From Marist Studies
Jump to: navigation, search

26 November 1840 - Bishop Jean-Baptiste-François Pompallier to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Otago

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, September-October 2012

J(esus) M(ary) J(oseph)

Mission of the Assumption of St Mary, New Zealand
Otago Harbour, Te Waipounamu Island

26 November 1840
Very Reverend Father, Pax Christi
Since my letter of 30th August 1840 (No. 23), Our Lord has led me to extend the work of my mission into the great South Island of New Zealand, called Tewaipounamu (pronounced in French tewaipoonamou) by the New Zealanders. There are not many natives in comparison with the North Island – Te ika na mawi. The number of natives here is about five or six thousand. They live mainly in the northern part of the island, near Cook Strait, on Banks Peninsula, at Otago Harbour and on the neighbouring parts of the east coast, and, finally, in the south on several little islands in Foveaux Strait and on the coasts of that strait, either on this island or another further south, called Stewart Island by the British.
I have appointed to this mission Reverend Father Comte, to whom I had provisionally added Father Pèzant, quite recently arrived from France. It was the French corvette l’Aube which took them – at no charge – from the Bay of Islands, where I was at the time. I requested their passage from the commanding officer, M Lavaud, who kindly put all his services at my disposal. I sent with them Brother Florentin and one of my zealous New Zealand neophytes, to co-operate in their apostolate. The corvette dropped this little group at Banks Peninsula where it called in, and where are presently settled about 60 French colonists. A house of Nazareth was built there for our people, and I have just ordered the building of a small provisional church, which at this point in time must be almost finished. The voyage of the l’Aube from the Bay of Islands to Akaroa (Wangaroa, according to the natives[1]) took from about July 27 to August 15.
Banks Peninsula is central for the island of Tewaipounamu, and Akaroa Harbour, on this peninsula, is very safe for ships. There are about 300 natives on the peninsula. One of the missionaries at this station, Father Pèzant, was specially concerned with the French colonists, who are almost all Catholics. So there is another mission station established; it is very important for reasons that would take too much time to explain here.
When the l’Aube left the Bay of Islands, I was held back by major concerns, and especially the acquisition of a schooner for the mission, something I have needed so much in my work. At last, thanks be to God and to the Propagation of the Faith, I have owned it since the first days of August. This schooner is about 135 tons in size, it was called the Atlas, I have blessed and have had it given the name Sancta Maria. The civil authorities were so kind as to exempt it from any tax for the exclusive use of my spiritual work. It flies a religious flag which I had made expressly for it. The field is white, in the middle is a blue cross. At the crossing point is, gold-coloured, a radiant sun, above is a rainbow with twelve stars. Under the cross is the monogram of Mary and finally, quite low down, is a crescent moon. (Apparuit in caelo mulier amicta sola, et luna sub pedibus ejus et in capite ejus corona stellarum duodecum.[2] This schooner cost me 25,000 francs (C. £1,000) and about 10,000 francs for repairs, which has put me in a great financial difficulty; but a vessel is an extreme necessity in this mission. However, it is not so much the purchase which should attract concern but its maintenance, the wages of the captain and the crew which number nine men, and the supply of food required for all those people. We have to manage things very thriftily so that these expenses not exceed 1,200 francs [c £50] per month and 15,000 francs [£600] per year. I am relying more than ever on Divine Providence and the generosity of the Propagation of the Faith.
I left the Bay of Islands on the 20th September last, on the Sancta Maria. I took Reverend Father Tripe with me; my senior missionaries were all involved with instructing the natives, and the latter being able, during my voyage, to apply himself to studying the languages for which, being a bit elderly, he does not have much aptitude. In ten days we arrived at Akaroa, where I found the colonists under a bit of shelter, the missionaries in a house made of thatch, hastily erected, and the l’Aube at anchorage. The aim of this voyage was not only to consolidate this new station but also to take our holy faith to the tribes of Otago, from where I am writing to you, and from this area up to twenty-five miles away on the east coast, and, through the care of Commander Lavaud, to have my schooner caulked and the hull copper-plated, then to go to the harbour on the north side of Banks Peninsula, from there to Cloudy Bay, to Port Nicholson, and finally to return to the Bay of Islands,[3] so as to leave from there after one or two months and go and visit the islands in the tropics, which I am so longing to see again. You must have received lengthy information on these missions and about the voyage which Father Chevron and Brother Attale have just made there. So I will not talk to you about them.
