From Marist Studies
Jump to: navigation, search

28 October 1848 — Father Prosper Goujon to Father Benoît Lagniet, Isle of Pines

Translated by Mary Williamson, October 2018

Based on the document in the handwriting of Poupinel, APM ONC 208 Gougon.

Two sheets of paper, forming eight pages seven of which are written on, the eighth having only Poupinel’s annotation; the annotation in another hand, at a later date, is at the top of the first page.

[p.1, at the top of the page][at a later date]
prepared by Poupinel.
[p.8][in Poupinel’s handwriting]
Isle of Pines 28th October 1848 / Father Goujon to the Reverend Father Lagniet, Provincial.
Apostolic curacy of New Caledonia.
Letter from Father Goujon, apostolic missionary of the Society of Mary to the Reverend :Father Lagniet, Provincial of the same Society.

Isle of Pines, Our Lady of the Assumption, 28th October 1848

My Very Reverend Father,
It is a duty for me, but also rather a consolation, to write to you from the very situation of my mission. It pleases me to tell you that from the start providence has led us here by the hand. Thanks for this be returned to her a thousand times. Her gentle and merciful solicitude towards us is a powerful sign of encouragement and hope. Before speaking to you about the Isle of Pines, where I am situated, I will tell you about the attempt that we made to establish ourselves, before coming here; your fatherly concern will see in this account a striking proof of the thoughtful protection with which divine providence covers us.
On 27th May, the eve of our arrival at Anatom, Father Roudaire left aboard the Arche d’ Alliance for Ouvea or Halgan, [1] one of the Loyalty Islands, situated at 20° latitude south, in the hope of founding a mission there. The occasion seemed very favourable for our introduction to this island; Mr Marceau had, several months before, brought back to Halgan several inhabitants from this island, who he had found scattered here and there around Oceania. He was received as a benefactor, he was given gifts, I do not know whether he was perhaps even carried along triumphantly. On his second trip, which I am about to tell you of, he took back to Halgan several of the unfortunate inhabitants that the English had removed by force, to use them as slaves in the colony and who, halted in their plan by a recent law, abandoned them in the streets of Sydney. Among these natives from Halgan, that Mr Marceau had had the kindness to take on board, there was the son of the chief. One would naturally think that this chief would show himself generous and that such a service, rendered to his country, would stir in his heart some sense of gratitude. Mr Marceau having been well received, Father Roudaire should have also been welcome.
On Anatom, we were acquainted with all these positive signs. The Reverend Father Rougeyron, Provincial and Superior of the mission, believed that he could immediately send some colleagues to Father Roudaire. I had the privilege of being chosen with Father Chatelut and Brother Joseph Reboul. We sailed, for two days, with a favourable wind and on 6th June, in the morning, when we were ready to enter the port, we suddenly saw the Arche d’Alliance, which was sailing out, coming into view. Flags were raised by both of us; the two ships approached each other; how astonished we were when we heard a voice shout: The settlement here is not tenable; go about. We sailed off in convoy and during the day Mr Marceau was kind enough to come aboard, to inform us of what had just happened.
Far from receiving the Halgan natives with the signs of gratitude that they had the right to expect, they wished to thank them with the worst kind of ingratitude. So as to successfully carry out their ghastly project, they had invited Mr Marceau to a feast that would take place during the night. They would have massacred him along with his companions and, at the same time, other cannibals would have seized the men left on board the ship. Fortunately, Mr Marceau had wind of their unspoken machinations and indignantly refused their treacherous invitation and ordered all the natives who, from curiosity or other less innocent motives had come aboard, to be sent ashore and he immediately raised the anchor. He was leaving the port, as I have told you, when providence allowed us to meet him. I do not know to what extent we would have been respected, if we had landed on this barbaric land, but for sure our few goods would have vanished through pillage.
That, my Very Reverend Father, is what the majority of the islanders who inhabit the three archipelagos that comprise the curacy of New Caledonia are like. For the moment, there are perhaps only two spots where we might be able to safely stay, and we occupy these two places, which are: Anatom in the New Hebrides and the Isle of Pines, which could be regarded as a dependence of New Caledonia.
