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25 April 1841 — Father Jean-Baptiste Comte to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Akaroa

Translated by Mary Williamson, November 2019

Based on the document sent, APM Z 208.

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

[across page 4] [Address]
Mr Colin / Saint Barthélemy Rise No 4 / Lyon / Rhône / France

[post marks]

[in Poupinel’s handwriting]
New Zealand / Akaroa 25 April 1841 / Father Comte.

Akaroa this 25 April 1841.

My Very Reverend Father,
Not having had the time to finish the letter that I sent to you by the Cosmopolyte [1] dated 15 April, I am writing to you again today. I will say a few words about the state of political affairs here. The French, having arrived here, have not advanced their affairs as they believed they would when leaving France. The English, on arriving here had already proclaimed their sovereignty over all New Zealand, basing these rights on the discoveries of Cook and the signatures of the New Zealand chiefs who had no desire to sign what they were made to sign. The French found themselves quite embarrassed. There is an English magistrate in Akaroa; but he does not mix at all with the Frenchmen. No flag is displayed. The representatives of the French and English governments have written to their respective countries. The decisions of these two powers are impatiently awaited. As the first letters addressed to the French government were not in favour of colonising here, it is thought that, with enough support, all of New Zealand will remain in English control. Rumours of war were being spread about in December 1840. It was said that France was going to march alone against all the united European powers, because of the happenings in the Levant which had been resolved without the intervention of France. The corvette l’Aube was about to leave. She had already left Akaroa. As she passed in front of the port, the bishop’s schooner brought some more recent news sheets than those that announced war. These last ones made no mention of any such thing. Then the corvette returned to Akaroa where she remains all prepared in case of hostilities.
The English government establishes itself day by day in the North Island. The colonists are already numerous. They arrive in their hundreds from England. There are already four thousand souls in Cook’s Strait at Port Nicholson, where the Episcopalians, the Presbyterians, the Methodists or Wesleyans have their ministers. The Catholics, who number about a hundred there, dearly wish for a priest.
Up till now the Bishop has had a lot of influence on the natives. His position as Bishop which places him at a vast distance from us, his place as Superior which makes him distributor of items that are sent from France, his selflessness which wins him the esteem of the white people, his generosity to everyone his love of the New Zealanders, his patience in supporting them, the fact that he was the only great man in these islands, the novelty of his church; all that combined had given a general boost, so that the mission seemed to sense the hope of an abundant harvest, but now that a new government is establishing itself, I do not know if the influence of the Bishop on the minds of the natives will be as great as it was, New Zealand now being independent. The New Zealanders have two great vices, pride and greed for European goods. Pride makes them reason with their eyes. Greed has them create a wicked commerce with their daughters and their women, it also makes them barter their faith. In general the Europeans exert a great influence on them, especially those who are in public positions. Now the new order of things that is being established is all against us. The natives see the number of Protestants coming from Europe growing daily. They also see that the main authorities are Protestant, their protector linked to the government is a Protestant minister. [2] An Anglican bishop arrived two months ago. [3] It is at the instigation of the missionaries that the governor asked in haste for all of this, so as to oppose the Bishop. The governor himself, who is the leading Englishman here in his position as the Queen’s representative, attracts a lot of attention and respect from the natives. He needs, for the public good, to form a bond with the New Zealand chiefs, which he will easily do with his gifts to the highest chiefs, who more or less influence their tribes as they wish. This largess, coming from the hands of a Protestant will create more Protestants. In general, the New Zealanders will attach themselves to whoever gives them the most. The ministers, who push zealousness almost to a point of fanaticism, are effectively protected by the government and, having as much money as they wish, are not afraid of buying the faith of the people and will put many obstacles in the way of our ministry and will at the very least create a lot of indifference in the people. After all these considerations, I think that an English Catholic clergy would do much more good than us who, in our position as Frenchmen, always stir up the jealousy of the English. We should go to the beautiful tropical gardens where the numerous islands are still pristine and where the populations are closely grouped. The Bishop thinks very differently. He said to me before he left Akaroa that all these obstacles do not weigh heavily on him and that God blessed the mission in New Zealand in an extraordinary way. I kept my silence. He knows about everything better than me, so I do not hold to my opinion. The faith of the Bishop is vast. He holds firm to God’s side and leaves men to do what they will with politics. All that I have just said will perhaps not happen. God makes everything turn to his glory. I thought that I would be able to reveal my thoughts to you, which you can take no notice of, if you wish, as they are no one’s except mine, and I cannot control God’s plans for these islands.
Nevertheless, I think deeply about the tropics, especially since the Europeans have established themselves here. I hope that the Bishop will send me there soon. I am very happy, especially when I am amongst the natives, far from Europeans. Poor natives, how happy they would be with us if only they had never known the Europeans; Their island would become an earthly paradise and they would be a people of saints! I am making little progress, my Father, towards perfection. I languish in the warmth and indifference; I gather nothing for heaven that I can offer to our good Mother who inspired me to come here. Please pray to her every day for me. Oh, Mary will not be insensitive to your requests. Via you she will give me the blessing of seeing her one day in Heaven beside her dearly beloved son. I am longing to receive news of you and of the Society. I commend myself to your prayers and to those of all the Fathers of the Society of Mary.
I have the honour of being, with the greatest respect,
My Reverend Father,
your very humble and obedient servant,
In all my letters I ask you to send me an ecclesiastical history. I repeat the same request here.
I have forgotten one thing. The good and virtuous Father Tripe has written to you several times. He has more or less told me the content of his letters. I would sincerely ask you, when reading his letters, to take into account his character and sensitivity. His habits were formed before he entered the Society. He was also rather older, which means that one cannot expect of him what one would expect from a young Marist who has had two years as a novice, but if one knows how to understand his character one will get excellent results from him. He is very pious, he is of an incomparable exactitude in fulfilling all his duties, he is very hard-working and very careful in what he does and in what is entrusted to him. He loves the Holy Virgin who will repay him a hundred times over in Heaven.
Brother Florentin, whose illness I informed you about is now well again. I have no news from the North Island, nor of the mission in the tropics. I think that the Bishop is already en route to go and visit Wallis and Futuna.


  1. The French whaling ship, the Cosmopolite, captained by W. Munro, left Akaroa on 20 April and arrived at Le Havre on 12 September 1841 (information received from Peter Tremewan on 24 April 2008)).
  2. Hobson has named George Clarke (1798-1875) an Anglican missionary of the Church Missionary Society, to the office of Protector of Aborigines in April 1840 (cf. Dictionary of N.Z. Biography, vol. 1, p. 82-84).
  3. As there is no doubt about the date of the current letter because of the post marks, it seems that Comte is repeating a story that he has perhaps misunderstood. It is possible that there was already talk of a project to name an Anglican prelate; in fact, the consecration of the first Anglican bishop of New Zealand, George Augustus Selwyn, will take place on 17th October 1841 and he will not arrive in Auckland till 30th May 1842 (cf. Dictionary of N.Z. Biography, vol. 1, p. 387; Yates, p. 44-45, 51-54; see also doc. 178, § 3, n. 8).

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