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10 September 1841 — Bishop Jean-Baptiste-Francois Pompallier to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Tauranga

Translated by Mary Williamson, May 2021.

Based on the letter sent, APM 00c 418.1.

Two sheets of “Bath” paper, forming eight written pages, in the handwriting of Viard, except for the last sentence in §1(“It is rather —- voyage”), The signature and the § 12 - 14 which are in Pompallier’s handwriting.

[p.1] (no. 26)

Jesus Mary Joseph

on board the Santa Maria
in Tauranga harbour,
New Zealand, 10 September 1841.

To the Reverend Father Colin, Superior General of the Society of Mary, in Lyon.
My Very Reverend Father,
Pax Christi.
Although I may write to you from places other than the Bay of Islands, please be kind enough to continue to send everything, letters, parcels and people to the house in the Bay of Islands. This letter is numbered 26. Three other preceding ones that I have written to you were not numbered, because they contained almost nothing new and were only to inform you of the bills of exchange that I have sent you. There was a fourth letter before these three others, which was fairly long and which should have been numbered 25, but I forgot to write it at the top of the first page. That particular one was very important; it was entrusted to Mr Clement Norton, Captain and to Messrs Nicholas, Joachim and Remy Scheel, owner of the ship the Alexander, from the port of Braman, [1] sailing from the Bay of Islands directly to that port, its home port in Europe. So if this letter, which is dated 17 May 1841, has not yet reached you, you have here the address to reclaim it. It is to Mr Scheel the owner rather than to Captain Norton at the port of Braman, that you should address yourself, as the Captain is American and should be returning to America after this trip.
Today I am writing to you very surreptitiously; I am on a trip for the mission and as usual weighed down by work for it. I am to preach, baptise and confirm, to write and speak all day. I measure out the distances, from one day to a day and a half of walking to Fathers Baty, Séon, Pezant, Borjon and Rozet on the island of Te Ikanamawi. [2] Without this activity the mission is in the greatest of danger because our tribes are being harassed by the heretics and we lose them, because they are vexed at not being assisted by the sacred ministry and find themselves continually assailed by these others who open their arms to them. What trouble I am having at the moment to gather them back, in as great a number as I welcomed them for the first time 18 months ago! How much the lack of helpers and funds has weakened the mission! At least 15 more priests for New Zealand and suitable funds for them; only then will we be able to hold these two large and important islands to the bosom of the Catholic church. Do not be upset if I do not write to you frequently and at length, as this is a good sign; if we had little to do here, you would receive more letters than you would want. Imagine a country as big as all of France from which the people all come to us at once, requesting from all sides, priests, books, and all the assistance needed for salvation; it is necessary to be everywhere, to spread the gospel everywhere; not a moment’s respite, a continuous battle, we are all overwhelmed. If only the congregation and the Propagation of the Faith would be a little more patient; when we are a little less overwhelmed, what stories we will have to tell about these past years and especially all the interesting things that this vast country that we travel over has to offer! I have in hand several newspapers and small handwritten manuscripts that I have not yet put in the post; I am waiting for a safe way to send them, as it is impossible for us to make double copies and if they happened to be lost, I would be very upset. The Society and the association of the Propagation of the Faith would be permanently deprived of details that would certainly interest them.
I have told you that I need 15 more priests for New Zealand, let’s be quite clear about that and with 15 good Brothers of Mary I am still only addressing the essentials without making any mention of the tropics, where 50 missionaries and as many catechists would not be a quarter or even an eighth of what we need. People have come from more than 1000 places on a mission to me, in the Bay of Islands, to request a visit from me and some priests from my jurisdiction . [3] Oh! who will be able to make the zealous members of the clergy in Europe understand the wonderful harvest available in this vast mission? It has been said to me here, discretely, that in Lyon they say that I am a Bishop who is deluded about the state of the mission here. Alas! How harmful this idea is!. A little confidence in the blessings of the Lord which accompany the Bishops that he sends so far away in search of apostles who will continue their noble ministry amongst faithless people and one will come to believe the message that I bring and the judgements that I make about the arrangements and needs of the huge flock for whom I carry the great responsibility and for whom I would shed my blood a thousand times. I am the only one in this mission, it is true, who could and should understand it, in the state that the power of God’s grace has placed it, because from the beginning up till today his providence has always led me forward, leaving far behind me the few priests that I have. They themselves did not understand the processes of salvation that had taken place amongst these people and I had neither the time to tell them nor the time to write it down. It is only now that they begin to see for themselves, on the spot, the vast work that we have on our hands. Alas! How I tremble before the Lord to see that in Europe they hesitate too much; because of too much hesitation there is a lack of timely action which will sometimes not be recognised and where heresy well knows how to profit to the detriment of our holy Mother, the Roman Catholic church! O altitudo &.&…quam incomprehensibilia sunt judicia Dei! [4] O cross of crosses for the ministry, to see the work for souls lose ground!
