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September or October 1848 — Father Louis-Théodore Violette to Father Victor Poupinel, Samoa

Translated by Mary Williamson. July 2018

Based on the document sent, APM ON 208 (Samoa) Violette.

Sheet of paper folded to form four written pages, Poupinel’s annotation at the top of the first page.

[p.1] [ in Poupinel’s handwriting]
Archipelago of Samoa / island of Savai’i 7th or 8th October 1848 / the Reverend Father Violette.

[in an unknown handwriting]
To the Reverend Father Poupinel / Lyon.

Jesus, Mary, Joseph

My Reverend Father,
How has your kind soul become carried away with indignation? Is it no longer the chosen dwelling place of the king of peace? You who fights battles under the banner of the queen of peace, where have you then learnt about indignation? It seems that everything changes in this world. Our first Marist Fathers used to suffer in silence and peace and now you speak to me of indignation! I recall that people used to say to me: “Arma clericorum sunt orationes et lacrymae” and nowadays it has been decided that it is the rifle and the canon. It matters little that their detonations come to shatter my ears, unaccustomed as I am to this din of humans. You can see, the revolution is everywhere. For us, let us cling strongly to these words which do not disappear: “In patientia vestra possidebitis animas vestras”. [1]
You would not believe the Protestant ministers, they are such liars; you do your best, but yours is only ordinary wisdom: it is in your indignation that I recognise in you one of the good moneychangers praised in the scriptures: I am delighted to see that you have inherited the spirit of those apostolic men who have always regarded heresy as an irreconcilable enemy, from whom you cannot expect any peace and with whom you cannot achieve any truce. This is not at all flattery; we know in Oceania that, finding yourself, some time ago, faced with one of those despots who had lost everything, except for the ecus which were the hope, the defender and the protector of heresy, your intrepid faith only saw in him a weak mortal before whom your faith should not be embarrassed. That man who has seen cringe at his feet, the vile slaves of ambition, who knew how to brave storms and tempests, resembling the steadfastness of the rock beaten by the waves, you have disconcerted him, you have made him pass his hand over his face, but in a certain way which says a lot; for an excellence of such a high position, that resembled a nasty grimace. Well, if some fine day, you meet this fallen great man, even though he was ordered to hinder the Catholicism in Tahiti and favour Protestantism, as he took great interest in the missions from the diplomatic point of view, repeat this authentic story to him, provided to us by one of the Protestant ministers in Samoa, who had previously been in Tahiti and whose recent voyage to England (1843) and his stay in London caused quite a stir. It is him who, by his stories and his eloquence managed to loosen the purse strings of the good Englishmen and thus acquire for their mission a fine ship, the John William. I got what I am telling you from the mouth of a Catholic Englishman who buried his mortal remains. [2] It is on my island of Savai’i, not far from my residence that these happenings took place and the public outcry simply confirmed the stories about the Englishman. The said missionary called himself in Samoa Misi Ite, in English Mister Iss or Ice. During his stay in England, as always and everywhere, he protested against the Catholic church. He is not obliged to be celibate: so he looked for a new wife, according to what was said in Samoa, following the principle of the apostle who orders the missionaries to have only one wife, as his first wife had died in Samoa. But we know that he only brought back to Samoa a ring, which he wore continuously as a pledge of their future union. Whilst awaiting this Englishwoman, he chose two women in Samoa who replaced her as secretly as possible, one on Manono, [3] a small island where he lived and another on (it is the cunning of a serpent, do not speak to them of the innocence of a dove) Savai’i where I live. He had just had a house built that was somewhat more comfortable than ours; it was a fine house for this country; it was almost finished.
Then (March 1848) one of his colleagues, in Samoan Misi Matona and in English Mr Macdonald, [4] health officer by profession, who had just broken his hip, and perhaps also his leg, his horse having thrown him off (28th September 1848), had been called to help one of his colleagues on Tutuila, an island about 30 leagues distant from Upolu. It was a schooner under the command of Mr Marceau that transported him there. He arrived too late, heresy had one less minister. There he learned that death had claimed one more victim, in the person of Miss N… future wife of Misi Ite (Mr Iss or Ice in English). He took this news from Tutuila to the unfortunate minister. Shortly afterwards the said Mr Iss went from Manono to the home of Mr Macdonald, who lives on Savai’i, a distance of 4 to 5 leagues by sea. Mr Pratt was also there [5] a minister in my neighbourhood, whose outbursts of anger are frequent; he is a noise-maker par excellence; his true metier is to lie skilfully by word of mouth, by his actions and in the written word: he is no stranger to commerce and the ringing sound of coins titillates his ears, an Englishman told me. He has even tried to play the prophet to frighten the poor people of Samoa; but today, six months later, the assigned day has passed, without the prophecy having been accomplished in even the least of ways, they are laughing at the prophet and celebrating his talent for lying by singing chants, in the way of their country.
While they were thus reunited, Mr Iss thought seriously about carrying out the project that he was contemplating (for he had given his instructions to his domestic, recommending that she stay with Mr Macdonald… He had just made his will). He locked himself in the toilettes at Mr Macdonald’s, armed with a razor and there he cut his jugular vein; his life flowed away with his blood and thus he died. In the evening they asked where Mr Iss was; they called, they searched; they did not know what had become of him. Finally someone went to the toilettes which they found locked. Someone climbed onto the roof and from the top of a half-open skylight, he could see the unfortunate man collapsed, stretched out. Mr Macdonald broke through the door with redoubled blows and found the victim of the suicidal frenzy swimming in his own blood; it was a Samoan native who lifted up the body; another soon came to his aid. The English Catholic, who had brought Mr Pratt in his whaleboat was charged with his burial; he spent the night making a coffin. Mr Macdonald asked him to look at the hands of Mr Iss to see if he had his ring and at the Englishman’s negative response , Mr Macdonald made a very expressive nod of his head, which meant: here is the key to the secret; it is the death of his future wife that caused his death. His mortal remains were transported to Apia, where there is a cemetery for ministers; but a rowboat from the English warship Calypso, which was at anchor, came to meet them with a veto telling them to go and bury him on Manono; another proof of the culpability of the action, as from the very first it had been alleged that it was dementia.
If these fine Englishmen had seen with their own eyes what happened here, they would reject much of the rubbish that was poured out to them about Samoa. Sometimes it could be conveyed to them in a single word.
Time is short, there is talk of departure. But kindly, my good Father Poupinel, in your capacity as procurer general, acquire for us many indulgences; our poverty here is great. After a moment of ill humour, you are going to purify yourself in the salutary bath of indulgences; and us, what will become of us, who have more need than you and have very little? Above all allow us to make progress by not confessing every fortnight as was granted formerly to Bishop Epalle, or rather send me a colleague to whom I can make my confession every week, as I would like to.
Thank you for all your care.
Your very devoted and affectionate Brother,
Marist missionary apostolic.


