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12 March 1850. — Bishop Guillaume Douarre to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Isle of Pines

Translated by Peter McConnell, November 2010

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

+ Jesus Mary Joseph

Very Reverend Father,
I made the decision of sending Father Bernin to France to give an account of the reasons for our abandoning New Caledonia. The decision was made because I could not let an incorrect suspicion hover over the heads of my missionaries. As far as I am concerned, I had decided to write a simple letter, without worrying about ‘What they would say’ wanting nothing so much as living forgotten in some quiet spot especially after what happened to my vicariate. Events have been such that it was impossible for friends and enemies to explain; everything contributed to its failure; on this matter you will not accuse me of speaking after the event.
I did not know the griefs of my mission station when I wrote from Marseille to the apostolic vicars at the base centre and of Melanesia. You have with you copies of those two letters. I said in the first as well as I can remember, that if the Protestants had paid to achieve what happened to my mission station they could not have succeeded better; if it collapsed, it would be my grievous fault. I wrote in the second letter that among the Marist missionaries I knew I had to find brothers and support; but such was not the case and the proof of that is found in the behaviour of Bishop Bataillon. He was not afraid of taking away from me a colleague who was in the present circumstances indispensable to me and that despite my requests and my offers of supplying a substitute, he kept with himself clergy who were to be sent to me.
Somebody said to Bishop Collomb that I would not have acted in that way towards him. The bishop replied that he had to give account of what he did to God alone for the mission station that had been entrusted to him and that he was not much concerned about the mission station in New Caledonia.
As for Bishop Bataillon, whatever his holiness and all his qualities in general might be, I will never see in him anything other than a man who plays shrewdly but with the best of intentions, one who twists your letters to give himself claimed rights. You sent me two men whom you sent from France; I had engaged Father Grange to come and settle in New Caledonia instead of staying in Sydney; Father Roudaire was to come and join me; your intentions were therefore carried out and His Lordship was following instructions; he had or should have had two men. I accused him of keeping thirty-two pieces of material, which was wrong because they had been lost, but his Lordship was careful not to mention that he had taken two or three hundred blouses, a matter he had admitted to Father Roudaire. They are trivial matters which I willingly put up with as a sacrifice. I wanted his Lordship to have in his possession everything that was spend on my mission station but when I wanted explanations and when I want to get on good terms, those explanations should be frank.
Since I am dealing with this matter, Reverend Father, allow me to unburden myself to you. After the death of Bishop Epalle, I went to Sydney, as you know; I found a vessel of 400 tons heading for China which would take me to New Caledonia with everything I wanted to take on board for the cost of 5000 francs. I was worried about the situation of the missionaries at St Cristobal as far as they were concerned and also as I was a bishop and of the same order. I did not worry about spending a few thousand francs extra however to have only a quite small vessel and the difficulties of unloading and reloading items for their mission station, difficulties all the greater because our mission station was a league from the port and to cope with unloading we had native canoes. I suggested that the missionaries who were very sick should come to convalesce in New Caledonia; their number was still rather considerable for that mission station. Later on those priests accused me of having wanted to establish my mission station at the detriment of theirs. Later on those priests complained to the customs of New Caledonia because the missionaries had removed from the rats what was left of two cheeses. All that, Reverend Father, is paltry and shows that entente cordiale is far from existing.
Moreover other grievances occurred and Marceau served as an agent to transmit them to the missionaries. A bottle of wine which was shared among five or six people once a week and sometimes twice a week, when there was plenty was the first charge; but there was a second charge much more serious and that was that those same missionaries drink brandy. It is easy, Reverend Father, for those who lack nothing to find faults in others especially when they work physically and hard in a blazing sun. I have already told you that Marceau told me that my missionaries did not pray enough. At that time they were rising at four in the morning, doing their meditation together, hearing Mass every day, making their own examination of conscience together, reading scripture and reciting the rosary in private.
