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14 May 1838 — Bishop Jean-Baptiste-François Pompallier to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, Bay of Islands

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, March 2007

J[esus] M[ary] J[oseph]
Bay of Islands, 14 May 1838

Reverend Father
I have just again made the journey from Hokianga to the Bay of Islands, where I have been for five days. I found there a French warship -- the corvette Héroïne, commanded by Captain Cécille, who was so kind as to bring the mission goods from Sydney, where I had left them in storage,[1] and who had advised me of his arrival by way of a letter. A warship had not been seen here for about seven years. [2] I was pretty astonished to find myself given a nine-gun salute when I went to visit the Captain. Nor did people in this country know what it meant. It was the first time it had happened. During my stay I certainly had some consolations. Yesterday, Sunday, I solemnly said Mass on board the Héroïne. Nine seamen whose confessions I had heard the day before and prepared with some instructions approached the holy table. It was quite good weather: Mass was said on the bridge; the commanding officer and his officers and the whole crew in military uniform and with their arms, were present; the Catholics of the locality and a good number of Protestants were there as well; some natives swelled the crowd -- there were about 300 people on the bridge. I gave, on this occasion, a little sermon in French, as the assembly needed, because three-quarters of them were French. I was very satisfied with all those who were present and the listeners. I made the ceremony as episcopal as possible for me, though I had only Brother Michel and a Catholic man to serve my Mass. I had left Father Servant at Hokianga so that the Catholics of that area also had Mass on Sunday. After dinner the other sailors also wanted to have the same blessing as the first nine; they made their confessions and communicated the next day at a private Mass. They were 13 in number. In those two days I had the consolation of having 16 seamen make their first Communion, some of whom were almost 40 years old. The power of grace! They prepared themselves with the simplicity of little children. The commanding officer and all on board were surprised and in admiration. What providence! Those poor sailors expected to find only savages in New Zealand, yet found Jesus Christ!
I could give you such a lot of edifying news about the mission in this large island. But administrative matters will tie me up enough to prevent me from writing another letter this time. A whaling ship called the Mississipi is getting ready to leave for France. It is a good opportunity; I am going to take advantage of it. My letter will be under the seal of Captain Cécille, whose corvette is going to stay several months on these coasts. Soon I will have been able to write up a detailed diary to send you.
Have you received my last letter, dated during last March? It was a duplicate of the one I wrote you in December 1837, when I was in Sydney. Alas! How sad it is not to receive any letters from either France or Rome, in the difficult circumstances and the needy situation in which I and my men find ourselves! Heresy makes haste to swallow up the islands and island groups in the southern part of the mission. If I have split up my company into several localities, it was to stop heresy’s advance, relying on the next dispatch of helpers who would come and reinforce us. The islands of Wallis and Futuna, still untouched, were on the point of receiving heretical ministers; I made haste to place Fathers Chanel and Bataillon there to make a bridgehead before them. New Zealand was covered by ministers of all sorts of sects; I have gone there myself in the company of Father Servant and Brother Michel. A vigorous opposition from heresy has become apparent, and even threats of persecution. Some political leaders for their part took umbrage; they thought they could see in me a secret agent of the French government. But I believe they are now disabused of that idea. It would not be easy and, especially, it would take too long to describe the difficulties I have met in the New Zealand mission. Right now, thanks be to the Lord and the protection of Mary, all these difficulties have come to very little.
The appearance of the corvette Héroïne has produced a good effect; its simple presence on these coasts has shown the effectiveness of the protection of the French government in my regard.
