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4 September 1848 — Father Jérôme Grange to Father Victor Poupinel, Tahiti

Translated by Mary Williamson, July 2018

Based on the document sent, APM ONC 208 Grange.

Four sheets of paper forming sixteen pages, fourteen of which are written on, the fifteenth remaining blank, the sixteenth having only the address and annotation of Poupinel.

[p.16] [Address]
The Abbot Poupinel / Saint Barthélemy Rise 4 /Lyon
[in Poupinel’s handwriting]
Tahiti 4th September 1848 / the Reverend Father Grange.
Tahiti 4th September 1848.

My Reverend Father
In a letter in January 1847 I promised to keep you up to date with my long voyages. I want to keep my word. Arriving in Tahiti on 23rd July last, we learned with astonishment of the removal of Louis Philippe who had been replaced by the republic. Whilst waiting for news from France, Mr Marceau is going to make a short voyage to Samoa; not knowing when I will have another chance to write to you, I am going to send you an analysis of all the things that have happened since my last letter.
I will not tell you about the way in which we were forced to abandon New Caledonia and how we escaped death there; a report that I sent to the Superior in October 1847 will have brought you up to date with everything. [1] On board the corvette the Brilliante, which was the means that God sent to save our lives, we arrived in Sydney on 13th September 1847. We stayed at the procurator’s residence whilst waiting for Mr Marceau, on whose goodness we counted, to take us to reestablish our poor mission. We waited for him a very long time. It was only on 6th March 1848 that he arrived in Sydney.
Mr Marceau, on his last voyage, had suffered many misfortunes and difficulties. The Arche d’Alliance suffered, on Wallis, serious damage which forced her to stay there nearly three months. After having repaired his ship as best he could, he left to visit the Melanesian missions. He travelled via Anatom where we had left a letter informing him of our disaster in New Caledonia, so he did not travel via that cursed territory and this was a blessing for him, as his life and that of all his crew would have been in grave danger. He then headed directly from Anatom to San Christobal, to visit Bishop Collomb’s mission. But this mission had also been abandoned, like ours and with even greater losses, three missionaries had been eaten there. Nevertheless, he learnt from a letter, found in the hands of the savages, that Bishop Collomb had gone to establish himself at Woodlark (Moiou). Having struggled for fifteen days against adverse winds, the moussoon [2] and even a raging storm that carried away his tiller, he was forced to tack and set sail for Sydney, where he arrived with great difficulty on 6th March, as I have already told you. You would think that his enthusiasm for religion and his boundless charity for the missions would have caused him great regret at not having been able to carry on to Woodlark. Nevertheless, his arrival in Sydney gave us great pleasure. It made us consider the possibility of going to reinstall ourselves in our poor destroyed mission. But Mr Marceau found himself in great distress in Sydney. He had his ship to repair, his crew to pay and Mr Marziou had not sent him any money, nor even a letter. Several merchants in Sydney told me that they could not understand the behaviour of Mr Marziou; and yet Mr Marceau, who carried all the weight of this behaviour, was never heard to voice a complaint. He stayed 6 weeks in Sydney this time and during this time he enlightened the inhabitants of the capital of Australia; all the many Catholics formed a very high opinion of him. The Archbishop valued him so highly that he wished to celebrate Holy Mass on board the Arche d”Alliance.
In the meantime, we are preparing ourselves for our departure for the islands. On 14th April I went aboard and from that time I was able to become the confidant of the good Captain.
On 19th April Mr Marceau received on board 30 natives from the Loyalty Islands that a merchant in Sydney had used as slaves. Our Captain took all their expenses upon himself. Four months previously he had taken about fourteen of them in the same situation and had repatriated them.
Finally, on 20th April we left Sydney, setting sail for New Caledonia. The voyage was quite tranquil. On 1st May we sighted New Caledonia. But the Captain was not sure of the position of port Saint Vincent, which we were looking for. On the last day of April I gave instruction to the people on board about the month of Mary which was beginning. On 2nd of the same month, I continued with the month of Mary. In the lecture on this particular day we were reminded of the efficacy of these words: Mary conceived without sin. Mr Marceau was so impressed that after the lecture he wished to take the book and re-read the story of this miraculous happening. He had nailed to the forecastle of the ship a miraculous medal on which the same words are engraved.