I didn’t expect to write to you from where I now am, because the opportunities of coming across a ship going to Valparaiso there are very rare. But Divine Providence has brought us in here at the same time as an American schooner which is setting off today for South America, and directly to Valparaiso, where possibilities of ships going to France are frequent. I am therefore taking advantage of this schooner being ready to leave; the natives are not allowing us a moment’s rest; the mission has just taken root here with astonishing speed, as has happened in many other places I have worked in, through the infinite mercy of our Divine Master. There would be, here, interesting details to give you, but I think that Father Comte, whom I took from Akaroa to help me will soon have the time to write to you about them; today I didn’t think I would even be able to write you two pages of a letter.
I have found on the shores of this harbour in Otago about 300 natives and 50 Europeans, of whom 14 or 15 are French or Irish Catholics. This is the tenth day we have been in the anchorage here with the Sancta Maria. Starting on Wednesday, the day after our arrival, I began visiting the four tribes which are separated from one another by some miles. I began with that of the greatest chief, named Tairoa.[4] I was accompanied by Father Comte in a dinghy from my schooner, and four sailors to do the rowing. Also with me was the New Zealand neophyte whom I mentioned at the start. We were soon recognised for what we were; and I do not know how it happened, (but) my arrival at Otago had been known of by these islanders even before the schooner entered the harbour. Tairoa received me in the belief that I was a great sacred leader of the Mother Church, which is talked about everywhere in New Zealand. A part of his family and his people were gathered in an orderly way on grass, which is near his house. I gave him the current greeting that New Zealanders use with strangers, which consists of a handshake and saying to each other “Tena ra ko koe” (May prosperity be with you). Ah! Very dear Father, how difficult it would be to say everything experienced in the heart at a moment like this. How ineffable are the consolations which God bestows when, after perilous voyages over the seas, you arrive among these savages, all tattooed and half-dressed, and can shake their hands for the first time, and wish them a prosperity they cannot imagined, but which, expressed in words from the ministers of God, includes not only happiness in this life, but total salvation, the blessings of heaven, eternal happiness! How much does the heart beat with prayers to Our Lord that this desire be realised!
After having, in this way, shaken hands with the chief, I immediately introduced him to Father Comte, whom I described to him as also a sacred leader of the Mother Church, and that I was bringing him so that he could teach all the peoples of his island about the great truths of the real God. They also greeted each other with a handshake. We stood, speaking to each other for a few moments’ we talked about my journey, my vessel, Otago harbour, the chief’s lands and possessions, the number of his people. But as he touched on all these matters and was talking to me about politics, I interrupted him at a moment when I could, and begged him to sit down, because I had some important things to tell them. I myself wanted to remain standing, so that my voice could be heard by the whole gathering. The chief Tairoa, who more than his own people had seemed taken aback at my approach, to the point of shaking like a leaf and hardly able to utter his greeting Ten ra ko koe, had certainly regained his composure (NB I have not yet been able to find what caused his trembling on my arrival: in vain I shook his hand with great affection, joy and cordiality, and told him not to be afraid, nevertheless, he still trembled and was not able to hold his jaws with his hand so that they did not break his teeth. Anyway he assured me he was not afraid and did his best to excuse himself for the state he appeared to be in. He was dressed almost in European style; I was wearing my black travelling soutane. I had brought only my pectoral cross, my ring, and my violet cummerbund and my hat with episcopal tassels. Father Comte was also wearing a soutane. I still have not been able to work out the feeling he experienced.
