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3 March 1840 — Father Maxime Petit to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Kororareka

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, April 2010

To the Very Reverend Father Colin, Superior-General of the Society of Mary, Montée St Barthelémy No. 4, Lyons, Rhone, France

Jesus, Mary, Joseph

Very Reverend Father Superior
On the 28th February I entrusted a letter addressed to Father Poupinel[1] to an English whaling ship which was setting sail directly for London. That ship is called Mantillas, captain Crepenne. [2] That letter only contains a summary statement of our most urgent needs. I expected that His Lordship would write to you by the same way. That is why I refrained from giving details about the mission, but the many tasks which have fallen to his lot prevented him from doing so. It won’t be until he has returned from a journey he began yesterday (2nd March) that he will be able to write to you. For a long time the Bishop wanted to make a voyage around New Zealand so as to scatter the first seeds of the gospel there, hoping that knowledge of the principal truths of religion will arouse in these poor peoples the desire to be more fully instructed. For several reasons, the Bishop will this time be once more satisfied with a voyage of four or five weeks, and will only visit the North Island, putting off going to the South Island until he has a vessel belonging to the mission. Sea voyages made in these regions are excessively expensive. The schooner which the Bishop has chartered for this voyage is only a poor boat which isn’t too safe for the New Zealand region where bad weather is very frequent. He is nevertheless paying 1250 francs [₤50] a month for his fare and that of Father Viard and Brother Michel; so that in six months the ship will be more than paid for. It’s the same thing in the links we have with the mission stations at Hokianga and Whangaroa[3]… The Bishop paid 2500 francs [₤100] for Father Chevron and the Brother[4] being taken to the islands of Futuna and Wallis. We will have a similar sum to pay when the ship returns if Father Bataillon comes with Brother Marie-Nizier; apart from 250 francs [₤10] each day for the whole time that this same ship stays in those islands. We very much hope that they will stay there only for the time strictly necessary.
You see, Very Reverend Father, that voyages use up a good part of the funds allocated by the incomparable work of [the Society for] the Propagation of the Faith, and that the Bishop is sometimes forced to remain at a station when it would be advantageous for the glory of God and the salvation of souls that he travelled. He hopes that the same situation will not exist when he has a schooner belonging to the mission. The arrangements that the Bishop wants to make seem to be as economical as beneficial for the good of the mission: with the ship belonging to him, he will be able to use it when and how he likes, but as we have nothing to load it with, the captain will be able to put on it all the merchandise he wants to; but on condition that he will be responsible for paying and feeding the crew, perhaps even the usual expenses for maintaining the ship. So that, once the cost of the ship has been met, voyages will cost very little and will be undertaken more regularly.
If we make some savings on voyages, we will easily find ways of using them for other expenses for the success of the mission. It is so vast, and its needs are so many, that even if we had four times as much money to spend as we have, we would without difficulty find ways to use it in a worthwhile way in a country where the natives are poor and greedy and in which everything is excessively expensive. To give you an idea of how expensive things are in this country, I will tell you that to get a good carpenter you have to pay him 15 to 18 francs a day [12/6 to 15/] and in the same order for other workers, that I paid 62 francs 50 centimes [₤2.10.0] for the making of a soutane, and other things in proportion. Houses here are made of wood which costs four times as much as in France.
Another thing that uses up a lot of our money is the food we are forced to buy throughout the year. The natives bring us from time to time a few baskets of potatoes but these are gifts you have to pay for more than at the shopkeeper’s. What adds to this expense are the visits we receive from natives who come from a distance and often in large groups and do us the honour of staying with us several days. To ask them to shorten their stay would be to distance them from us. These poor natives believe that everything we have costs us nothing, and if we don’t give them anything it is because of hardness of heart towards them. The heretical missionaries encourage them in this belief; when they find out that a chief has received some gifts from the Bishop, they try to arouse scorn in him by telling him that the Bishop must love him very little if he has given him something of such little value, he who is so rich and received so many things for them, which very easily produces a bad effect on poor people who lack everything and who do not yet understand the advantages of poverty endured for the love of Jesus Christ. We are involved in a sort of competition with the heretics who have at their disposal every human means to succeed. Very considerable sums of money which are allocated to them, good printing presses, chapels and houses are attractive the natives, who almost always judge things by appearances. They have a doctor here who cares for their natives; which has forced the Bishop to have his own for those who have turned to the Catholic faith because it would have been too risky to force them to seek the help of the missionaries’ doctor. It is not only the doctor who has to be paid for but also the remedies, and often some food or drink which is more attractive than potatoes and cold water. For the least illness these poor people come to search us out to get a note for the doctor and they would see us as acting harshly towards them if we send them away without this note.
The Bishop, who has made me responsible for keeping you somewhat aware of our needs, has especially recommended me to insist on the importance and the necessity of having in the mission a good number of Brothers competent in printing, carpentry and sewing etc. We can hope for complete success only when we succeed in arousing in our natives the love of work, and you can hardly succeed in that except by spurring them on with something which they are not yet aware of. A not less urgent reason for having Brothers skilled in these various types of work, is to lessen the enormous costs involved in having buildings made by outsiders. In the Kororareka station alone four Brothers would be needed, and right now Brother Augustine is on his own, with three outsiders needing to be paid at high rates.
As for the mission, it continues to give us consolations: the natives come pretty regularly to Mass every Sunday. Several tribes about five or six miles away come on Saturday evenings and do not leave until Monday out of respect for the Sunday. I cannot see, without a feeling of admiration, these good people gathered on the seashore, light their fires on Saturday and Sunday evenings to cook their potatoes, having only the stones for their beds and the sky for their covering. Often even rain comes to disturb their rest. Several times canoes have capsized in the great bay they have to cross: that does not discourage them. That well instructed Christians, that religious-minded people in particular are ready to make these sorts of sacrifices, I would see as only a natural result of their belief; but what surprises me is to find attitudes like these in people who hardly are aware of the main truths of our holy religion. Those from Kororareka come each day, morning and evening, to the prayers and instructions. They are very keen to get taught, but their memories are often faulty. Some have received baptism, several others are insistently asking for it, but they are not yet found to be well enough instructed. The leading chief at Kororareka who affected a lot of indifference at the start is now notable for his regularity in coming to prayers and the childlike simplicity with which he has himself instructed.
The Whangaroa mission also is giving a lot of hope. The natives there seem to be more intelligent than in several other areas. There as well heresy has been established for a long time, [5] but it has made only little progress. Those who had constantly resisted the efforts of the heretical missionaries rushed to welcome the Bishop from the moment of the first visit he paid them, and they have not stopped asking him urgently for a priest until they obtain him; three or four times 15 or 20 of them came from 15 leagues distance [about 75 km] in canoes to obtain this favour. The day they came to look for Fathers Epalle and Petit-Jean they were in greater numbers and had two chiefs from their tribe leading them.[6] So who therefore aroused such zeal for the true faith in people who constantly resisted the entreaties of all sorts of heretical missionaries? It can only be the Holy Spirit who disposes hearts as he wishes. It is not just one tribe but a great number that show these attitudes favourable to embracing the faith. From all sides the Bishop is receiving similar requests for priests, and he finds it impossible to satisfy all the requests. We ceaselessly long for the arrival of new and numerous confrères; all our confidence is in the infinite mercies of God who certainly has not aroused in these good people such a praiseworthy desire just to leave them so impoverished in terms of means of salvation, means which they call for urgently, (and) in the powerful protection of Mary, our good Mother, who will not allow the Society which has the honour to bear her name and to be specially consecrated to her, to remain small and unworthy of the mission it has received from the vicar of Jesus Christ. It is with real pleasure that we hear of the growth and the blessings which God sees fit to grant to the works of the children of Mary.
The New Zealand climate seems to be ideal for Frenchmen; the summer heat is moderated by fairly frequent showers, and the winter is not cold enough for ice to be seen. The southern part is colder. The islands in the tropics are very hot, so that every temperament can find in the mission territory a climate suitable for it, (so) with the exception of Father Servant who, although not ill, does not enjoy robust health, we are all in very good health. Apart from that, our situation concerning housing and food is incomparably less difficult than that of our confrères in the islands who have all sorts of sufferings to put up with; but the strength of their faith which continually confronts them with the sufferings of Jesus Christ and the crowns which in heaven await those who have been worthy to suffer something for his holy name causes them to bless Providence which has so well shared them out.
I thought, Reverend Father, that I could, for safety’s sake, repeat to you the most important requests that I made in the letter that I wrote on behalf of the Bishop to Father Poupinel,[7] but it is impossible for me to do so; I have left off and begun again this one more than a hundred times to deal with the natives and the Europeans who take up all my time over trifles. For the same reason I find myself forced to put off to another time writing to several people and in particular to Father Mayet who has done me the kindness of writing to me.
I am taking the liberty of asking you to present my humble respects to Father Director[8] and our dear confrères at Lyons and Belley; I commend myself specially to their kind prayers and mementos. I beg you as well to be so kind as to remember me in prayer.
I am, with deepest respect,
Very Reverend Father,
Your most humble and obedient servant,
L(ouis) Maxime Petit, mis(sionary) ap(ostolic)