About two months after our return from Halgan, we left for the Isle of Pines. We should have easily been able to reach it after two days of sailing, but a contrary wind kept us at sea for 6 days. Father Chatelut, continuously tormented by seasickness, did not know whether he was alive of dead. When we began to breath in the smell of land, he appeared on his feet on the deck and it was not possible for him to retain for long the serious expression of an invalid. As soon as the natives saw our ship, they started to swim out and already 3 of them had reached the ship; Father Chatelet, armed with his eye glass, inspected the land and for their part, the 3 natives looked with astonishment at this little device, which seemed to them rather curious; they wanted to touch it and even tried to use it. The first one shut his eyes tight then aimed the eyeglass, turning and re-turning it in all directions and was very surprised to see nothing. The second was cleverer, he worked out the secret; he opened the right eye and held the eyeglass up to the left, which he carefully kept firmly closed and he could not understand why he saw nothing at all. At our shouts of laughter, the third understood their mistake, he seized the glass, opened both eyes wide and saw passing in front of him some wonderful things, which drew exclamations of joy and admiration from him.
We took possession of the island on 15th August and on this day we consecrated it to Mary, queen of heaven. The island is about 10 leagues in circumference, but the population is not very numerous; situated at 22º latitude south and 165º longitude east, it is at the south-east tip of New Caledonia. So here we are at the tip of this hostile land, all ready to bring back to it the light of the gospel if God, through the mouthpiece of our bishop, should send us there. Our island no doubt gets its name from the forests of pine that cover its shores. Very near to us, on the slopes of the mountains, there are a large number of pines that seem to have grown providentially for our current needs; it is there that, turn about, woodcutters and pit sawyers prepare the wood that is necessary for our house. This construction work will be our main activity for almost 6 months. You will agree, my Reverend Father, that it is thus that we head, in a rather roundabout fashion, towards the goal that has brought us here. We need to begin here; the huts that the natives offer us are, so to speak, uninhabitable. The country is healthy and we are enjoying good health. Here we are accepted and included. It seems that this is a great advantage; add to this that the high chief, during our first interview, allowed us a site for our house and the cultivation of a garden, as well as the freedom to cut the wood that we would need and you will thus see the measure of the favours that we are enjoying here.
The high chief holds all authority in his hands and he is treated with almost extraordinary honour. We were astonished, on our first visit to him, when we arrived on the island, to see the expressions of respect that he received. A crowd of natives, old people, men, women and children were assembled in his yard to see us; our clothing, our pale skin, our ease in conforming to their customs, all that elicited their admiration. But when they presented themselves before their chief, they approached deeply bowed, heads lowered and both hands clasped behind their backs. When he came to pay us a visit, we were out in front of our house, ready to exchange a few words with him, whilst a mother passed by on the shore with all her family; one of the children, more interested in satisfying his curiosity than in paying homage to l’Ariki, (chief), walked thoughtlessly with his head raised. His mother noticed this, took several paces back and struck her son a hard slap, which jolted him from his inattention; immediately, he began to grovel like the others. Nevertheless, the chief had nothing in his demeanour to inspire fear. He is tall and does not lack a certain dignity, but otherwise he is simple like his subjects and easy to approach. As he is well disposed towards us, the influence that he has over his people could be advantageous to our mission.
Whilst awaiting the time when later, we might be able to acquaint you with our people, I can provide you with the following small details that I believe to be accurate. The inhabitants of the Isle of Pines seem to belong to the Polynesian race, the most intelligent and least ferocious of the Oceanic races. They live amongst themselves in peace and unity. This is a consolation for the missionaries, who thus hope to convert them more easily to Jesus Christ; it is a great advantage for them, far from war, as they can devote more time to the cultivation of their fields and protection of their harvests. Their plantations are of yams and sugar cane, which does very well in this climate. They also live on fish and shellfish. (A. The paragraph which is at the end of this letter should go here).[2]
Here clothing is little used; men and women wear very little except a narrow belt. This nudity as deserving of pity as it is repellent to nature, seems to make them feel ashamed themselves. So they admire our clothing and often come to ask us for fabric to clothe themselves with. Alas! Our resources are not vast and we can only give them a few pieces of calico or printed fabric, which they wear with pride.
Their skin is almost black; the men are tall and well built; they wear their curly hair either loose or held back by a ring at the back of their heads. There is nothing fierce in their manner and they have not shown themselves as thieving as their neighbours. Naturally curious and intelligent enough to understand and imitate what they see foreigners do, they besiege our dwelling from morning till night to watch us and ponder all our actions. Father Roudaire, who knows the savages, has given us hope that we will do good work here. I do not know whether the people of the Isle of Pines are cannibals, but they deny this reputation and there is a feeling that they despise their neighbours, who eat humans. Despite these outward expressions, one can nevertheless see that, without anything more being said, they regard the flesh of the white man with a sort of admiration. They especially caste lustful glances on plump legs and more than once at a moment when one is least thinking about it, you feel a hand pass lightly over your calf. If you say to the daring person at fault: what you are doing is wrong. He replies by pursing his lips: oh! Lelei, it is nice. It is necessary to point this out to them and up till now we have not had to cope with any insults.
