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21 February 1840 — Father Maxime Petit to Father Victor Poupinel, Kororareka

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, April 2010

The identification of the recipient will be confirmed by the author (Doc 51 [1]). As well, Poupinel confirms that he received the present letter in his reply to Petit, dated 3 November 1840 (APM 2 208)

Kororareka, Bay of Islands, 21 February 1840

Very dear confrère
Having been made responsible by His Lordship for the material affairs of the large and poor mission of Western Oceania, I learned with particular pleasure that our Reverend Father Superior had made you responsible for providing for our immense needs. What we have heard about the zeal which you show in carrying out this important task leads us to hope, not to cease to be poor (which God forbid) but to receive from the hands of providence all we will need to be useful for the salvation of the innumerable people in the mission territory. The appointment of a zealous procurator for our mission in the city of good works [Lyons] and especially of all those which have to do with the missions is certainly a happy omen for ours.
His Lordship regrets very much that we did not bring any commentaries on sacred Scripture and wants you to send us some at the first opportunity, and especially the paraphrase of the Holy Bible done by Carrière, and commented on by Menochius, 15 volumes in octavo.[1] His intention is that a copy of it may be in every mission station having two priests. We also entirely lack anything concerning Church history. Nowhere is it more important to have fine liturgical things than among our savages who nearly always judge things only by outward appearances. They are really amazed when they see the Bishop officiating pontifically. Among them a well adorned altar is a powerful argument in favour of the Mass. The Bishop’s [pontifical] ceremonies are known throughout most of New Zealand. People come from afar to see them. A rather large and expressive crucifix accompanied by some explanations of the sufferings and love of Jesus Christ for us makes keen and profound impressions on the hearts of the New Zealanders. So it would be a hindrance to the progress of the mission to put off sending us things which charitable people could offer the mission because of fear that the natives could rob us of them; things involved in worship, however precious they might be, are not for them an object of covetousness but of veneration. And as well, Fathers Petit-Jean and Viard[2] very much regret not having brought with them the finest they had of liturgical things and want you to make use of the first opportunity to make amends for their omission. So, dear confrère, send us everything of the finest you can get. Here we love everything that is best quality, but I must say, I have a special preference for everything that leaves our bank account untouched. Here buying a little costs a lot. You can do as much and even more in France with five francs than here with a pound sterling (25 francs). I had a soutane made here recently, the tailor delivered only a poorly-made lining and thread, and that for the sum of 62 francs and 50 centimes. As a result His Lordship wants you to send our goods ready-made. We need two soutanes for each of the priests of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd dispatches, and four or five pairs of shoes as well for each of the priests and Brothers as well as a complete lay outfit for each of the Brothers.
We are short of bells, both for the mission establishments and for the various tribes where prayers are said both morning and evening. We would need, at the first opportunity, five of one hundred pounds [weight] and 50 of three pounds. Some snuff, if you get a certain amount of it from the royal factories for export you get a reduction of 30 per cent. Because all the houses here are made of timber, we need a certain amount of nails, about 100 pounds, of which three quarters should be between 18 lignes [55mm] and three inches [80 mm]. About the same amount of pointes de Paris [3] between 15 lignes [48 mm] and three inches [80 mm]. A little assortment of carpenter’s tools, and as well some adzes, picks and spades for the ground, wide blades for planes for the tropical islands. We are also short of buttons and crimson ribbons for His Lordship’s violet soutanes. We also need six bottles of the ink which can be used for making copies of letters and paper for the same purpose. Take careful note that it is not lithographical ink but a special ink for copies of letters made on the press; the ink that the Bishop uses is made by Arnold’s chemicals in London.
