Br Colomb to Br Francois, Bay of Islands, 25 Nov 1843
Brother Colomb (Pierre Poncet b. 1816) had possibly been a servant or groom before entering the Hermitage at the beginning of 1839 at the age of 22. He took final vows on 10 October 1840, a month before leaving for the missions with the fifth group of Marists. After working on the building of the printery at Kororareka and a short sojoum at Hokianga, he was assigned to the new station at Auckland in August 1842, just over a year after that settlement had succeeded Kororareka as capital of the colony. Forest had been in residence there since July while waiting the opportunity to go south, and in the meantime, served as pastor for the Catholics of Auckland, almost all of them European (Simmons 98). Petit-Jean did not turn up until late October. There was a house there and a church, St Patrick's, opened in January 1843, which doubled as a school until 1844. Auckland was not a particularly impressive town at this era and conditions were hardly helped by the disorderly influx of settlers, either directly from Europe, or indirectly from Australia, which was also suffering a depression at this time. The colonial government was in fact bankrupt But it was not primarily for reasons of poverty that Colomb was transferred at the end of 1843. His next assignment was to Tauranga but we do not know whether he acually served there as he was sent back to France the following March (rf L 47 ).
Text of the Letter
- Very dear Brother,
- It was with much frustration that I had to watch several ideal opportunities for writing you a few words pass by but I don't know how to write and the dear Brothers were too busy to tender me the service. Today, however, someone has charitably taken pen in hand to fulfil my ardent wish, and I am profiting by his generosity to let you know something about my work in the new land.
- At first after my arrival from Europe I remained about a year in the Bay of Islands. We built there a large house in pisé, made shutters, put down floors. This provided us with plenty of work and more than one danger which I don't know I would have escaped without Mary's protection. On one occasion we went quite far out to sea to collect rocks. We had the boat and a waka with natives, and we loaded on a few too many. While we were on our way back a strong wind blew up which just about sank us. Immediately we threw some of our stones into the sea and called upon her who is the resource of all who invoke her. And so we continued on our way under calmer conditions. At the end of May 1842, I was sent to Hokianga to give a hand to Br Claude-Marie, but my stay at that station lasted only two months. I then returned to the Bay and soon after I was sent to Auckland, the capital of New Zealand, where I stayed a year with Fr Petit-Jean. There I had the carpentry, cooking, laundry, especially washing the altar linen, the garden to cultivate, etc.
- I made a little belltower and the bell sounds very well on the swing. Auckland is a town of about 6000 people, all English and Irish. The Catholics number about 400 but they are quite fervent. One thing I took pleasure in observing was that as the priest passed for the asperges — everyone held up their hands and crowded around him to get as much of the holy water as they could. There is a good attendance at Mass but we see hardly anyone at Vespers. The Catholics have subscribed to provide food for a Father and a Brother, but now the hardship in this country is such that we have had to separate and I have been withdrawn to the Bay of Islands. They can only support a priest and that only with difficulty. You see people going about barefooted and others poorly clad, and the characteristic pallor on the faces of the poor shows they have little to celebrate. Two shiploads of immigrants have come to Auckland in the belief fortunes can be made here, but as they could not make a living, the government has sent them back to Sydney. I was sorry to leave the station because almost all the people there were European and I knew enough English to make myself understood. Once I even met a Minister.
- Goodbye. I must finish since the ship carrying this letter is about to leave. Don't forget me in your fervent prayers and be good enough to recommend me to those of your children.
- Your very devoted Brother in J.J.M.
- Br Colomb
- Probably the incident described by Emery in his letter of 1 November (No 38 ).
- Term applied to the blessing and sprinkling of priest, servers, and people with holy water before Mass.
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