From Marist Studies
17 September 1840 — Father Jean Pezant to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Akaroa
Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, July 2012
- Father Colin, Superior of the Society of Mary, at the Society’s house, 4 St Barthelemy Rise, Lyons.
- J(esus) M(ary) J(oseph)
- Akaroa Harbour, Banks Peninsula, Tewai-Poounamu (New Zealand)
- 17 September 1840
- Father Superior and very Reverend Father in Our Lord,
- It’s only about ten days since I wrote to you by way of the Gustave, a whaling ship from Le Havre, but I have found a safe opportunity and it is probable that another will not soon present itself, because the whaling season is ending here. So I am taking the opportunity to give you some little details about our present situation. But let me say in passing, that if you were able to get passage for your missionaries on ships whose captains had the attitudes of Mr Déclos, captain of the Gustave, or of Leliévre, captain of the Eva, another whaling ship from Le Havre, which is about to leave in a day or two, you could be certain that they would be good in every respect, and even that it would be hard to find any better.
- I beg you again to excuse me, if I do not write at length, because of things I have to do, and especially because of the many problems involved in our establishment barely come to birth. I beg our Fathers, to whom I have greatly delayed writing, particularly Father Director and Father Girard, to be so kind as to excuse me for the same reason. I would not even have taken advantage of the departure of the Eva – a very safe opportunity – because of the very important things having to be done here for the mission at the time when it is just beginning, if I hadn’t decided it was still more important to write these letters, after having discussed them with Father Comte. I am sending you a letter for Marshal Soult, who had really warmly entreated us to write to him from here. We are aware of his anti-English attitude and his support for colonising this country; he spoke to us, to Father Tripe and myself, with that kindness at once worthy and simple which is a sure sign of sincerity; he even showed us a zeal for the spread of the Catholic faith which touched us. All the people involved in the government whom we saw in Paris showed us so much good will that it is to be hoped that that letter will not be displeasing and will be of use to us in the situation in which the colony finds itself right now. So I have taken advantage of the kindness of Marshal Soult, who had made clear to us his desire that we write to him, to speak to him about this country, in the belief that this would be of some importance for the glory of God and the establishment of the mission, and further, I thought it was important to write as I have done; the matter was delicate, and I carefully chose my words so as not to hurt anyone, yet however to obtain the suggested purposes. If however you decide that in France, in view of the situation when it arrives, that letter could create some problems, I ask you not to send it on, but, on the contrary, burn it.
- We have had some little problems here, and we could have some more from time to time for different reasons. The Bishop, relying on money which we have not found, has given us almost nothing to live on. We can find only a few potatoes which, as well, are for sale at a very high price, because the ships claim them all; pigs are free, but wandering in the forests, and Father Comte with Brother Florentin have made a fruitless excursion to get some. Father Comte has been forced to borrow money, with which he got some potatoes, but only at great cost but quid hoc inter tantum? In short, we have been obliged to receive rations like other people, and our situation has been pretty precarious during this month. The commanding officer of the l’Aube has acted in a pretty mean way towards us since our arrival here, he hasn’t wanted to take even a step to make ready a little oratory for us in which we could offer Mass and some instructions for the colonists, with the result that the spiritual life of these poor people is badly affected. They seem however to be well disposed. People are thinking of building a chapel made of wood, but when will it be done? In five or six months? Utinam (Oh, if only!). Meanwhile, we are giving catechism lessons and even school classes to the colonists’ children in our cottage made of grass, built by ourselves, because we had to build it ourselves if we wanted shelter. The rain, and even, especially, the wind do not find it impermeable. If you add to that the obstacles to doing good that we find among the colonists and among the Protestantised Maoris (the New Zealanders) and the sight of the example of the Europeans, you will see that we are beginning to become missionaries. Unfortunately the difficulties come to us from those by whom we ought to be supported. As well, in spite of the meanness which has been shown us since our arriving in Akaroa, by throwing a few bits of bread in our direction (and that without any discussion, any consideration) it was thought that we were dependent on him who dealt with us in this way: that was the result of all the words and actions of the commanding officer; then Father Comte, having found some potatoes and salted meat available for sale on a ship, thanked the commanding officer for his two lots of rations, and was obliged to have a discussion with him to prove to him that he was independent of any human authority here. Certainly, if the government knew all that, the commanding officer would be severely reprimanded; because I can say, I must say even, that the government showed itself to be warmly favourable to us in Paris, that it showed broadmindedness, that it acted towards us with a haste and generosity, and an especially perfect politeness, which really moved us, Father Tripe and myself. We know as well that the instructions given by the government to the representative recommended him most urgently to deal with us with respect, to help us, to protect us and to favour us. But since that man began to neglect, or rather, to ruin the task of colonisation, for which he had been sent, he has changed a great deal. He had been quite good to us during the two voyages, it was only here that he behaved otherwise. Here everyone is against him, and it is generally thought that he will be reprimanded; it is certain, according to what everyone here agrees in saying, that if France loses this peninsula, it will be the fault of its representative. But people put great hope in the letters sent by Mr Langlois. Here, there are only two opinions on the above matters; that of the commanding officer on one side, and everyone else’s on the other.