Meanwhile, we searched for port Saint Vincent. On the 3rd we found an entrance that we thought to be that of the port. But we were not certain whether to enter the pass. Mr Marceau sent a whaleboat with five men. The lieutenant when he returned assured us that it was not the entrance. Nevertheless, we made short tacks to and fro to wait for the whaleboat which was having difficulty rejoining us. On one of these tacks, we were courting great danger. When tacking, a badly executed manoeuvre almost cast us onto a reef, where we would have perished without help. The captain told me that his order had been carried out to the letter but it was he who had made the mistake. I, who had heard him, thought the contrary, without being able, nevertheless, to attest to it. Whatever was the case, we survived it and no doubt the medal placed the day before on the forecastle of the ship had contributed greatly. Well, that is what Mr Marceau believed. I should observe that I saw our captain a little upset that time. What am I doing here, he said to me.
Finally, having searched for three days, we found the true entry to port Saint Vincent. We went ahead into it. Night had fallen by the time we dropped anchor in 8 fathoms of water on 4th May.
After four days of exploring the different islets that are in this vast port, we were obliged to leave, not having been able to find any of the necessities required to found an establishment. We had to press on to the large island and experience had taught us that we could not trust the savages. Before our departure Mr Marceau placed two signs recording our presence in the port and the day of our departure, as well as the place we were heading for. There was a cross placed on a small island, at the foot of which a bottle was buried with a letter and also a sign in large letters placed against a rock that could be seen all over the port. To put this sign in place a man had to be suspended by a rope. It was a trainee helmsman who carried out this task. He had not quite finished when those who were suspending him noticed that the rope was three quarters severed through. We believed the man doomed as he was hanging there and under him was a rock more then 100 feet down. It was Mr Marceau who directed the rescue operation and who had given to the young man a religious medal six days before. Our Captain, always confident in his faith, had watched the rescue of the young man, safe in the protection of Mary.
After having taken these measures to inform the Anonyme, which should come looking for us, we raised anchor and headed towards Anatom, the most Southerly of the islands of the New Hebrides. When leaving we touched the harbour bottom; fortunately we were not stranded and suffered no damage. The wind could not have been more favourable. On 11th May we saw land towards the sunrise and at midday we were not more than 4 or 5 leagues away. But we struck a flat calm and it was not until the 14th in the evening that we were able to enter port.
On 15th as soon as it was morning, the two Fathers and I went ashore. We presented ourselves to Mr Paddon, an Englishman who I had known for a long time and who received us graciously on our arrival. We went to find the two chiefs of the bay to seek suitable land to establish ourselves. But one of them, pushed by the Protestant catechists refused to sell, after having promised us. Mr Paddon used all his influence to help us and things sorted out quite well. This worthy Englishman assisted us with extraordinary vigour and without him we would have been greatly embarrassed. He offered us his house to store our goods whilst waiting to construct our own.
On the morning of 16th we busily began to clear the area where the house would stand. Mr Marceau, who for a long time had prayed for the success of the mission was rather surprised that the Superior of this mission did not start the work with a prayer. He expressed his surprise to me.
