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6 December 1850 — Father Louis Padel to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Upolu, Samoa

Translated by Peter McConnell, March 2011

J(esus) M(ary) J(oseph)
6 December 1850.
To very reverend Fr Colin
Superior General
of the Society of Mary

Very Reverend Father,
At last I have an opportunity to send you my news; it has already been 12 months since I have been able to write to you, because I was not at Upolu when the Alcmène came and I missed the pleasure of seeing my fellow priests. I had gone to Savai to bless a new chapel, then went with Father Violette to Father Mugniéry’s where we were to take a boat. I injured my foot slightly on a piece of shell or of coral when crossing a river (because there was neither a bridge nor a boat to make the crossing) and the injuring resulted in my having to spend a week in bed so that during my being laid up, the Alcmène that should have taken me and together with my fellow priests to Upolu, left and I remained at Savai for nearly two months waiting for an opportunity to return to Upolu.
Last year I wrote you a truly regrettable letter in which I complained to you of the isolation and absolute abandonment in which we all find ourselves. I do not think that that letter reached you; the person to whom I entrusted the letter died at sea. Now, very Reverend Father, matters have really changed and I have only to thank you for the measures that you have taken in making us escape the isolation in which we were. We have already started to live a little bit as a community and are putting into practice the advice that you have given us, the confessional, the meetings; and we hope that what has begun well will end just as well.
Concerning me in particular, II feel much better provided for than my other fellow priests in Samoa. I have Reverend Father Dubreul as a companion; of course he is my superior; I get on well with him and with him I forget the troubles which would be quite acute were I still by myself.
The country is as wretched as possible; the war keeps on going; they never have a battle as such; sometimes here are some individuals slain on one side and the other when those of one faction meet those of the other; normally those massacres are accompanied by revolting circumstances, which teach us that we have to be on our guard from trusting in the appearance of kindness and simplicity which all inhabitants of Oceania and in particular the Samoans know so well how to use in order to trick those whom they are dealing with.
Famine as a result of this war is considerable. The hurricane of 5 April 1849, that “Trafalgar” catastrophe which knocked down my church higgledy-piggledy and which would have easily blown away the house had it not been well and truly anchored, knocked down all the breadfruit trees as well, all the banana palms a large number of coconut palms so that for several months the natives had only certain roots to eat. They call them aa. That is the root of a vine which grows only in places where the ground is very hard and which grows down up to three feet in the ground. On the other hand, three years ago they had neither pigs nor poultry; it is the custom to kill everything before starting a war. And then here during the war, everything is allowed. For that reason nobody wants to put an end to the war. Stealing, pillaging and everything is OK; for me who lives in the midst of the warriors, I am really aware of their presence; if they were happy to deafen me with their savage screaming, I would have got away Scott free. However, besides five or six pigs which they stole from me, I had been successful after much difficulty in raising some ducks. They did not touch them; they were so small. But as soon as they saw them mature, they left me only one to eat and three or four days later they had already stolen ten. So everything was pointing to ending up badly. I think that in fact that it would not have been long in our having died of hunger had it not been for the very accident which increased the famine.
By breaking the bread fruit trees etc, the hurricane beached two large ships which were in the harbour, one American and one English. Those two ships were both whalers. The English ship had only just started its maiden voyage and was very well stocked with provisions so that we could procure our year’s supply of flour, biscuits, salted meat, because fresh meat is now pretty much unknown here. In addition Father Dubreul complains that his body is quite salty.
In the midst of all that what is becoming of our mission station? Progress is nil. The natives are no longer interested in religion; they are absorbed quite entirely with war, but at least if we haven’t the consolation of seeing our flock increasing, we have the consolation of seeing Protestantism disappearing little by little. Bored with no longer finding here what they found elsewhere, the Protestant missionaries obliged to pay an arm and a leg, so to speak, for everything they need are one by one taking the wisest decision, namely that of leaving the mission field. Only a few days ago the well known Williams, the American consul left after going to the different villages to say goodbye formally, and after paying the natives so that they fired their rifles at the very moment the ship that was taking him away was weighing anchor. That was done. Several letters sent from Samoa have undoubtedly made you aware of Williams.
Some months ago an extremely curious event happened her which I should not pass over without mentioning. On the fourth day of last September a French Catholic sailor on board an American ship died ashore following a fall he had on board. Mr Williams, the American consul, had to procure a coffin and a shroud for him and had to have him brought to the church. For all that, he supplied only the funeral bier; I supplied the sheet and we had to pay some natives for carrying the corpse. Those natives did the job as it should be done. Immediately after the burial, I wrote to the consul a short letter to offer him my compliments and among other things I said these words to him. It is true that the deceased man was a Catholic and he received all the sacraments. That is perhaps the reason for your thinking you should act the way you did. Pritchard was not unaware of all that; and he acted in such a way as not to merit similar compliments. On the 27th of the same month another Catholic, of Portuguese nationality, and who was living with Mr Pritchard himself, died with all the sacraments of the church. The following day I went to fetch the corpse; I found it in one of the two ships; Mr Pritchard himself was in the other where the Union Jack was flying. We collected the corpse with all the prescribed rituals. Mr Pritchard, accompanied by several other Europeans, followed the funeral procession, entered the church and stayed there for all the Mass which was sung; I offered him an armchair and he stayed there until the end. Then we took the corpse to the burial ground; Father Dubreul wearing surplice and stole was sitting next to Mr Pritchard in the same carriage. As it was very sunny, to his credit Mr Pritchard rushed forward with his umbrella which he held over the head of Father Dubreul while the latter was performing the last rites of the burial service. The previously mentioned Pritchard has just married his eldest son to the daughter of the pilot who is a ship deserter, and this bride is a Samoan half caste and goes bare footed.
I am sorry, very Reverend Father, if I am boring you with all this stories. But I will be happy too if these little stories can give you some pleasure and make you chuckle some what.
With all that palaver I have forgotten the main point don’t really know how I am going, yet I am faithful to my prayers, my examination of conscience and my other religious exercises. I am happy and I thank God in his goodness a lot for the grace that he gave me in calling me to the Marist Order of his holy mother. The least of your children,
Missionary Apostolic of the Marist Order.