What is most important, most urgent, the thing without which we can only stagnate here, is a good printing press with characters suitable for the New Zealand language. The Bishop has so much insisted on this matter that I hope to have one at the time you receive this letter. If you haven’t already sent it, make haste, please, to send it to us, or preferably make haste to send us two good ones, in line with the expressed wish of His Lordship. As for the characters, they ought to be on the large side, as the natives find it hard to read books in small print. Here is what we need at the moment: namely – letter a 234,800, e 81,600, o 96,800, u 66,400, w 12,800, q 24,800, h 42,400, k 77,000, w 28,000, u 53,600, p 12,800, r 30,400, t 80,300, i 96,800.[4] Those are all the letters in the alphabet of the New Zealanders, none have accent marks. The punctuation is the same as in French. The line spaces must be those used in octavo. The Bishop wants you to take scrupulous care of everything to do with the printing works, that all the letters are in the proportions given above, the same for the punctuation, that everything be so managed that the press can be put into action as soon as we receive it, that one or several Brothers have studied printing and binding enough to rival our opponents who are very well set up in this regard, that a priest understand enough about it to direct the Brothers. In a word, that, both for the main things or the accessories, everything be in the most perfect state, to send paper in very great quantity, enough to make a book, in octavo size, of two or three hundred pages, in twenty thousand copies, and everything in proportion. His Lordship also wants everything needed for the binding of the books to be got ready so that there will be as little work needed here as possible.
As for the clothes that generous people have the charity to send us for the natives, send us as much of them as you can. You could not imagine how much effect these gifts have on these poor people who before they knew the Catholic religion had not often had the chance to see the effects of Christian charity. I beg you to point out to these good people that generally clothes for adults are a bit short, and that the natives much prefer those that are coloured rather than calico. If there can be found some people who would like to make some light cloaks for some great chiefs, they very much like them when there is a bit of red in the lining. Sometimes a gift made to a chief attracts his favour, then his conversion follows, and through his, that of his whole tribe.
Time does not allow me to give you details about the mission. It is to my great regret that I see myself forced to put off writing to our very Reverend Superior. I beg you to kindly present him my very humble respects, to Father Director as well, and all our beloved confrères at Lyons and Belley. Please inform Father Bourdin[5] that good Father Chanel was sending him some shells. I had been very happy to make myself responsible for getting them to him but a heavy swell washed them off the stern of the ship where we were obliged to store them because of the bad smell they caused in the cabin. I am also taking the liberty of asking you to present my respects to M Monaven and his daughters who have been so devoted to the mission, to the Misses David and Miss Bertrand etc, etc, to the mother Superior of the Marie Thérèse nuns, to the good Carmelite Sisters, to the Sisters of Anticailles, without forgetting our good Sisters of Mary, nor those of St Joseph who make themselves prisoners for the love of Jesus Christ. Please, as well, tell M Perret that I regret not being able to write to him on this occasion; ask him to accept my respects and to pray for the missionaries.
I commend myself to your prayers and send you my respectful greetings in the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and am,
Father and very dear confrère,
Yours very devotedly in Jesus Christ
Maxime Petit, missionary apostolic
His Lordship wants you to send us as well, some English characters, enough to print booklets of about 20 pages in octavo. Perhaps you will not find these characters easily in Lyons, where perhaps no printing is done in that language, but you will certainly find them in Paris. As for the sort of characters, you should get those that are used for circulars.


  1. Louis de Carrières (1622-1717), a priest of the Oratory, and author of La Sainte Bible Traduit en Français avec un commentaire littéral [The Holy Bible translated into French with a literal commentary] (Paris, 1701-1716, in 24 volumes) with many successive editions, the editions of 1825-27 and of 1834, in 15 volumes in octavo included the commentaries of Menochio [Menochius] – see Doc 38 [26].
  2. Jean-Baptiste Petit-Jean and Philippe Viard, both Marist priests, professed 19th May 1839 and who left together on the following 15th June from London for NZ. On 4th January 1846 Viard was consecrated as Pompallier’s coadjutor. Appointed in 1848 administrator-apostolic of the new diocese of Wellington, he became its first Bishop in 1860.
  3. I could not find what sort of nails these were - translator’s note
  4. He lists w twice with differing amounts, and q, which is not used in Maori, maybe should be g, m and n are not mentioned - translator’s note
  5. Jean-Antoine Bourdin, a Marist priest, a former colleague and friend of Chanel, accompanied him and Father Jean-Claude Colin to Rome in the summer of 1833. During 1843 Colin made him responsible for carrying out preliminary research in the diocese of Belley for writing up a life of Chanel.

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