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25. Br Elie-Regis to Fr Epalle. Wangaroa. 8 August 1841

LO 24


The Epalle family lived next door to the Champagnats at Le Rosey, and Jean-Baptiste (1808-1845) was one of the children to whom the young Marcellin gave catechism lessons during his holidays from the seminary. He was later to declare that his first idea of a missionary vocation was due to Champagnat's influence (Br Jean-Baptiste's Life of J.B.M. Champagnat 1989 English edition p23 note 6). Entering the Society of Mary at the end of 1837 after ordination, he was one of Elie-Regis' companions on the voyage to New Zealand and with him and Jean-Baptiste Petit-Jean founded the mission at Whangaroa in January 1840. Pompallier recalled him to Kororareka later that year as his vicar. Petit-Jean, too, while retaining overall responsibility for the mission, was now no longer in residence. Hopes that the situation might improve with the arrival of the new group from France were dashed when Pompallier left the Bay of Islands at the end of July on his new mission vessel, the "Sancta Maria", to deliver his new missionaries to stations in the south.

The Whangaroa mission, quite close to Totara on the western side of the harbour, comprised about 40 acres and another piece of land around a high rock called St Peters overlooking the harbour. Some of the land had been bought from an Italian Catholic living in the area, Dominic Ferraris, who had also been the one to provide the missionaries with a temporary residence at the beginning (Pomp. p6l). He had a little schooner which figures prominently in a later letter (L 33). Boniface [6] was apparently the name of Elie-Regis' Maori boy servant.

The text in Lettres d'Oceanie was transcribed from a photocopy of the original in the APM.

Text of the Letter


[1] I have received your letter and was sorry to learn that you are leaving me alone here. I was waiting for a Brother to come and now I am deprived of a priest. But if that is what obedience demands, I submit myself to God's will. Let it be done and not mine. I hope at least I shall get a visit from someone from time to time. I am expecting Fr Petit-Jean for the feast of the Assumption.

[2] I was very much surprised and saddened to learn of the death of Fr Champagnat, our founder.

[3] I am sending you some eggs. I have no more at the moment but later on I will send you some more. I would like a few pigeons if you could kindly send me some. I am sending you a collection of vegetables. You tell me to get people to work, but perhaps you aren't aware I have nothing to pay with, no food, no shirts, no trousers, only a little tobacco.

[4] You tell me to take good care of the gardens. Such is my desire. I am busy just now preparing to plant vines for this year on the slope near the sea on the Aucoura [Okura] side. You know the place. It gets a lot of sun but it is very difficult to cultivate since it slopes so much. We will have to cut down the palms and level the ground to get a workable area. Further, we need a breakwater or a wall 2 feet by 21/2 feet along the edge of the sea so I can let the soil slide down without any worry. I will then have the prettiest vineyard in New Zealand, God willing. It will be a côte rotie[1] wine because of the position and the quality of the soil.

[5] To build the wall I need a big strong bote [sic] to go and collect stones from Mount St Peter. I have already mentioned this to Fr Petit-Jean. I have proposed to Mr Dominic that he might want to have a share and he has agreed. For that we would need planks of an inch and a half and consequently nails from 4 to 41/2 inches long. Mr Dominic proposes to go to the Bay of Islands soon. He will choose them himself if no one sends any before he goes.

[6] It is impossible to borrow anything from the natives. One asks for a blanket to lend me a canoe for the stones for perhaps two or three trips. Another requires my gun to go and look for rocks for this wall. Instead, if I had a boat, I could go to fetch the stones with one man, even with our little Boniface.

[7] I would also appreciate at some time a cow or two, or better a horse to plough land for the wheat. Otherwise, it takes too long if we have a lot to sow.

Your very devoted servant,
Br Elie Regis.


  1. A wine characteristic of the area in the Rhone valley around Ampuis which included Elie-Regis' home town.

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