I will continue the account of what happened succinctly and with haste. Tairoa sat down and earnestly said to me: “Yes, speak, speak at length. Teach us the great things you have come to tell us.” Those words caused me to go further than I would have predicted for a first visit. I spoke for a good half hour, and I carried out to the letter the meaning of the word teach which the high chief had used in inviting me to speak. From that time, with the help of grace, the following conclusions remained proved for them: there is only one true God, infinite in existence and excellence, wholly spiritual, creator of heaven and earth, the seas and everything in them, and of all peoples. From Him comes everything that is good for body and soul. He is very good to those who are good, and just towards those who are wicked. So we need to love Him very much and do His will.
There are two everlasting lives after this one: eternal life in the dwelling place of God in heaven for those who are good, and eternal life in Hell for the wicked who have lived that way until they die, without having wanted to become good during their life here below.
There is only one true Church in which one can have God as Father and be saved. It is the Church called Roman Catholic; it is the Church instituted by God and not by men, it is the trunk-church whose branches extend over the whole world, and have been throughout time, God having promised that He would be with His great leaders all days until the end of time. This world having to end one day.
These great leaders are called episcopos, bishops of the Church of God. They are united among themselves by one of them called Ko te papa, that is, the father (par excellence), successor to a governor called (Ko Petera) Peter, whom God appointed as such from the beginning of his Church, to govern it entirely in His name, by him and by his lawful successors until the end of the world. The bishops have lawful control of the great holy book (Sacred Scripture) and the true meaning of this book, of all that God has said, and of all the means of salvation (sacraments) for men. God having commanded the bishops to teach the nations, they teach by themselves the great holy book with its true Jesus, without whom they can be mistaken, God helping them every day for this purpose of teaching all nations and all peoples in the world. The bishops teach not only by themselves, but through the priests, who are also leaders in the Church of God, to help them in the salvation of people.
“There are several other churches in the world, and quite close to them in New Zealand; but these churches have left the Mother Church, and she deplores their separation; they do not come from her bosom because they do not wish to believe all that she teaches, nor do everything that God says through her: they are apart from the living tree like cut off branches, they are small in duration and extent; they come to an end one after another because God is not with them, and having ceased to have the Mother Church as their mother, they have ceased to have He himself as their father. The great holy book of God and the authority to teach are, for them, things taken from the Church and not received from it or God; many of their members make a profession of teaching peoples and tribes, but their teaching, not helped by God, has true and false elements, depending on whether they understand well or badly the great book entrusted to the bishops of the Mother Church. What is true in their teaching comes from the Mother Church, what is false comes only from themselves.”
“The true ministers of God in the Mother Church act very differently: none of them takes the great book nor the authority to teach, but each one legitimately received his powers; God chose, made priests, and sent the first ones to instruct all the peoples; he gave these men the fullness of powers needed for their ministry of salvation, by virtue of which they were able themselves and through their successors to choose, to create and to send those whom God calls interiorly to the holy work, and that in all days until the end of the world: and it is in this way that from hand to hand holy authority is always passed on in the Mother Church and never taken. What would all the members of a tribe of New Zealanders say, if one of them, an ordinary individual, came and said to the others, ‘I was made to rule the tribe; the chief is not the true chief, I am; I do not need his authority to rule you. I hold my powers and my mission from the God of heaven and earth’, but at the same time he does nothing to prove this extraordinary bestowal of authority? That is the situation of those who preach without the authority of Mother Church.”
This comparison always makes such an impression on the New Zealanders that they cannot help laughing at it with scorn and indignation.
“Finally, you have to distinguish those who call themselves ministers of God, by the devoted love they show towards God and neighbour. The Roman Catholic ministers leave everything for God and for the good of the peoples; when they do it, they leave their country, their friends, their families, to carry out the ministry of salvation: they risk every danger with no other motive than saving souls; they have their bodies and hearts totally consecrated so as to love only God and neighbour in the work of salvation; they have neither wives nor children so as not to have hearts divided between God and themselves, between their families and their flocks, and as a result, to work with greater freedom and greatness of soul for the salvation of men, women and children, whom they love as brothers and sisters in the sight of the true God, who is the Father of all men, and as spiritual sons and daughters to whom they give the holy life and eternal salvation through their august ministry.”
