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In New Zealand: the first sign of life

All the time, Bishop Pompallier had been immersed in his missionary work. The little house in Papakawau was constantly full of people. When he was at home, the bishop himself gave instructions in the Faith morning and evening, and whatever he was doing, Maoris from near by and far off would walk in, sit down and ask questions, tell stories of their lives and tribes, beg for one thing or another, and he had always time to listen and to talk with them. As unpleasant as he could be with his two confreres,[1] with the Maori people he was invariably kindliness itself.[2] He went on long tours, walking through the dense forests across rivers and swamps to visit the tribes. He would often talk through the night building contacts and making friends. This was the core and the toughest part of his missionary effort and he did it mostly himself. In a letter to Cardinal Fransoni of 10 November 1838 he explained that so far he had visited the tribes in the areas of Hokianga, the Bay of Islands, Kaipara and Mangonui, within a radius of 35 to 40 leagues (200 km) around his residence.[3]

He considered this work too difficult for Father Servant, who usually had to stay home with Brother Michel and mind the shop. For lack of a printing press, he also had Servant write out copies by hand of sheets with religious instructions and prayers. [4] Between September 1838 and March 1839 he only wrote one letter to Colin – emotional and full of complaints - and entrusted it to someone in the Bay of Islands to mail. For lack of a good opportunity the letter was still lying there months later. When he found out, he was happy the letter had not been sent and he tore it up.[5]

Then, in March 1839, a French ship, the Justine, under Captain Bernard,[6] arrived in the Bay of Islands, bringing a parcel of letters. It contained the letter that Colin had sent in May with 8.700 francs[7] (but not the money), and the letter sent in November 1837 after Colin had received the news of Fr. Bret’s death at sea.[8] There also was a letter from the Picpus Father Chrysostomus Liausu in Valparaiso.

Colin’s letters have not been preserved. Only now Pompallier learned that, after receiving his letter from Santa Cruz, in May 1837, Colin had approached the Propagation of the Faith in Lyon and obtained a grant of 8.700 francs. The money, in the form of about 100 ounces of gold, had been sent to Valparaiso. The letter of Fr. Liausu (also lost) told him that the money had reached Valparaiso only after the Marists’ departure from that port in August 1837. Fr. Liausu had divided the money in two lots. He had entrusted 50 ounces to Captain Dumont d’Urville who was on an exploratory voyage in the Pacific on the Astrolabe and who would, in due time, visit New Zealand.[9] The other 50.72 ounces he had given to Captain Bernard when he left for Tahiti. Captain Bernard told Pompallier that, on his arrival in Tahiti, he had paid off Moerenhout.[10] The remainder, 73 piastres, about 400 francs, he now handed to Pompallier.[11] It was the first money the bishop received since leaving France. Captain Bernard lent him an additional 200 piastres, about 1.100 francs, on a promissory note against the Propagation of the Faith in Lyon.

On 17 March Pompallier wrote to Mr. Meynis. He thanked the Propagation of the Faith, although at that time, nearly two years later, he had received only a small part of the money. Still, he confessed, he now knew he had not been entirely abandoned: it was ‘the first sign of life after leaving France’, as he put it himself. He was delighted and all the good news from France restored his spirits. He sent Meynis copies of the promissory note.[12]

In New Zealand: reinforcements

Friday 14 June 1839 was a memorable day. On one side of the world, in London, the third group of missionaries, Chevron, Comte, Petit-Jean, Viard and Brother Attale Grimaud boarded the luxurious Australasian Packet for Sydney. The same day, in New Zealand, the Reine de Paix sailed into the Bay of Islands. It was a moment of deep emotion. With tears in the eyes, the new missionaries sang the Salve Regina, and thanked God for being ‘the instruments of his great mercy’ to the peoples of Oceania, called to bring them the light and the benefit of the Gospel. It was eight in the evening when the schooner dropped anchor. Baty, Petit, Épalle with the Brothers Marie-Augustin, Florentin and Élie-Régis went ashore. By chance they ran into Brother Michel Colombon who was staying with a Protestant former sea captain who ran a store in the Bay. Michel had come there for business four weeks earlier, but had fallen ill with jaundice. He took them to the family where they were warmly received.[13] The man gave them a letter that the bishop had left for the new missionaries he was waiting for. Following these instructions Baty wrote to Pompallier, who was still living in Papakawau, on the Hokianga River, and handed the letter to a courier. The letter got to Pompallier two days later. He took two days to walk across and met his new missionaries.

