23 November 1840 - Father Jean-André Tripe to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Akaroa
Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, August 2012
On the same date, Tripe sent two letters to Colin by different ships, but one was only a shortened version of the other. The fuller letter, designated text ‘A’, serves as the basic text for the present edition; the short version is designated text ‘B’.
- To Father Colin, junior, 4 St Barthelémy Rise, Lyons, France
- J(esus) M(ary) J(oseph)
- Akaroa 23rd November 1840
- Very Reverend Father Superior,
- By way of my letter, here enclosed, addressed to one of my confrères and my relative, you will be able to see how I am doing in Akaroa in material terms, and at the same time you will find in it some little details I give about the situation here. The Bishop had sent Fathers Comte and Pèzant by means of the l’Aube, to found this new mission; he has, today, decided it appropriate to withdraw the last-named, whom he plans to send among the tribes of the North Island, as having more ability than me to learn the language of the natives, and to leave me as his replacement. I came here with the Bishop and on the mission schooner; Father Pèzant has taken my place and is accompanying the Bishop in his visit to the various establishments in the North Island; the schooner left this harbour 18 days ago. Right now Father Comte is in the interior of the peninsula to get to know the natives; I am expecting him in a few days; Brother Florentin is with me.
- Another letter from me addressed to you is right now in the hands of the English commodore; I think that it will get to you after this one because the ship is going by Hobart Town, while the ship carrying this one is going directly to Europe. Commander Lavaud, who is writing to the Ministry in France, has promised me to include my letter in his envelope. Because this way is more guaranteed, I am going to reveal to you what is personal to me, and opinion I have formed about the progress of the mission since my arrival in New Zealand.
- At the request of Commander Lavaud, after his arrival at the Bay of Islands, the Bishop appointed Father Comte to go with him to Akaroa and to serve him as an interpreter with the natives. Father Pèzant was under Father Comte’s direction. The latter has been of the greatest help in clarifying certain very complex matters which had arisen between the French purchasers of the peninsula and the native sellers; everything is not yet fixed up, because the natives, either in bad faith or from ignorance, sold the same pieces of land to the Europeans several times. But that is about the limits of the use of a missionary. The French colony, consisting of about 60 colonists and the French crews, who are presently our parishioners, are little concerned about religion, so that when the Bishop himself said Mass on land on Sunday, no one attended or, rather, two or three were seen, without counting the commanding officer and another personage with the authority of a mayor, and it can be fairly well imagined what attracted these last-mentioned, since after the Bishop’s departure, they dispensed themselves from attendance. Father Pèzant had been told to visit all the colonists each Saturday to tell them the time for Mass, and to get them to come to it. Yesterday Sunday, like any other. I had three or four people for a congregation. As for the natives, the future offers similarly little reason for hope: indifferent to the Catholic faith and harassed by emissaries sent by Protestant missionaries, they have appeared a few times – up to eight or ten people and always the same ones, and afterwards have gone back into the interior of the peninsula. For the rest, however they may be disposed, it is certain that the mission here will never be able to flourish, the peninsula and the South Island being almost deserted as the result of the wars of extermination which took place here earlier. Everyone is in agreement that these natives are very cunning and are interested only in getting things from the Europeans. The Bishop, however, is not of this opinion. A chapel is going to be built of wood at the expense of the mission, and the cost will be between 1000 and 1200 francs [£40 to £50]. We have put it to the Bishop that in the uncertainty as to whether the colony will be declared French or British (because the matter is as yet unresolved between the two governments) it would be appropriate to build a temporary chapel at very little cost; if the colony remains under French control, the State would build it, probably at its own expense, and if it went under British control the government of that nation would no doubt send either missionaries or some Catholic priest; these arguments have not been appreciated, and tomorrow the wood for the chapel will be brought – the cost of its cutting and milling has already amounted to 800 francs [£32]. There are many other expenses which have been incurred in the mission and which, in my opinion, have been more or less useful; that is the opinion of workers attached to the Bay of Islands mission as well as of officers on the l’Aube. Right now a whaling vessel which cost five or six hundred francs a few months ago and which was left here for our use, has lost nearly all its planking, there is hardly anything left but its framework and I doubt whether the carpenters on the l’Aube can repair it, although a promise to do so has been made.
- I do not yet have any mission experience, but it seems to me that if my confrères were sent into places where the population was concentrated, they would be able to work with fewer difficulties and more success, and I do not think there is a lack of places like this in the huge district entrusted to the care of our mission; while hundreds of priests would be needed to work even the North Island, which is much more populated than the South Island. Beyond that I am setting down here my way of seeing things, as honestly as possible. But what I am quite certain of, is that Father Pèzant and I were greatly disappointed when, having arrived at the Bay of Islands, we found that instead of established Christian communities, there were only a very few neophytes who had received, I believe, only baptism, and that all the rest had only very sketchy ideas of religion or even the desire to enter it.