That was the end of the explanations I gave to this group of people who listened to me with great attention. Chief Taroa immediately asked me to stay with his tribe for at least some time, and was worried when he was told of the time of my leaving Otago on the schooner. I told him that my intention this time had been to see them, to speak to them and to understand what they really wanted, and that since they did not want me with them to stay only a short time, I would try to spend about two dozen days with them, then the priest-missionary of the Mother Church (Father Comte) would come in two or three months to stay with them until they had enough understanding of the great teachings of the true God. This pleased the whole gathering, without fully satisfying it; the chief and the leading men reiterated requests that the priest stay with them to enlighten all the Otago tribes. However reasons arising from the general welfare of the mission prevented me from yielding to their wishes and made me hold to what I had promised them; however I added, to the chief, that it would be generous of him, if he so wished, if I took one of his sons with me on the ship, whom I would entrust to the priest-missionary at Akaroa, so he could soon be instructed, and then, after two or three months, he would come back with him to Otago. This suggestion was joyfully received. From that moment a milder look came on their faces: peace, affability, and contentment seemed to reign there. I distributed among them a few little catechisms in the New Zealand language that they asked for. They all cried out in delight: “It is the first time we have been visited by European ministers of the great God.” Indeed no other white missionary had come to them, nor to any tribe of Otago. I have not yet found whether there was in all of this great island any other Protestant minister than a married Wesleyan or Methodist living about 10 miles to the northwest of Otago on the coast, but he has come there quite recently and has not yet come here.
However we have met several natives, self-styled Protestants, who know neither how to read nor write, who have heard white missionaries from various sects, or who have learned from their neophytes the main things in their teaching, and knowing by heart the daily prayer that they recite, had themselves taught these things to many of the Otago natives. Already the tribes of this harbour[5] fairly much abstain from servile works on the holy day of Sunday. Alas! When, in the Lord’s presence I think of the beautiful harvests of this mission, heresy’s active zeal, the great number of agents or self-styled missionaries that it sends out and with which it precedes us almost everywhere, and when from another aspect, I mentally cast my eyes over the numerous bodies of Catholic clergy in the long-established Christian communities of the Church, up to more than thirty thousand priests in a single nation, and over that multitude of seminaries and colleges in which ardent young men have been brought up in the beliefs of the true faith, I cannot explain the deprivation of collaborators I have experienced. I have only twelve priests and seven catechists, which the people in my flock fight over every day, as soon as they know a little of their language. You would need 500 priests, strong in knowledge, in clerical virtues and in prudence, and then at least as many pious and zealous catechists. That is what would immediately be needed, and only to begin, so as not to allow ourselves to be outdone by the agents of Satan, that is to say, so as not to find the gate to the sheepfold closed, or at least so as not to meet paganism and heresy to be fought there both at once. O beloved Society of Mary, rogate nobiscum Dominum at Dominam messis ut mettantur operarii in vincam corum.[6]
Reverend Father, I didn’t think I would have the time to give you so many details and some of the feelings I daily experience, but since I still have some time, because of contrary winds which are delaying the ship’s departure, I am going to use it to continue telling you my story.