  1. Luke 21:19: It is by your perseverance that you will win souls.
  2. The description of this Protestant minister, which the author freely admits that he received from an Englishman, seems to be a mixture of different profiles. One can think of George Pritchard, missionary of the London Missionary Society in Tahiti from 1824, returning to England on 2nd February 1841, then returning to Tahiti on 24th February 1843. Opposed to the French protectorate in these islands, he was arrested on 3rd March 1844 and expelled. Back again in London in July 1844, he was transferred as a consul to Samoa where he lived from the end of July 1845 till the end of December 1856, after which he returned definitively to England. In July 1824 he had married Eliza Ailllen, who did not die till 1871 (O’Reilly, Tahitians, p.388-398). It was not possible to identify Mr Iss or Ice, nor the person whose first wife died in Samoa and who wished to take another wife in a second marriage, whilst already having two mistresses on Manono and Savai’i.
  3. Manono is a small island in the strait that separates Savai’i and Upolu; it is near to the cape Fatuosofia on the island of Upolu (cf. Pacific Islands, vol. 2, p. 664).
  4. Alexander Macdonald, missionary of the London Missionary Society, who arrived in Samoa in 1836 (cf. Garrett, p.126).
  5. George Pratt, missionary of the London Missionary Society on Matautu to the North of the island of Savai’i, was writing a grammar and a dictionary in the Samoan language; He translated the Bible into that language. (Garrett, p.125-126).

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