About a month after my arrival in the Hokianga, I had the consolation of baptising some natives, among whom were a notable chief and a princess, daughter of a great chief, and married to a Catholic. I had them prepared through an interpreter to satisfy their urgent desires to receive baptism. A few European, English or Irish families live in the Hokianga. They have received my ministry in their language. People were quite diligent in coming to confession and Holy Communion. Baptisms and church marriages were performed in front of the mission altar, which is found in the most spacious room of the house I am living in, and which a Catholic man [3] has lent me. It is there that every day since our arrival two Masses have been said in New Zealand. There, each Sunday, the English speaking Catholics receive an instruction. Many natives come there as well. But we do not yet have a good enough grasp of their language to evangelise them. Before a month is out I hope to have this unspeakable consolation. The effort we have had to put into English, absolutely necessary for working here and for having social and shipping contacts, has slowed up our acquisition of the language of the New Zealanders. How ripe and abundant the harvest seems to be [cf Matthew 9:27-28 and Luke 10:2], in spite of the opposition of heresy! But how much I need subjects and money during these first years of work among these beloved people. Poor Father Servant cannot help me very much: his partial deafness is a considerable handicap for him at the beginning of a mission and especially regarding contacts needing to be made with the outside world. I can use him for little more than inside the establishment, for keeping the accounts and for some instructions which I get him to give to the English speaking Catholics. I am really overwhelmed, and in greatest need of reinforcements.
The division of my group into three different missions has been enough, thanks be to God, to make known, near and far in Oceania, the existence of authentic ministers. Heresy has been remarkably annoyed by this; here it provoked the natives to an act which was aimed at either exile or death [for us]. But the One, without whose permission not a single hair falls from our heads [cf Luke 21:17-18, and Matthew 10: 30-31], wanted to delay our crown. Several tribal chiefs and about 20 of the men had come one day, early in the morning when we were getting up, to burn the things we needed for worship and to throw the Bishop and his priest into the river which flows below the house. We knew hardly a word of the language. We had arrived in the Hokianga only 11 or 12 days before. It was impossible for us to defend ourselves through speaking. But God arranged that on that day three or four Catholics who knew the language of the country came together purposely to turn the natives, by persuasion, from the evil plans they had. After about two and a half hours of talking, God, who holds men's hearts in his hands, so changed theirs that they came to shake my hand, in my room to which I had retired to say my office, and they would have been ready to defend me against the very instigators of their attempted act. During the first months of our stay rumours of persecution against us circulated about the district and often came to our ears. While holding ourselves resigned to what God could allow to happen to us, I also had sent round arguments which destroyed those which people put forward to justify the persecution. I also did not fail to emphasise the official protection granted me by the French government. The British authorities in Sydney and the Bay of Islands, for their part, showed their disapproval of the violent methods which people wanted to use to drive us out of the country.[4] And the upshot of all these attempts has formed in people’s minds indignation against heresy, and esteem and affection for us. Now every circumstance agrees in showing that Catholic ministry will be able to carry on freely in New Zealand, and that there will be no other combats than those using words and persuasion. In the three missions already begun, and generally in Oceania, the people do not hesitate in giving us preference everywhere.
But right now our position is very difficult until we receive reinforcements. Reverend Father, we need you to send me as soon as you can at least 14 priests and seven Brothers; that is, 10 priests and six Brothers for New Zealand, two priests for the islands of Wallis and Futuna, and two priests and one Brother for the islands of Ponape which I have been obliged to leave alone at this time.
Now if the beloved Society of Mary cannot provide subjects sufficiently, please, Reverend Father, write about the situation promptly to his Eminence the Cardinal Prefect of Propaganda in Rome so that one way or another some provision can be made for the urgent need for collaborators demanded by my mission. Now that I have been enlightened by experience in these seas, I am more and more convinced that the fastest and cheapest journeys from Europe to here are those by way of rounding the Cape of Good Hope and New Holland, and coming to me at the Bay of Islands in New Zealand. From there, there are always favourable winds to travel to the islands in the northern and southern tropics of the mission. Ah! If subjects could come soon, I would leave with some of them for the islands of Wallis and Futuna which it is very important for me to visit soon. That would simplify the journeys and avoid double spending. Then it could be that I go to Ponape with two priests and one Brother to begin a new mission there and so make known, in the northern part of my jurisdiction, the existence of authentic ministers, as has just been done the southern parts. Then I would come back to New Zealand, which is an island that makes communication with all the other islands of the mission easier for me, even though geographically speaking it is not central. The direction of the winds which prevail over these seas for navigation and the frequency of shipping are more important considerations in deciding on a central location than the absolute distance of land masses.
