Fr Lampila to Fr Favre, Whanganui, 26 May 1864
In July 1862, Poupinel wrote up a report for Benoit Lagnier, assistant general of the Society, of the visit he had made to the New Zealand mission at the beginning of the year. He describes the state of the Whanganui River station thus: “Wanganui River or Kauaeroa, 50 miles north (of the town)on the river, residence of Fr Lampila and Brother Elie-Regis: a church, a school, and about 650 Catholics; scattered along the river and up to Waitara and Taupo to the north” (Wilson 252, where the year is wrongly given as 1864). He also gives some coverage of the land wars which had broken out in Taranaki. Although an uneasy truce had reigned since 1861, trouble, however, had flared up again and spread as far as the Whanganui River, with fatal consequences for the mission.
In April 1864 a party of Hauhau warriors arrived in the area seeking to win allies among the local tribes for an attack on the settlers in the town. Named after their warcry, the Hauhau were adherents of a new Maori religion, ‘Pai Marire’ (the ‘good and peaceful’ religion), founded by the Taranaki prophet Te Ua Haumene with the stated aim of driving the Pakeha back into the sea and reclaiming the promised land. 
The tribes of the river were divided in their sympathies, but the majority resented the incursion of the newcomers as a threat to the ‘mana’ of the river. Unwilling to allow the Hauhau free passage down the river, the Maori of the middle reaches, both Catholic and Protestant, proposed a traditional trial by battle to decide the matter. This took place on the little Moutoa Island in the middle of the river near Ranana on the morning of May 14, 1864. In a brief but bloody encounter the Hauhau initially with the upper hand, were defeated, to withdraw from the region and lift the threat to the town. On the other hand, the mission lost several leading chiefs and catechists, and Br Euloge. Within three years, the Marists were forced to leave Kauaeroa and withdraw to the town.
Lampila wrote several letters about these sad events, to the superior general, to Viard and to Poupinel. In fact, he wrote two to Favre, a year apart, and it is indicative of his state of mind in the days following the battle that the one he wrote in May 1865 he believed to be his first to his superior general (rf L 184). The two cover much the same ground, the latter being the more exact. In this account of Euloge’s death, for example, the impression given is that he was shot , but in the second one we learn that he was in fact struck down by a sharp-edged club.
As for Euloge’s presence on the scene, so far from his own station, Lampila implies that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. This would appear to be borne out by the testimony of Pezant in a letter to Poupinel at the beginning of June. According to him, the brother and he had had a falling out, and Euloge had gone off to Kauaeroa in a rage. “If he had remained a good little Brother, submissive and obedient at his post here, he would not have been killed at Moutoa.” (letter of 2 June 1864, APM). But Pezant had his own axe to grind (rf L 179 Introduction).
As far as Euloge’s congregation was concerned, the first full account of his death was supplied by Claude Cognet, a missionary on the river in the 1880s, in response to a request from Br Theophane, superior general, for some information on the brother. Cognet wrote a long letter to Theophane’s assistant, Br Stratonique, on 1 October 1894, a copy of which is included as No 95 of the collection Lettres d’Oceanie 1836-1894 in the AFM. He had access to the Society’s archives in Lyon and the testimony of his Maori Catholics, but his letter is not a reliable source for biographical details about the brother. A biography has since appeared under the title, A Marist Martyr. Brother Euloge, printed by Marist Publications, Auckland, 2000.
This translation was made from a photocopy of the original kept in the personal file of Euloge in the APM.
Text of the Letter
- Very Rev Father,
- My pen on this occasion will be dipped in sorrow, so much is my soul overflowing with sadness after the distressing events which have just taken place in my mission. Satan and his minions have come and upset our state of peace and prosperity. That murderer wanted to satisfy his infernal rage against our holy Faith, to halt the evident progress it was continuing to make, and attempt to divert those spirits for whom Catholicism had become the goal. I will procede directly to the history of our misfortunes.
