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30 March 1841 — Father Jean-André Tripe to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Akaroa

Translated by Mary Williamson, July 2019


Based on the document sent, APM Z 208.


Single sheet of paper forming four pages, three of which are written on, with the address on the fourth.


[Address]
Mr Colin, Superior General / of the Society of Marists / Saint Barthelemy Rise No 4 / Lyon France.


[in Poupinel’s handwriting]
New Zealand / Akaroa 30th March 1841 / Father Tripe.


[p.1]
Jesus, Mary, Joseph.
Akaroa on Banks Peninsular, 30th March 1841.


My Very Reverend Father Superior,
[1]
By way of an English corvette, which was heading for Hobart-Town, three months ago, I had the pleasure of writing to you. Today a whaling ship, intending to leave our shores to head directly for France, [1] so I will take advantage of it to send you my news again, as well as that of my colleagues.
[2]
All the Fathers in the North Island are in good health, according to a letter from Father Epalle which arrived recently. It is the same for the Bishop and Fr Pezant who left us during the first days of Easter [2] to go to the Bay of Islands. Father Comte, currently away for several weeks, complains of weight gain and I, thank God, have kept very good health up till now. I do not know about the wellbeing of our colleagues in the tropics, who the Bishop will go to visit after he has visited the Bay of Islands.
[3]
My last letter, if you have received it, will have worried you with the details that I gave you of the behaviour of the Bishop towards Father Comte and myself and I fear that those that have been addressed to you by my colleagues will have affected you in the same way, even though the subject might be different. Fearing that that letter might be lost en route, I am going to briefly repeat its content and what has troubled me the most, amongst other things, that the Bishop has said to me. When we arrived in Akaroa, Father Comte, indignant about certain criticisms and lack of appreciation that, according to him, he received, charged me with hinting to the Bishop, if the occasion presented itself, that his priests did not have enough freedom to offer him their observations, that they were not generally welcomed and that they had certain complaints to make about his temporal and spiritual administration; Father Comte wanted to refer to certain expenses that could have been avoided and the state of neglect of our brothers in the tropics. The undertaking was very delicate, but the same fears and the same ideas having been suggested to me in the Bay of Islands, I took on the responsibility. Despite all the circumspection that I used in my wording, the matter touched a nerve and was not well received. First there was dissimulation, then prayers for the greater good of the mission to be revealed to the author of this proposition; I refused to name him, repulsed by the role of informer; finally I gave in, hoping that it would be used prudently in this situation and that Father Comte would not be compromised: It was the opposite. I had to brush aside harsh words such as I had never had directed at me before; obliged to present myself each morning before the Bishop to receive his orders, I was dismissed sometimes and treated as a conspirator. Father Comte had his turn and both of us were threatened with having written on our duty sheets the option of returning to France whenever it suited us: This was in no way surprising to me, it having been said to me that I would perhaps be sent back from the mission. However, I have since been told by Father Comte that the Bishop had expressed some regret over his threats; nevertheless before he left he stirred up another quarrel with me, with so little reason that my colleagues were indignant: The next day it was clearly demonstrated that he was in the wrong, but he did not accept it , or pretended not to see it. My personality will never be compatible with that of the Bishop; I must agree religiously with everything he says and does; one must even be flattering, otherwise one will never be in his good books; and yet before his departure he suggested the plan that he had, to have me close to him and put me in charge of the procure. I took the action of writing him a letter, which was given to him two days after his departure, in which I said to him that, in spite of myself, I frequently had feelings of indignation after what had happened on board the Aube (setting for our upsets), I feared that I was not strong enough to endure such treatment, as I had already suffered without saying a word and that my stay in the Bay of Islands would perhaps open the door to my return to France; if I had the misfortune to lose grace, or have an angry outburst or show lack of respect towards my superiors, I would go back to France, if I was not sent and then all the exhortations would not be enough to keep me. The conclusion of my letter was a request to go to the tropics, protesting nevertheless my obedience if His Lordship ordered otherwise. It is very difficult to understand the Bishop, as he has not himself any fixed opinions and he changes them according to the circumstances. When he arrived in Akaroa he was obsessed with the captain and he could do almost nothing, especially in the chapel, without taking advice from him: Nowadays, there is only coldness between them, the captain is a man who wants to receive excessive flattery; if the colonists gave almost no outward sign of religion, the fault was lack of care by the priests: lastly and after a stay of about 6 months by the Bishop in Akaroa, they were threatened with seeing the priests removed if they continued to show the same indifference; as for myself, I was good for nothing if not to be a musician: now I am called upon to take charge of the procure and to preach each Sunday, Father Comte not being able to do it himself; amusing myself with an instrument in the Bay of Islands and during some leisure moments, certain things were said to me that could make me put aside music; and since my departure from there, I have been asked several times why I have not brought any instrument with me. As well, certain things happened in Akaroa between the Captain and the Bishop where the latter certainly lacked tact and prudence, as for example, in reproaching the Captain for having carried out certain works on the schooner with a lack of care and in saying to him in a thank-you letter he had written, things that he did not really think: I have these confidences from the Captain, who did not wish to receive a second letter, that he presumed would be further thanks when the Bishop finally departed. Mr Pezant, who replaced