Now be the judge! Marceau wants us to pray and he is right. He wants blood; but should we sacrifice ourselves and our lives more quickly with pain and deprivation? You are probably not of that opinion, very Reverend Father, and you know that up until now the missionaries have not been replaced for nothing. Those few lines are not written from first impression. More than two months have passed since I have been on the Isle of Pines and they are my first and have been written after meditation. Do allow me to continue and do have the patience of reading what I have to say right to the end!
Reverend Father, you know all we have suffered in New Caledonia and that not being able to live in a country which has any resources, we had to rely on salted beef and bacon. When I say the country had no resources, I have no fear of being contradicted and we have witnesses.
As for the destruction of the mission station, that resulted from the first reasons that I alerted you to and to the various supply depots delivered as much by the Arche d’Alliance as by Bishop Collomb.
You could ask why we did not settle at Balade after the reception we received there. I will answer that question. Truly we still have a fair amount of affection for the natives because they refused to take part in capturing the Mary Ann, knowing that we were there (information the convert Marie told me); but the leading chief was still alive and he was young. He had the people of Pouébo, Lauvoiu, our friend and chief of a village near Baïao slaughtered and eaten.
Bouéon had traced a circle around an individual accused of having slaughtered that minor chief, not allowing him to get out of it until he had sworn that he had killed that unfortunate man who had nothing to reproach himself except for having defended us and having regard for us. Michel, another victim whom the hateful inhabitants of Pouébo had accused, was saved only because he did not trespass on their lands and yet had been attacked on his, and pierced with a spear. His presence of mind, his courage or rather divine providence saved him. Bouéon himself had come to attack him, but he went up to him thinking that being an important chief he would be respected. If his own men had kept him, Michel would have definitely reached him and he was in his rights since it was a matter of self defence, moreover he saw him as a child of the grass, that is an illegitimate child, his mother being already pregnant when she became the wife of the major chief of Pouma.
Bouón always had the same people hating us and our converts. Although he was despised and a despicable person, he had and I don’t know how, the strongest faction on his side. Despite the speech he made to me, and it was appropriate, as I said in my previous letters, he was always the same, an idiot and a nasty person. You will learn that from what follows. But what are they coming to look for? Don’t they know what we have done for them?
One matter is difficult to reconcile. It is Bouarat’s kindness, his presents (he often gave us taro, fish), the desire to have us with them and the repeated threats made against us.
Bouarat is incontestibly the most intelligent native of New Caledonia. He has limitless ambition and would like to be king especially after he went to Sydney. All his morality consists of having wealth; other than presents that he demanded, he never stopped asking us where our money was. I asked him too whether there was any at his place and got us to look for some to show him. He did not commit sin out of ignorance, he knew everything in the field of morality that we had taught to the inhabitants of Balade, namely that they should not kill, nor steal, nor lie, nor have several wives, all that did not stop him doing all those things under our very noses, concealing his actions a little. Finding that respect which was given him was not sufficiently great, he saw inhabitants on the Isle of Pines bending before their chief, so he made his brothers do as much in front of him to obtain the same honour from his subjects.
I have told you in previous letters about the murders which he committed daily. I will tell you in this letter what was said to Father Rougeyron by the young Christian fellow, Amabili, son of the major chief of Pouébo, Goa, and relative of Bouarat, who had seen him. That monster with a human face one day garroted two of his subjects whom he came across in front of two different houses of his tribe, on the excuse of a taboo having been broken and then he slaughtered them and ate them. He treated more cruelly a woman who also had broken a taboo; coconuts are taboo; she had collected some dry branches of a coconut palm. Firstly he started by separating her arms from her torso; the wretched woman begged in vain for him to stop; he listened only to the screams of pain he inflicted; after cutting off the arms, he did the same to the legs and then opened her belly and hauled out the inwards. That finished the suffering of the victim. Such was the chief of Hienghène who needed a castle; an ordinary house was not to his requirements. In addition he was grieved to see that we were not keen to establish our house in the place he wanted it to be built. Equally ambitious he would have had to keep us for a longer time. The savage does not always reason things out so finely. Moreover he prefers to have plenty at the same time rather than receiving portions at intervals. What convinces me of that aspect is that he took the first share of all robberies committed by the natives and if he pretended to treat us well he was well able to convince himself that he wanted to take revenge for an insult .that I had done to him at Balade, or perhaps he also wanted to lessen the anger of his subjects whom he could not dominate and so enjoined in their plots. He came there on one occasion with two corpses which he had given as presents. I had scolded him sternly as well as those who had participated in that feast; to scold a chief is not a trifle, perhaps he recalled it. Or perhaps he joined the plotting of his subjects to make them patient not having the authority required to stop them.
