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28 August 1839 — Bishop Jean-Baptiste-François Pompallier to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Bay of Islands

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, May 2013

J(esus) M(ary J(oseph)
New Zealand, Bay of Islands, 28 August 1839

To Reverend Father Colin, Superior-General of the Society of Mary, Lyons, France

Reverend Father
In recent weeks I have written you two letters, one dated the 14th and sent by the ship Orion, captain Maxter[1] and the other dated the 18th and sent, also on a French ship, the Pallas, captain Their.[2] As those two vessels are whalers and their whaling has not yet finished, they will stop on the way to finish it, and so, in the opinion of the two captains, they won’t be able to get to France in less than nine or ten months, the first to Nantes or Lorient, and the second, to Le Havre de Grace. Each of these two preceding letters is accompanied by several others. But this one, nº 16, will certainly get to you sooner than the two others, because I have an opportunity of a ship which will carry them to the mail in Sydney, and this way is much quicker. I am sending you this letter so soon to inform you about the preceding ones being sent, and to have them looked for if they don’t get to you at roughly the foreseen time, and to tell you about several things which I still have to explain to you for the good of the mission.
First of all, the preceding letters will very much ease your concerns about the missionaries and catechists who are in Wallis and Futuna. They and the mission are doing quite well. I have received here, in health, zeal and courage the three priests and three catechists which you have sent me. In the letters of the 14th and the 18th I have given you detailed information on their arrival and the disposition I have made of them.
In that of the 14th I told you that I had written to you beforehand with a very heavy heart – that letter was nº 13. But I am happy that the person to whom I had entrusted it at the Bay of Islands had not sent it to you, for lack of a favourable opportunity. It would have really saddened you because of the difficulties, crosses and bitterness I experienced and the true depth of which only God knew. As the delay in the arrival of the men and the material assistance was the main cause of my sufferings, when I had the unspeakable joy of receiving them, I then destroyed the letter which had not left, and instead of afflictions I wrote to you about really sweet consolations.
But still, Reverend Father, it was disappointing that the dispatch of new missionaries did not occur sooner, ie at least eight months before; imagine the situation of a Vicar-Apostolic who sees himself obliged to divide his little work force into several places to oppose the enemy who is attacking from every direction, and who expects reinforcements after seven or eight months, all of whose money is exhausted by the cost of sea voyages, who sees heresy gaining ground and prohibiting the true ministry; who finds himself nevertheless overburdened with numerous tribes who are turning to the Catholic faith, who sees them harassed by a multitude of lies, humiliated by his poverty and his inability to instruct them all at once as they wish, who receives no news, either from his helpers in need and danger, nor from his correspondents in Europe, who, every week, continually hears the moanings of the natives who complain, who grumble that his promises of reinforcements are never fulfilled; who sees them humiliated by the heretics telling them that those promises are lies or vain presumptions by him, that the Church of Rome is dying, is worn out, is dead, that after the bishop and his priest in New Zealand no more clergy from this wicked Church which they blasphemously describe as Antichrist. Alas! In this combination of circumstances, many times each day I sigh in longing for the ship that will bring me new forces! But more than ten months with these sufferings have gone by! In my sight it is miraculous that my mission has had successes beyond my resources and that the new arrivals, after such a long delay, have found something more than the dead bones of abandoned combatants.
The funds you have sent me from France, up to a limit of 8000 francs and a bit more [c. £320] got to me only a little time before the arrival of the men, and in fact only 73 piastres [c. 400 fr/£16] because half of this money had been entrusted to Captain D’Urville whose ship has not yet appeared here, and because the other half had been used to wipe out the debt I owed to M Moerenhout of Tahiti for my voyage to the islands at the beginning of my mission.