They are different in this way from the various peoples of Polynesia, who push pride to the ridiculous level of believing themselves, each particular group of them, to be the most important people in the world, whereas our natives know how to put themselves more of less in their place. The admire everything we have, even a pin. We have noticed that they bury their dead with care, respect their graves and go and place food on them: this would seem to indicate belief in the immortality of the soul. One thing that amazes them greatly is that we do not have wives; they endlessly ask us why we live separated from them. When we reply that it is to imitate Jesus Christ and the apostles and so that we can freely carry out our ministry amongst them, they withdraw, satisfied and cannot help but admire us.
We have to keep ourselves on guard against prejudice, which makes them defiant towards us. A few years ago two Protestant catechists occupied the area where we have established ourselves today. These fanatics, to make more of an impression on the islanders, made different facial grimaces in front of them which were more or less ridiculous; they even uttered abuse and curses against them. Well, at this juncture, an epidemic killed many people, they assumed that these two imprudent people were the cause and killed them. The natives thus still fear that we might come and bring death to their country and they seek to find out if we might have any strange ceremonies. We need to exercise a lot of restraint and care in our introductions. Little by little these unfounded fears will disappear and they have even diminished somewhat already; this illusion will disappear, and we will, I hope, be able to preach to them freely, in a few months, the blessed truths that we have come to tell them about. Our hopes are based on the powerful blessings of the divine Master who has sent us, under the protection of our noble patron Mary and with the help of the prayers that the Society ceaselessly offers for the success of our work.
As for me, my Reverend Father, I aways think with joy of the special affection that you showed me from the moment when Mary placed me in your hands, like a child in the hands of his father. Please complete the charitable work that you have begun on my behalf, by acquiring for me the blessing of persevering in the love of God, or rather the blessing of beginning to love him with all my heart, for up till now my pride has too often made me unfaithful to this pleasant duty.
I ask your prayers,
Goujon, missionary, Society of Mary.
Post script. I cannot help but transcribe here for you a few very simple lines the one of our young Caledonian catechists himself wished to address to my parents. His simple language will give you an idea of the goodness of his heart and his tender devotion.
To the parents of Father Goujon, good morning:
Although I do not know how to either speak or write in French, I am trying to greet you. I am a native of Caledonia; my name was Téuané; when I was baptised I took the name of Augustin. I owe this blessing, as well as to God, to the work of the good missionaries, who have taken me with them from my unhappy country. I now have the pleasure of serving them on the Isle of Pines; they are full of kindness towards me and I say my prayers for them.
My greatest happiness, like you, is to feel how good God is and how much love the Holy Virgin Mary, his blessed mother, has for us and in particular for me, who is very bad and unworthy of being one of hers. Ah! I would like to be a missionary to make her love me. But not meriting this and not being able to gain this favour I say my rosary every day for the mission. I am told that you pray for her a lot in France; be pleased that I join my little prayers to yours. I greet you all.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. So be it.
This paragraph should be placed in the text on the fourth page. [3]
For some time they have badly neglected their plantations and food supplies begin to be lacking. Here is the cause. Their island produces a lot of sandalwood, a type of pale wood that has an aromatic odour and that the Chinese use to make small curios, or to extract its perfumed oil. Our islanders harvest this wood with great care and sell it to: English sandalwood merchants for a few metres of fabric, a pipe, a small amount of tobacco, etc…. nothing in their eyes outdoes these trifles. So they forget the cultivation of their fields in order to carry out this commerce. The high chief recognises this abuse; he has just gathered together all his people for a public festival at the end of which he is going to issue the order to no longer, henceforth, occupy themselves except with the care of their plantations.


  1. The Island of Ouvea (cf. doc. 694, § 1; 701, § 1; 712, § 7)
  2. See §21 below.
  3. The author wished to put the following paragraph following (§ 21) after the § 9 (cf. § 9, n.2, above).

Previous Letter List of 1848 Letters Next Letter