23 November 1840 – Father Jean-André Tripe to a relative (extract only), Akaroa
Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, September 2012
This letter is known only from two copies made on behalf of Father Detours. It is no doubt the letter this Tripe asks Colin (23 November 1840) to send on to its addressee, whom he discusses as “one of my confrères and a relative” (Doc 78 ). So it concerns a Marist relative of Tripe, whom it will be possible to identify.
- 1840 Extract from a letter from Father Tripe, missionary of the Society of Mary.
- Akaroa, a harbour in Banks’ Peninsula
- Very dear friend,
- Near the end of September 1840, I had the honour of accompanying the Vicar-Apostolic on his pastoral visit to the North Island. It wasn’t His Lordship’s intention to leave me anywhere on the way, but circumstances obliged him to change that plan. So here I am, provisionally, parish priest of Akaroa, having as parishioners about sixty French colonists and the crews of two ships belonging to the same country; in a moment I will say something about Akaroa, after having spoken to you briefly about myself.
- Some would say I am not destined to be a missionary, because while my confrères are gaining much merit by their work and the difficulties which accompany it, Providence seems to restrict me to minor concerns – you be the judge.
- Having got to Akaroa, the Bishop and I were invited to stay on the l’Aube. One of the officers extended hospitality as far as giving up his cabin and bed to me, while he slept in a communal cabin. You are familiar enough with the courtesy of our naval officers, to have an accurate idea of the kindnesses which were continually showered on me during the month and a half I stayed in the harbour, while waiting until the mission schooner had had its damage repaired. The commanding officer was delighted by the generous conduct of his officers towards us, and overwhelmed me with consideration during the whole time I stayed on his ship.
- All Saints’ Day was solemnised as it had never been before on these faraway shores. The Bishop officiated pontifically on land, in a place decorated with a great number of flags provided by the L’Aube.
- A place had been set aside for the musicians, and right through the Mass there was instrumental music and sacred songs performed party by the officers in military dress. I had the honour to be the conductor of this noble group of amateurs. As you can imagine, I forgot, in the circumstances, that I was in a barbaric land, about five thousand leagues [25,000 km] from the country of my birth.
- My situation, it is true, has been a little less delightful since my disembarkation. The l’Aube continues to provide my food, but my housing is a long way from the standard of the most humble of your presbyteries. You would be convinced of this if ever you could imagine visiting my cottage: I have neither armchair nor chair nor seat to offer you: but instead I have a bed, very easy to make, since it is a simple mat lying near the hearth which, from the middle of the room where it is placed, spread its smells and smoke into every corner without exception. My hut is built out of little bits of wood nailed at intervals and lined with bamboo trelliswork, with a roof made of reeds found here; the whole thing is so built that you are sheltered from the rain when it is not raining, and from the wind when it is not blowing. To avoid, apparently, the need for doors or windows, only a single opening has been made, which you go through by drawling on your knees. Regardless of the condition of my hut, I am certain that no native is housed as comfortably as I. Let us turn to the mission which has been entrusted to me.
- Akaroa is a bay and a harbour on Banks’ Peninsula in the South Island, about 43º [South] in latitude. This harbour is therefore almost the antipodes of Toulon, which is at 43º north latitude, apart from the difference in longitude. So that from whatever point on the globe people write to me, it wouldn’t be done from further away. The peninsula was bought by French and British Europeans, and for very modest amounts. Near the head of the bay there are two colonies of two nations, even protected by ships of their respective governments. The colonists along with the Catholic crews are now my parishioners.
- Although the temperature here might be milder than in Provence, it is subject to such frequent changes, the transient from cold to hot is so abrupt, that foreigners run the risk of a lot of sicknesses. When summer-like weather is being enjoyed, suddenly a furious southerly can get up, accompanied by hail and rain, which gives an experience of the harsh cold of winter, and leaves the mountaintops white with snow. A day later, the summer comes back again, lasts a few days and then the same thing starts all over. Such has been the main sort of weather I have experienced in the three months I have been in this country.
- The ground is most fertile and very suitable for ploughing. Of itself it produces only a very dense sort of scrub and trees of every size, unknown in France. It is very hard to travel, either through the scrub or in the forests, and any hunter who thinks he can very quickly get his food or material for his house, often finds himself forced to camp under a tree and spend the night there out in the open; but in return he sometimes brings back about thirty pigeons, which won’t have cost him much effort, the explosion of a firearm hardly frightening them. The birds here are very numerous, their calls and chirping create a continuous concert from which, however, the voice of the nightingale is missing. I call this song the birds’ morning prayers.
- The natives of the South Island, less civilised that those in the north, are also fewer in number as a result of the disastrous wars they have been involved in. We have to hope that they will rid themselves of this liking for ferocity and cannibalism which they still preserve today, when they begin to listen to the words of the gospel.
- In finishing, a word or two on the feelings aroused in the natives by the sight of the first ship to enter the harbour. Having no idea of a large ship and what sort of thing it was, and not knowing how to explain how such a heavy mass could move itself and come to them, they thought it was a devil and fled as fast as they could into the forests. One of them, braver than the others, after a few days spent in the woods, seeing the devil having come to a stop, little by little approached the shore, taking great care to hide himself in the shelter of the trees. Soon he saw something separating itself from the ship (it was a dinghy), he lets it arrive, catches sight of and recognises beings having arms and legs like him, immediately runs to warn his brethren, tries to get them to overcome their terror, and they all, extremely cautiously, approach these unknown beings.
- I am etc
- Tripe, miss(ionary) apost(olic)
- equipages catholiques. He most likely means ‘the Catholics among the crews - translator’s note
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