Moreover, mission work is so difficult in these countries, because of heresy which offers all sorts of worldly advantages to the savages; those who expect nothing in return but who, on the contrary, represent honesty and nobility in their homes and their worldly activities, cannot work without providing as much as we are able in the way of housing, food and clothing; the natives have been conditioned to be shocked that we do not give them a lot of clothes or tools for agriculture and other work. As well this mission is in some ways completely bound to maritime activities; the expensive ship that we have is essential, as well as a craft for each establishment or mission station each year (a boat costs from 7 to 8 hundred francs and often a thousand) ; we have to repair them, buy oars and sails and pay the natives to row them; not having enough Brothers, I have to hire three Europeans to compensate and each one costs me sixty francs a month, without counting their food. The funds that the Propagation of the Faith sends are far from sufficient; we live at a level that would force the Lord to carry out some sort of miracle to maintain our health. But if the Propagation of the Faith stopped assisting us, after what I have said, it would certainly come to pass that the mission would then collapse. Just to maintain the ship, pay the wages of the seamen and the food that is necessary on board, I have to spend at least 18 to 19 thousand francs per year. The purchase of this ship climbed to about 25 thousand francs with14 thousand in expenses to put it in a fit state to go to sea. Now, the building of establishments, the care and upkeep of all the missionaries and catechists, the European trips needed and also the numerous natives that we are raising in our houses, who can row our vessels and who we are teaching to read, write and learn about religion cost us a great deal; we have to clothe them and feed them while they are with us. To do otherwise would be to present the Catholic church as less charitable than the heretic churches who keep all their pupils at a high level of care. No, no, those in Europe are far from understanding all our needs, all our burdens and all that the good Lord presents, in these countries, of fruits for the salvation for souls, nor all the excellent gifts that the populations without number can offer, but who are being taken over by heresy, to the shame of the Catholic clergy and the charitable zealousness of the faithful. Here the natives would almost have a reason to think that Protestantism is the greatest, the most powerful, the most charitable church in the world and that the Catholic church is the smallest, the languishing, the declining one. How many times the natives have said to me, if your church is so vast, so ancient, so numerous and if the other churches are smaller in spread and in numbers, why have their missionaries come in advance of you, why are they so numerous in our country and so wealthy in comparison with you and yours? Alas! blasphematur nomen Dei et ipsius Ecclasiae inter gentes, [5] whilst in Europe, I am suspected of delusion and exaggeration! Oh cross of crosses! A day will come, may it not be too late, when the Lord helps his anointed with the blessings of his promises: Ecce ego vobiscum sum, & …, [6] and will show who are the ones who have suffered down here, when their voices were neither understood nor believed. While waiting for this, here are the mission stations that I have been able to establish and who are all on a footing of extreme need: Firstly, in the tropics: 1. Wallis, 2. Futuna. Secondly in New Zealand: 1. Bay of Islands; 2. Hokianga; 3. Whangaroa; 4. Kaipara; 5. Auckland; 6. Matamata; 7. Tauranga; 8. Maketu; 9. Opotiki; 10. Terakako; [7] 11. Akaroa.
Six of our people are in the tropics and about 29 in New Zealand. Do not forget the mission’s ship, which costs more than all the people established in their stations.
I cannot tell you exactly the number of novices, they need to be counted by population, but the number is very high, perhaps forty thousand would not be exaggerating with only about one thousand baptisms; a certain number of confirmations and first communions. I beg you to make sure that all this is shown to the Propagation of the Faith and to His Eminence the head cardinal of the Propaganda fide.
I have the honour of being, with respectful and total devotion, my very Reverend Father,
Your very humble and obedient servant,
Jean Baptiste François, Bishop, Vicar apostolic of Western Oceania.
P.S. Very soon someone from the mission is going to leave for Europe [8] and he will provide full answers to all the letters that you have sent me and especially the important matters that you have spoken about; he will discuss these things with the Holy See.
Please try, my Reverend Father, to send us the quarterly funds regularly; this is very important and very helpful; I have already had the expense of borrowing money and using bills of exchange because of the delay in receiving our allocations; these expenses have risen to more than 2000 francs.
P.S. 2. Old woollen clothing, bedding of wool and cotton that could be gathered up in Europe for our New Zealand natives would make a very favourable impression for our religion. The calico things that we have been sent are very good too, but they are suited especially to the hot climate in the tropics, where I will soon be going in the ship.
P.S. 3. How impatiently I await the two priests and two Brothers that you are sending us for the Port Nicholson colony. Send them as soon as possible, plus 15 more priests and 15 more Brothers if you can and you will save New Zealand from heresy.
[In the margin] [12]
P.S. Before I left the Bay of Islands on this current trip for the mission, I named three Provicars, who are Fathers Viard, Epalle, and Baty: the first to accompany me on my travels, or sometimes carry them out instead of me; the second to be a permanent resident in the Bay of Islands house and to be in charge of the procure; the third, who has become very proficient in the English language and especially in the language of New Zealand, to serve in the capital, Auckland where the governor of civil administration for the whole country is situated; Father Baty has the title rather than the responsibilities of Provicar. That was to give him recognition with the governor. I have also named a provincial who is Father Garin; he lives in the Bay of Islands, though not responsible for any souls, so that he can better attend to the important business of everyone’s religious wellbeing.
P.S. 4. I said to you in my letter that it is a good sign when we do not write to you at length or frequently, as you might remember and that the Propagation of the Faith might recall, with the sacred congregation of the Propaganda ( please excuse my wording) that we are all still in New Zealand, like troops in active combat. Is it possible for soldiers on the field of battle to write letters during the day? They only have the night time for that and by then they are overwhelmed by fatigue. Up till now we only write to you during the long evenings, after having done battle during the day. For me, who is on the spot and who has up till now undertaken all the labours of the simple missionaries, as well as those of the episcopate, I pity them and am convinced that it is impossible for them, in a new mission amongst savages, scandalised by the Europeans, battered by heresy on all sides, even long before the arrival of our missionaries in the home of these savages, I am convinced, I tell you, that it is impossible for them, for at least 5 or 6 years, to write frequent and interesting newsletters, numerous and above all very accurate, as is demanded, for if one had nothing else to do, in