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20 August 1840 — Father Jean-Baptiste Comte to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Akaroa

Translated by Fr Charles Girard & Fr Brian Quin SM, April 2012

To Father Colin, Lyons, 4 Barthelémy [Bartholomew] Rise, France

Akaroa Harbour on Banks Peninsula in the island of Te Wai Pounamu

20 August 1840

J(esus) M(ary) J(oseph)

Very Reverend Father
I have been called back from the Hokianga for the mission in the South Island, called Te Wai Pounamu by the natives. Father Pèzant and I went on board the Aube at the Bay of Islands on 30 July. We entered Akaroa Harbour on 15 August, Assumption Day. So now on two occasions I have celebrated this beautiful feast while at sea. The next day, in the evening, two cannon shots were heard at the harbour entrance. It was the Comte de Paris.[1]. Its foremast had been shattered by two lightning bolts during the same night.[2] Two colonists died before landing.[3] In the political situation, matters seem really confused. England has declared sovereignty over all New Zealand. Some Englishmen claim they bought land before the French.[4] I do not know at all how things will turn out. There are only about thirty natives here in Akaroa. In a neighbouring bay and to the north of Akaroa there are 200 natives, I am told. There you have the number of the inhabitants of Banks Peninsula. They are all Methodists.
We will settle among the French colonists. Father Pèzant will be responsible for them. As for me, I will move to that bay I spoke about where the natives are more numerous. I do not know if I will be able to go there by land. You have to cross pretty high mountains. They are capped with snow and the natives do not like to walk barefooted on sugar; that is the name they give to both snow and white sugar.[5] It is said that these natives are very wicked and that they are not yet repelled by the taste of human flesh. All of that means nothing. Nothing will happen to us without God’s permission. We have Mary as our mother. She will take care of her children. The natives I have seen here seem very good; they have assured me that those at Port Cooper[6] were not bad at all. There is some difference between the language here and that of the North Island. The natives have told me that they were very numerous on Banks Peninsula a few years ago, but that they had been destroyed by a chief called Te Rauparaha.[7] He is still alive and lives only on human flesh. He lives in the north of this island. He is expected to come this year, the natives say, to wage war. I tell them not to be afraid because we have 22 cannons to greet them with.
I cannot guarantee the truth of all the particular details that I have just been talking about, I don’t have time to go any further.
Please pray for me, Reverend Father; oh how much we need prayers so as not to collapse in mid-career. I do not forget Mary; the thought that she is my mother and that I am a member of her Society fills me with consolation and joy. I enjoy excellent health, I am happy. I am achieving little or nothing worthwhile; I am a useless servant [A reference possibly to Luke 17:10: We are only useless servants - translator’s note], but I trust in my mother and she will lead me to heaven.
Please give me your blessing, and I am, with deepest respect,
Reverend Father,
Your most humble and obedient servant,
I wrote to you from Hokianga. Among the books I requested of you, I earnestly ask you to send to the Bay of Islands, for me, and with my name in it, the history of the Church and Menochius[8] at least. Oh, you know that we need that.