Among the number of subjects that you send me, there would have to be three noted for their judgment, their knowledge and the solidity of their virtues. I would appoint one of them to direct the mission of Ponape or Rotuma, and the two others I would use for directing the missions in New Zealand. It is hard for me to immediately give on-the-spot direction to a mission so vast, along with all the work involved in setting up several missions. Sacred ministry in New Zealand demands a lot of prudence and unfailing good judgment. How many beautiful crowns are reserved for the zealous and capable missionaries you are kind enough to send me! How I complain before the Lord at not being able to attempt these tasks. The natives' minds overwhelm us with their desires and their good dispositions. We long for the time when we will know the language of the country well enough. Many tribal chiefs and whole tribes are waiting for the heavenly dew to fall on them. Oh! How my heart suffers until those words of the prophet are fulfilled here: Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant justum! [Drop down dew from above, you heavens, and let the clouds rain down the Just One – Isaiah 45:8] How distressed I am as well, to feel far from me two of our missionaries somewhat isolated from each other on Wallis and Futuna, without my being able to send each of them a so much waited for and desired confrère! Alas! If there was too much delay in sending them to me, I would see myself forced to bring Father Bataillon and Father Chanel together and to abandon one of the islands to be overwhelmed by heresy! What a disappointment for me and for the Church!
Since I left Fathers Chanel and Bataillon on their islands, I have had no more news of them. I know that if I am not very careful, my letters are liable to be intercepted. Who knows whether those which could have been sent to me from Europe have not experienced the same fate? People certainly must have written to me; because in all my calls at ports I made a point of leaving the ways of communicating with me and I should have received replies and expectations, but not a sign of life. I speak to businessmen, to seagoing people of various sorts; all tell me that often they find letters which have got there before their arrival at the end of the voyages. But alas! Work involving souls and Jesus Christ does not have the same blessing! Our letters, Reverend Father, have more than one obstacle to their movement around our shores. If in France you could find out the names of government-owned vessels which must pass through these seas, the captains would willingly take responsibility for your letters. The French government has given me a most official and effective guarantee of protection. It would be easy for you, as well, I think, to get from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs the guarantee of protection and the seal of government consuls in foreign countries, to prevent letters addressed to me from interference from enemies. Here is the list of those which I have sent to you since my departure from France; please acknowledge your receipt of them:
  1. From Havre de Grace in France, on the 24th December 1836
  2. From Santa Cruz in Tenerife, 16th January 1837
  3. From Valparaiso 17th July 1837
  4. From Valparaiso 20th July 1837
  5. From Valparaiso 28th July 1837
  6. From Tahiti 1st October 1837
  7. From Sydney, New Holland, 23rd December 1837
  8. From the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, 20th March 1838, this last was a duplicate of the preceding one
