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6 January 1850 — Bishop Guillaume Douarre to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Isle of Pines

Translated by Peter McConnell, November 2010

Jesus Mary Joseph
Isle of Pines 6 January 1850

To the very reverend Father Colin, Superior General of the Marists

Very Reverend Father,
I had already prepared several letters to inform you of returning to my vicariate. Various circumstances delayed my sending them and I bless divine providence for that delay because I gave you hopes that we no longer have today.
When I arrived at Anatom (New Hebrides) on 7 September 1849, I left Fathers Chapuy, Vigouroux and Brother Mallet there. Later on I sent Brother Reboule there. The mission station on the Island of Pines was manned by Fathers Goujon, Gagnyère and Brothers Prosper and Michel.
After several days of retreat I went again to face the dangers of New Caledonia. I was accompanied by Fathers Roudaire, Rougeyron, Chatelut, Berniun, Anliard, Forestier and some Brothers including Jean Taragnat, Bertrand, Alphonse and Michel Anliard. Our first intention was to establish a mission station at Hienghène, another at Pouébo near Balade; later on when our resources allowed us, we wanted to start a settlement on an isolated spot in New Caledonia.
When we reached Hienghène, we found out that the inhabitants of Balade only a few days previously had seized an English cutter, massacred and devoured four of the five men who made up the crew. There was no longer any chance of settling in Pouébo. However, I could not leave without visiting our converts. Their situation had become very sad as a result of their attachment to us, something which had caused them untold hostility from our enemies. I saw that it was essential not to draw back in face of difficulties from setting up a new mission station, an action which from that time became imminent; I therefore brought them back to Hienghène.
The attitude of Bouarat, the chief of that tribe, towards Europeans and especially towards the missionaries seemed to be excellent. I established myself near him and kept with me Fathers Bernin, Anliard, Forestier and Brothers Jean Taragnat and Michel Anliard. The mission station started immediately at Hienghène, led by Fathers Roudaire, Rougeyron, Chatelut and Brothers Bertrand and Alphonse. We put ourselves to the task immediately.
The first days were wonderful: under such outward signs of kindness lurked infamous treachery; it was nothing less than a matter of massacring us and robbing us when we would have a house and some items as well. Besides innumerable demands, for the chief and his two brothers did not grace us with any meal and demanded presents and noted their quality and quantity, nothing had changed in their bad habits, although the three of them had travelled to Sydney. In the space of a month, they had massacred and eaten three people and that was done almost under our noses. Despite the greatest kindness and an inexhaustible gentleness on our part, they did not spare us any threat: they plotted ceaselessly against us and in our presence, but used the language of a tribe called Wagap so we would not understand. They were not afraid to tell us to our face that we would soon make a meal of us.
Despite these threats, I was keen to stay at Hienghène with a priest and a brother. Forced to accede to the advice of my missionaries who opposed that viewpoint with all their might, I thought it appropriate not to leave anybody with me. So regretfully I left that wretched country, accompanied by 17 Fijians or Rotumans, an American, an Indian and an Englishman whom we had given hospitality to after their fleeing a tribe south of Balade where the natives had fought them several times and forced them to give up fishing for sea slugs which they were wont to.
The Mary Ann which we chartered took us all to Anatom where our hosts were sure of finding us help and protection from Captain Padon, an Englishman living here.
After staying three weeks, during which several missionaries contracted a fever, we left for Yaté, a place chosen for our settlement. Our intention was to increase the number of missionaries who were already there and go and evangelize two neighbouring tribes. But when we arrived, we found out from priests and brothers who were there that our little colony was rousing the jealousy of its neighbours and that besides the more than twenty natives who made up that tribe, it was still necessary to support at least twenty mature men. What with their wives and children, that made between eighty and a hundred more people to feed for a year or two until they had planted enough fields, which they would still have to defend, with weapons in their hands and our brothers too to give them hope. These expenses very much outstripped our resources and not wishing to enter into the spirit of the church by establishing a mission station at gunpoint, and not following your intentions, very Reverend Father, I thought it my duty to withdraw from New Caledonia all the missionaries who lived here, taking away at the same time twenty-two neophytes or Christians whom I propose sending to Futuna.
We reached the Isle of Pines on Epiphany Day. I will keep there awaiting your instructions two priests and two brothers with me. I don’t know yet which ones because several are sick. They will find in the supply base care and resources which it will be impossible for me to find elsewhere. Father Bernin, who is going to leave for Sydney, to deal with accounting matters concerning the business of my mission station, will give you other details and will speak to you of all our arrangements.
If I can find an opportunity for going to Anatom, I will withdraw all the missionaries from there as well, not being able to sacrifice them to death from fever which burns them up and from which nothing so far has been able to protect them.
For the moment the Island of Pines does not give us any other advantage than safety as long as the main chief, Watchouma, lives. Unfortunately he is dying of a chest disease. Father Goujon and Gagnyères, whose enthusiasm you are aware of, have as yet nobody taking instructions and the population there is deplorably immoral.
Consequently I beg you to ask Rome, if you think that I can be of any good doing something, perhaps in another vicariate. You know the difficulties of all kinds in the mission stations of Melanesia, Micronesia and the Fiji Islands. I don’t feel courageous enough to start a mission station in any of those countries. There is nothing for me in New Zealand. Very reverend Father, do you know of anything which I would give reasons for not accepting? If it were suggested that I be given another vicariate, for example the Islands of Navigators (Samoa), from Bishop Bataillon, I would accept that post only after a formal order from Rome and from you, and still with reluctance that I can’t express enough, being convinced that such a dismembering would be considered painful to his Lordship unless the post would be one of a coadjutor, something I would never consent to.
You would be astonished, very Reverend Father, that having such a good number of evangelical workers, I have kept them all. However cruel this separation would be for me, I provoked it by engaging them all and assuring them that I would see with joy their going and working whether at the central base, or in New Zealand, in the area entrusted to Bishop Viard: all refused to and will write to you on that topic.
The ball is in your court now; if you think it appropriate to have us given another mission station, choose one that is less difficult and more financially backed than the one which you entrusted to us; if you do not think it is necessary to establish other mission stations than the ones you already have, the missionaries of my vicariate will be in contact with you to learn where they are to be sent. As for me, very Reverend Father, I will always find in your houses or in those of my friends a quite small corner to live and die there in oblivion: act therefore as if I were no longer alive.
However painful this piece of news may be, I dare advise you not to be too upset. Your children have been tested, that is true, but they have not lost heart. Despite the little energy of some, each one has done his duty, and, I can say it with joy in my heart, nowhere has the rule been better observed than in my wretched vicariate.
God did not wish to hear my prayers because my failings must surely have made me unworthy; I will not bless God any less for it as I wait for your answer which our situation makes urgent. Moreover, you are our father, a title more than sufficient not to leave us in a parlous state and to give us the certainty which our sufferings can only increase your affection for us.
It is with his gentle confidence that I beg you to allow me to join with those of your children the most respectful feelings with which I have the honour of being,
very Reverend Father,
your son and very humble servant,
Guillaume, Bishop of Amata,
Vicar Apostolic of New Caledonia.