On 20th a temporary house was finished. We put most of our belongings into it. Mr Marceau still had one charitable work to fulfil, it was to repatriate the natives that he had brought back from Sydney. They were from Lifu and Uvea. The Fathers were resolved, as well, to attempt to set up a new establishment in those islands. Father Roudaire would go there with me. We left on 27th at 4 in the afternoon. The wind and current were favourable for us. Twenty four hours later we moored in a large bay on the island of Lifu. This island, like all those of Oceania is divided organisationally between two high chiefs who are almost continually at war. Several days after our arrival one of these chiefs had killed eight of the other chief’s men and all were roasted and eaten. Mr Marceau went ashore with four sailors; the lieutenant had five more in another craft, so that the ship was left with almost no one, with more than 60 natives who, within minutes would have been able to kill us all and grab control of the ship. This had happened several times. I was very worried and could not help myself from saying to our good captain: Really if I did not know that the Good Lord would repay your great confidence in him, I would say that you were acting a little too imprudently. I know that quite well, he said, Mary is on the bow of the ship; it is over to her to defend it. The natives in these islands are completely nude. I had said to Mr Marceau that in the case of our being attacked on an island by the savages, far from counting on the protection of those men that he had repatriated, they would turn against us. The goodness, the charity and the enthusiasm of Mr Marceau would not allow him to accept these ideas, but he was about to receive a lesson which [should] make him realise definitively just how far the ingratitude of these savage people would go. Meanwhile, he thanked me as usual for the advice that I was giving him and even invited me to warn him of all the mistakes that he might make.
On 1st June, the day of the ascension, we left Lifu to go to Uvea, an island 20 [3] from this last island. The same day we moored in a large bay. It was night; we could not approach the shore till the next day. We had scarcely dropped the anchor when about 40 men approached, at the head of whom was a high chief. This island was also divided between two rulers who continually make war on each other. The Southern part had Nékélo as chief and the Northern part had Uanegei. The latter is generally the stronger. On going ashore I found the remains of human bodies that had just been eaten. Nékélo and all his tribe expressed a great desire to have missionaries in their territory. This over attentiveness amongst the savages, these expressions of friendship, are never a good sign. They always have some hidden agenda. Flatter so as to destroy, that is the character of the savage. Mr Marceau began to understand this. We went ashore, the second officer and a sixth of the men aboard. We noticed that none of those that Mr Marceau had brought back came to meet us; none of them accompanied us on our excursion.
On 5th we raised anchor to go and moor in another part of the island, that of the Uanegei. These latter made even more lavish demonstrations of friendship than Nékélo, because they are even more cunning and wicked. They knew so well how to conduct themselves that we almost all fell into the trap, if his plan had not been discovered by a child who I alone was able to understand. This ten year old child, who we had brought from the other tribe, presented himself to everyone on board, weeping. He was brought to me and explained that the tribe of Uanagei wanted to kill us, eat us and take over our ship. I alerted Mr Marceau who immediately took measures to defend us. Whilst, on board, the father wanted to attack us, his son, on shore, wanted to kill five of our men who were ashore and this son was a man that Mr Marceau had brought back to Rotuma five months previously. [4] But at the same time as a child revealed to those of us on board his father’s plan, Solomon, who was ashore, managed to avoid the massacre of the five men that the son wished to eat. The canons were charged with grapeshot; all the crew were armed; the natives slowly dispersed. The rowboat arrived from shore, we raised the anchor and went to once more moor with the Nékélo. It was completely dark when we lowered our anchor in the area between one bay and another. I had said to the captain that these two enemy tribes could very well unite to attack us, that that is the nature of these savages.
As soon as it was sunrise four large canoes arrived crewed by 70-80 men. No females, no high chiefs. Their faces were smeared with black. I examined the canoes from the top of the poop deck. They carried a large quantity of arms of all types, some of which were visible and most of them hidden. Two men showed a sort of flag as a sign of peace. These signs of peace suggest treason, I said to Mr Marceau. Beware, seize the moment, time is short. Immediately the captain ordered all the crew to take up arms, which was carried out immediately. The natives were so determined to attack us that, in spite of the repeated order to move away from the ship, they persisted in trying to climb up. The captain threatened to open fire; they moved off. We raised the anchor immediately and distanced ourselves, then passed by the other tribe to put ashore a spy, who had covered the distance on shore so as to inform our enemies of everything and set them against us. [5] He had his wife with him. Mr Marceau was so keen to return good for evil that he put them down as near to the shore as possible and, to facilitate their reaching the shore, he steered the ship till there was only one foot of water under the keel, which exposed us to grounding.
