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14 May 1840 — Summary by Father Denis Maîtrepierre of the letter from Bishop Jean-Baptiste-François Pompallier to Father Jean-Claude Colin

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, August-September 2011

Ways of communication:
1) Via Valparaiso, by rounding Cape Horn – very long. Links between South America and the Australian islands very rare.
2) Via London or via Liverpool, via Sydney to the Bay of Islands – safe, quick.
3) By naval vessels or by whaling ships, leaving from the ports of Le Havre, Nantes or Lorient and heading directly or almost directly to the Bay of Islands – frequent and safe.
4) His letters and orders can be sent directly to Monsignor Polding, Bishop of Sydney; from there to the Bay of Islands, the opportunities are almost weekly; His Lordship will be pleased to see this as a chance to help the New Zealand mission. His letters should not be seen as coming from a Frenchman – a precaution against English policy.
Father Heptonstall, who lives in London and is a correspondent of Bishop Polding’s, or the treasurer of the Propagation of the Faith in London, would be perhaps even more useful for correspondence.
6) No need to worry about ships; if there aren’t any in French ports, some will always be found in London or Liverpool; no need for worry either about choice of ship, providing it is a three-master, it will do.
7) The missionaries must stay as short a time as possible in places where they disembark or change from one vessel to another, and so they themselves must take the initiative to find the vessel leaving soonest, and are not to leave that concern to those who would be interested in delaying them: Father Petit-Jean stayed six or seven weeks in Sydney.
8) M Joubert, a Frenchman and merchant, married and settled in Sydney, a well brought up young man and knowledgeable in business matters, Bishop Pompallier’s very likeable and obliging correspondent; the missionaries will take care to visit him and consult him on what they do about a ship and the purchases they have to secure; he will be pleased to help them.
9) Knowledge of English is becoming more and more necessary as the English become more numerous in these countries – hence the necessity for priests setting out to study it zealously before their departure.
10) The banks in England and Sydney offer the safest, most prompt and advantageous ways of dispatching money; the sums sent are not at risk of being lost in shipwrecks and the Bank in Sydney pays ten per cent on money deposited with it. So the missionaries can be left only with the money they need to buy things for themselves and for the journey, and leave the rest in the hands of Mr Wright,[1] a banker in London, and send to Bishop Pompallier a letter informing him of the amounts so disposed of.
11) Tell those gentlemen on the Council of the Propagation of the Faith that the Bishop of Maronea has received the letters and money sent him up till the last dispatch of missionaries in December 1839.
On the first page the Bishop says he has recently received the first letters that were sent to him after his departure from Le Havre; and with these letters he received the latter half of eight thousand francs, the first half of which he had received a year earlier.
12) The Mass requested for the deceased members of the Propagation of the Faith was celebrated last year, it will be done this year and always.
Observations on the Mission
1) The Bishop has been for some months preparing a long letter for the Council of the Propagation of the Faith; it will provide edifying and interesting details about the country and its inhabitants.
2) The letters written from the mission and published by the Propagation of the Faith are translated, sent to Sydney and to New Zealand. As a result, great prudence is needed by those who send them, those who receive them and those who have them printed. Keep quiet about works to be undertaken, missions to be set up, take greatest care to avoid harsh and humiliating expressions about the heretics; charity precedes, accompanies and follows truth, which should not be hidden by excessive prudence – let us reveal schemes, malice and calumnies, but from necessity and with gentle charity.
3) A lieutenant-governor, a vassal of the main governor on Sydney, was sent, last January, by the Queen of England to the Bay of Islands, under the pretext of protecting the English who have spread in great numbers in New Zealand, but with the very certain purpose of taking possession of this country in the name of England. This governor has travelled among or had people travel among the main tribes and suggested they sign a treaty by which they undertook to subject themselves to the Queen of England to enjoy the advantages of her protection as subjects. The natives were divided in opinion; some refused their signatures, several allowed themselves to be won over by gifts, a very great number signed, but very few realised the consequences of their actions. It would have been useless for them to refuse to submit; the taking of possession was already resolved on, and already before any proposals had been made, the English flag had been flown and saluted by 21 shots of cannon fire.