- There are other things about which I think it expedient that I should inform you, because your position gives you the right to be well informed: the thing is that the priests on the mission, at least some, are treated with scant care and respect. When they arrived in Akaroa, Fathers Comte and Pèzant were put ashore and forced to build a hut for themselves and to put up with a lot of privations. Their situation was so difficult that the officers on the l’Aube burst out with indignation and spoke loudly enough for their leader to hear. It is not my place to decide who was right or wrong in the different views voiced between Father Comte and the commanding officer, but Father Comte told me he believed he had no reason to regret what he said about this. However, the Bishop condemned him in everything, not in public it is true; he even criticised him for the lack of fruit from his ministry with the colonists. After the Bishop had stayed on board the l’Aube for about a month and a half, my confrères again sought an opportunity to have a face-to-face discussion with him. Almost every day he came ashore with the commandant, sometimes going to see them in their hut, but in a hurried way. Father Comte will no doubt write to you at greater length about what concerns him. In my turn, I have experienced what I outlined above, that is, that I have been treated with little consideration. At the Bay of Islands, I was forced to undergo trials which offended charity; for example, obliging me to pack my trunk with an item of underwear stained with mud, and forcing me to leave one of my trunks under the cooking oil containers, and on which on two occasions a lot of oil had been spilt. I was told curtly that it was unfortunate that the underwear was soiled; even if it was not my fault; and concerning the trunk, it had to remain there because there was no room for it elsewhere. This manner of testing subjects reduces them to silence, but it can exasperate them, because they expect to find charity in those who lead them and not capriciousness. Three times the Bishop corrected me, but twice in particular with such forcefulness and with words so harsh and so many that it could have been thought he was speaking to an idiot or a hardened criminal. The first time, I had asked a seaman on the schooner, at the time when we were leaving the Bay of Islands, to fix a medal of the Blessed Virgin to the top of the mast. It is true that the Bishop had just placed a picture of the Blessed Virgin in the captain’s cabin, but as I had not foreseen that, and for several days I had been carrying that medal in my pocket, I still decided to use it for the purpose for which I had intended it. I was told off for having done it without permission and for trespassing on my Bishop’s preserves. The second occasion for correction arose from my failing to greet the Bishop, being on the bridge of the l’Aube when he was coming up to it. It was a morning when I was coming back from the Comte de Paris, where I had slept because of the bad weather; I was carrying my cloak and other things which were encumbering me; talking with an officer for a moment, I think I had not caught sight of the Bishop, and my intention was to go and get rid of what I was carrying, so as to then go and present myself to him. The grounds for the third correction were from Father Comte’s and my having talked about certain expenses which in our opinion could have been made more usefully, in particular those concerning the chapel, and as well, the situation of our confrères in the tropics whom I knew had already remained a long time without any help for a fairly great period of time. About that matter Father Comte and I were accused of conspiring against the Bishop; we were told that to the faculties we had been given would be added the faculty of returning to France when it seemed right to us to do so, and to me in particular, that if it came to the knowledge of my Bishop that I had been involved in these things, all faculties would be withdrawn from me and I would go back laicised. I could not convince myself that the Bishop was so sensitive and had so little respect for a priest, for a priest, even if he is neither Bishop nor Superior, at least retains his character. As well, during an interview in which, during other things, he was urging me to have affection for him, my Superior, I answered that I could not have any, that I had love to the point that if I saw him in danger I would risk my life to save him, but as for affection, it hardly depended on me to have it. After this I was dealt with a bit more kindly. Beyond that I told him that in being corrected I was very aware of the matter in which I was blameworthy, but that everything attributed to me that was underserved only served to irritate me, and that if I had remained almost totally silent in face of what he had said, it was from a fear of going further than I would have wished if I had spoken. And so if similar situations recurred, and if I sinned especially by being carried away by anger, I would not wait until I was forced to leave the mission; I would leave it of my own accord because I only came to it to save and not to lose my soul. I would not have gone into the details of what is personal to me if everything that happened had involved only simple trials, but I saw myself threatened with being sent back to France or being reduced to the lay state. I thought I should take the matter seriously and inform you about it honestly as my Superior, and even more because no doubt the Bishop will write to you about me.
