From Marist Studies
Jump to: navigation, search

Fr Lampila to Bp Viard, Wanganui, early 1861



This letter, which is without day or month in the original in the APM, was probably written at the beginning of 1861 in response to Viard’s request for information to help him prepare a report on the state of his diocese for 1860. Lampila thus presents a detailed picture of the Whanganui River mission centred on Kauaeroa, near present-day Jerusalem.

Although both Lampila and Reignier had visited the upper reaches of the river in 1848 and 1849, there was no permanent Marist presence on the river until late 1852 when Lampila and Elie-Regis set up station at Kaiwhaiki, 12 miles above Wanganui town. The missionaries were more successful at teaching Maori modern farming and industry (flour milling and timber milling) than in winning converts, so two years later they accepted an invitation from Te Pehi Turoa, chief of Ngati Hau, the dominant tribe, to establish themselves upriver. At Kauaeroa they made much better progress. By the end of 1859 they had 550 converts along the river, a church, a school with 80 pupils, 3 chapels, and 4 flour mills.[1] The latter were the work of Elie-Regis who had won something of a reputation for himself in this area. They also had a second priest, Eugene Pertuis (1830-1906), who had made his profession in the Society in 1857, the year before he sailed for the missions. From Kauaeroa the missionaries ranged the length of the river and out into Taranaki as far as Waitara, north of New Plymouth.

The Protestants were already well-established in the region and the Marists encountered stiff, sometimes violent, opposition. For several years, in fact, from 1857 to 1859, the people of Ranana and Operiki (near Koroniti) placed a blockade on the river, attempting to cut the Catholics off from contact with the town. By 1860 the situation had improved, so much so that the head of the CMS mission, the Rev. Richard Taylor, was complaining about the decline of his religious population and the growth of the Catholic one, and drawing a connection between the ‘papists’ and disloyalty to the British Crown.[2] For by this time tribes of the Waikato and Taupo, in an effort to unite Maori against any further loss of land to settlers, had elected a Maori king and there was considerable support for what was called the King Movement along the river. Lampila himself was known to be sympathetic towards it, and was thus an easy target for its critics. In addition, when a dispute over land at Waitara at the beginning of 1860 lead to war between Maori and settlers in Taranaki, the King Movement was drawn into it, and while the war ended inconclusively a year later, with Maori casualties of 200 against a British list of 238, the movement emerged strengthened rather than weakened. Thus while the local Europeans may have been grateful to Lampila for using his influence to keep the river Maori out of the Taranaki war [6], it was not long before he was again under attack for appearing to encourage and support the King Movement.

The translation was made from a photocopy of the original in the APM.

Text of the Letter

My Lord,
I make haste to furnish in full the information requested in the note you have sent me.
1st. Number of Catholics. The total of natives baptized and living is just over 500 on the Whanganui river, despite the sickness which has just passed through and taken several among us. We have no Europeans in my station, not a single one, and we do not want any. The year 1859 provided us with 47 baptisms. The number was necessarily much smaller that year because of the decline in catechumens, most of whom had been reborn the years preceding. Those remaining to be baptized may be between 25 and 30. I am not including, Monsignor, in the 500, the little group of converts and catechumens of Waitara, about 20.
2nd. As for the sacrament of penance, everyone goes regularly, with a few rare exceptions. It is the same with the Eucharist and the other sacraments.
3rd. Chapels, schools, etc. We have properly speaking only one chapel, which is considered very beautiful by the Maori and even by the Europeans who have seen it. I do not dare to give the name of chapel to the houses of reeds covering a wooden frame where the natives say their prayers, for they are no different from their dwellings except that they are a little higher. We have only one school which we run in our spare time, hence not very regularly. Besides, the Maori love their independence too much to apply themselves to anything which requires timetable or punctuality. We are ourselves the schoolmasters. However unimposing it is, it has a few devotees. And it has attracted some young people, detaching them from the sapless trunk of heresy. It will probably detach still others, now especially as we are building a little house which will carry the name of school. We had to do this so as to make some impression in the presence of the apostles of error who have spent lavishly for this purpose without having much to show for it.
4th. Needs of the station. We can look after our ordinary needs if necessary. All the same, if we were given more generous allocations, we could multiply the means encouraging conversions, contribute something to helping our Catholics build reasonable chapels, etc. etc.
5th. Results obtained, hopes, etc. As for results obtained, they are without a doubt quite small, if one does not take into account the obstacles that grace has had to overcome, the assaults it has had to repel to reach the present goal. If one realized how much the plans of Providence have been frustrated by the malice of men, one would see how much we have to thank Heaven for, not only for not having been crushed under so many missiles, but also for having emerged victorious from the battle, carrying with us the hope that heresy cannot harm us from now on without the risk of suffering a shameful defeat. In fact, public opinion is in our favour and vindicates our innocence. Shameless people had attacked us with calumnies which had not even the semblance of truth. For example, they wrote to the Governor of our islands that I am flying the French flag, that I was stirring up trouble on the river, etc. Now all these lies unmasked serve only to cover the liars with shame. So, my Lord, you see how things have changed. It was not so long ago that Catholicism and its representatives here were the target of the intrigues of more than one class of men who had sworn to eradicate it from Whanganui. Well, at present, the local authorities who zealously favoured that movement, are blessing our presence on the river. I have at hand several letters from them which eulogise our conduct. I am going to tell your Lordship the reason for this about face which will at the same time explain the consoling and firm hope we have that God will change, in the future, into children of Abraham, many of the stones which surround us.
The troubles in Taranaki caused the whites of our town the justifiable fear that the Maori of our river would take the side of their own people, out of national solidarity, and either come to fight at Whanganui or join the Maori of Taranaki as the Waikato tribes have done. Sinister rumours and letters addressed to them by other natives were driving them to this extremity by the suspicions they inspired against the English. Now, in these circumstances, the Maori, Catholic and Protestant, came from everywhere to consult me, to find out what one should think of all this. In the interests of both peoples, I calmed their minds by assuring them that the only part they had to take was to stay calm, that the Europeans had no desire to provoke them, that they wanted only peace. They knew my words were not dictated by any partiality which could compromise them and so they calmed down and returned to their homes satisfied. This is the way a minister of a religion of concord and peace vindicates himself on those who had so maliciously calumniated.
I am Your Lordship’s very humble and obedient servant’
J. Lampila miss. Ap. SM.


  1. Thus John Vibaud SM in his The Society of Mary in the Wanganui-Taranaki District, an unpublished manuscript of about 1930 in the Marist Archives, Wellington, page 32.
  2. Kieran Schmidt, ‘Mission to the Maori 1838-1870’ in Peter Ewart SM (ed) The Society of Mary in New Zealand, 1838, 1889-1989, p 7.

Previous Letter Letters from Oceania: 1860-1 Next letter