From Marist Studies
Jump to: navigation, search

Buying land in New Zealand?

When passing through London Petit-Jean had noted the lively interest many British people took in New Zealand, and the talk about cheap land there. Several people had suggested that to acquire substantial land-holdings would be of advantage to the Catholic mission. Petit-Jean found the suggestion rather distasteful, but at the same time important enough to add a special postscript to his letter to Colin after boarding in Gravesend.[1]

In his talks with Meynis of the Propagation of the Faith, Poupinel had been told how Mgr. Portier, bishop of Mobile (today Alabama) who had initially relied on support from the Propagation, had attained financial independence by the judicious acquisition of land, and how Mgr. Loras, bishop of Dubuque, was well on the way to do the same.[2]

Colin found the question important and difficult enough to submit it to Cardinal Fransoni in Rome.[3] His letter, dated 20 July was answered on 27 August: ‘You ask my view on the advisability of buying land and properties in New Zealand in order to make the mission self-supporting. I do not think it would do damage to the mission provided the income from those properties is used exclusively for the benefit of the mission. It is done in other mission fields without prejudice to the Church. It did not cause a scandal and people did not take offence.’[4]

They need not have worried. The missionaries had quickly discovered how much the Polynesian people valued land, in New Zealand as well as in the tropical islands. They saw the Protestant ministers involved in buying land and knew what it did to their reputation. It became a saying among the Maori people: ‘They took our land and gave us a book’.[5] As a result the Marist missionaries took a more restrictive view than Propaganda in Rome and the Propagation of the Faith in Lyon. When Pompallier bought land around this time from the Maoris at Kororareka, a casual visitor overheard the bishop saying he would ‘hold the land in trust, to be returned to the Maori people when the possession of land would be of greater importance in their eyes than it was at that time.’[6]

Writing to Pompallier

The new man alongside Colin made all the difference also to the correspondence with Bishop Pompallier. Colin had written only four letters in three and a half years.[7] From the time Poupinel became involved four went in half a year.

The first one, of which we only have a résumé, is dated 24 May, the day after Comte, Chevron and Brother Attale left Lyon. It announced their departure, how much money they carried for the mission and the permission to buy a schooner.[8]

Occasion to the second one, dated 21 September 1839,[9] was information about a navy store ship about to leave Brest for New Zealand. Poupinel referred to the nine letters sent since 24 December 1836, that Pompallier listed on 21 May 1838, and assured him that all of them had arrived.[10] He also acknowledged the ones of September 1838.[11] From later than that one, he tells Pompallier, nothing has been heard in France. There was always a chance that letters had gone astray, he admitted, but it seemed imprudent to send more missionaries until there was further news! The reminder was not unjustified. Apart from the March letter to Meynis and the letter he tore up later,[12] Pompallier did not write for a whole year, from September 1838 to August 1839.

Poupinel accounts for all money sent so far: 8.700 francs in May 1837 to Valparaiso with Captain Brelivet; 2.240,80 francs with Baty in September 1838 and 41.738,60 francs with Petit-Jean via London, in May 1839. Another thousand francs promised by the government in Paris will be sent as soon as possible. By September 1839 nobody in Lyon knew if any of this money had reached Pompallier!

The bishop is told of the suggestions that the new missionaries had been given in London about buying land in New Zealand, about the consultation of the cardinal prefect of Propaganda and of the answer given. In any case, ‘there are letters from Rome on the way through Polding’s agent in London’. The bishop is also informed of the new arrangements by which all mail will now go to Oceania and asked to use the same channels.[13]

Although Poupinel addressed Bishop Pompallier in the letter with the same Votre Grandeur that Servant used and that had annoyed the superior general – who had always stuck to the less formal Monseigneur - Jean-Claude Colin signed the letter.

When Poupinel returned from Paris and Normandy,[14] there was good reason to write a third letter to Pompallier, dated 9 November 1839.[15] He was happy to tell the bishop of the enthusiastic support he had met with in Paris, involving several ministries. Naturally he did not forget Soult’s remark: make those islands Catholic and you make them French! He also passes on the foreign minister’s suggestion to have all land deals registered with French naval captains – a thing Pompallier had already done.[16]

Poupinel’s hand shows where he does what Colin refused to do: he slipped in a few news items. A little small talk smooths communications! Of course for Pompallier, a priest of the Archdiocese of Lyon, it was more than small talk to know that Cardinal Fesch had died in Rome, whereby the See of Lyon had become vacant. Pompallier must also have been grateful – but perhaps not so happy - to know that his supporter de Pins was for political reasons passed over for the succession in Lyon, in favour of Cardinal Isoard, archbishop of Auch, who then died before he could take possession of the See.[17]

On 29 December, Poupinel wrote to inform Pompallier that Baty’s letter from Tahiti had reached Lyon and what information it had given on the 8.700 francs sent in May 1837. He told Pompallier that a letter had arrived of Petitjean from Cape Verde, and informed him of what the government was planning to do for New Zealand, the appointment of a French consul and the penal colony in New Guinea, and of what had been written in connection with the project of a school in the Chatham Islands.[18]


  1. Letter dated 15.06.39. Cf. CS I, p. 143, n. 1.
  2. CS, doc. 82 [19 & 20].
  3. On 20.07.1839. CS, doc. 82 [26].
  4. CS. I, p. 156, n.2.
  5. Jean-Baptiste Comte told his parents of Waimate, a place he visited on a pastoral tour: ‘A splendid place where several Protestant missionaries have established themselves: beautiful gardens, fields full of cattle and sheep, and extensive cultivated lands’ 21.04.40. LRO, doc. 54 [3]. Petit to Colin, 27.04.40 LRO, doc. 57 [1].
  6. R.G. Jameson, a visitor to New Zealand in 1839. The quote (1842) can be found in Simmons, op. cit. p. 43.
  7. In May 1837, 27 November 1837, August 1838 and 1 December 1838.
  8. CS, doc. 72. When the second group left, Colin had done nothing to notify Pompallier, even though letters through London could have reached him four or five months ahead of their arrival. Cf. above, p. 98.
  9. CS, doc. 89.
  10. LRO, doc. 24 [10].
  11. Pompallier to Colin, 04.09.38 & 14.09.38, resp. LRO, docs 29 & 30. Received in April, cf. above, p. 88.
  12. Pompallier to Meynis (Propagation de la Foi) 17.03.39, OPM, H00867, was received in Lyon a few days before Christmas 1839, cf. CS. doc. 119 [1]. On the letter Pompallier tore up, cf. above p. 115.
  13. Cf. above p. 136.
  14. During his absence Colin moved from Belley to Lyon, 4, montée St.-Barthélémy (Puylata).
  15. CS, doc. 97.
  16. When captain Dupetit-Thouars called in the Vénus in October 1838, cf. above, p. 90.
  17. Fesch died 13 May 1839. De Pins was known to be a legitimiste, i.e. he opposed the House of Orléans that had supplanted Louis XVIII in 1830. Cardinal d’Isoard died 7 October 1839.
  18. CS, doc. 122. Although the APM have no draft (minute) of this letter as is more usual with letters written by Poupinel and signed by Colin, but only a summary, it is typically what Poupinel would have written.

Previous Section A Piety Able to Cope Next Section