Mr Marceau told me, after all these problems, that only one thing troubled him and that was the fear of being obliged to fire on the savages and kill some and that he had many thanks to offer to the Good Lord and the protection of Mary for having been able to extract himself from the situation without having spilt any blood.
On 7th we set out again for Anatom two hours after having left the harbour in heavy rain and foggy weather. We saw a schooner carrying the French flag and that of the Society. It was the Léocardie bringing reinforcements of newly arrived missionaries. Mr Marceau gave orders for it to tack about and set sail for Anatom. Meanwhile our Captain went aboard the Léocardie; at the same time we were struck by a heavy shower which forced us to reduce sail and release the top gallants. A trainee officer fell overboard. Mr Marceau took the risk and went himself to look for him and succeeded in saving him.
On 15th, at nine in the morning, we moored at Anatom where the Léocardie had arrived ahead of us by several hours. After having spent 12 days at Anatom and helped the Fathers to establish themselves, we left for Tahiti, passing by Tanna [6] where we were hoping to obtain some fresh food supplies. The savages of this island wanted to lay an ambush [7] for Mr Marceau and without all the lessons he had learned he could easily have fallen into it. He told me many times that to get to know these savage peoples, he had needed to make this last voyage to Melanesia and that he thanked providence for having managed it for him. During our stay on Tanna, we were able to watch, completely at our ease, the eruptions of the magnificent volcano that I had already seen twice before.
When leaving Anatom, Mr Marceau had a little disagreement that hurt him a somewhat. When we left from Sydney, the Arche d’Alliance had already had nearly three years at sea. Mr Marceau had not been able to get his crew to consent to undertake this last difficult and dangerous trip except by promising them an allowance of 1200 francs. The Father in charge of the temporal administration of the mission promised to give it to them. The sailors would help in the setting up of the establishment. The establishment in New Caledonia not having been able to be carried out, the help of the crew had not been so necessary. The Father only wished to give half so Mr Marceau was consequently obliged to give 600 francs from his own pocket. I was consulted privately about the case and I said that the Father owed the whole lot, as it was the voyage and not the particular work that gave the sailors the right to this indemnity. I would rather, Mr Marceau said, make all the sacrifices than get the better in any way of whoever it might be at the mission. Besides, I will be able to sort it out with the Superior General.
After having searched unsuccessfully for fresh food supplies on Tanna, we set course for Tahiti on the feast day of the apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Mr Paddon who we had known during his stay on Anatom, made him a gift on his departure of 10 sheep. [8] Our passage from the Hebrides to Tahiti was quite pleasant and not too long. We had nevertheless, a gust of wind that caused some damage to our sails. We finally arrived in Tahiti on 22nd July which is the 23rd in Tahiti. Consequently we were on Sunday and Tahiti on Saturday. We had two Sundays following each other. Our pilot when meeting us cried France is a Republic. Liberté, égalité, fraternité.
I will not discuss Tahiti with you. It is a poor colony with not much to say about it. As for the rest, if there is something interesting to tell you about, I will tell you when I return from the islands of Samoa, in a few months from now. In the meantime I am as always,
your very humble and very obedient servant,
Grange, missionary apostolic.


  1. No doubt his letter to Colin on 30th September 1847 (doc. 666).
  2. Read monsoon
  3. No doubt read: 20 marine leagues (about 100 kms)
  4. No doubt there are some words missing in this sentence as the sense is not very clear.
  5. The meaning of this sentence seems confused.
  6. Tanna is an island situated about 110 kms North-North-West of Anatom.
  7. Read: embuches (= ambush).
  8. The author does not write the complement of the indirect object of the verb had known; so it is not clear whether Paddon gave the sheep to Marceau or to one of the missionaries.

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