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Bp G Douarre to Fr Petit-Jean, Ile des Pins, New Caledonia, 25 May 1850

Translated by Miss M Lindsay 1986

L’Ile des Pins, May 25, 1850

Douarre to Reverend Father Petitjean in New Zealand

My Reverend Father
I received on the Ile des Pins, May 24th your letter of April 4th. I am very grateful to you for the interest which you take in the mission of New Caledonia, and it deserves this interest for the good that might be done and which I thought to do there. Divine Providence has not been prepared to grant me this comfort and the mission of New Caledonia exists only on paper, so to speak.
You have heard of our first misfortunes and of the death of the good Brother Blaise Marmoiton. I hope, on my return to France, to be able to put right this setback. I had noble missionaries, and a fair number of them, all filled with a pious zeal. I knew furthermore that our presence was desired in Hieguène so that we resumed the course to New Caledonia having absolute faith in our hearts. Bouarat, the chief of Heinguène, gave us a good reception and informed us, to prevent us from settling with them, that the inhabitants of Balade had just taken an English cutter, of which they massacred and ate the crew – it was only too true. I wanted, however, to visit our recruits and to try to obtain the remains of our dear deceased, of whom I found only the head, the rest of the corpse having been carried away by the water. No one may be more pleased than I with the welcome given me, grief was painted on every face, the chief alone, an arrogant man, stupid and wicked, uttered these words: But what do they come looking for? They have forgotten then what we did to them? We could not risk an establishment with such a wretch. Pouébo, a neighbouring tribe, offered even less safety. What was to done in this event? I took with us 22 neophytes to leave them in Yatê, at the southern end of Caledonia, where we would draw others of them when our resources permitted this.
During my visit to Balade I had left three priests and two brethren at Heinguère, where they had a terrible alarm, one of the brothers of the chief having spread the rumour that we had all been massacred.
Although I had little wish to settle with Bouarat, whom I knew too well to have faith in his relics, as I was the only who spoke the language of Balade, Father Rougeyron having to accompany our young neophutes to Yaté, I took my leave resolutely. All went well during the first days and I thought that one of our Christians (Michel) who predicted that we would have done to us at Hienguène as at Balade, but more shrewdly, would make a bad prophet. This good Christian, hunted down by the Pouebo tribe because of us, and by the chief of Balade himself, run right through by a spear without having, for that, died, knew better his fellowman than we did.
I had kept with me one of our young Christians who understood the Hienguène language perfectly, while pretending not to speak it. As we were living in the hut of the chief, who did not vacate it, we heard their plans for death and pillage. These plans had often been repeated but in the end, fearing discovery, they plotted in a language foreign to that of the tribe’s.
My missionaries had been openly threatened and one day an axe was raised over my head and the savage uncle of the chief told me that they would do to us a s at Balade. I seemed to pay no attention to this, knowing well that the time had not yet come, because they discovered that we were not rich enough and perhaps not fat enough. During that time the chief and his brothers massacred and ate, which they did not deny, telling me, as their only excuse, that these were not white people.
I had sent Father Bernin to make provision in Sydney for our Caledonians and the missionaries and, the moment I was least expecting him, he arrived with everything we needed, and all the more so, especially as, having given hospitality to 17 or 18 trepang fishermen who were driven out by the inhabitants of Amara, a tribe above Balade, we had nothing left any more. The chief, with his brothers, helped us too and the first did not miss one meal. Conditions were as such, when the ship which carried Father Bernin arrived with letters which obliged me to abandon Heinguene to go elsewhere. No one wanted to abandon the post and it was a matter of who would remain, but all were unanimous to have me leave. As I knew better than anyone else the imminence of danger, not being able to expose myself to it, I did not think I ought to expose the missionaries. Besides, I knew the time fixed for our massacre and instead of moving out, as the natives believed, to a straw hut built in port, we headed to the ship which was at anchor, taking with us the chief and his brother to whom we gave the reasons for our withdrawal, and which caused them little pleasure.