A Greek Grammar belonging to Comte


  1. Cf Doc 64 [1] n.1. The Comte de Pari,s while transporting the French colonists from Rochefort, was severely damaged during a storm at sea near the coast of Australia on 14 May 1840; the foremast and the main mast were shattered by lightning bolts, but on 9 August it finally reached Pigeon Bay on the north side of Banks Peninsula. There, on the 11 and 12 August, Captain Jean Langlois (founder of the Nanto-Bordelaise company, under whose aegis the colonisation of Akaroa was carried out) made a payment in goods to the local Maoris for the purchase of a part of the peninsula (he had already done the same thing on 2 August 1838) and he still had to pay more goods to a few chiefs in the Akaroa district on the south coast. He arrived at the entrance to Akaroa Harbour about midday on the 16 August 1840; unable to advance for lack of wind, he dropped anchor, but one of the points broke off, and he slid towards the shore. Efforts were made to hold it back, and the ‘cannon shots’ were not only to announce its presence but were also a request for help. It was only the next day, the 17, that he entered the cove called Paka Ariki (today called French Bay). Two large tents were erected to shelter the colonists who went ashore only on 19 August (Buick p 110-114; Faivre p 456-7)
  2. Not only the foremast but the main mast as well had been shattered by thunderbolts and that had taken place three months earlier (see previous note)
  3. Jacques Jotereau, born in Muron (Charente-Maritime) about 1802, a farm worker, a passenger on the Comte de Paris died on 9 August 1840 aged 38, at the moment that the ship was about to drop anchor in Pigeon Bay. Jean François Cardin, born at Triaize (Vendée) on 10 February 1815, a farm labourer [terrassier – the word was not in my Collins-Robert dictionary, but a French woman living near me suggested the meaning - translator’s note], a passenger on the Comte de Paris, died on 14 August 1840 while the ship was in Pigeon Bay. A third person died during the voyage: Marguerite David, born at St Martin de Gua (Charente- Maritime) on 3 August 1835, a passenger, died on 15 July 1840 while the ship was south of Tasmania (From records of deaths and minutes of disappearance [something like coroner’s inquiries, perhaps - translator’s note] 1840-1844 National Archives, Paris: Marine CC4 1363. Advice received from Peter Tremewan 24 April 2008)
  4. The two clouds of British sovereignty and untested property titles cast their shadow over the French colony of Akaroa. Lavaud (on the Aube which left Brest on 19 February 1840) and Langlois and the French colonists (who followed on 20 March on board the Comte de Paris could not in any way have known about the Treaty of Waitangi of 6 February 1830 and the proclamations of the British lieutenant-governor Hobson; Lavaud’s skill in handling matters softened the bad luck of the colony. As far as the property titles were concerned, matters were also complicated by acts of sale in which there was not much clarity, and by the number of Maori chiefs who claimed their rights; in the end, however, the few Frenchmen who remained in Akaroa and the surrounding area kept ownership of their establishments. (Buick p 67-71, 118-122, 302-317; Faivre p 4520455). Professor Peter Tremewan explains [information received 24 April 2008]: Before leaving France, Lavaud knew that Hobson was going to New Zealand but believed, on the basis of Hobson’s instructions which appeared in London newspapers and which were known of in Paris, that Hobson was only going to declare British sovereignty over places where the British were already established. Before going to Akaroa, Lavaud called at the Bay of Islands, where he met Hobson and learned that British sovereignty had been declared over the South Island (which France wanted to annex) as well as over the North Island (which Lavaud thought was Hobson’s sole destination). In fact, that sentence concerned some Englishmen who would have bought the peninsula before Langlois, whose deed of purchase was dated 2 August 1838. Patrick Byrne bought land at Port Levy from the chief Pokaue on 4 October 1836, while Captain George Clayton bought land at Perak Bay on 22 March 1837 before buying the whole peninsula from the chief Tuauau, according to a document dated 21 October 1837 (Clayton sold his rights to Joseph Ratau, captain of the French whaling vessel Jonas, who then shared them with two other Frenchmen, Eugene Cafler and Jules Duvauchelle.)
  5. Huka in Maori can mean ‘foam’, ‘snow’ or ‘sugar’
  6. Port Cooper, on the north-west side of Banks Peninsula, now called Lyttelton harbour, and the site of the modern town of Lyttelton. While speaking about Port Cooper (Whakaraupo), Comte seems also to be thinking of Port Levy (Koukourarata), quite close to Port Cooper, and with a sizeable Maori population.
  7. He was chief of the tribe Ngati Toa who, with allied tribes, had fought against the Waikato tribes to control the fertile land to the north of Kawhia (on the west coast of the North Island). [Te Rauparaha and Ngati Toa were defeated and migrated south to the Cook Strait region where Te Rauparaha made a base on Kapiti Island - translator’s note] From about 1827 Te Rauparaha and his warriors attacked several areas in the South Island. In 1830 he and about 100 of his warriors were taken by Captain John Stewart on the brig Elizabeth to the Akaroa area where he avenged himself against an enemy tribe. He returned in 1831 and took the village of Onawe. In a few years he and his allies had conquered the southwest of the North Island and about all the northern part of the South Island. (Dictionary of NZ Biography, vol I, p 504-07; Oxford History of NZ, p 42, 45. For other references to him, see doc 86 [3] and in APM an unedited letter of 30 August 1841 from Jean Pèzant to a Superior in the Bay of Islands, no doubt Jean-Baptiste Epalle [3]) The Latin name of Giovanni Stefano Menochio, a reference to his commentary on Sacred Scripture (cf Doc 38 [26] f/n 28.
  8. The Latin name of Giovanni Stefano Menochio, a reference to his commentary on Sacred Scripture (cf Doc 38 [26] f/n 28.

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