweet potatoes per year if we wished. The big problem with this crop is that the pigs, which are not fenced in, come and eat them.
- The onions grow poorly and are small like shallots. We are beginning to have cabbages, which are grown here from cuttings and do not have hearts. We pick the leaves when we need them. We have made many attempts with other plants, but without success. Perhaps others, who are more adept, will come after us and have more success.
- However, the soil provides us with many other excellent edible plants which do not exist in Europe, such as breadfruit, yams, taro, bananas, coconuts, pineapple, guava, papaya watermelons, sugarcane, the root of “si” which is as thick as a leg and which, when well cooked, resembles cordage soaked in molasses (I do not know the European name). Also many roots that are extremely good and nourishing and grow naturally in the woods without being cultivated. I do not know their European names, except the arrowroot. I believe that the inhabitants here could pass several years without cultivating the earth and nevertheless not die of hunger, there are so many nourishing plants that grow naturally.
- Pork meat here is not the same as that in Europe. It is much lighter and more delicate and does not trouble the stomach. That is because of the climate and the food that these animals eat.
- I admire Angelique for sending me small lead shot, so that I can shoot pigeons. She does not know that my cook does the same as Mr de la Palisse and that he cannot manage to charge his rifle when he has no powder. It would have been necessary to at least put in some powder with the shot, as without that how con one fire the rifle? That is said jokingly, as those sorts of things are rarely lacking. We can almost always acquire some from on board the ships. Almost every Saturday one of the children from the presbytery goes to kill me some pigeons. Thanks be to God, we have not yet been short of food and he who takes care of the little birds has not forgotten us.
- The terrible hurricanes that have just shattered Fiji, Hapai and Tonga have spared us. Here we have only had the minor end of their tail, which blew over a few banana palms.
- When you send me something, could this be some articles for the church, beautiful, simple, solid and durable. I have chalice, ciborium and monstrance. My two beautiful albs are well preserved. I need a small pair of silver cruets; I would like them without sculpting. I would very much like to have some bouquets of flowers with golden wooden vases to decorate the altar and some chandeliers for feast days and redemptions. I have a processional cross, a font and some robes, but they are not very handsome, as I only have the leftovers of others. I have a censer, and sufficient linen for the altar. I do not have I do not have an altar cloth. I have a tabernacle which is a very poor one. One of our Brothers made it, it does not have any golden decoration. He painted it as best he could. I have a Stations of the Cross and a hanging lamp. This year I made myself some hanging lights with shells instead of little glass balls. I have also organised a little woodwork bench and a lathe. There I chip away at wood when I have the time and make chandeliers, stools, benches etc. It is my recreation. You know that it is a long-standing hobby. I have told you here all that I have and all that I have not, not to have you send me everything at once, but something here and something there when you have the chance; whether it is little or a lot, it will always be good. If you also send me a small case of wine for mass, you will be more than a part of the offering of the Holy Sacrifice.
- I must leave you my dear brother. The Bishop is waiting for me at the other parish to sort out some administrational affairs. Do not fear that I will ever forget you in God’s presence. I continue to recite the prayer that you asked of me. The blessing that I ask for most for you is a great confidence in God’s goodness and complete submission to his blessed will.
- I do not know whether I will be able to write to Angelique this time. I am extremely busy. My good wishes to you all, to my dear aunt, to Charles and to my dear cousin de Crouy, when you see her; I have not forgotten the kindly manner in which she received me when I passed on my way to Compiegne.
- Give my regards to the Bishop and to Vicars-general, Mr Libermann and Mr Dubos, and to the curate at Saint Remy. I received the lovely little books from Mr Herbet. My greetings to Mr Delahaye and all our relatives and friends. Do not worry about my health; it is always robust. Always pray for me.
- Your brother,
- Matthew (missionary)
- Post script. If you are able to see Captain Marceau on his return to France, give him my regards. He is an excellent captain, with whom I had a very warm friendship during his stay here. He will give you all the details about this island.
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