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On the other side of the world

While, on one side of the world, the second group of missionaries started on their long voyage to Oceania, both Pompallier and Servant, on the other side, used an occasion, unknown to us, to send mail to France. Servant had made another copy of Pompallier’s letter of 14 May.[1] The bishop added some notes to it, dated 4 September 1838, and mailed it together with a new letter on 14 September. He added a letter for his mother and one to the priest at Vourles. Servant added an eight-pages letter for Colin, dated 16 September.[2]

There was good news to tell. As already arranged with Archbishop Polding, Thomas Poynton had given a plot of land to the Church in Papakawau, three hours by boat down from Totara Point and Pompallier had a small house built there for himself and his companions. There was a larger room to celebrate Mass for the local Catholics, and three minute rooms: ‘The whole episcopal palace!’.[3] He enclosed the property deeds to be forwarded to Propaganda in Rome. As they moved by boat down the Hokianga they were accompanied by Irish and English Catholics as well as by canoes with Maoris of different tribes. On 29 June he said Mass for the first time in the new house and gave his first sermon in Maori. In Papakawau some tribes built rest houses so they could come and listen to the missionaries.[4] There also was a plot of land on offer in the Bay of Islands, but for the moment Pompallier did not have the 1.500 francs to buy it. He was already 1.200 francs in debt.[5]

Pompallier was in need of everything: clothing, candles, altar linen, tools, a printing press and holy pictures (‘people come from 200 km to look at them!’).

Fr. Servant wrote of the good reception by the Catholics of the Hokianga area and the new house where they had installed a chapel and could say Mass. He wrote at length of the attack of 22 January, and how they were defended by the European people. In the end the Maoris had said they did not want to get involved in the wars of the Europeans. ‘Let them sort out their differences among themselves.’ The two missionaries had enjoyed their first visits to Maori villages in the interior where they were received amicably and were presented with a large pig. He told Colin of his attempt to speak of the Blessed Trinity with the help of his three-cornered hat.[6]

The letters show how Pompallier was becoming more and more frustrated. His patience was wearing thin. On 4 September he expressed his extreme regret of not being able to go and visit Wallis and Futuna, mainly for lack of money. An additional reason however, he wrote, was that he could not leave Fr. Servant a long time by himself. Servant did all right with good-willing people but in front of a hostile opponent one could not rely on him. Evidently, relations between the two were not improving.[7] The good news was that Pompallier felt now sufficiently fluent in the Maori language to work effectively among the tribes and as a consequence he noticed a growing sympathy for the Catholic religion.

In his letter of the 14th Pompallier kept up his complaints. Only for lack of money he could not build the chapel for which people had donated the timber! He lamented about the humiliating position of a bishop without money to do things, which, he added, in the eyes of the Maori chiefs was a sign of weakness. His frustration had reached the point that he was tempted to jump on the first available ship and go to Rome to complain to the Holy See of the way in which he felt he had been abandoned.[8] His position was becoming desperate and the strain on his mind was showing.

On 12 October another French warship entered the Bay of Islands. It was the Venus, under the command of captain Dupetit-Thouars, who on orders of the French government, had tried to intervene in July in Hawaii in favour of the right of French citizens to settle in Hawaii. The presence of British and American men-of-war had cramped his style and he had achieved nothing.[9] In August, in Tahiti, there had been no disturbing foreigners about and he had succeeded.[10]

Dupetit-Thouars sent a message across to Pompallier who was away from Papakawau visiting villages. When he came home he found the message and walked to the Bay of Islands where he was the guest on board of the Venus for two days. The captain accompanied the bishop on a formal visit to the British resident, Mr. James Busby. Together they paid an official call on the local chief Rewarewa and other Maori chiefs in their pah (fortified village). Dupetit-Thouars admired the way Pompallier dealt with Rewarewa: ‘It was obvious that the chief was not accustomed to receive the like, nor to be treated by the whites with so much benevolence and honour’.[11]

The captain and the bishop also visited a settler, Mr. Roberton, who gave Pompallier a plot of land for a chapel from the 360 acres he had bought from Rewarewa for a shilling an acre. The captain certified the transfer of title. When Pompallier left the ship, he again was honoured with nine volleys to underline that this bishop came from a powerful nation just as able and willing as Great Britain to look after its citizens.[12]

Realizing that with the return of the Raiatea to its owner in Tahiti, it would be known there that he was living on the Hokianga, Pompallier wrote to Moerenhout to tell him that ships coming into his direction should not enter the dangerous river mouth of the Hokianga River, but go to the Bay of Islands and send a message overland to let him know.[13]


  1. Cf. above, p. 71f.
  2. Resp. LRO, doc. 29, 30 and 31. The letters to Mme Solichon and the priest have not been preserved. In May Servant had written to his parents and to two friends, but not to Colin, cf. above, p. 72.
  3. LRO, doc. 24 [13]
  4. LRO, doc. 31 [11]. Simmons, op. cit., p. 36.
  5. LRO, doc. 24 [12 & 13].
  6. LRO, doc. 31.
  7. Cf. above, p. 72.
  8. LRO, doc. 29.
  9. Cf. Jore, op. cit., II, pp. 31 – 34.
  10. Cf. above, p. 69.
  11. Lillian Keys, op. cit. p. 108f.
  12. Jore, op. cit., II, pp. 86. Strangely the visit of the Venus is not mentioned in Pompallier’s letters. Roberton is sometimes mistakenly called Robinson. On James Busby, cf. Sinclair, op. cit. p. 51.
  13. Baty to Colin, 18.04.1839 from Tahiti, APM, 1404/20033.

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