Imagine, he wrote to Colin, the joy and the renewed forces that came over this warrior, besieged on all sides and in dire need, exhausted by fatigue and success, on the point of losing everything, who then at once sees reinforcements and help arriving: this was the joy I felt in the Lord.[14]


  1. Servant described the painful cohabitation in vivid terms a year later, when he could get a letter away in Pompallier’s absence. Servant to Colin, 26.04.1840, LRO, doc. 55 [6, 7 & 8].
  2. Petit to Colin, LRO, doc. 56 [8] and Viard, LRO, doc. 45 [3].
  3. For the letter to Rome and details of his promising missionary tours, cf. Simmons, Pompallier, Prince of Bishops, pp. 39ff.
  4. ‘Father Servant still suffers of his half-deafness; all the same, he helps a little at the station itself’, LRO, doc. 33 [7] & LRO, doc. 39 [8]. Once Pompallier had left Papakawau for the Bay of Islands, Servant took on extensive bush work. Cf. Servant to Colin, 05.03.1840, LRO, doc. 47 [4].
  5. LRO, doc. 37 [3]. He says he wrote ‘with a deeply distressed heart (…) a letter that would have hurt you because of the bitterness that I felt and that only God understands the depths of’, ‘avec un coeur bien affligé, elle n’auroit pas manqué de vous affliger sensiblement à cause des amertumes que j’éprouvais et dont Dieu seul connoissoit toute la profondeur’. Possibly because of the sort of depression he went through, Pompallier became confused about his own letters. In LRO, doc. 33 [1] of 14.08.39 he writes that he wrote and sent a letter 13, dated 14 May. In LRO, doc. 37 [3] of 28.08.39 he writes that he destroyed letter 13 from before 14.08.39. There is no trace of a letter number 12, nor of a letter dated 14 May, unless he confused it with his letter of 14 May a year earlier, i.e., 1838, LRO, doc. 24! There may have been two letters, 12 and 13, one destroyed, the other lost. Or, more likely, there was only one, not sent but destroyed; while the other one existed only in his confused memory.
  6. The Justine had left Bordeaux in September 1837 with 237 German migrants for Australia. During a stop in Brazil they decided to stay there. Bernard took freight to Valparaiso where he loaded horses for New Zealand and Australia. He then went to Tahiti. Cf. Jore, op. cit. I, p. 101. The mail for Pompallier must have been given him by Fr. Liausu
  7. Cf. above, p. 52. LRO, doc. 59 [2]
  8. Of this letter we only know from Pompallier’s letter to Meynis, 17.03 cf. below.
  9. He would reach the Bay of Islands only in April 1840. Jore op. cit. II, p. 87.
  10. Pompallier did not have enough money in hand when he chartered the Raiatea. He had left owing Moerenhout a considerable sum of money. Cf. above p. 60.
  11. The amount is confirmed in a letter from Pompallier to Colin, 28.08.39, LRO, doc. 37 [5].
  12. OPM, H30, 000867. It is only from this letter to Meynis that we know of the visit of the Justine at the Bay of Islands, and of the mail and the money it carried. It reached Lyon before Christmas 1839, cf. CS, doc. 119 [1]. Captain Bernard was reimbursed by the Propagation of the Faith on 8 January 1840. Cf. CS I, p. 359.
  13. LRO, doc. 32 [2] & LRO, doc. 76. This last document, marked 01.11.40 by Poupinel, must indeed be of June 1839 as the editor of LRO explains in his introduction. Noteworthy is the phrase ‘instruments of mercy’, a Colinian saying since early days, cf. Summarium 1833, nr. 43 (AT I, p. 71); Constitutions 1842, nr. 358, AT II, p. 102.
  14. LRO, doc. 33 [1].

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