a country as vast as New Zealand, than to get established in all the areas desired, it would take more than 3 years and still it would be expected that the subject would need to have a knowledge of two languages, which would be indispensable, English and New Zealand Maori. As well, the country is not a small archipelago, but a vast region; to speak the language well, time is required. For some priests more than others, they do not wish to present the public with ideas and inexact news that experience, later, will show to be inaccurate and sometimes false. To get to know a people oneself, one must know the language reasonably well, but understand, that for young priests who, when they arrive here, have two languages to learn at the same time, and then others come and take them from me as soon as they can express themselves or read and pronounce the forms of the prayers and instruction that are either in manuscript or printed form; some priests are endlessly obliged to travel not only in countries like those in Europe where civilisation has established routes and paths that are easy to follow, but in a country where there are only simple footpaths where it is easy to get lost from sight in the ferns, undergrowth and forests, intersected by rivers and marshes that have to be crossed by water or mud, sometimes up to the collar; other times, and this is often, one has to commit one’s life, when crossing deep rivers and bays, to the natives who provide you with the best they have to offer in the way of navigation, that is, their canoes, made of tree trunks hollowed out; this is part of how a missionary here spends his time. The other part is spent amongst the tribes of overgrown children who are always with you wanting to speak to you; they never leave you even when you wish to say your breviary, but remain standing apart; then several follow you and you are very relieved if they are satisfied with looking you over from head to toe without asking you a thousand questions. Travelling during the day, under the roof of their huts at night, one is obliged to talk a lot and often listen. It is very difficult to write in these circumstances and to keep your ideas in order, for you have so many interesting things to relate that you do not know where to start, you do not have the time to relate a hundredth part; you can see that an hour spent on this work deprives the famished souls who make your head spin, you are kept awake reviewing everything, while sleep overwhelms you after the labours of the day. Oh cross, happy cross of the ministry! Rescue souls from the devil, defend them against the wolves, pray with them like the Good Shepherd, raise their eyes and hearts towards heaven, the wonderful end to our labours, nothing more worthy on earth!
However, do not think, my Very Reverend Father, that we have not written at length and often. I am distressed to learn that many letters have been written with much detail, precise information and figures and that they have not arrived! I am surprised that the Propagation of the Faith has not had more of them than they could print, without depriving other missions. It is to be hoped that all these letters will arrive. Another reason to pity us. Our country is at the farthest ends of the world, at the antipodes; it is young, no postal services established, except just recently. To have even a few letters of advice arrive for all the priests of my mission stations, it often takes nearly a year; the same for them to gather for themselves the ideas that they wish to report about their districts. Now think about the fact that we have been in New Zealand for less than four years. A long established mission would be better placed than ours to satisfy the wishes of the Propagation of the Faith to receive news; everything is established for them and at least the main establishments are on a sure footing; but in ours everything has to be created, everything has to be done and done in haste, to battle the rivalry of the enemy, heresy. It really is that here one must have the sword in one hand to fight and the trowel in the other to build. It is not easy to replace one of these with the pen. Such is the fate of this ill-fated mission. They may wish, in Europe, to await positive and regular letters and news from a country where everything is in a state of chaos and conflict, where the distances and lack of regular communications make all these contacts long and perilous in themselves. To not send me people and funds, except in frequently received letters, it is obviously to expose (as has already been done) all the mission to suddenly collapse, and all the missionaries with their bishop to die in poverty or to go around hiring themselves out to work as sailors on board some ship, or else to seek refuge with the natives and go fishing with them, or work in their kumara and potato beds, whilst heresy triumphs at our collapse. Things are not yet this bad, but if we find ourselves in need, a large number will think of Protestantism as the good church and will be inclined to turn their backs on us and will have even less pity for us and believe us misleading and deceitful. If the Good Lord blesses the holy cause that I defend, if my voice is believed in Europe, it ought to suffice that for once we might be secure:
  1. If I was sent one hundred priests and one hundred catechists all at once, with enough funds to settle them and maintain them for several years, I would find for each one of them more work than he would be able to do in this mission; this says enough about the good aptitudes of the people of Oceania.
  2. With regard to heresy, which has even more followers in my mission than I would want and who are ten times richer, the Catholic missionaries cannot wait to have temporal assistance from these new people; the Propagation of the Faith is their only resource.
  3. In almost all my letters there has been mention of the number of my mission stations and the number of people that are in them, without ignoring either those that I am being sent.
  4. The approximate number of novices and of people baptised has been mentioned in my letters.
  5. I have hastily written of the necessity of a ship for the mission, the price it would be and what would be required in the way of expenses, once I had bought it, once I have been encouraged, from Lyon, to make the purchase. Ideas of this kind would suffice, according to me, to give a useful and regular impetus to all the beneficial causes, I say regular, because you are happy in Europe to communicate with us; you have missionaries who would, if you set about it, come and who are able to come, every six months from you to us, instead of which for us, we tremble as we entrust our letters and our commissions to you. Nevertheless, we will make our best efforts, even to the detriment of our dear souls, to write more lengthily, in more detail and more accurately where the figures are concerned. May the Lord have pity on us! François.