But what caused me the most suffering, Reverend Father, what tore at my heart, was that in the midst of the greatest successes, the ground began to move, because the natives began to see themselves deluded by my promises and in their hope that the Catholic faith would perpetuate itself among them! Alas! For more than six or seven months I saw, on the banks of the Hokianga River, each time a ship came into it, I saw, I say, many tribes of my catechumens and neophytes crowding the shores, full of confidence and hopeful joy, thinking it was the ship which would give me what I wished for and would put me, and them, out of humiliation; but alas, seeing that there was nothing of the sort, they went away as downcast as I was! How many times, Reverend Father, was my heart torn at the sight of these poor downcast people, wanting to be instructed and not being able to have it promptly all at once because the number of tribes favouring the Catholic Church is very great and they are spread all over the North Island of New Zealand. Alas! It was unfortunate for this mission that the men were not ready to leave France when my letters written from Valparaiso that asked for them, got to you! So, in his impenetrable designs God allowed me to spend almost eighteen months among the savages without money, help, reinforcements and any letter from Europe, and amongst everything that heresy, jealousy and lies, all together could arouse in harassment and dangers. How comforted I am to learn through your latest letters, Reverend Father, that the Society will in future be more prompt in confronting the dangers in order to come to the help of its own men. Besides, never let the dangers be feared; they cannot ordinarily be more to be feared for those coming second, than for those who came first! After all, a thousand times happy; happy to die either on sea or on land for the blessed cause of Jesus Christ! However true it is to say that dangers are often greater in the imagination than in reality, and it is a truth of faith that God watches over the missionaries as his dear friends. Nolite timere, ego vici mundum.[3] Oh, yes, how many times in these wild regions we realise that our good master is watching over us, to the last hair on our heads!
I asked you, on the 14th or the 18th, for complete production printing presses, but I forgot to tell you that it is useless to bring here sorts for all the 24 letters of the alphabet; in the New Zealand language only 14 sorts are used, ie: a, e, g, i, k, m, n, o, p, r, u, w, h, t. But there should be a double number of these: a, k, o, w.
A nice organ which had only religious tunes would have a very good effect at the Bay of Islands, where the heretics’ mission station is equipped with one of these, but ours has none. Some other, inexpensive organs for other stations still to be set up would also be very desirable. The savages love music and singing very much. May Jesus Christ and his holy mother be praised and loved everywhere!
Your most humble and obedient servant,
+ J(ean) B(aptis)te François, Bishop of Maronea,
Vicar-Apostolic of Western Oceania,
at the Bay of Islands station of the Catholic mission.
Here is the new address of a respectable correspondent at Bordeaux: M Fresquier, rue Cornac 22.[4] He has promised to concern himself with our correspondence, believing that this service is a blessing for him. + François
I am sending you now a request for some medication to be bought and sent. I pay an English doctor here, associated with the heretics. If someone in our Society was knowledgeable about medicine and would practise it, it would be better.


  1. Pompallier wrote ‘Baxter’ in an earlier letter (Doc 24 [1]). In a letter from Petit the ‘B’ of the captain’s name is a bit like an ‘M’ (Doc 36 [1]) Here Pompallier writes it with an ‘M’.
  2. To be read as ‘Thayer’ (Doc356 [4] f/n 2)
  3. Linking of two gospel sentences: the first, several times addressed to the apostles, eg Mt 10:28, 17:7, 28:10, but, in the context set by the following sentence, the author no doubt refers to Luke 12:7 – “Even so, even the hairs on your head are all counted. Do not be afraid, you are worth more than all the sparrows” and John 16:33 – “In this world you will be in distress, but be full of confidence, I have overcome the world.”
  4. No doubt Raymond de Fresquet, a wine merchant at Bordeaux, who gave useful advice about the financial problems which the missionaries of the second dispatch had to deal with at the time of their departure. (Cf unedited letters of 18 August 1838 from Pierre Colin to Maxime Petit; 1 September 1838 from Petit to Jean-Claude Colin, 30 August and 7 September 1838 from Claude Baty to Jean-Claude Colin, APM 06.031, 2nd despatch). Later on he gave other services to the missionaries (cf APM 511.47, APM 511.315, letter of 4 November 1848).

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