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10 November 1840 - Fathers Claude-André Baty and Jean-Baptiste Épalle to Father Jean-Baptiste-Justin Chanut, Bay of Islands

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, July 2012

New Zealand, Bay of Islands, 10 November 1840

To Reverend Father Chanut
May Jesus, Mary and Joseph live forever.

Reverend and dear confrère,
I read with great pleasure the letter addressed to Fathers Epalle and Petit as well as to myself; it gave us assurance that you have your confrères overseas continually in mind. Father Petit is not here right now but he does not forget you. We, Father Epalle and myself, have spoken about you with him. You are now in a position where you can see people from several parts of France.[1] I am sure that your zeal can find an opportunity to inform people about the work of the Propagation of the Faith. My heart rejoiced when I found out that you are fortunate enough to be able to call sinners back to the way of salvation and make them once again children of Jesus and Mary. Please be so kind as to write from time to time, (and) do not see as useless the details which do not seem to you to be worthy of attention; everything brings pleasure to a confrère whom religion and the Society of Mary unite even more strongly than friendship to another member of that same Society.
As I am convinced that some words about the New Zealand Christian community would give you pleasure, I am going to try to give you some; you will kindly excuse my brevity because I am very busy right now.
You know that Anglican and Methodist preachers had preceded Bishop Pompallier by many years in New Zealand. As their resources are great, and they are not demanding about the qualities required to become ministers, they have infested this country in the same way as all the most important islands of Oceania. They are in all the best places in this country and especially in the most advantageous places for their business. The Anglicans devote themselves very much to that aspect, which they call the success of their missions. The Methodists are more strict, little concerned with business, but fanatical preachers and mad calumniators of the Catholic religion. Both groups have spewed forth everything they could get hold of in their rage and spite against Bishop Pompallier, against the Catholic religion and against the French nation. Now they have changed their language a bit, but they have only changed their strategy without throwing down their weapons. Time means that every day calumnies are exposed, unfortunately the New Zealanders, even those who are very intelligent, don’t know enough to challenge them, they let themselves be impressed too much by what they are told with boldness without any respect for truth. Those heretics have, as well, everything which attracts the natives very much; they have all the trappings of grandeur, which remarkably impress the New Zealander; they have length of time in the country, they have printing presses, know the language well and distribute a lot of books and the natives are great lovers of reading. But against them they have fruitlessness, deprivation of graces to preach the gospel; also, in spite of the number of years they have been here, they have achieved more in raising horses, cattle and sheep, more in amassing money than in converting New Zealanders. They are detested by all the Catholic natives; there are very few of their own people who sincerely like them; their own compatriots and co-religionists have more of dislike for them than the natives. It is not uncommon to hear the natives tell us that if the Bishop had come before the broken-off branches, the latter would have had no one in their favour. ‘Broken-off branch’ is the name by which the heretics are known, a name which they do not like, but which nevertheless they do not have the audacity to disown; they claim to have done the right thing by separating themselves from an evil religion. Here is how the New Zealanders talk about Catholicism and Protestantantism: Are you epikopo (bishop) or wiwi[2] (French)? Are you manga whatia (broken-off branches) or Pakeha Maori (English)? According to them the Irish and English Catholics are ‘oui oui’. Those wrongly-styled missionaries are unbelievably frustrated, people have come and criticised them in their mission successes, the natives reproach them over their huge ownership of lands, over the profits they formerly made from their books, a tactic they have had to change since Bishop Pompallier arrived; over not being tino kaiwhakaako (true teachers of faith), and having wives, which the natives do not approve of. Nonetheless, do not think they are on the verge of ruin, the devil gives them enough resources to still keep them going. What is unfortunate for us is that we find it necessary, sadly, to say with our Divine Master “Messis guidem multa operarii autem pauci”.[3] In the journeys the Bishop makes, there are crowds of conversions, but the enemy of the Father of the family waits until he has gone to sow his weeds; it needs so much effort to sow (the seeds of faith) in face of the complaints of those who are its object and in spite of the insults he receives from them.
We really should be many in number, we need a priest for each tribe, if that were possible, so that the outcome would be good! Because the tribes are a great distance from each other, as well, there is, among them, a desire for independence which means that the missionary who is obliged to serve many tribes cannot visit them often and doesn’t have the same authority and is not as much liked, regate ergo dominum messis ut mittat operaries in messem suam[4] If priests were numerous, in spite of all the difficulties which you can easily imagine that minister experiences in a country where are found in too great a number the scum of the seamen of every nation, heretics with hellish ways of speaking, where a commercial attitude has become common, a great deal of good could be achieved among the natives; from the small number of ministers arises a slowness of progress which otherwise would not exist.