- From everything I have just told you, here are your priests’ conclusions: firstly, if the British government offers an arrangement, to thank them for it (it has been talked about), and if the French government makes an offer for this peninsula, the same response; in spite of the kindness and good will of the [French] government, its representatives here could still on other occasions believe us dependent on them for that reason and greatly hamper the good work to be done. The Bishop, whose goodness of heart prevents him from seeing many problems, will perhaps think otherwise; but, if he consults his priests, there will be probably at least, only one voice for not accepting any arrangement. We will have some land to live from and food will not be dear, if the colony gets established. It is very important for the existence and progress of the missions that this colony gets established; the Bishop has instructed us to encourage it by every lawful means possible. That is why, seeing it compromised by the fault of one single man, I have thought I should take advantage of the kind offer and powerful influence of Marshal Soult to try to contribute to bringing colonisation about.
- Father Superior, we were told at the Bay of Islands that it was unfortunate that the missionaries leaving from Lyons were not given Bibles, commentaries, books dealing with controversial issues, fine vestments for worship; it would be good, even, to have books on controversial issues available for the voyage out, for example, the Bible vengé [=The Bible vindicated], so I will ask you, salva obedientia[=without infringing obedience], for my Menochius in 12 volumes in octavo, an alb made of embroidered tulle which belonged to me as well; it would be good to get for those leaving, apart from Mes doutes [=my doubts] – worth its weight in gold – all those named there in the list, and also the Histoire de la Reforme [= History of the Protestant Reformation] by Cobbett, in English. It should be got from London. Everything necessary is best bought in France, because it is much cheaper than in this country’s ports.
- I come back to the ceremony of the first crossing of the Line. On naval vessels, especially, it ought not be allowed, but it should be firmly stated that one does not want to take part in it. Father Comte earnestly commends himself to your prayers; he cannot write to you because of his tasks. We all ask our superiors and my confrères to accept our respects and our affectionate remembrances. We really need prayers, and the mission as well.
- I am in Our Lord
- your most humble and obedient servant and son
- J(ean) Pèzant
- Pr(iest) miss(ionary) apost(olic)
- (In the margin and crosswise) Please seal the letter to Marshal Soult if you decide it is appropriate to send it to him.
- Nicolas Jean de Dieu Soult, Duke of Dalmatia, Marshal of France, a general under Napoleon, Minister of War under Louis XIII (1874); under Louis-Philippe he continued to occupy the same position and was president of the Council from 14th October 1832 until 18th July 1834. On 12th May 1839, he came back to power as president of the Council and Minister of Foreign Affairs. Having resigned on 1st March 1840, he took up again, on the 29th October of the same year, the responsibilities of the president of the Council, but gave up Foreign Affairs for the Ministry of War. On 1st November 1845, he gave up that ministry and on 11th November 1847 the presidency of the Council. He died in 1851. At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Adolphe Thiers replaced Marsha Soult in March 1840, but had himself to give up the position to François Guizot on 29th October following. (Cf Jore I:199)
- Cf John 6:9. “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two little fish, but what is that among so many?”
- Charles-François Lavaud, commander of the l’Aube, being a Freemason, was little inclined to favour the Catholic missionaries, in spite of his good relationship with Bishop Pompallier; his interests were in political prestige rather than in religion (Cf Favre p452, f/u 64, and, as well Doc 64  f/n 1, and see also Tremeuren, French Akaroa, Ch 14 “Missionaries and Masons”)
- Cf Doc 38  f/n 28
|List of 1840 Letters