- I was accused of two things by the Bishop in these outbursts of anger: first of all of having wanted to reform, and then wanting to be independent. In regard to the first and main one, I admit having pointed out several times how I seemed to be doing better in several things, but I always did so with reserve, and in the near certainty that I was not mistaken; because at the age of 43 and having carried out ministry for about 17 years, I must have a bit of experience. Having noticed that my advice was not wanted, I determined to maintain a strict reserve, to the degree that I experienced more than once scornful remarks without saying a word. As for the second, I admit having spoken to Father Epalle too boldly and having rebuked him sometimes in the presence of the Bishop himself; but it was because Father Epalle was teasing in particular a lot, and had declared when I arrived that he liked finding a jovial character in a confrère, so that I acted less like a novice in respect to him than as a confrère; I became cautious when I saw that my liberty or my willingness to return in kind was not appreciated, and there was more than one thing to be corrected in the house at the Bay of Islands. Concerning the matter of any failing to greet the Bishop, I was generally held to have no respect for my Bishop; I asked the Bishop to point out to me the occasions apart from that one in which he had found me at fault; he made no reply. It is true that having spent my youth among people involved with court and sword, since I was going to join them at the time I donned the soutane, I do not have that adaptability of character that some of my confrères have, but I would be wary of failing in any circumstance, and if the contrary happened I would hasten to excuse myself. Because also I am very sensitive to an undeserved criticism, especially if it is directed at me by anyone other than a layperson, so much so that I have got ill after the behaviour concerning me and about which I have already spoken. Apart from that, I hate that flattery and those displays which arise from servility, especially involving individuals whose whole way of acting I do not approve of, with the upshot that people can misunderstand my intentions and attribute to pride what is, in me, only an effect of my character.
- In spite of all these complaints I am making to you, at too great a length, Father Superior, my intentions in respect of the mission have not changed: I have no other concern but to see it prosper, and if I ever experience some regret, it would be for not being able to make myself as useful as I would like to be, either because of the difficulty I have in learning the languages, or in finding myself sent to places where my ministry would remain almost useless because of lack of people. However, on the matter of languages, I have no reason to despair, I can understand well enough when I read a book in English, but I do not understand as well when I am spoken to, and I experience a lot of difficulty in finding words when I want to talk myself. This morning an English police constable who doesn’t know a word of French suggested giving me English lessons if I was willing to teach him French: I accepted the suggestion very willingly and I hope to do much better when I find I have to speak English. As well, a young child who only speaks English is coming to the class.
- I very earnestly commend myself to your prayers and to those of your fervent community. I present my humble respect to the Fathers-Director and all my confrères.
- I have the honour to be, with deepest respects
- Father Superior and very Reverend Father,
- Your most humble and obedient servant and son
- Tripe, miss(ionary) apost(olic)
- PS If, some day, you hear of my death, please tell the Father Superior of the major seminary of Fréjus, and Father Deluy, parish priest of Cuers (Var) about it. Those men will arrange to have more than one hundred Masses said for me.
- It seems that Tripe was unaware of Pompallier’s plan to go further south to visit the Otago tribes (Cf Doc 80 ). In December, Pompallier and Pèzant would come back to Akaroa (Cf Docs 80 , 86 ) but they would return to Akaroa before 30th January 1841 (Cf Doc 86 ). After 24th February they would leave Akaroa for the Bay of Islands (Cf Docs 88 , 89 .
- Tripe wrote “18 days” but it was only a rough estimate if one can trust Pèzant (Cf Doc 86 ) who said he left Akaroa with Pompallier on the 14th November for Otago where they arrived “four days after”.
- Lieutenant Dunlop, captain of the sloop of war Favourite, which arrived in Akaroa on the 16th November and left on the 25th November 1840 for Sydney and Hobart. (Information received from Peter Tremewan 28 June 2008)
- Pierre-Joseph Sainte-Croix de Belligny (1810-1877), mayor of Akaroa and official representative of the Nanto-Bordelaise Companyt (Cf Doc 117  f/n 2.
- At the request of Commander Lavaud……. three or four people for a congregation. In place of “the colonists being few in numbers and even less concerned at having recourse to my ministry, I have more spare time to study the languages in which I am not making fast progress.” Text B
- As for the natives…. is not of this opinion. In place of: “The natives are very thinly scattered throughout the peninsula as in the whole of the South Island; you have to go and hunt them out where they live, and in their houses, if you want to instruct them, so this mission will never flourish, having almost no one to evangelise. In two months, roughly, that I have been living in Akaroa I have seen only eight or ten of them, and they did not reappear.” Text B
- All of section  is from Text B.
- For il n’avait pas s’agit read, no doubt, il ne s’efait pas s’agit.
- Those men…. for me in place of “I am a member of two associations for a happy death directed by these two gentlemen, and when I die they will have a few hundred Masses said for me. For my part, I fulfil the obligations that my membership imposes on me. Please take careful note of this.” Text B.
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