  9. This present one, dated, from the Bay of Islands 21st May 1838.
I thought I would come across in New Zealand, as ship captains had assured me, I thought I would come across numerous sailings for Wallis and Futuna. But, on the contrary, they are rare, in spite of the great number of ships which often come and anchor in the Bay of Islands. There are almost no sailings for the two above-mentioned islands except ships belonging to heretical missionaries which criss-cross Oceania. And these would take great care not to have Catholic missionaries as passengers, and especially a Catholic Bishop. Such is one of the (heretics') great advantages; the ownership of several ships for communications. I, on the other hand, if I want to visit my mission territory, have to hire one especially for the task, which involves spending a large amount. The cost of two voyages done in this way, and lasting five months, would be comfortably enough to buy a schooner of 100 to 150 tons, which would be quite suitable for undertaking even the longest journeys across the seas. A little vessel of the sort could cost about 20,000 francs [£800]. How much spending on travel would be saved with a vessel; and what ease it would give for communications, without which there would be no success, or very little. And it is easy to find here people who have the experience to sail the schooner, when it would have to be used. I would therefore suggest to the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda in Rome and to the Propagation of the Faith in France, the purchase for my mission of a schooner of the above-stated dimensions, and to send me funds for that purpose. I would suggest this purchase instead of the costs of setting up a Procure outside the boundaries of places under my jurisdiction. In my previous letters I have spoken about creating this establishment, so useful for my mission. The plans I have put forward on this matter could still be good; but in following step by step the information given by Divine Providence, I have found an even better one.
I can get, at the Bay of Islands, 5 or 6 acres of land with a little house made of wood (as they all are in this country) for about 1500 francs [£60]. That will do wonderfully well for an establishment of two priests and a Brother, and at the same time a Procure. The Bay of Islands is a safe enough place for that, and offers very frequent communications with Europe by way of Sydney, Tahiti and Valparaiso. Now this Procure situated in this Bay would suit me all the better, as the subjects there to look after it would provide their ministry in the same mission.
But all my funds are now used up; I am even indebted for about 1200 francs [£50]. More than a year spent on the seas and in various harbours with my whole company of missionaries and catechists; in other words 8000 leagues [40,000 km] travelled for the holy cause of Jesus Christ and souls; and then the first expenses demanded by beginning three missions, have absorbed all I had. For two or three years at least I foresee that we will be obliged to provide all our needs at our own expense. A little after my arrival in Hokianga, I had a wooden house built on a property of 10 acres of land which someone named Mr Poynton[5] was charitable enough to offer free of charge for the good of the mission. You'll find enclosed the deed of this gift; could you take a copy of it and send the original to his Eminence the Cardinal Prefect of Propaganda. The house is still to be finished, because longer interruptions have occurred in the work which is being done by the sole worker that I employ. There will be a meeting room where a few of the faithful will be able to hear Mass and receive the sacraments, until a chapel or church made of wood is built not far from there and on the same section of land. Already the European Catholics have offered me a collection amounting to 1500 francs [£60] for building the church. I am going to begin to get it built in two or three months. Then it will be spring in this country. Apart from the previously mentioned room in the house I am getting built, there are also three bedrooms or rather three offices[6] where each of us can sleep and work. There you have the whole episcopal palace. Brother Michel will do the cooking outdoors, under a sort of closed shed, in any way he can. But cooking, here, is not difficult to do. Potatoes, fish and pork for food, and water for drink, and that is the New Zealand diet. We are getting perfectly used to it. Our health is better than ever, although our work has multiplied. Besides, could we complain at food like that? It is very healthy and sound. People here don't use money very much to buy items of food; they buy them with tobacco to smoke, or woollen blankets and European style clothing. But all those cost a great deal at the shopkeepers in this country and the ports of Oceania. Up till now it would seem that the New Zealanders, a warrior people and still cannibalistic in many tribes, have gained from their dealings with foreigners nothing but the use of the pipe and the commercial mindset that they did not have before. Men, women, little ones, both boys and girls, all have pipes in their mouths. However, these poor New Zealanders, how lovable they are in spite of their weaknesses! They offer excellent gifts to religion: they have manly characters, open, lively and judicious minds, they are thirsty for knowledge of salvation, and they want to receive this through the authentic ministry of the Church, about which they already have some ideas. A good number of natives come with the Catholics to Mass on Sundays; I have tried to have explained to these people that the prayer which we make and the sacrifice which we offer are useful to them while we wait until we can instruct them. They also now understand the unicity of God, the origin of the heavens, the earth and of humanity. They know as well that there is One, Jesus Christ, God made man, who died to save us. The image of the crucifix has time and time again provided an opportunity to satisfy the questions about this subject. Everywhere people are beginning to clearly understand that Catholics worship neither images nor the crucifix, as the heretical ministers have never given up repeating. This false accusation on their part has done them great harm. People see them as ignorant or being in bad faith. I hope that in three weeks I will, with Father Servant, be able to give instructions to the natives in their language. Many people have already tormented me by demanding that I give them baptism, because their questions from all sides have taught them clearly about religious matters and have led them to desire this means of salvation. I could have given it to them by means of an interpreter, but not knowing their language well enough, I was afraid of not being able to care for them well enough after the baptism, to lead them in the practice of Christian virtues. I preferred rather to delay the favour they so ardently desire until we have an appropriate knowledge of their language.
