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Chapter seven : 1839-2 Gathering Speed

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In New Zealand: not a hearty welcome

Claude-André Baty was the only one who had known Pompallier in France. The three Brothers would at best have seen him when, already a bishop, he visited the Hermitage to bless the new chapel. Épalle and Petit had joined the Society after the first missionaries had left. But the man who walked in on them after two days in the bush was not the man they had known or heard about. They expected the charming and cheerful leader who only a few years earlier had aroused missionary enthusiasm among the Marists in France. Eighteen months of restless work, of hard living and tracking through the bush, of living roughly in Maori villages, of loneliness and frustration had taken their toll. They felt sorry for him, ‘crushed down by the burden of work’, as Baty described him. ‘Let us hope we can comfort him and respond to his zeal’.[1]

But, comforting Pompallier was not easy. Their happy tales of visiting Wallis and Futuna were met with disapproval. The newcomers were convinced they had done the right thing: ‘Our passage through the islands did the missions a lot of good’.[2] The only reaction was they should have come straight to New Zealand and not have gone there without permission.[3] When, two months later, Pompallier got around to writing to Colin, he needed only five lines in a letter of nine pages to tell Colin about the two islands, without even mentioning one of the four missionaries by name.[4]

The bishop reproached the newcomers for having unloaded a quantity of gifts in Wallis and Futuna. Everything should have come first to the headquarters of the mission. He was annoyed also that the little organ with which they had so much success in Wallis and Futuna, had stayed with Peter Chanel. In his next letter he asked Colin curtly to send another one: ‘the heretics have one and we do not’.[5]

A source of particular irritation was the printing press. After muskets, nothing had so much prestige under the Maoris as books. Literacy had spread widely and the Protestants ran three presses in New Zealand, flooding the country with reading material.[6] The newcomers had bought a printing press with a stock of letters but it had been stowed away without being checked. When they opened the boxes, they found that the supplier had forgotten the letter ‘o’, frequent in Maori. Petit and the two brothers spent days filing away the bars from the letters ‘b’, not used in Maori.[7] Whether in the end the machines were incomplete or faulty, or whether it was their lack of training - on which Pompallier had insisted so much[8] - it took them weeks to get the printing press going. In September it finally produced an eight-page statement of the Catholic faith, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer: the first Catholic printing in New Zealand. It gave the missionaries something in hand they could distribute in the villages.[9] For the impatient bishop this was not fast enough; he sent a catechism manuscript to be printed in France.[10]

From the beginning the men were not happy with what they saw as the bishop’s hyperactivity. They wanted a more regular life, and time for prayer and spiritual exercises. The bishop’s zeal and good heart, wrote Maxime Petit later, makes him rush out at all times and do all sorts of things. ‘He looks askance at us when we – more than he does - divide our time between duty to the neighbour and to ourselves. In the early days here, Father Épalle and myself did our spiritual exercises as much as possible at moments we thought he would not notice. Not that he stopped us from praying, but because on several occasions he reproached us for praying all the time’.[11]

All the upbraiding must have created a far from happy atmosphere in Kororareka: a repeat of what Servant and Michel had put up with in Papakawau for a whole year. What could they do but listen in stony silence to the constant nagging! Naturally they would afterwards talk - subdued - among themselves, which led the bishop to blow up and reproach them for ganging up on him, or, as he put it, nurturing an esprit de corps, that is ‘forming a group apart’. [12] On one occasion he got so worked up that he threatened to get other missionaries from somewhere else. [13]


With men at his disposal and money in his pocket, Pompallier wasted no time. He decided to leave the Hokianga area and move immediately to the Bay of Islands. He ‘purchased a beach section with a house on it to serve as headquarters for the New Zealand mission, at a cost of £ 370’.[14] It meant the missionaries could begin unloading the Reine de Paix.[15] The house had a room big enough for Sunday Mass. The same year he bought two other sections of land adjoining the plot he had bought from John Roberton during the visit of the Venus.[16] He also acquired ‘a large piece of land (..) for the sojourn of the natives and above all for several establishments of the Mission, college, store, hospital, workshop, school, church’ and for a cemetery.[17] A young Catholic Irishman was employed to open a school for the children of the settlers as they had asked him to.[18]

