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4 September 1840 — Father Jean Pezant to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Akaroa

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, June-July 2012

To Father Colin, Superior of the Society of Mary
4 St Barthelemy Rise, Lyons (Rhone) France

J(esus) M(ary) J(oseph)
Akaroa Harbour, Banks Peninsula, South Island (or Tewai Poounamou) of New Zealand

4 September 1840

Father Superior and very Reverend Father in Our Lord,
Today I am, at last, finishing the letter I began at sea in May, and in which I gave you some details of our journey from Goree[1] to the place where we then were. After having rounded the Cape of Good Hope with a favourable wind, on the 12 and 13 May we were, after a few days, directly south of Bourbon Island. In this region we had about 12 days of contrary winds or calms; there we celebrated the feast of the Ascension[2] in the finest weather possible: never had the ocean looked so fine, so majestic, magnificent as well, quite beautifully blue, as during these calms. But towards the end of May the wind rose to be strong and drove us quickly; we couldn’t say Holy Mass on the Sunday in the octave of the Ascension; on Pentecost Eve, the wind having redoubled in strength, we weathered a violent storm which ended suddenly during the night, but without allowing us to say Holy Mass on the day of that great feast (because of the frightful swell and rolling which followed the wind gusts), but which began again at midday the same day more violently than ever. It was at its height on Monday evening, and the sailors said it was the worst possible weather that could be experienced. Fortunately, it was driving us on our way. Then, and for several days after, we saw watery mountains successively rise, and crash against and threaten to swallow the ship. However, it did not seem to us that we were climbing or descending the waves, as on board small ships. There is no danger at all on board big ships like ours and no one was remotely frightened. The storm continued, though with less violence, for almost all of June: it was our normal condition until we got directly southeast of Hobart Town, a British town on the coast of Van Diemen’s Land or Tasmania, because we didn’t dare risk going through Bass Strait where there are many islands and rocks. From the Cape of Good Hope until abeam of Bass Strait, to the south of New Holland, we had pretty well always followed the 40th degree of south latitude. On the 9th June, Pentecost Tuesday, we passed, without seeing them because of the storm, although they were very much looked out for, the islands of St Paul and Amsterdam. We were not able to celebrate Mass either on Trinity Sunday or Corpus Christi, nor on the day of the feast of the Sacred Heart, but only on the Sunday following, yet only with great difficulty. On Sunday 28 June, after Mass, having rounded Hobart Town point, the commanding officer had us steer northeast, to go to the Bay of Islands, where after twelve days of pleasant but slow sailing, we arrived on Saturday the eleventh of July at eight in the morning, five months less eight days after leaving Goree. It is hard to express the joy we experienced at seeing land, on the morning of 9th July, which we hadn’t seen at all since 25 March, and especially the land of New Zealand: it was one of the finest days in my life.[3] The weather was wonderful, even in winter. We gathered together to say the Salve Regina and some other prayers. We were especially happy to find our new Bishop shortly after our arrival. The pilot who took us into the bay informed us that Bishop Pompallier had been living for more than a year at Kororareka, a village in the Bay of Islands, now the centre of the British colony.
After we had landed, we went straightaway to the Bishop’s home, where he gave us his blessing and received us with kindness and joy. He asked us for news about Father Superior and all the Fathers of the Society, our Holy Father the Pope, and his Grace the Archbishop of Lyons: we immediately handed over to him your letters and all those we had for him and the Fathers. The next day he had the Te Deum sung in thanksgiving for our safe journey.
After some days, the Bishop sent me here with Father Comte whom he called back from Hokianga in order to entrust us with the care of the whole of this island and the new French colony at Akaroa. After fairly difficult sailing, having left the Bay of Islands on 30 July, we only got here on Assumption day in the evening. We have found only about thirty natives; there are a few more in the nearby bays, but pretty few on this peninsula, given its size. It’s the same thing throughout the island, where, as well, the shortest journeys are extremely long and difficult, the land not having been cleared, and being covered with woods and high scrub, without, as well, any roads, and it is almost the same situation in the North Island. However, the land is fertile, though mountainous, the temperature there is pleasant, although in winter only, from time to time, there are terrible squalls. The natives already have been indoctrinated by the Protestants, who have sent their neophytes as missionaries there; they do not want to worship with us; apart from that they are good, gentle and obliging. Father Comte speaks the New Zealand language or Maori (the national name for the New Zealanders in their language); I am going to study it as well as English. Our colonists, who number about 60, are fairly well disposed, and we hope to make good Christians out of them, with the help of God. They are very happy to have priests.
The Bishop, because of his great kindness, is universally loved and esteemed by both Maoris and white people; there are already a certain number of New Zealanders or Maoris baptised; a very much greater number would be inclined to turn to the Catholic Faith if they could be visited and properly instructed. But the small number of priests, the nomadic life of these savages, the company of Europeans, the dispersion of these people over a huge territory, calumnies, the influence of, and even more so, the gifts from the Protestants have created and still create great obstacles to the spreading of the true faith. However God’s arm is not shortened, and with God’s blessing, prudence, zeal, and a holy life, it seems that good can be done. When I am more familiar with the mission, I will speak to you at greater length.
I have to retract two things that I had earlier recommended: 1st It is not Spanish currency that should be taken; the Bishop has told us that only British currency should be used; it would be good to get it in Paris, if gold and especially pounds sterling or sovereigns were taken, the whole sum could be put in trunks and belts without anyone on board knowing about it. I will add that when, at the Bay of Islands, I made the complete summary of receipts and expenses as exactly as possible, I could no longer find the deficit of 172 francs which had caused us so much trouble at Brest, at least taking into account the 230 francs left in Paris.
2nd I had decided that it was good that the Brothers should be at the same table as the priests: the Bishop was of a contrary opinion, one based on the careful reflections of a person having good will towards the clergy.[4] It is preferable that they eat with the crew or at a separate table, if that could be got from the minister through the intervention of the Queen. I am talking only about naval vessels, I am not familiar with other vessels. If the same thing could be got for the priests, that would prevent unpleasant discussions about religion: it would be good to avoid, at least, those discussions at table and even elsewhere, unless they took place with respect for religion and to make that known at the first opportunity. I will leave this for now, because of the many difficulties we are having in finding ourselves lodgings at this time. I will make up for this with you and my other superiors at the first opportunity. I ask Father Terraillon, Father Girard and all our other Fathers to accept my deep respects, and my confrères in the novitiate my affectionate good wishes.
I am, and will always be
Very Reverend Father in Our Lord,
Your most humble and obedient servant and son,
J(ean) Pèzant
Pr(iest) and mis(sionary) apost(olic)


  1. Goree – an island on the coast of Senegal, opposite Dakar, a former French trading station and also a former major assembly point for slaves in the African slave trade.
  2. The feastdays named in this paragraph occurred in 1840 on the following days: Ascension – 31 May; Sunday in the Octave of the Ascension – 31 May; Pentecost Eve – 6 June; Pentecost – 7 June; the following Tuesday – 9 June; Holy Trinity – 14 June. Feast of the Sacred Heart – 26 June; the Sunday following (the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost – 28 June.
  3. Land was seen from the ship on the 9 July, but it was on the 11 July that the missionaries – Fathers Jean Pèzant and Jean-Andre Tripe and Brothers Claude-Marie (Jean-Claude Bertrand) and Amon (Claude Duperron) – disembarked at the Bay of Islands (Cf above, same paragraph as well, Docs 64 [13], 86 [3], 142 [1]
  4. This decision of Pompallier was a source of humiliation for the Brothers (Cf Doc 247 [46]

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