Father Servant to Father Champagnat, Bay of Islands, 14 May 1840
Servant had been transferred to the mission centre at Kororareka in the Bay of Islands probably at the end of 1839, as he had informed Champagnat in a letter which has since been lost. Here he was at work on a catechism - prayer book commissioned by Pompallier, which was to appear in September 1840 as the first printed book of the Catholic mission. Captain Marion du Fresne was killed with some of his crew on the southern shores of the Bay of Islands in June 1772. There are various stories of what actually happened on that occasion and why, including the relationship between Marion and Miki (Micky). Fathers Epalle and Petit-Jean and Br Elie-Regis had set up a new station at Whangaroa harbour, north of the Bay of Islands, at the beginning of l840.
This letter is to be found in manuscript on pages 41 to 44 of the Cahier in the AFM (48 letters OCE 622.51), but the ending is missing and the next letter begins on page 47. However, the incident described in the second part is probably the one mentioned by Petit-Jean in a letter to his brother-in-law on 7 March 1841 subsequently published in the Annales des Missions d' Oceanie: "A much more serious danger once almost deprived us of Fr Servant. He was carried almost out into the open ocean and driven among the reefs in a small boat, where he remained more than a day without food, obliged to combat the discouragement of his rowers, who had given up all hope of seeing their island again " (AM 43-4).
Text of the Letter
- Very reverend Superior,
- There is a French ship leaving for France tomorrow, so I am taking advantage of this lucky opportunity to write you a few lines.
- I am still at the Bay of Islands, as I informed you a few months ago. I am not lacking work here; apart from the task Monsignor has confided to me of composing texts in the language of the natives, I give instructions to the natives every day, and every Sunday I do the preaching in English. Among the converts and catechumens of this station there are some whose behaviour is very edifying and who are outstanding for the simplicity of their faith and the innocence of their morals. Not long ago one of our converts told me that one day she had been very sick, so she prayed all night and the next morning was completely recovered. Now and then I have the opportunity to visit the sick natives in their villages and bring them the help of our holy religion by instructing them and preparing them for baptism. I never forget to give at least one person in each village the name of Mary.
- In making the little expeditions my ministry requires, some natives pointed out to me the spot where Captain Marion was killed 67 years ago. It is a little hill covered with fullgrown trees the natives call kaari. When he was killed his body was laid out on the sand on the hillside, a place named Manawaoro. According to what they told me, Captain Marion had on board his wife and three children. Among them was a girl they called Miki in their language. Since Miki wanted some fish, Marion landed at a place called Terawiti. It was there he had cut down some trees for the masts of his ships. The chief of the area, Arauhi by name, objected to the work for some reason or other, and was put in chains. The enraged chief decided to kill Marion and carried out his plan with the help of one of his men named Kurikuri. The natives still have a chant they composed to commemorate the killing of the French captain:
- To get back to the employments I was telling you about, very reverend Superior. At present I am regularly visiting a prisoner. He is an unfortunate native who killed an Englishman and is in prison awaiting the death sentence. The first meeting I had with him I put before him the advantage he had of dying in the bosom of the Catholic Church, for up till then he had been following the teaching of two heretics. He replied that since he had never been worse than when he was with the heretics, he was disposed to becoming a Catholic. While I was instructing him in the principal truths of the Faith, I spoke to him about hell, which previously would have been his fate. At the same time I told him he could avoid hell and gain heaven simply by preparing himself to receive the grace of baptism. Since my first visit a Protestant minister has been to see the prisoner, but, according to the jailer, the prisoner didn't even bother to give him a reply.
- Here is another little incident which will give you occasion to bless divine Providence. Recently I went to give some assistance at our station at Wangaroa, a day's trip which we usually make by sea and without much trouble, especially when the sea is calm. After I had been edified by the poverty of the Fathers at Wangaroa and their modest lodging, which brought memories of Nazareth to mind, I returned to the Bay but found the sea had turned savage. Being unable to return because the wind was against us, and since our frail dinghy could not stand up to the force of the waves, I steered the boat towards the shore. The boat was filled with water before we reached it but with redoubled efforts I succeeded in gaining shore despite the fury of the waves, with the help of two sailors with me. There I spent the night in a native hut, long since derelict and now the home of lizards. These annoying creatures disturbed our rest with their shrill chatter and their great numbers, but the bad weather made us prefer their company to the hazards of the open.
- The next day the sea appeared peaceful, so we embarked once more. But scarcely were we out of the shelter of land than sea and wind turned on us. Unfortunately we were forced past the entrance to the Bay of Islands and driven south. Night came and we tried to land but, finding only rocks and afraid of getting wrecked, we spent the night on the water, chilled to the bone. The next day, with hard rowing, we managed to reach shore, and there in a bleak and deserted spot ....
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