After my suggestion to take with me one of Tairoa’s sons had been accepted, we went on talking but sitting on the grass near his house, which is on a little hill constantly battered by the waves of the harbour. Then he invited me to visit the inside of his house, made out of branches and tree bark, with tall swamp and river grasses, the sort of reeds that grow here, and with which the natives cover and draught-proof their houses. They are made naturally, sloping on two sides, with a single room, or just a ground floor. Here is what it looks like. There are no windows, only one door, about two and a half feet high, and one foot wide, which is the only way of getting in, and of admitting light. These houses are more or less wide, and more or less long; those belonging to chiefs can in some cases hold 20 people seated on the ground or on mats, others, 30, and some up to 60 or 80. The walls made of branches and bark are three or four feet high, and from the ground to the centre of the roof is normally six or seven feet. In the middle, on the ground, is a fireplace, where during the evening people light a big fire which lights up the whole gathering; it is lit also during the day when it is cold, but it is never used for cooking; this fire is used only for heat and light. The smoke all goes out through the top of the door by coming down from the height of the interior where it stays like a fog, without troubling those who know, like the natives, how to hold their heads supported by the elbow when seated and lying somewhat on their sides. In this position the smoke hardly touches your face and does not tire the eyes. But if you want to sit upright, you have your head in thick clouds of smoke. You are forced to either shut your eyes, or put up with the really smarting pain. But this account is a digression concerning the chief Tairoa’s house which I entered on a fine day without any need of a fire being made. Five or six other chiefs were welcomed with me. Father Comte was part of the group, and we were fairly tightly squeezed together, because the dwelling could hardly contain ten people comfortably. Tairoa had placed a mat specially to set me on his right, before all his other chiefs. I spoke some pleasantries to him about his house and his company. Then he opened a box or sort of trunk which contained some clothes and a good number of large pictures of Bonaparte’s battles and the landscape of Algeria; he had the portrait of Louis-Philippe and of the great general; he stored up all those things promptly and carefully; he was happy to show them to me and tell me what he understood about them, and who had sold them to him or given them in exchange for potatoes or pigs that he had brought to the ships anchored in the harbour. I quickly realised that it was captains of French whaling ships who had given them to him as gifts or in exchange. We talked a long time about these pictures; then I left for the schooner, blessing God for this visit. In the homes of almost all the chiefs of Otago I found large numbers of large French pictures, depicting wonderful things in the landscape and, even, saints. It was with joyful surprise that I saw in almost all the houses of the chiefs, and in Tairoa’s home, the picture of the Blessed Virgin, crowned and holding the child Jesus in her arms. These chiefs have no more urgent concern than showing you their collection of pictures, which interest their minds and are like talking books for those who don’t know how to read other ones, not knowing how to either write or read. And then these pictures adorn their houses, where they don’t have fires, and resort their minds with great memories. A few days later I visited a lesser chief of the same tribe as Tairoa: his home had its walls covered with pictures; exceptionally this man had two rooms in his house: a kitchen and a European-style bedroom. Like the others, immediately after my arrival at his home, he hastened to greet me and then took me into his bedroom to show me his pictures; as it was at nightfall, he had a lamp he owned brought to me to give me light. Fairly quickly I looked around his whole collection: it was like a little museum, at least in terms of the variety of representations; there were a number of battle scenes, portraits of men and women saints and several pictures of the Blessed Virgin scattered among all the others. But what really distressed me was to find two fine engravings – representations of immoral acts and everything that could most harm modesty. I immediately turned to the chief, who was accompanied by four or five people from his household, and pointed out to him with feeling that he owned two very bad pictures which had no other purpose than to arouse the viewers to live like animals (an expression which is also found, word for word, in their language). I also told him that the true God would be indignant if, having turned to the Catholic faith, he wanted to keep in his house brands of bestial vice. Quite imperiously I told him to take them away from my sight immediately. Immediately he told two of his people, whom he joined, to destroy them completely, and all three hastened to tear them up into bits, while saying, “It’s really true, yes, it’s bad… it’s beastly activity… how ignorant and senseless we were in our own home!...” But in spite of their efforts, they could not succeed in pulling it from the wall which was made of wood; then I suggested that they get a knife to scrape them off; and everything disappeared in a moment; this obedience in a savage chief who only two days beforehand had submitted to Catholic faith, fairly consoled me in the affliction I experienced while thinking that in Europe there are people, corrupted spiritually who seem to take delight in corrupting the attitudes of others and adding their own corruption to that of the savages, even before we ministers of God have been able to talk to these people about the lily of purity. Oh, the bottomless malice of sinners on earth! Of how many souls do they bring about the loss, and how much responsibility for them in the presence of the God of holiness, who states with certainty that it would be better to attach a millstone around the neck and to throw into the depths of the sea the man who scandalises the least of his little ones.[7]