  1. Cf Doc 49
  2. It would be the Matilda, a whaling ship from London, captain Swain, which arrived in the Bay of Islands on 18th Janaury 1840 (cf Rhys Richards and Jocelyn Chisholm, Bay of Islands Shipping Arrivals and Departures, 1803-1840, Wellington, Paremata Press, 1992)
  3. Whangaroa, the region around a well-protected harbour on the east coast of the North Island, north-west of the Bay of Islands. The Catholic mission was set up in this district, at Waitaruke, a little time before this present letter was written (Encyclopaedia of NZ, vol 3, p645; vol 2 p573)
  4. Brother Attale (Jean-Baptiste Ormand) and Chevron left NZ on 17th December 1839 (cf Doc 62 [2]), heading for Wallis, where they didn’t arrive until 9th May 1840 after a dangerous voyage which took them via Fiji and Tonga (ibid [3-46]). They left Wallis on 15th May and arrived in Futuna the next day (ibid [51-52])
  5. The Wesleyan Methodist mission, Wesleydale, established in Whangaroa in 1823, lasted till 1827, when people from the Ngati Uru tribe destroyed it to avenge the flogging of the son of a chief by the missionaries (according to Garrett p66), or simply at the time of the flight of these Ngati Uru from Hongi Hika’s forces (according to the Dictionary of NZ Biography Vol 1, p202). About 1838 the Anglicans of the Church Missionary Society established their own mission in the area (cf Encyclopaedia of NZ Vol 2, pp 570-71)
  6. According to Petit-Jean’s memory two years later of this event (Doc 192, [2])
  7. The letter dated 21 February 1840 (Doc 49, already mentioned [1])
  8. Pierre Colin, the older brother of the Superior-General: he was often referred to by this title, for example in Servant’s letter of 28 May 1841, addressed to “Father Director Colin senior”.

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