  1. Brême, in German Bremen.
  2. Te Ika a Maui, the North Island of New Zealand
  3. Cf. doc. 107, § 11, n. 24.
  4. Cf. Rm 11.33: O altitudo divitiarum sapientiae, et scientiae Dei: quam inconprehensibilia sunt iudicia eius, et investigabiles viae eius! (O depth of wealth, wisdom and knowledge in God! How unsearchable his judgements, how untraceable his ways!)
  5. Cf. Rm 2.24: Nomen enim Dei per vos blasphematur inter gentes, sicut scriptum est (Because of you the name of God is dishonoured among the gentiles.)
  6. Mt. 28.20: et ecce ego vobiscum sum omnibus diebus, usque ad consummationem saeculi (and be assured, I am with you always, to the end of time).
  7. Name given on the maps of the time (cf. Sherrin and Wallace, p.390; Ross, p.93) but used, in the documents of the present work only by Pompallier, who elsewhere gives the other name of Temaia (Te Mahia) (cf. doc. 217, § 24 and n. 34). It is possible that Pompallier and Viard passed by during the missionary voyage in the first months of 1840 (cf. doc. 81, § 1-2; 86, § 4; 866, § 4-5); Pompallier certainly intended to visit Mahia during his voyage of February-May 1841 ( cf. doc. 86, § 4 and n. 10; 866, § 5). In the area of the Mahia peninsular, Baty found in October 1841, not long after his arrival in the region, some Maoris who were reciting Catholic prayers ( cf. doc. 114, § 9, and no. 9), no doubt following a four page brochure of which Pompallier had distributed some copies, which circulated from one tribe to another (cf. doc. 866, § 4).
  8. Jean-Baptist Epalle will leave for France on 23 May 1842 (cf. doc. 196, § 1).