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Fr Colin to Marshal Duc de Dalmatie, Lyons, 22 November 1839

Translated by Miss M Lindsay 1986


Lyons, 22 November 1839
To His Eminence, the Marshal Duc de Dalmatie
Minister of Foreign Affairs and President of the Council of Ministers, Paris
Your Grace
In the audience which Your Excellency condescended to grant recently with so much benevolence to two of our confrères, you desired that I make you out a brief report on the state of the mission which the Holy See entrusted to us in Western Oceania.
We are deeply vexed at being unable to provide him today with information as complete as we would have wished. It is not yet three years since that Monsignor Pompallier, the Bishop of Maronée and Founder of the Mission of Western Oceania, left France. His first letters were from Valparaiso, dated 28 July 1837. He wrote to me again from O’Taiti and from Sydney, on the date of 23 December 1837. He only arrived in Wellington, New Zealand , on 10 January 1838. Thus, more than one year of travel, the difficulties inseparable from an establishment assailed from the outset by a thousand inconsistencies, the highly probably interception of correspondence, the last letters dated by 14 months: this is what explains our present shortage of knowledge about this country. I am going to present before Your Excellency, the picture of that which we know to be certainties about this country.
We expect that, thanks to God, Monsignor the Bishop now has in his mission 10 priests and 7 catechist brethren, having skills of the most use to the missionaries and natives.
The immense jurisdiction of Monsignor Pompallier extends from the Russian islands, or Aleutiennes to the islands nearest the Antarctic pole; and, in another direction, from 158 degrees western longitude, passing through the Mangéa Archipelago to the Sea of China, excluding Japan, the Philippines, New Holland and the islands of Sonde.
The information which Monsignor de Maronée gathered during his voyage led him to settle in New Zealand , and gave him the keen desire to send priests as soon as possible to Pounipet, and fairly large island and one of the Carolines. The happy disposition which he observed among the inhabitants of the Islands – Wallis, Futuna and Rotuma – encouraged him to give one priest with one Brother to each of the first two, and promise to send the King of Rotuma one later. These islands are situated below the Tropics, between the archipelagos Viti, Tonga and Hamoa. We have not yet received any news of the two priests left in these islands.
From the various documents we have, Your Grace, the result is that generally the government of these islands is monarchical. It is further agreed to say that their small expanse gives these islands an extremely temperate climate; that perpetual spring, so to speak, prevails there. All these islands are generally greatly fertile, and, besides the famous breadfruit tree, the coconut palm and all kinds of fruit are to be found there. Some tree bark, among others the mulberry, are suitable for making materials and coarse canvas, on which the Carolins work. In some islands cotton grows spontaneously. The high islands have all resources and compete with the Sonde and Molugue islands for their goods: until now, only the Sandwich islanders, the Carolinians and the New Zealanders could be considered merchants. Some peoples appear to have a taste for sculpture and are not without industry. One finds among them the truly remarkable remains of simplicity, mildness, and a truly hospitable nature. But with that, they have many vices; they are superstitious to the point of offering human sacrifices; in some tribes they are cannibalistic; infanticide is customary, and in some tribes the women kill themselves at the burial of their husband.
As for New Zealand, the native populations must be from 150,000 to 200,000 inhabitants. This people is of a fine blood, large and robust, withstanding work well, living on potatoes, fruit and fish. The New Zealanders sell their pigs to the English for European clothing, for which they are avid, as well as for woollen blankets and tobacco which would seem now to be the standard currency of the country. Everyone smokes, even the little girls.
The New Zealand flax is remarkably beautiful. The vine is starting to be planted and to thrive in this country, whose climate is very temperate and very healthy for the Europeans. I believe snow falls only in the southernmost region. Ponds and vast forests are to be found in New Zealand; and the different plants astonish the missionaries by their size, their beauty and their variety. Indigo is also to be found there. The New Zealanders clothe themselves with materials which the women weave from the flax of the country; they cultivate the land and engage willingly in trade. They form a kind of confederation; they are very warlike, very vindictive, and, although cannibalistic in some areas, they are vigorous, serious, sociable and filled with a taste for eloquence: the ceremonies of the Catholic Faith make the most profound impression on their spirit.
This people, to use Monsignor Pompallier’s very words, having a virile, lively and judicious nature, admire dedication wherever it is to be found, and can appreciate very well the sacrifices that are imperative for his education and happiness. Also, it welcomed the Catholic missionaries with truly remarkable affection in spite of the continual and various intrigues of the Methodists. These wanted to have Monsignor Pompallier expelled; for that, they endeavoured to portray him as a thief expelled from his country, then as a French agent sent to take possession of these two islands and who was imitating the Bishop; finally the islanders were made to fear that the Frenchy came to avenge the massacre of a few Frenchmen by the New Zealanders in 1790. Some natives replied: “Now the French do not wish to harm us, and we are waiting to drive them away if they do so.” Also, 40 chiefs with 600 natives have come to entreat Monsignor Pompallier to go to them; but he could not attend them, because he had only one priest with him at the time. And, if we are to believe a letter arrived from London, up to 3,000 natives were asking fervently for the Holy Baptism. Our confrères are therefore having success, and we are contriving greater success for them by arranging, without respite, new assistance, as catechist and industrial Fathers and Brethren.
Thus, Your Grace, these peoples, with their vices, still have many good qualities for civilisation and religion. Before the Gospel enlightened our homeland, our ancestors, in the midst of the dense forests of Gaul, resembled them in more than one respect, and these comparisons have not escaped our overseas confrères. It will be glorious for France to render the kindness to these people which she received long ago, and its trade will draw very significant benefits from it, which the English and Americans enjoy almost solely.
I cannot conceal the fact, Your Grace, that I experienced a profound joy in learning that Your Excellency had directed his interest and protection to the Catholic Missions and particularly those of Oceania. You have realised indeed that it is permitted to attach peoples to France by doing them good, and to Frenchify them while rendering them Catholic.
There will doubtless be difficulties in reaching this goal; but, Your Grace, with God’s help and greatly assisted by France, the Catholic Missionaries will make much progres. The Methodists thwart them; but if, in Sandwich, O’Taiti, New Zealand and elsewhere there were French agents to protect trade, no one would dare insult or drive away the missionaries who, after the interests of religion, have no others more dear to them that those of their motherland, and who will do everything possible to make the French name loved in these islands. But the Catholic missionaries know too well the spirit of the Gospel and the generous and loyal character of our nature to undertake missions in the manner of our adversaries. It is not our concern to relate what is happening in Sandwich, O’Taiti, the Bay of Islands, New Holland and Hobart town. We bemoan it, and we pity those who treat men thus, their brothers and their fellowman, and who, without ridding them of savagery, work to corrupt the simplicity of their ways.
We dare to hope, Your Grace, that, thanks to your noble views, we will see French consuls in Oceania, and that the government will deign to continue protecting us by means of state ships sailing into these regions.
We are sincerely grateful for the offer which your Excellency was prepared to make us, giving our missionaries passage aboard the French ships, and for the fact that you are so good as to convey our correspondence either by the State marine or through the French Embassy in London. Also, we desire keenly to be of service to France in these distant countries, and nothing will compare on this point with our zeal and dedication.
As soon as the reports I am expecting arrive, I will hasten to inform Your Excellency.
I have the honour of being, with the deepest respect,
The Duke, Your Excellency,
Your humble and quite devoted servant,
Signed: Colin Superior General