We continue the account of this beginning of the missions in this harbour; I have already missed out several ships in the belief that I didn’t have the time to say everything; but I can [now]. I have not told you about our quite providential journey from Akaroa to Otago. As I had been told at Akaroa that it would sometimes take three weeks to complete the journey by sea to Otago because of variable winds and storms, although with a favourable breeze one could get there in twenty-four hours, and as a loss of three weeks’ time would too much upset the schedule of my mission journey at that time, I personally resolved to set sail, on leaving Akaroa harbour, for the south or north coast, according to the way that the wind favoured; that is to say, for Otago if the wind favoured that direction, or for a harbour to the north of Banks Peninsula, if the wind came to blow from the south. It was with this plan that we left Akaroa on a Saturday, the 14th November. We had some difficulty in getting out of the harbour; we were forced to tack out to the entrance; there was almost no wind to that point and still if it wasn’t directly for Otago, it was far from being favourable for it, but hardly had we got out into the open sea with the thought of going to the harbour on the north side of Banks Peninsula, when the wind immediately changed, became strong from the north, and promptly the captain, whom I had told of my intention, had the setting of the sails changed, the ship was headed for Otago and we sped in that direction. The next day at two o’clock in the afternoon we were not very far from the entrance to the harbour which was narrow and not easily seen by captains who had not been there before; there are long reefs hidden under the water; they are about twenty miles to the north of Otago, and according to the locals extend for about three leagues (c. 15 km). As we had three Europeans on board, employed for steering the schooner, who had lived on the coasts near there and in Otago itself, the captain was relying on their directions to discern the entrance to Otago harbour, which the shapes of a mountain range beaten by the waves of the sea made difficult to see. But alas! Those men made a miscalculation, they confused one mountain with another, which should have been the sign for the entry: this mistake, which placed the harbour a dozen miles more to the north, resulted in the captain getting a direction that was both misleading and more dangerous, because in bringing the schooner pretty close to the coast to catch sight of the entry to the harbour and anchor there, we found ourselves precisely over those reefs which we spoke about. We were all on the bridge, happy at arriving and congratulating ourselves on our speedy journey, when suddenly we heard a sudden shaking of the ship, a sound as if we were on the rocks which were covered by six or seven feet of water. Immediately the questions: “Where are we? We are in contact with reefs.” The captain quickly turned the rudder to send the schooner out to sea and God, who was watching over us, had willed that the rock did not do us any harm, and that the breeze should be so strong that in the wink of an eye we were torn from our situation over the reefs and found ourselves further out to sea. We soon realised the mistake made concerning the entry to the harbour, which our people realised must be 12 or 15 miles further south. Interiorly I was quick to give thanks to God and the protection of Mary on account of the imminent danger from which we had just been delivered. From that time we travelled quickly, still with a favourable wind, but with more care, with the captain strongly of a mind to rely only on himself in entering Otago harbour. However the night fell without his being able to make it out; it wasn’t very dark, but the rain and the fog added to the difficulties of finding the entrance; it was overshot by about three miles to the south without being caught sight of; the three men on the lookout constantly did their best to discover the entrance, believing that if it could be seen, there was no danger in entering and going on to anchor in the harbour that very night. The captain, very embarrassed, came to consult me and set out for me his concerns: I answered him by saying that I didn’t believe myself able to settle this navigational matter, and that he to do his best to do what he thought appropriate for the common good, for which he was solely responsible. However, I added that if I were in his place I would, like him, be inclined to await daylight to carry out this entry into the harbour, although by going to bed further out in the open sea, we could be surprised by one of the storms which are frequent in this area, and which could delay our coming to an anchorage by a week or even more. At this point the lookouts and some other seamen came up, saying there was not the slightest danger in entering the harbour; they believed they had caught sight of it amongst the noise of the waves breaking on the coast; they were certain of it, they pointed it out to the captain, but alas, those poor lookouts were quite wrong again; they took a bay which had no depth in its shape, and whose shape was hidden by fog close to the sea, they took I say, this bay for the entrance to Otago (harbour) which we had left more than three miles behind us. The captain, quite worried, again came to me and told me that he had a special difficulty in making up his mind to steer the schooner at night into the place he had been shown. I answered him in a decisive tone, yes, let’s go to bed out at sea, that is what seems to me to be the most prudent thing to do, let the Lord’s will be done. Then any hesitation ended; the bow of the schooner was directed to the open sea, where we spent the night cruising under a fairly strong wind.
