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19 December 1848 and 1 January 1849. — Father Charles-Eugène Mathieu to his brother, Wallis

Translated by Mary Williamson, February 2019

Based on the document sent, APM OW 208 Mathieu.

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

[p.1, at the top of the page] [in Poupinel’s handwriting]
Wallis / the Reverend Father Mathieu.
Uvea 19th December 1848.

My dear brother,
We have just received news from Europe via a small ship from Sydney, which brought us some newspapers from Sydney and Sandwick. [1] This news only goes up to the middle of the month of March. What terrible upheavals! What consequences! It seems to me from here, that I see the troubles growing every day in our Europe. What a hurdle for the barque of Saint Peter on such a sea. Fortunately she has a good pilot and her construction is strong enough to save her from foundering. For a long time the horizon had been darkening, finally the storm has broken and as usual, has begun to strike down the tallest heads. Just how far will this destruction go and to what level? Only he who holds in his hands the winds and storms knows. You others who are close by, you can follow the march of events for me at the other end of the world, which is so rarely visited. I can only anticipate and what anticipations! Yet I hope that all this will turn out to be for the good of religion and that the Good Lord will have thrust upon these events his power and his mercy. This will be in ruinam and resurrectionem multorum in Israel. [2] If you are able to send a few letters to me, don’t fail to give me details of everything that concerns you. Address them to either Sydney to Messrs Joubert and Murphy, merchants, or to Tahiti to Mr Techouart, captain of the port, or even to the governor.
The functioning of our mission cannot progress very fast, as no missionaries are coming to us. In the past two years only one has arrived, [3] and another has been obliged to retire because of his health. [4] Despite that the work of the Good Lord continues to advance. Religion is making encouraging progress in Tonga Tapu. The Tui Tonga or great king of Tonga has recently converted. It is a great step forward for religion in the entire curacy. Rotuma is making some progress. We know about it in general without knowing the details. It is an island with which we have a great deal of trouble in corresponding, as it to the leeward of us and no ships ever come from there. The islands of Samoa are still at war. The influence of Protestantism is declining more and more despite the efforts of Pritchard and everyone is preparing for a happy outcome when the war is ended. Alas, there has to be much bloodshed and many atonements before blessings appear. The Fiji islands await us. If Tonga is converted, it will be easy to follow with Fiji. Here our little college makes its own progress; we have printed a rudimentary effort in the language of Wallis. There are not yet many pupils. We are taking it gently, as it is better to succeed with a small core than fall on our faces by making a great fuss at the beginning.
We are waiting, as we have not received any pecuniary assistance for a long time. That does not matter provided that it does come to us eventually from the outside world, to help us. We will find the means to live here on the produce of the country. Do not worry about me on this count. My parishioners on Wallis will not let me die of hunger. My only fear is that the priests in France might not have enough confidence in God to come here, without hope of temporal or pecuniary aid and that they will be discouraged by exaggerated reports about the faults of the Tongans, that I have read in the Propagation of the Faith.
I am writing to you briefly this time. I am going to commit myself to the confessional tomorrow. This will be for four days, up till Christmas. It is rather tiring, but I am keeping well, except for headaches and sleep problems which always trouble me. I hope this letter finds you in good health. It pleases me to think that that is how things are, although I do worry about the problem of the great age of my aunt and its effect on your delicate health. Let us all pray for each other. My good wishes to …..
Your brother,
Matthieu, missionary priest.
1st January 1849.
Our Christmas celebrations have just passed rather sadly. During the 3 or 4 days preceding them, the wind blew with frightening force. I had great difficulty in hearing confessions because of the noise of the storm. On Sunday, Christmas Eve, we had to reinforce the roof of the church and block up all the windows. I was able, by this means, to say midnight mass with lovely illuminations and to give communion to all my flock. The storm outside was terrible. Next day in the morning, I said the third mass. Then the storm turned into a veritable hurricane. The sea breached its boundaries and inundated almost all the houses by the port. The church found itself surrounded by waves. I transported all the small pieces of furniture to the presbytery which was still intact. The folk who were flooded out came to seek shelter with me along with their children. The house was chock-full. It was a terrible night. The house constantly seemed lifted and turned by the force of the wind. Nevertheless it stood firm.
In the morning we saw nothing but ruins; all the breadfruit trees were on the ground, the trees stripped of their leaves and as if burnt by the storm. Most of the houses were down and some of them were so broken up by the sea that it was difficult to find anything left. The church was leaning to one side and partly uncovered. We said our morning prayers, on the day of Saint Stephen, amidst all this destruction. All the chiefs came to visit me. They wanted to transport me, with all the furnishings of the church, to a new safe place to which I should in fact move the church and presbytery. I was happy to just have them shore up the house fearing that the wind might turn to the West, as it is from that direction that it usually blows hardest. We had a grand kava ceremony in the middle of the courtyard and I stayed steadfast to the presbytery. The wind dropped little by little and by evening the storm was over. I noticed with pleasure, during this contact, how devoted and intrepid these people are in the face of such dangers. It took me two days to dry out everything and put the church and presbytery back in order. Some of the pictures of the stations of the cross were ruined as were some images on varnished paper; The rain had unstuck them and torn them. I do not know if I can repair them. It is a loss that I deeply regret, as the people here are very devoted to the stations of the cross.
This is my little story for New Year’s Day. May it reach you before 1850 with my New Year’s greetings. Alas! Perhaps you are in the midst of storms of another nature and even more terrible. Therefore I think of you constantly and pray for you.
Please give my regards to the Bishop and to the Vicars General, to the Curate at Saint Remi and to all the clergymen of my acquaintance. Warmest greetings to all our relatives and friends.
Mathieu missionary.


  1. Read no doubt Sandwich (Hawaii)
  2. Cf. Lc 2.34: Et benedixit illis Simeon, et dixit ad Mariam matrem eius: Ecce positus est hic in ruimam , et in resurrectionem multorum in Israel, et in signum cui contredicetur. (Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “ This child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which will be spoken against.”
  3. Father François Palazy and Brother Sauveur (Conil), arrived on Futuna on 11th May 1848, joining the service of Bataillon’s mission. (cf. doc. 716, § 9; 761, § 5-6).
  4. Father Jérôme Grange no doubt (cf. doc. 501, § 1; 502, § 1; 596, § 3; 666, § 2).

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