I was going to leave our trepang fishermen at Pinatom and from there go to Yaté with my missionaries. Our brief stay in the New Hebrides was sufficient to give us all, with the exception of myself, a fever which we cannot get rid of. Having arrived in Yaté, I was again forced to take an extreme line. Our Baladiens, fed by the missionaries, were provoking the jealousy of neighbouring tribes and were on the verge of having to sustain an attack; they were too weak, the assistance of the missionaries would have been useless and as I do not wish to carry out the mission by gunfire, I again ordered withdrawal and we all went to the Ile des Pins. I found there an opportunity to send to Sydney five priests, four brethren, including Father Bernin whom I sent to France. Two Fathers and two Brothers were remaining in Anatom, consumed by fever since they had been there and unable to put off succumbing despite our fine establishment and the safety – as there was very little good to be done, the population of the bay they were in was scarcely five or six men, and their health not permitting them to cover the island, I brought them to the Ile des Pins, where they are having difficulty recovering in spite of the care and good food.
However much difficulty I have in parting from them, I had suggested to these good missionaries that they go and work either in Monsignor Bataillon’s curacy, or in the diocese of Monsignor Viard, not one of them wished to part from me and they are awaiting for a decision from Rome and Father Superior.
As you see, my Reverend Father, Providence has not spared me; this good mother has also comforted me by the sincere affection and bitter tears of our neophytes at the time of their departure for Futuna. If this island has resources and if Father Rougeyron can find a ship, from the Society of Oceania, he is authorised to charter it, to go and take from the tribes of Balade and Poueba two or three hundred natives who would be easily found, and who would later be returned to their country, the missions would then form surely and swiftly.
Nothing has been done yet on the Ile des Pins and I do not quite know the extent to which we are safe there, the chief, our guardian having been dead for some months, and the sandalwood cutters scarcely able to delay abandoning the country where there is no more sandalwood.
The missionaries, it is true, will no longer have to lament the excesses in which the natives and others indulge, but will they be able to satisfy a people who do not think of clothing themselves, but rather of having, men, women and children, tobacco to smoke?
If God’s mercy was not infinite and his resources inexhaustible, I would have difficulty in believing in the conversion of the inhabitants of the wretched island, because the women here have no sense of modesty, and the girls of 18 and 20 years are entirely without clothing, and the married men with belts which, often, hide nothing.
The debauchery of our sandalwood cutters is easily explained: I must, however, say to their credit that, except for their dissolute ways which we cannot prevent, they are good to us, and do not leave us lacking for anything which could please us. Captain Louis who brought us to this island displays increasingly more kindness; if he has sheep, yams or other things, he takes the missionaries into consideration.
You commend yourselves to our prayers and I will ask you, in turn, if we have need of yours! I count on them then, my Reverend Father, and on those of your confrères and our brothers, since you and we are children of the same mother. I only know three of these good Marists, not including Monsignor Viard; I love you all none the less for it, in Jesus and Mary and my heart will see the trials to which you might be subjected, as you will share all of ours.
My missionaries, numbering six, Brethren included, join with me to embrace you fraternally. You will be so kind as to present to Monsignor Viard my sincere respects and believe me ever in Mary,
Your quite devoted,
G Douarre, Bishop of Amata, Vicar Apostolic of New Caledonia.
PS Speaking to you of Bouarat, I did not tell you that he had the best spoils of the cutter, of our first establishment at Balade, and finally a small boat taken from our trepang fisherman, and that he desired above all to know where our money is. You will be pleased to know the names of the missionaries who are:
  • Bernin and
  • Chatelut – of the diocese of Lyons
  • Goujon – of the diocese of Belley
  • Chapuy – of the doicese of Aulgnon
  • Vigoroux – of the diocese of St Flour
  • Roudair
  • Rougeyron
  • Gagnieres
  • Forestier
  • Anliard
  • The Bishop of Amata – diocese of Clermont
Brothers are:
  • Jean Taragnat
  • Aime Mallet
  • Joseph Reboule
  • Auguste Roannet
  • Alphonse Barbary
  • Michel Anliard
  • Michel Veraud, and an excellent Brother Bertrand of St Etienne, in the retreat.
Fathers and Brethren are so good and so pious that it would be difficult for me to make a choice, to know to which of them to give preference.