It is thought here that the great powers will not so easily acquiesce in New Zealand’s ceasing to be a neutral and independent country. It is a fact that the French and American frigates have not recognised the British government’s act.
On this occasion the Vicar-Apostolic found himself in a very delicate situation; the natives came and asked him this question: Should we sign, or should we not sign? His Lordship informed them about the step they were going to take, and left them free, while telling them that he was here with his men to work for the salvation of both those who would sign and those who would not sign; he did the same when they consulted him about selling their land.
The new British authorities seem to be impartial; the lieutenant-governor, the captains and the officers of the British navy have particular concern for the Vicar-Apostolic. The first-mentioned has had the natives informed that they would still be able to be instructed by the Catholics, and has promised the Bishop to protect the Catholics in the same way as the Anglicans. He is going to order that the vessel in the service of the mission should have no duty to pay for arriving in ports and the goods destined for the mission.
The Protestant ministers have helped this taking of possession to the best of their ability – they expect great advantages from it. The advantages are greater for the Catholic missionaries. The natives say: The ministers repeated endlessly: Be suspicious, the Catholics are after your country, and it is their queen who is taking it; they are after your lands, and it is they themselves who are enriching themselves with them. So they are generally scorned and even hated in several places; bitter criticism pursues them in conversations and in the newspapers, even by Protestants.
3) Observations on the missionaries
1) A truly Catholic heart, wise prudence, disinterestedness, knowledge, tidiness combined with cleanliness, good manners, a noble civility are the virtues to be desired in a missionary. The English are delicate in the matter of urbanity. So priests need it to be able to win confidence, to open hearts to the faith and other virtues.
2) Several Fathers lack clerical manners. Some have distressed their Bishop by too pronounced a desire to follow the rule of the Society; their way of acting lacks prudence, courtesy and respect. The Bishop has hidden his distress in the depths of his heart, he has taken wise steps which have extinguished these glimmers of anxiety and at present everything is going along quite well.
3) The Bishop has always visited and prepared the places where he intended to send his priests. In the midst of difficulties, cares and opposition, he experiences a happiness he had never enjoyed up till then. It is the Lord who rewards those who give themselves completely to him.
4) Father Servant has an aptitude for English; he is always ready to say worthwhile things to the English faithful: he is working on excerpts of doctrine and has hymns for the catechumens and the newly baptised. Already the singing of litanies of the Blessed Virgin brings truly gentle tears. Shortly Father Servant will be sent on a journey among the tribes.
5) At the Bay of Islands Father Epalle will be responsible for the mission establishment, the procure and supervising the Rule for all the religious. There we need to display a good appearance, cleanliness, good order and especially good manners in receiving distinguished local people. We also need to emphasise these things in giving instructions. Father Petit, who lacks the qualities needed to achieve these things, will, as he wishes, be sent to Kaipara to work for the salvation of the natives.
3) The Bishop’s opinions
His Lordship speaks of the need to respect authority in a century that pretends to ignore it. The authority of the Holy See, the authority of bishops, religious authority must all be respected, but religious authority must give way in all cases; religious life is less than priesthood; it is an effective way of sanctifying priesthood. The Rule of St Francis of Assisi seems to him to be preferable to that of the Jesuits; the Franciscans are almost entirely in the control of the bishops, whether they are regulars or not, though they are exempt from bishops who are not regulars.
A prefect-apostolic for New Zealand will be chosen from the directors of the five stations and the Bishop is going to set up another prefecture apostolic in another island group.
Dispatch of Father Chevron and Brother Attale to Father Chanel; recall of Father Bataillon and Brother Marie-Nizier. His Lordship’s reflection on the confidence one needs to have when sending missionaries abroad; they will not all perish, the good master does not call all the vineyard workers to heaven so soon, and if they were all to perish in a certain time, the Society would be happy; it only exists to give back victims to God and chosen ones to heaven. So less prudence and more confidence.
The missionaries, on their arrival in New Zealand, found about a hundred Methodists there, rich in goods and words, spreading calumnies and arousing the people against the Catholics. During the first two years, the Vicar-Apostolic worked almost alone in developing the mission; now all the men, knowing the languages well enough, are working over an area 140 leagues in length and 30 wide, that is to say, from Mangonui in the north to Opotiki in the south and from the east coast to the west coast.
