Br Emery to Fr Colin(?), Waikato, 6 September 1848
There is no trace of the original from which his edited extract has been taken. Nor is it certain to whom it was addressed, though we are probably safe in assuming it was written to Fr Colin.
The Waikato station was established at Matamata in 1841 but made slow progress until 1844 when Jean Pezant was put in charge and transferred the centre to Rangiaowhia in the Waipa Valley, a little south of modern Te Awamutu. The station covered an extensive area, ranging from Kawhia harbour on the west coast to the western slopes of the Kaimai ranges in the east. Pezant looked after the Waikato by himself with an efficient team of Maori catechists. Although for a time he had a European servant, Emery appears to have been the only other Marist appointed to this mission. This is surprising since by 1846 there were at least 1000 baptised Catholics, and Viard, after his visit, declared it to be the best of the Maori missions (Simmons 87). It was to see an even greater development in the 1850’s and early 1860’s until it became a casualty of the Land Wars. Emery was transferred to Auckland in 1849 and Pezant remained alone until 1850 when he made a belated effort to join the rest of the Marists in the Wellington diocese.
Text of the Letter
- I have been at Waikato since the end of April with Fr Pezant. This station is right in the middle of the island, eight days from Auckland. It is good country, and the Maori there are naturally gentle and simple. It is also the station that is doing best.
- Monsignor Viard came this year on visitation at the beginning of May and we had him for three months. During his stay he performed 353 baptisms, 577 confirmations, 200 marriages, and received the abjurations of 27 protestants. The first chiefs have been baptised – something not seen before in this island because they did not want to give up their wives; some had up to eight. One saw venerable old men with white beards being baptised.
- These good people were amazed at Monsignor, which is not surprising since he certainly knows how to treat them with kindness and courtesy. But they were especially amazed in the mountain areas where they had never seen a bishop. When he wore his cross and mitre the poor savages could not take their eyes off him. They held up their hands with sighs of admiration: O! O! Tona potai. “What a hat!” In all the Catholic areas His Lordship passed through they came out in procession to meet him. On one occasion there were only eight of them, and after the opening greetings one came forward to kiss the ring. But all the rest ran away, seized with fright. In almost every place he visited they wept when he left, some accompanying him even up to nine days on his way. Tears still come to some of them when they speak of him.
- On Assumption Day here there were 210 communions, with the white-bearded elders and the main chiefs in front This is Fr Pezant’s place of residence. The good Father cannot remain much longer at his post if he doesn’t receive help soon. His parish is 45 leagues long and 30 wide, broken by mountains swamps and rivers. When the weather is good it takes him four weeks to visit all his parish, using all his time. The inhabitants of Waikato, where we are living, are almost all baptised, but when the priest is on his travels they are without a minister, and the sick often die without the sacraments
- Br Emery SM
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