You will do what you will, Reverend Father, because I am giving you that information for what it is worth. However it is indeed vital that their threats had a reason. They were not made on just one occasion and not to one person alone. But how is it that English adventurers can stay there? Sutton had stayed some time with them and was slaughtered; besides you really must believe that the devil looks after his own; they serve him too well and they are far from blaming in any way the behaviour of the natives whom they imitate quite well, apart from cannibalism. But we are the bad ones, who stop the women from coming on board the ship we have chartered. They come and prostitute themselves with the sailors, even though they are accompanied by the chief or his brothers. That’s what I have to tell you all about to justify our actions, Reverend Father. We tried to do good; we gave good examples; we resisted wicked suggestions; we dealt with a corrupt and corrupting race. They knew our morals; they knew that our morals were so different from theirs; they put up with us because they hoped to get hold of our possessions. Warned in time, were left Hienghène despite the wishes of several of our number, or rather all those who were prepared to die in the breach.
I couldn’t blame my missionaries. When they undertook the mission station of Anatom, they could relate to the English who had lived there for several years in that salubrious country. However, because they lived on an island separated from the mainland they did not know that the country was also full of fever. That settlement too was a real disaster for us. All those who went there and some, and even a large number, contracted fever there after three or four days. The fever was so great that it was difficult to get rid of even using quinine. Father Rougeyron had another bout of fever recently and Brother Jean last night despite taking quinine. Most of those leaving for Sydney took quinine too. Delirium among some was akin to madness. I hoped that we would end up becoming acclimatized but waiting for that change which is not guaranteed, how many colleagues do we have to sacrifice and as a complete waste of manpower? We are able to work with a very small number of children whom we have to feed and who abandon us often when they have to eat with their own people that’s what they have done. I learnt this from the missionaries of Anatom, whom I have recalled.
The Isle of Pines offers nothing really encouraging for mission work. Watchouma the protector of the missionaries died a few days ago, One of his brothers died soon after. It is true that on his deathbed the chief recommended his successor not to harm the missionaries and the foreigners. Can you count very much on a cannibal, and the present chief is very likely one. Three people have been slaughtered and some have been eaten, and they were all after the same woman.
We are in God’s keeping, and Father Goujon who speaks the language is in charge of the mission station, without being allowed to speak openly about religious matters. When we spoke about this to Watchouma, he was frightened that his subjects might be listening. I saw nothing really reassuring for the future. If we left some missionaries at the Isle of Pines, there would be a fine settlement. Would they be successful there? That is difficult to say. It is a proud race and there is no sexual modesty there. Non-married people are entirely naked; those who have husbands are pretty well naked too and the sandalers in no way attempt to have them clothe themselves, except when they are accompanied to the mission station house by some of the natives who never come in.
Reverend Father, this is an account pure and simple of the state of my mission.
I will now talk to you about myself with the same candour, without humility and without pretention. I am young, although I am beginning to feel my age; yet I don’t blame my work but I lack the skills to lead others: first of all knowledge, more piety, constant equilibrium of humour, not too much and with enough relaxation with my missionaries to inspire them with confidence and respect. These alone are qualities which could win me what I lack and what I will never acquire. Wherever I am, if I have another vicariate, they will be treated at least like others and as well as my resources will allow, no doubt a good quality but one which does not supply others.