The country within these limits contains 150 tribes and about 25,000 to 27,000 people turned towards the Catholic faith, eager for the holy word, they have no one to break this healthy bread for them and heresy feeds them with poison. Indigenous priests will not be able to be trained for at least twenty years.
Have no fear, Reverend Father, the Bishop of Maronea exclaims, that mixing non-Marist priests with Marist priests will harm unity in administration; religious have a rule for interior perfection, but are no different in apostolic ministry and in relationship to the Bishop. Hunt out for me, and get hunted out for me all the priests and devout laymen of good will, and with a call to the apostolate or to sharing in the apostolate. I need two English priests.
Try to set up a procurator for this mission in France a holy Marist priest, who is experienced and hard-headed. Veterans are needed among the first men made responsible for the missions.
To make a proper job of the harvest, I need to be able to assign, almost every week, a priest and a Brother.
Carpenters, joiners, architects, tailors, shoemakers, farmers, school teachers; those are the men needed, but particularly the carpenters and joiners. As well we need a weaver and a tailor in woollen cloth. Let at least two Brothers be sent for every priest.
Oh beloved Fathers of the Society of Mary, have pity on me and my flock; are they more foreign to you than to me? From afar, with me, gather many children into the Church, and new servants for Mary (the Bishop’s words). New Zealand only counts 200 baptised yet. A month’s stay in each tribe by a priest would be enough to make a large number of catechumens ready to receive baptism.
4) Mission expenses
The mission has no income from the Europeans, who in this country are nearly all Protestants, nor from the natives who are all poor and half naked. The missionaries must provide everything, and how can they, being poor themselves? If they do not receive any help in two or three months, they will find themselves in a ruinous need to sell land only too much needed for the existing stations.
One of the reasons for the huge needs of this mission is the need to get a lot of men for it and the means they need to carry out their ministry. New Zealand is an island which either should not be touched or must be overcome all at once, or at least very soon. If there is a lack of men and means for this prompt and almost simultaneous invasion, heresy will spread like a flood and will in a very short time destroy the whole fruit of apostolic works.
The Vicar-Apostolic therefore is well justified in entreating, in accents of zeal and need, the members of the Council of the Propagation of the Faith to share out as soon as possible the allocations they have in mind to give him, for the expenses made necessary by the multitude of souls entrusted to his care, and whose present and future destiny is very greatly in the hands of the Councillors and the associates.
In this expensive and difficult mission, for each priest we need: fr
1) for his gear on leaving France 1800
2) for his fare on board ships 1700
3) for his housing in the mission house and chapel
(2 priests and a brother 3000) 1000
4) for food and keep 1000
Total, at least, for the first year 5500
Once the first expenses have been covered,
the annual keep for each priest will rise to 1000
Purchase of a ship to sail around the islands and visit stations 22000
Yearly expenses for sailing – from 15-18,000 fr (the ship
will always be in use) – on average 16500
For a chapel at the central station 5000
Expenses for a Brother – first year 4000
Yearly cost for a Brother’s keep 1000
Prices in New Zealand are double or even three times those in France.
The Brothers need to be tidier, cleaner and more courteous, and have more skill in the trades they know.
The Bishop regrets not being able to write to the Bishop of Amasia and to Father Cholleton – he asks M Viennot and his friends to send him a fine organ for his church at the Bay of Islands.
The natives are making for themselves, in their tribal areas, little chapels made of reeds. There are already about thirty of them.
Bishop Pompallier several times asks forgiveness from the Reverend Father Superior-General for the liberty he takes in speaking so frankly to him, for telling him everything on his mind, he is afraid of doing that too easily – the same request for other letters in which certain passages could give the impression of a sadness a bit like a bad mood.[2]
The strength of his love often makes him repeat: have pity on me and my poor sheep!


  1. Wright’s bank failed in December 1840. It was also the bank of the Plymouth Co of Devon which organised the first European settlement of New Plymouth - translator’s note
  2. laissent apercevoir une peine qui ressembloit un peu à l’humeur

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