A few days ago someone brought me a child to baptise: he was very ill; the father who was a native presented him to me himself to obtain the blessing of salvation which he also wanted. I hastened to give it to his child, who after two days had completely returned to health. This fact added new and happy understandings in people's minds. Because it was only a little time since two native parents had also brought me their sick children so that I could give them not baptism but physical help. I gave them a little sugar and some ship's biscuit which I still had, and which they urgently asked me for. I took the opportunity of telling them that their children should be baptised, so that if they happened to die, they could be happy for ever in eternity in the presence of the God of heaven and earth. But the devil put one reason or another into their minds and several superstitions which led them to constantly refuse my request. But the two sons of these different parents had died, while the other, to whom I cannot remember having given anything but baptism, and who was in a desperate state, is now full of life and health. May God be blessed for all he intends to do for this mission! But this letter is already very long, and I have forgotten that I still have several administrative matters to confide to you.
Apart from subjects and money, Reverend Father, I particularly need, in New Zealand, a printing press and someone to operate it. The heretical missionaries distribute everywhere books, brochures and leaflets with their false teaching, and we, we have only our voices and our pens.
Send me as well, please, a good supply of candles for sacred ceremonies. If you could get me some little sheathed candle holders[7] instead of the candlesticks that we have, it would be a considerable saving. Because [of our] being often forced to say Holy Mass in places where the air stirs the candle flames, which are not in any sheath, they are used up to six times as quickly as if they were sheltered in those little sheaths which are used in France and Lyons, instead of the little candles placed in candlesticks on the corner of the altar when low Masses are said. Each missionary really needs two of these sheathed candle holders.
Those men who are sent to join us should be provided with what they need for worship, their clothing and their underwear. In the matter of shirts, two and a half dozen are really enough when they leave. I realise now that four dozen is too many. I have enough here for four priests, on the basis of two and a half dozen for each.
The trades which we need in our missions are joinery, carpentry, weaving, tailoring; a blacksmith would also be very useful, and also a farmer. You know the trades which our three Brother-catechists already have. Judge from that what we lack and what we need. A joiner who knows a bit about carpentry would be a very great service to us in New Zealand. Tools in this country and in Sydney are very dear. It is really preferable to get them in France. But people should be very careful to pack them appropriately, so that there is no contact between heavy things and fragile and light things, because in that situation only rubbish would be brought into the mission. Several tools and household items were broken like that on our voyage because of lack of proper packing in Paris. Those from Lyons had no damage done to them. Before leaving Sydney I had to spend a large amount of money in replacing broken but indispensable items.
A silent but very effective way of preaching, and very beneficial for our islanders, is pictures of the principal mysteries in the life of Our Lord and of the Blessed Virgin, of our Holy Father the Pope and the chronological tree of the Church. If you can send us some in both small and large sizes, a large number, you couldn't, perhaps, imagine what good that would bring about. People have come here from more than 50 leagues [250 km] away to see a crudely coloured picture which represents the mystery of the birth of our Saviour and the adoration of the shepherds. All the natives who saw it were amazed at it. The explanations which we gave them at the same time will not disappear from their memories. The room containing the mission’s altar is adorned with several large pictures. The natives take pleasure in contemplating each one in different ways, which makes their visits rather long. In all the chapels which will be built in future, if the Lord wills it, it will be very worthwhile to adorn them with pictures and paintings.