From that moment Kororareka was the bishop’s residence, the main station of the mission and the procure. He kept the Fathers Épalle and Petit and the Brothers Florentin and Marie-Augustin with him. Petit was appointed procurator in charge of sorting out and storing the mission goods. Claude-André Baty and Brother Élie-Régis were assigned to join Father Servant and Brother Michel at Papakawau on the Hokianga.

On the job

At this stage Father Catherin Servant had been in the Hokianga area for nearly a year and a half. English was still a problem, but he was fairly fluent in Maori.[19] However, the bishop had a low judgment of his abilities and considered him unsuitable for leadership. Claude Baty was put in charge, even though he had only just arrived and knew neither Maori nor English. He was told to take no notice of whatever Servant might tell him, as he ‘was not of one mind with the bishop’.[20] Given the atmosphere in Kororareka, Baty lost no time getting away. He and Brother Elie-Régis packed their bags and walked across to the west coast.[21] A few weeks later the bishop sent Épalle on the Reine de Paix around the North to the Hokianga to take their cases.

The first task of the new missionaries was studying languages. In spite of the fact that Pompallier had urged Colin already from Le Havre to have the missionaries start learning English[22] as soon as they were assigned to the missions, none of them had done so. Now they had to start from scratch. It meant that Pompallier was called in time and again to interpret. It cost him a lot of time and it hurt his pride to be reduced to be the interpreter whenever the carpenter needed a piece of timber or the cook a basket of potatoes: ‘Bishop and all that I am, I have to be everybody’s interpreter!’[23] At the same time the men had to learn Maori for which Pompallier had composed a grammar in Latin and a list of useful words.[24]

Unpacking the mission goods proved an unnerving job. Things had been packed helter-skelter, without lists of contents for each case. As a result several cases had to be opened at the same time to find specific items, which meant the locals were in the house all the time, admiring what came out of the boxes and trying to get hold of whatever took their fancy.[25]


  1. (..)accablé sous le poids du travail; puissions nous le soulager et répondre à son zèle, LRO, doc. 32 [2].
  2. LRO, doc. 32 [1].
  3. LRO, doc. 55 [12]: qui a été fortement blâmé.. .
  4. LRO, doc. 33 [6].
  5. LRO, doc. 34 [13] on the organ, doc. 37 [8].
  6. On literacy in NZ cf. Howe, op. cit. pp. 222ff.
  7. LRO, doc. 34 [5].
  8. LRO, doc. 7 [15] & doc. 8 [15].
  9. Simmons, op. cit. p. 42.
  10. LRO, doc. 34 [8].
  11. Petit to Colin, 27.04.40, LRO, doc. 56 [6].
  12. LRO, doc. 56 [3].
  13. LRO, doc. 56 [3]. He asked Archbishop Polding to find him at least one English priest.
  14. Simmons, op. cit. p. 41, & p. 50, n. 8.
  15. LRO, doc. 33 [5].
  16. Cf. above, p. 90.
  17. Simmons, loc. cit. LRO, doc. 33 [5].
  18. Probably Henry Garnett from Liverpool. Cf. LRO, doc. 33 [6], p. 242, n. 12.
  19. Servant to Colin, 31.05.41, LRO, doc. 97 [4].
  20. LRO, doc. 33 [7] & doc. 55 [6]: à cause que je n’avais pas l’esprit uni à mon évêque
  21. Cf. LRO, doc. 39 [2].
  22. LRO, doc. 7 [18]. doc. 8 [3] & doc. 21 [1].
  23. Hélas, tout évêque que je suis, il faut alors que je sois l’interprète de chacun! LRO, doc. 34 [7].
  24. LRO, doc. 34 [9 & 10].
  25. LRO, doc. 34 [3].

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