The next day we saw we were not far from land; we approached, the breeze was favourable. We looked for the entrance to the harbour which had, some thought, been caught sight of the day before, and we all realised, even the lookouts, by the sight of two mountains which were on the northern and southern heads of what seemed to the entrance to Otago harbour, that it was only a small bay backed by a sandy shore and offering very little shelter, but that the true entrance of Otago harbour was three or four miles to the north. Alas, that second mistake could have been at least as dangerous as the first, over the reefs the day before! If we had, at night, steered for the claimed entrance of Otago harbour, we would have, in a few moments, got into the half-moon shape of this little bay, and as we had a strong wind from the stern to get there, it would have been impossible for us to get out of it when we found our mistake and we would have certainly been shipwrecked. You can imagine how much the captain and I congratulated ourselves at not having listened to the entreaties made the previous evening, with the best of intentions, no doubt, to get us to go in a direction heading for shipwreck instead of that leading to the harbour!
At last, with the breeze continuing to blow from a good direction, we caught sight of the so much sought for entrance, we were very close to it, only a mile, and there was rejoicing that we were, in a few moments, going to anchor in the harbour. But God still wanted to test us: the breeze fell, a calm occurred and the schooner went before our very eyes towards the rocks on the south side of the entrance which we were missing. However, we were not alarmed, the danger was not great, because the currents which pulled us along, although strong, were not such as would prevent us from towing the schooner from there with two ships, which were launched with men from the crew; by rowing, the ship could be turned enough towards the open sea by going with the currents going southward. Once out of danger, we waited almost the whole day until a breeze blew to take us out of the calm which left us at the mercy of the currents and close to the coast. Our desires were more than satisfied in this sense, in that instead of a favourable breeze that we were hoping for, we quickly went from one extreme to another: a very strong wind got up and we had a storm instead of a calm, and we had to quickly get out to sea and out of the threatening proximity of the coasts in such circumstances. It was at nightfall, and the whole night went by without our knowing where we were, amongst the waves: resting in the arms of the Lord, the best of fathers, we went to bed: Father Comte, Father Pèzant and I; (Father Pèzant is with us, I will explain that later on). We slept nevertheless and in the morning we were more than twenty-five miles from the entrance which we had got only a mile from the day before. The storm was soon over in the morning, and we once again were in a calm. Finally at two in the afternoon, a good breeze came, and we sped under full sail towards the entrance which the captain had clearly perceived the day before, and in less than three hours we were at the mouth of the river[8] of this great harbour. Then I called together the missionary Fathers who were with me, and we recited the customary prayers I had prescribed for the first time a mission territory is entered: they consist in reciting the litanies of the Blessed Virgin, the Miserere, Veni Creator, so as to drive evil spirits from this district, and give it the blessing in the name of the most holy Trinity, and ending with the Sub tuum to place, in advance, the people and the works of the ministry which will open up for them, under the protection of Mary, the mother of mercies and of all the treasures of grace, like those of faith. We were soon at the anchorage. Hardly had we anchored – it was about six or seven in the evening, and still daylight, when four or five young New Zealanders came out to us by means of a good whaleboat, because the harbour being quite rough would not have allowed them to come out in ordinary canoes. As soon as they were on the bridge they came and shook hands with us: they were open and friendly in appearance. They looked us up and down, and quite astonished, gazed at three strangers dressed in soutanes, which they had never seen. I said to the one who seemed the smartest and to be the leader of the little group of his companions, “From what tribe are you?” He replied immediately, indicating with his hand the place where his tribe lived. “Do you know who I am?”, I went on. “Yes”, he said, “you are perhaps the episcopo [bishop] whose visit we were told about by the high chief of the Baubi peninsula, and he advised us that if you came, we should receive you in peace.” We were surprised, the two priests and myself, at the speed with which news was shared among the natives. Myself, I had not been certain that I could carry out my intentions in that matter about which I said little, for fear that once it became known, difficulties would be raised against it being carried out.