I still have some goods left in the care of Bishop Polding in Sydney; he was kind enough to send me some of them by way of the corvette Héroïne without it costing me anything. I am waiting for the rest to come by the first French government-owned vessel which calls at Sydney and New Zealand. In three or four months the Astrolabe is expected.[8] My stay in Sydney before arriving in Hokianga gained me the privilege of getting to know and becoming a friend of the Vicar Apostolic, Bishop Polding, who is my dear neighbour to the west of the islands under my jurisdiction. How much delight I had in seeing the union existing among the clergy of this neighbouring mission! It is a British colony where the greatest number of inhabitants are European Catholics. The British government very much favours the Catholic clergy of the colony, which carries out a ministry of mercy, so precious to numerous prisoners who had been sent there in exile. These poor unfortunates find peace and consolation for the souls very far from their homeland. Ministers of reconciliation, a Bishop and his men are devoting themselves to their salvation and opening heaven to them. Bishop Polding has given me great services for my mission, and as a sign of his affection he got made, without my knowledge, two portraits, his and mine, during my short stay. His Lordship has kept mine in Sydney and I have brought his to New Zealand. We will perhaps see each other again only in heaven, if the Lord deigns to grant me that the grace. I noted with pleasure that Bishop Polding along with several of his priests belongs to the order of Benedictines in England, and there his mission is set up at present exactly as is ours. We write to each other often; it is a consolation for me and an advantage in the middle of my struggles. He has two Vicars General in Europe who send him a good number of subjects and all sorts of help for his mission. Ah! If the beloved Society of Mary could soon do as much for me!
You will find here a deed of donation made to the mission. I beg you to take note of it and to send it straight away to his Eminence the Cardinal Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda, with the whole of the long letter that I am addressing to you today. Because time does not allow me to write for him in detail the contents of this letter which it is very important for him to know in depth. The main needs of the mission are set out and explained in it. Before sending it to Rome, please see the Council of the Propagation of the Faith and kindly make it aware of these same needs. For your part, please take the administrative notes you need for our reports. I have the honour of being, with all the Fathers and Brothers on the mission,
Your very humble and very obedient servant
+J B François, Bishop of Maronea, Vicar Apostolic of Western Oceania.
PS Letters and everything else can safely be sent to me at the following address (the letters in envelopes)
to Mr Benjamin Turner,
proprietary at the Bay of Islands and at the place said Kororareka in New Zealand.
+ François


  1. See Doc 22 Pompallier to Colin 23 December 1837
  2. not clear whether he means any warship or just a French one. Father Girard says in a footnote that a French warship – La Favorite -- had anchored in the Bay in 1831 -- translator’s note
  3. Thomas Poynton
  4. According to Lillian Keys (Pompallier 94-95) it was a sympathetic chief, backed up by Thomas Poynton, who started the discussion which turn back the aggressors, who were Protestant natives. The affair, according to Father Servant, took place on 22 January 1838 -- translator’s note
  5. Thomas Poynton -- an Irishman, and his wife Mary -- nee Kennedy -- had lived in the Hokianga since 1828. A timber merchant, he lived with his wife and three children at Totara Point on the Mangamuka River -- a branch of the upper Hokianga Harbour -- at the time he welcomed Pompallier and his party -- translator’s note
  6. cabinets
  7. ?souches
  8. According to Girard, Pompallier would have got this news from Captain Cécille of the Héroïne at the Bay of Islands. The Astrolabe under Jules Dumont d’Urville, with the Zelée, left Brest in France on 7 September 1837, but did not arrive at the Bay of Islands until 26th of April, 1840. But the Vénus, under Captain Du Petit-Thouars, arrived in the Bay on 13 October 1838 -- translator’s note

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