The obstacles among the natives themselves are not overwhelming; there are two which are greater: their corrupt morals and their attachment to their former religion; but moving among the tribes you can fairly early stop the former and point out the errors of the latter. However, regarding this latter problem you have to act with prudence; the old men and old women do not give it up easily, however as many have from a good example, there is reason for hope for everyone; among the young men and women there is no difficulty. To reconcile what I am telling you now with what I said above, I must tell you that two conversions are to be distinguished; One, which is to take the side of the Catholic religion, which means favouring the Bishop, and then becoming Catholic in your heart by rejecting any pagan rite so as to practise the religion as it must be practised. I do not need to tell you that by turning to the religion the catechumens reject their superstitions straight away: you lead them little by little, and as they say themselves, potatoes do not come to maturity in a single day. In the fifteen months I have lived in the Hokianga, 93 people have been baptised, about three quarters adults, 5 or 6 have refused baptism at the moment of death; right now the mission in that place seems to be doing more satisfactorily; the Bishop’s departure was a bit disastrous for that station, because, in spite of everything that can be said, the natives cannot understand that you can have reasons to leave them once you have established yourself among them.
I must still tell you something about tapu, which has had and still continues to have a great influence in some regions. Its real origin is not known: it is the chiefs who oppose it.[5] There are several degrees of it, it has made such deep impressions on the minds of the New Zealanders that even those who have abandoned its delusions cannot stop themselves from being afraid even when a European violates a great tapu. It seems certain that the devil has helped make it feared, because I have talked with those most instructed, with those who mock it, they have assured me they have seen people die who have violated it. (Myself, I believe it has its origin in the great respect that New Zealanders have for their dead; in their beliefs a person who has died is a god, although they admit that the wicked do not go with the good. The greatest tapus are the cemeteries, the bones of the dead, tapued houses, and it is while taking food hung in houses made tapu, I have been assured, that people doing so died immediately.) Here is what happened to me concerning tapu. One day when I was going to a tribe with several well trained young people, we came to a place where there was a little area of bush; they told me: that place is tapu. Do you dare go into it and eat something from it? I replied that I would go, not thinking that my action would annoy anyone. When they saw I had made my mind up, some said to me: do not go there: others said, “Go ahead”. I told them to direct the canoe to land; I broke branches of wood, and, after having made the sign of the cross, I chewed some leaves while telling them that prayer made all things harmless (that is, it removed the tapu). I told them that this wood was bitter; they began to laugh and reassure themselves; they wanted to eat some according to the custom practised when their priests lift the tapu. But I soon found out that prudence was needed, because war was declared against the one of the companions who had been the first to tell me to violate the tapu; however nothing was said to me because I was not a tangata Maori – a man of the country. But before this war, which ended in a friendly way, had broken out, this same companion had persuaded me to visit a highly tapu place. There I had nothing to fear because the chief who had imposed that tapu was present and in agreement, but it happened that his whole tribe, in fear that a great tapu had been violated, came to get me to bless the food. I blessed each one of them, took a mouthful of it and told them that since they were praying to the one true God they should not fear breaking tapus any more.
A multitude of things are subject to tapu: food, lands, canoes, even people, who as a result cannot then use that part of the body which has been tapued. If it is the back, the person cannot bear any load; if it is the hands, the person cannot work the soil and is forced to lie down to eat potatoes or kumara with teeth only on the ground, which is pretty funny; if the person is a chief, man or woman, there is a slave (available) to carry the food to the mouth, the same being the case with the pipe. All the things or almost all those that belong to someone who has died, become tapu.
The life of a missionary in New Zealand is not very difficult and the consolations experienced very strongly urge you to sing the praises of the Lord in a strange land.[6] Please do not forget us, and me in particular in your holy sacrifices and in the presence of her, in the presence of the picture of whom is my name with those of my confrères in the chapel at Verdelais.
I have the honour to be, in union with the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary
Reverend and dear Father
Your most humble and devoted servant,
Baty, mis(sionary) ap(ostolic)

My very dear confrère
I hardly have time to send you the briefest greeting, I who have so much to tell you, but already we are late in getting our letters to a ship making ready to leave. Until another opportunity then, dear confrère, who was able to make so pleasant for me the few days I spent with you. If I think of you very often, I will be in contact with you again. I am really convinced of it. The prayer of a just man has great value in God’s sight. That thought makes me really happy and fills my soul with gratitude to you. So go on, beloved confrère in Mary, go on praying to the Virgin of Verdelais for the missionary in New Zealand, and if the Son and the Mother reign to listen to his prayers, may you have nothing more to desire.
My affectionate respects to Reverend Father Balmet.
Mis(sionary) apost(olic)


  1. Between 1838 and 1843 Father Chanut was the Marist Superior at Verdelais, a place of pilgrimage (which is mentioned below [8] and [10]. (Cf Origines Maristes tome 4, p 224)
  2. Maori transliteration of “oui, oui”
  3. Mt 9:37 “The harvest is great, but the workers are few.”
  4. Mt 9:38 “So ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers into his harvest.”
  5. This is the way Baty writes this word, there where one would expect to l’imposent (impose it)
  6. Cf Ps 136 (137):4 “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

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