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On the Hokianga

When in June 1839 Pompallier moved to Kororareka, and Baty with Brother Elie-Régis joined Servant and Brother Michel in Papakawau, the Hokianga people missed their benefactor. As a result, the chiefs at first had little respect for Servant and Baty. [1] Some adherents threatened to give up attendance at religious services if the gifts did not keep coming!

In September Pompallier used the Reine de Paix for a visit around the north point of New Zealand to the west coast. He visited Whangaroa where he arranged to buy some land from two settlers. He went to Mangonui where he distributed the newly printed booklets. He then sailed up the Hokianga and bought a hundred acres of land at Purakau, as an alternative for Papakawau which had proved to be unsatisfactory.[2] The new site was not developed as a mission centre - there was not even a church built - but served as a place for the missionaries to live and from where it was easier to visit the Maori villages. Strangely enough, Servant, writing to Colin shortly later, does not mention either the bishop’s visit, or the land purchase. As we shall see later, there had been a confrontation with Pompallier, and his letter would go through the bishop’s hands.[3]

Selling the Reine de Paix

All initiatives Baty and his team had taken, for instance, the detour to Wallis and Futuna, unloading goods for the missionaries there, leaving the little organ on Futuna, everything had met with the bishop’s disapproval. As far as we know he at first said nothing of them spending 11.000 francs to take a fifty per cent share in the Reine de Paix! They must have wondered. It took a few months before it became clear what he thought of it.

On his return from the west coast Pompallier said the ship was unsafe, too long for its width and not sea-worthy. Épalle dutifully agreed: the ship nearly capsized on the North Cape. In October or November Pompallier caught the captain and the crew drunk on board. He chased them off the ship and fired them. Finding himself without captain or crew, he promptly sold the ship for £ 600 to John Roberton.[4]

Servant writing

The newly arrived missionaries had brought parcels of mail and on 15 October Servant took a day off to answer. The letter he had received from Colin must have been in the same spirit as the one to Bataillon that has been preserved. [5] Servant appreciated the firm spiritual guidance from the superior general:

Your letter of 1 August 1838 has reached me here and it has given me unbelievable joy. I bless God a thousand times for the paternal feelings you express and for the concern you have for my spiritual welfare. How I am touched by your exhortations. How grateful I am for your directions and warnings that make me feel your love for me. I am very happy to live in your memory and in your vigilance.[6]

On four closely written pages Servant gives Colin a charming and realistic picture of his visits to the Maori tribes. He took Baty along from the beginning. He tells of their attempts to communicate, of the situations they run into, the misunderstandings and of how, in the end, through patience and listening, the message of peace and reconciliation gets across. They had to overcome the disadvantage of coming nearly empty-handed, but they managed to do some good. On one place in Whirinaki[7] they convinced chiefs and people to make peace with a neighbouring tribe instead of going to war, and in Waima they stopped a chief from killing a man who had committed adultery with his wife.[8]

The Protestants continued to spread all sorts of false information about the Catholic doctrine, but it had , writes Servant, sometimes the effect that people came to talk to the priest to hear his side of the story, which gave him a good opportunity to instruct them. He describes himself doing this, his three-cornered biretta on the head, breviary in the hand. The Protestants, he says, sometimes baptize people without previous instruction so as to keep them from going to the priest. He too on one occasion was asked to baptize somebody alleged to be in danger of death, but he refrained from doing so, convinced the man would live. He did, and was instructed before baptism.[9]

From Terraillon too Servant had received a letter and on the same 15 October he answered him as well. Four pages show Servant to be a close observer of Maori ways. Nothing escapes his careful attention: their gestures, the tone of their voices in different circumstances, the horrible faces they pull at times, the decorations on the bodies of men and women, their works of art, their music and their dances. He describes it all in great detail, with respect and empathy, and without paternalism or romanticism. The letter was the first sketch of what eventually grew into a worthy monument of ethnography.[10]

Servant also wrote to his parents who must have expressed concern for his safety and he puts them at rest with this sympathetic picture of the lefe he leads and of the Maori people he is engaged with:
They like us very much and they would not think of harming us. Living among them is absolutely without danger. When I go visiting their villages, they ask if I am hungry and they find it a pleasure to share their food with me. When you meet them, they want to hold your hand and greet you; sometimes they do so by touching nose to nose, which is an important sign of friendship among them.[11]


  1. LRO, doc. 39 [4], doc. 55 [5].
  2. Simmons, op. cit. p. 42.
  3. Cf. below, p. 169f.
  4. LRO, doc. 59 [32].John Roberton was the man who sold Pompallier a piece of land at the time of the visit of the Venus in October 1838. On the adventures of this first ship of the Marist missions, cf. Excursus G, below, p. 185.
  5. Above, p. 82, CS, doc. 44.
  6. LRO, doc. 39 [1].
  7. We follow modern standardized spelling of Maori names.
  8. LRO, doc. 39 [3 & 4].
  9. LRO, doc. 39 [7 & 8].
  10. Servant’s letter is published in LRO, doc. 40. The ethnographical study can be found as a manuscript, Moeurs et coutumes des Neo-Zélandais 1838-42, Ms, APM, 1661/24563. It was published as Father Servant Marist Missionary in the Okianga, transl. E Simmons, Reed, Wellington, 1973.
  11. LRO, doc. 41 [3].

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