Another confession: going to the mission field, I imagined that missionaries, belonging to the same society, would have to help one another and instead of that I found in a great number of them only selfishness. Each one thought of himself, tore his neighbour to pieces and criticized everything. That is what happened to me too often as a result of certain actions that I did not have the energy to stifle. Also, what ever feeling I have for my missionaries, I would have liked them going to Wallis or to New Zealand because then I would have been able to withdraw and get rid of a responsibility which overwhelms me. This language, although it is relatively minor, is not too dissimilar to discouragement; and how can I speak otherwise when you examine the different charges brought against me? Despite the enthusiasm of my missionaries, their talents, their self-denial, for after all you would have to be blind not to see hat I had in those worthy colleagues everything needed to make the most difficult mission field successful. Well, despite that, an English cutter was seized to stop us from establishing ourselves at Balade, a few days after two ships were also seized, despite everything we had been able to say to those wretched natives.
Divine providence takes us away from Pouébo an influential chief in the very moment when we needed his services the most; and the one whose death we would have scarcely lamented or not at all, Bouéon our persecutor, recovers from a very serious illness. At Yaté we can keep going there only through a great effort, and we would need a much greater number of personnel, something which our means would not allow us. Moreover, had they permitted it, we were unable to keep the mission going by using firearms. I do not mention so many other circumstances, all more apt to support my point of view. My struggles at Sydney with the spiritual authority which you know, with Bishop Pompallier, my complaints against the other two vicars apostolic, all those things together make me long for a quiet life. It is so much foreign to my nature to be a confrontational man and to cause upsets to whoever it is. It is true that I have pleaded for honesty and nothing more than that; but in the end it was always by violating my own natural instincts
Not wanting to be a co-adjutor, not being able to be a mere missionary, there is only a post as almoner or something similar which can suit me, not wanting to be a burden on anybody. Anything you could do to find a position elsewhere would not be able to make me forget my first dream and I would take that position only to keep my regrets having failed in New Caledonia. I am at an age when it is not easy to learn languages especially when you have little aptitude for it.
There remains the task for you to place my missionaries; some I think would accept posts in other mission fields, those who would not like that and who would consequently never make much of a go of it, you would recall to France where they would give service. Among them you will have either preachers or teachers, whatever you would like to do with them, in a word. You have paid your debt to the Holy See which can not see evil in your ceasing to fighting an impossible battle.
If you decide, Reverend Father, to set up other mission stations other than those you already have, reject them is they are as difficult or as costly as those.
Our converts hope that one day, when their numbers have increased at Futuna, they will return to their own country and prepare a house and provisions for the missionaries. I love to picture them in my mind and is my resources ands the use of a ship allowed me, I will transport them right now, all fifty of them; I am waiting for the arrival of the ship which has be chartered at Sydney to go to Anatom to take our priests to puts them on the Isle of Pines and then transport to Futuna our converts who will accompany Fathers Rougeyron and Gagnyères.
Reverend Father, I end this letter, begging you, whatever the vicariate that you will establish, if your intention is to have another one, to put in charge somebody more capable than me. I am not good for anything else but now living alone, be assured of that! If you would help me in that wish, I would be eternally grateful. Accept my homage and the assurance of deep veneration with which I am in Mary
your son,
+Guillaume Bishop of Amata
Vicar Apostolic of New Caledonia.
Our priests arrived from Anatom yesterday 11 March. They sold or gave the mission house to an Englishman; they have still some revenue from that transaction. Father Rougeyron with his New Caledonians and Father Gagnyères will leave in a day or two for Futuna. If the mission station on the Isle of Pines were successful, you would need to authorize to stay there Father Goujon and Father Gagnyères, who need warm climates and a brother too.
Our priests at the supply base welcomed our missionaries perfectly and are loud in their praises. The ship, following a chest infection suffered by the captain, is still at the Isle of Pines on Holy Thursday and will probably not sail for another week. I beg you to be so kind as to send on to Father Bernin the enclosed letter.