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2 November 1848 – Father Jean-Louis Rocher to Father Jean-Claude Colin (1), Sydney

Translated by Mary Williamson, December 2018

Based on the document sent, APM OP 458 Rocher.

Folded sheet of paper, forming four written pages; Poupinel’s annotation is found at the top of the first page; in the register ED2, it was numbered 45.

[p.1] [in Poupinel’s handwriting]
Father Rocher.

Sydney 2nd November 1848.

To the Very Reverend Father Colin
Superior General

My Very Reverend Father,
On the 23rd of last month the brig Anonyme was returning to Sydney and when it arrived at Woodlark the health of the missionaries was improving and the bouts of fever were becoming fewer. But this was not the case for Bishop Collomb. To his bouts of fever, which were still very frequent, was added a serious stomach disorder. Nevertheless, his condition was not yet desperate. As the brig was at the Bishop’s disposal, he profited from the opportunity to have a detailed reconnaissance of the island of Woodlark made. It was Father Montrouzier who was given the task of this exploration. He found that the island was sparsely populated although its dimensions were larger than were shown on the charts. Everywhere, he was well received and the people seemed willing to listen favourably to the missionaries.
After this minor exploration, the Bishop, who had formed a plan to establish another station on an island further to the North, wished to board the brig with the Reverend Fathers Frémont and Villien and Brother Optat, who he had named to begin this mission. Considering the poor state of health of the Bishop, we did not wish to see him leave Woodlark, but His Lordship, wishing to see and direct this important operation, would not give in to the concerns of his missionaries. After having visited New Britain and the surrounding islands, they stopped at the island of Rook in the Dampier strait between New Guinea and New Britain. This island would be about 20 to 25 leagues in circumference, but has few inhabitants. It would seem that this island it not prone to the fever to judge from the natives who are strong and robust. The heat is not excessive although the island is situated 5º latitude South and 145º East. The natives of Rook seem reasonable, they are not thieves but are extremely mistrustful. They have a very good relationship with the natives of New Guinea; their language is almost the same.
We had only just arrived on this island when the weak state of the Bishop became more serious. The fever, it is true, had abated, but his stomach pains became worse and worse every day. He was so weak that he could not take five steps without becoming extremely fatigued. Everything is possible for God, Father Villien said to me, but if things do not change, I very much fear that our mission might soon be deprived for the second time of our Vicar Apostolic.
When the brig left the island of Rook, His Lordship had not spoken for three days and had, according to the captain, lost consciousness. His whole body was swollen; in other words we had almost lost hope of keeping him alive. The captain would have very much liked to wait a few more days to see if the weak state of the Bishop would perhaps improve a little, but this was impossible for him, considering that he had almost no food supplies for the return to Sydney.
As for the missionaries and Brothers, they were reasonably well with the exception of Father Montrouzier, who still had the fever. For several days he had no longer been able to take his services. Nevertheless, I received a letter from him, but he told me that it had taken him 5 days to write it. This good Father is on Woodlark with Father Thomassin and Brothers Genade and Aristide.
The Moiu mission on Woodlark is going well. We have definitely six angels in Heaven, Father Montrouzier tells me and perhaps ten adults who we have baptised when on death’s door. We are reasonably well listened to when we present the catechism and most of the children know the basic beliefs. We have translated the Creed, the Our Father and the Hail Mary into the native language; We are going to begin to have them recite the rosary. We have two children at the house who give us some hope, the most advanced will soon know how to read and perhaps later they will become catechists, perhaps! Finally, we see some changes in behaviour; I do not think that there are any people whose conversation is more obscene than was that of the natives when we arrived. Now in our bay they restrain themselves at least in our presence.
It was on 29th September that Fathers Trapenard and Ducretet arrived at the procurator’s. When they left Samoa, the natives were at war. Even though it was not religion which was the cause of this war, it nevertheless somewhat paralysed the enthusiasm of the missionaries, but it did not diminish the esteem and affection of the natives towards the Catholic priests.
When the brig Anonyme arrived in Sydney, we had hopes of hiring it again to take our colleagues to their destination, but the sum of money that was demanded was far too onerous for the mission. It was a question of no less than a sum of 17,500 francs. So we decided on the course of waiting for the season of unfavourable winds to pass. Next March we will prepare ourselves for departure. Besides, according to a letter from Father Montrouzier, the mission will not need to be visited till this time.
The news that we have received from the New Hebrides is reasonably satisfying. Father Rougeyron tells me that they are always in very amicable communication with the leader of the English establishment. Using his ship, they have gone, at no cost, to found another establishment on the Isle of Pines. It is Father Roudaire who went there with Fathers Chatelut, Goujon and Brothers Jean and Joseph. They are all very content there.
On Anatom they have battled with some Protestant ministers who had already started two establishments there. But they have nothing to fear from them as long as the Catholic mission gets along well with the head of their establishment. In the meanwhile, they say, we are strengthening our position every day by gaining the confidence of the natives.
The health of our colleagues on this island is not exactly flourishing. Two have the fever and the others suffer from illnesses. It must be that this comes from the situation that they have chosen which is, I believe, two low and thus too humid. Because, quite nearby, the fever does not affect people.
That is more or less the news that we have received from the missions. If I do not elaborate further, it is that I know that you will have letters from the different missionaries reaching you.
Yours sincerely,
Your very humble and very obedient servant,