1888 - Pompallier, J. Early History of the Catholic Church in Oceania - CHAPTER VI

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  1888 - Pompallier, J. Early History of the Catholic Church in Oceania - CHAPTER VI
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Rotuma and Sydney--Short Stay at Rotuma--Arrival at Sydney.

WE arrived at Rotuma, after three days' sail, on about the fifteenth of November, 1837. The people of this island showed themselves hospitable and friendly. Two of the principal chiefs, who had come on board to visit us the moment we anchored, invited me to come and visit them on shore and see the island. I accepted their friendly offer. One of them understood English very fairly, from the fact that their shores were often visited by English and American whalers. I hastened on shore with M. Servant, the only missionary left me, and a catechist. The two chiefs, our conductors, who were brothers, led us to their place; their hut was spacious and situated in the middle of other huts belonging to the people, and on a vast plain covered with cocoanut and other tropical trees. This island is a huge grove and presents a lovely sight to the eye.

The chiefs who had so warmly welcomed me were most anxious that we should settle on their island; knowing us to be well-informed travellers, desirous of staying in the islands of Polynesia and doing good to the people who inhabited them. They had also some idea that we were ministers of the Christian religion; but they had found out for certain that we were quite different to the Protestant missionaries, whom they would on no account receive in their island; for, said they, they are wicked and flog the natives who smoke tobacco. As for ourselves, they pressed us to stay with them. I gave them hopes that later on I would return and see them and endeavour to form an establishment at Rotuma. They were satisfied with my expressions of good-will and friendship. For my own part I regretted that I was unable to at once settle in this island, but my object was only to prepare the way for the reception hereafter of the new missionaries I was expecting from Europe. Rotuma, despite all the charms of its position, and the present good disposition of its people, would not do for a place of administration and store for the whole mission, for there is no safe harbour. Regular trading vessels do not come there; the only vessels that come are whalers, and their cruises are as erratic as those of the whales whom they hunt, and on account of the state of infidelity in which the natives of Rotuma at present are, and of the vice of cupidity which obtains amongst them as amongst all the other savages. I therefore took my leave of the two friendly chiefs. On my departure, they presented me with a beautiful whale-bone stick and a magnificent pine-apple, which they sent on board the schooner. These presents were at the same time a mark of their affection and esteem, and a sign of the confidence they had that I would carry out my promises respecting them.

The next day we weighed anchor and set sail for Sydney. As the captain had not enough provisions on board the schooner for his crew and all the shipwrecked men he had taken on board, it was settled that six of the latter should remain at Rotuma, waiting the first chance of some whaler coming to these shores, and that the remainder should be taken to Sydney. We had a pleasant passage to that city from Rotuma; we passed between the islands of Fiji and New Caledonia, but did not call in anywhere.

After a twenty-three days' passage we arrived in Sydney harbour at night time; it was the 9th December. That same evening I wrote to Monseigneur Polding, informing him of my arrival. His Grace had been in charge of the New Holland Mission some three or four years, and had his residence in Sydney, but that evening he was absent.

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Two of his priests came on board to visit me and inform me of the absence of their Bishop. The next morning His Grace arrived. I said Holy Mass in his church. He received me with great respect and kindness, offering me the hospitality of his palace, where I and M. Servant lived during the whole of the short stay I made at Sydney. On the first day, all the travellers I had brought on board where sent to their homes as they had wished.

In this city I received much useful information as to establishing a store, either at this place, at the Bay of Islands, or at Hokianga in New Zealand. I saw how easy it would be to hold communication with Europe by way of Sydney, whose harbour is frequented by ships from London and Liverpool, and by schooners which trade with New Zealand and other tropical islands of Oceania. The English authorities of the colony of Sydney gave me a civil and kindly welcome. Monseigneur Polding was willing to take charge of several cases belonging to my mission, which contained provisions, books, objects necessary for the work and for industrial matters, which were to be given to the stations of my missionaries as soon as they were required and prudence would allow of their being sent amongst a race of savages whose covetousness had been subdued. Monseigneur Polding had also the kindness to permit one of his priests, M. McEncroe, who assisted him at Sydney, and who had the goodness to offer me his services, to execute my commissions and facilitate my correspondence by receiving letters for Europe which I would send him from New Zealand, whither I was about to carry the Holy Catholic ministry. Admirable spirit of Jesus Christ which unites all true pastors in the work of the salvation of souls! How grateful I was for the services that were offered to me! I passed my Christmas at Sydney, then I bade farewell to Monseigneur Polding, with whom I had recently made friends. His Grace accompanied me to my schooner, where we exchanged the fraternal accolade.

When we had left the port and were a little out on the open sea, I gave my blessing to the Mission at New Holland, as I had been requested to do when leaving by the venerable prelate who directed it; then I recited the Itinerary with my companions, and we sailed for Hokianga, in New Zealand, where I had learnt there were great native chiefs and a few scattered Irish families, who were timber traders, supplying the neighbouring colonies, and who were totally deprived of the succours of religion. Monseigneur Polding gave me a letter of introduction to these families, so that we should become known at once, and might obtain accommodation whilst we were learning the language and getting a house of boards built at some spot that would afford easy access to the natives and the whites who lived in that part of the island.

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