Alas! I am forced to end there – the ship is ready to leave. I regret that very much, there are still very interesting things to talk about. But, I hope, there will be another time when I can tell them to you. Please send me, Reverend Father, a lot of subjects, a lot of money, and then the two presses, the two excellent presses I asked you for in my preceding letters. I do not need to ask the whole Society for prayers; I am sure it is offering many of them for us. The work here, the workers, our good Master, our august Mother, our rewards in Heaven, are for us a single thing.
United in true charity, very Reverend and beloved Father,
Your most obedient servant
+ J(ean) B(aptiste) F(ranç)ois Pompallier
Bishop of Maronea and Vicar-Apostolic of Western Oceania
PS As we have been told with great certainty that there are great troubles in Europe, I have addressed some letters directly to the person to whom I have written. There is a letter to my mother, dated the 16th or 17th of this month. It contains some general news. I am drawing to your attention to it so you may warn my mother with a little note that she takes care not to copy it, if it concerns the Congregation and the Propagation of the Faith.[9]
+ François


  1. ‘Akaroa’ or ‘Hakaroa’, in the language of the South Island, is the equivalent of ‘Whangaroa’ in that of the North Island, the two forms mean ‘long harbour’ (Cf Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Vol 1, p 29)
  2. Apoc 12:1. “And a great sign appeared in the sky: a woman clothed in the sun and the moon under her feet, and above her head a crown of twelve stars.”
  3. Pompallier goes from Banks Peninsula to Cloudy Bay (in the northeast of the South Island) to Port Nicholson (Wellington), to Turanga (today Gisborne in Poverty Bay) where the Anglican minister William Williams had set himself up in January 1840 (Cf Doc 114 [6] f/n 7), and then to Maketu and then Tauranga (both in the Bay of Plenty), then to the Haruaki Gulf (the river Thames) and to the Bay of Islands.
  4. No doubt this is Taiaroa, a Maori chief of the Ngai-Tahu tribe, originally from the area around Waihora (Lake Ellesmere) near Banks Peninsula. He had an important position in his tribe at Otakou on the Otago peninsula from 1830 to about 1860. He was baptised in the Methodist Church on 3rd April 1850. (“Taiaroa, Te Matenga” in the Dictionary of NZ Biography, Vol 1, pp415-416)
  5. Pompallier writes: cette baise” – a mis-spelling of cette base? - translator’s note
  6. Cf Matt 9:37-38 and Luke 10:2. “Ask therefore the Lord [and the mistress – dominam] of the harvest to send workers into the (their) harvest.”
  7. Luke 17:2. “Jesus says to his disciples, ‘Obstacles are sure to come, but alas for the one who provides them. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone put round his neck that that he should lead astray one of the little ones.” (See also the parallel texts: Matt 18:6 and Mark 9:42)
  8. Otago Harbour, being long and narrow with strong tides, like the Hokianga Harbour that Pompallier knew well, could well have seemed like a river - translator’s note
  9. Pompallier has in mind, it seems, that his mother would copy parts of his letter – to send to friends and relatives, perhaps - translator’s note

Previous Letter List of 1840 Letters Next letter