me as the person close to the Bishop, says that he feels obliged to write to you about certain matters that he disagrees with, concerning recommendations that you have made to him. In the matter of the mission’s expenditure, the Captain had reproached the Bishop for having too many crew members on his schooner and for paying them too much. A whaler which had cost 7 to 8 hundred francs and which had been left for our use is not in a fit state to make a long trip, in spite of repairs, and she has not yet been of use or very little use to the mission. Our chapel, which it was not wise to build, because the question of sovereignty of the peninsular is not yet decided, nevertheless cost 1200 francs and is too small and very unsuitable. Finally, in the trading that the mission carries out, it is almost always duped even according to my colleagues. And whilst the money is plentiful, they skimp on clothes and other things which should be provided for the staff and establishments. Brother Florentin is very unhappy about this. Things that were clean in his trousseau were taken and replaced with crude linen; and despite his repeated demands before he left the Bay of Islands for Akaroa, he was not able to obtain everything he needed; to the extent that he was on the point of lacking boots and trousers, the colony having no more left; fortunately, some ships were able to provide him. Father Comte is going to be obliged to dress himself in lay clothes, not having a soutane; he was informed by letter to go next to Hokianga in the Bay of Islands without seeing to his clothing and then he was not provided with the necessary clothing when he left from there for Akaroa. These failures or forgetfulness are hardly likely to please the people concerned; thus Brother Florentin has asserted more than once that if he ever gets back to France he will not been seen a second time in New Zealand: As well, he is very upset at not being able to wear the soutane.
[4]
As for the direction of the mission, it seems to all the priests that with the small number of staff we have here, it is impossible to prepare the ground in New Zealand and that the tropical islands offer a much more fertile ground and one which is much easier to break into, as the populations there are much more contained and they have had less contact with Europeans. The Bishop’s reply to this is that New Zealand was especially recommended to him by the Holy Father and so be it; but without abandoning it, a larger number of staff could be sent there, where they would probably work with more success. The South Island it is said has only two thousand souls and that of the North about two hundred thousand, which I don’t really believe; but hundreds of priests would be necessary to instruct all these widely spread natives, a situation that cannot be foreseen at the moment. Besides, I cannot see that the Catholic mission in New Zealand has achieved great success: The Bishop says that about 35 thousand natives have turned or wish to turn to the Catholic faith; but in reality there are only about three hundred christians who have received sacraments other than baptism, according to what Father Comte has told me; having deducted this number, mainly children, what remains of people who are novices? The instruction is limited following the rules (at least according to what I understand); so that all the knowledge is reduced to the principal truths of religion, except for the sacraments and their prayers consist of those for the morning and night and three hymns in the Maori language which they sing endlessly. Therefore, I was not able to prevent myself from saying one day, in the presence of the Bishop, that all things considered, the Protestant missionaries do as much good as the Catholics, since they instruct and baptise like us and that the heresy amongst the natives is only superficial, as they lack sufficient knowledge. Nevertheless, it seems that, following this, instruction will continue, as the Bishop has had us write detailed instructions on all sacraments in the Maori language. I am taking it upon myself to give you these details on the state of the mission and in doing this I bypass the instruction forbidding us to speak about the mission to anyone, even to the Superior, without our letters being read either by the Bishop or by his delegate in the Bay of Islands; I regard this veto as being too excessive and consequently as suspect; for a Superior should not be unaware of the state of the mission that he himself should be providing with helpers and it could well happen that our letters, passing by way of the Bay of Islands do not reach you and in that case the news would be monopolised and presented in perhaps too favourable a light. Nevertheless, I will make sure I do not do the same towards others, even to the house in Lyon and to you. It is very likely that this forbidding and the discontent that reigns, in general, amongst my colleagues might be the cause of the lack of news from them that you have complained of during our stay in Lyon. The ships may have lost some of their letters, but I have also noticed in them an unwillingness to write. You will perhaps find me a little too ready to criticise the faults that I believe I notice in the administration of the mission; I can assure you that the anger is not ill-founded in all that I have written; I observe, I slowly ponder and I make my judgement from a multitude of facts. It is possible that I am mistaken in my views, being newer to the mission than anyone else, but my intention is just and I only wish to enlighten you, or at least to open your eyes to what I am suggesting.
[5]
It would be suitable, it seems to me, that when leaving France one was better provided with clothing, such as soutanes, trousers, boots etc. One single trip through the bush and ferns tears everything and when one is far from the procure, one is soon short of clothes. The razors that we were given when we left are rubbish and the merchant has mislead Mr Poupinel. I offer my very humble respects to the directors and greet all my colleagues affectionately, commending myself to the prayers of one and all and especially to yours.
[6]
I have the honour of being, with the greatest of respect, my Superior,
Your very humble and obedient servant, Tripe,
Apostolic missionary.

Notes

  1. The Adèle and the Réunion will leave Akaroa on 3rd April 1841 to return to Havre (information received from Peter Tremewan on 28th June 2008)
  2. In 1841, Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Easter) fell on 24th February. According to Peter Tremewan (information received on 28th June 2008), the Sancta Maria left Akaroa on 26th November to return to the Bay of Islands.