- Several dozen natives from Taranaki, one of the theatres of the current war between them and the English, came to invade Whanganui, bringing with them the head of a captain they had killed during an engagement. Everywhere they boasted of their prowess, and, the more easily to exploit the ignorance of their fellows, two of them thought to call on the aid of the supernatural. Giving themselves over to the spirit of folly they have ever since aimed to spread the most extravagant stories wherever they have passed, not ashamed to affirm their mad dreams by the vilest blasphemies. Since all their absurd claims related to the English whom, they declared, they were going to drive from New Zealand without the single loss of a man of their own, they found an attentive and fascinated audience among those who had a grievance against the Saxons or who, although they did not join their ranks, favoured them just the same for the marvels they promised. They succeeded in making their followers believe that the soldiers’ bullets would flatten against their skin and fall to the ground without causing them the slightest scratch, and that finally the soldiers’ arms would be so paralysed by their spells that their throats could be cut at will. They possessed an infallible means for this, which was to howl all together like dogs at the enemy at the moment of joining battle and during the fighting. This was an article of the Creed of this weird species of believer, a creed perfectly adapted to the gross superstitions of any uninstructed savage or one with a perverse heart. It is impossible to know, very rev Father, which is the more astonishing, the credulous ignorance of the disciples who took this all on trust, or the audacious folly of the teachers who proposed it without worrying about the consequences.
- Other Maori had ranged themselves on the side of the English so as to avoid war with them. These wished to demonstrate their bravery and loyalty to their allies by stopping these modern Mahometans (sic) on the way. A day for the combat was therefore agreed on and accepted by both sides. The confrontation took place on the 14th May, between 8 and 9 in the morning. Within 15 minutes the ground was littered with the dead, the dying, and the wounded. There were shattered the illusions of the men who had given themselves to this abominable sect with its code of morality based on vice. Its principal agent left his corpse there, and nearly 50 of its adepts, with many wounded.
- All these had come from the ranks of the heretics, except for about 20 Catholics, the dregs of our flock. Seduced by the promise no one would be killed they let themselves be drawn. 6 of them died in the very act of apostacy, 2 or 3 died later from their wounds.
- On our side we had 13 dead, 8 Protestants and 5 Catholics, and as many wounded, 2 or 3 seriously. It was our men who began firing after dashing very boldly right up to the enemy. The Protestants were further back and sheltered by the bushes. All our men had been to confession and had had time just before the engagement to recite together 7 Paters, 7 Aves, and 7 Glorias in honour of the 7 joys and 7 sorrows of St Joseph. Without his help, it is obvious we would have had thirty or so dead, for our men were always in the open and in contact with the enemy.
- Brother Euloge and I were only a few paces away behind a mound reciting the rosary. Unfortunately, after the first few shots, our men, poorly supported by the Protestants, had to give ground before their numbers, and immediately our enemies were all around us. Bullets were whistling past our ears and in 2 minutes we found ourselves face to face with the enemy who had come to the same spot by a different route. It was there that I had the sorrow of seeing the good Brother Euloge killed 5 or 6 paces from me. As for myself, I clambered up on a little rise and lay down full length expecting certain death at any moment. A(n) (in)visible protection sheltered me from the fury of those assassins and 10 minutes later, our men, having repelled the enemy, reappeared on the scene where I was by myself. I was saved. I went quickly to see the Brother. I found him seated and still breathing but unconscious. I gave him absolution and crossed the river.
- All this occurred 4 kilometres below our establishment. Brother Euloge was coming back from the town and found me there. Since in going upriver to our place he would have run into our enemies who were on their way down the same day, he stayed with me. This painful coincidence lead to his death and our sorrow. We were saddened as well by the deaths of 4 of our best catechists. They have gone to receive the crown of immortality due to their faith and good works.
- Your prayers, please, my very rev Father.
- I am Your Reverence’s very humble and obedient servant,
- J. Lampila S.M.
- Rf Keith Sinclair, A History of New Zealand, 1980, pp 140-1; James Belich, The New Zealand Wars, 1986, pp 204-5.
- For this and an account of the movement’s beliefs, rf Bronwyn Elsmore, Like Them That Dream. The Maori and the Old Testament, 1985, pp 109-115.
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