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25, 27 & 30 October 1841— Father Claude-André Baty to Father Claude Girard, East Cape

Based on the document sent, APM Z 208.

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, July 2014

For William Williams' account of the debate see his journal entry

To Reverend Father Girard, Novice Master in Lyons

A M D G et D G H[1]

St Michael’s Station, Te Auroa, 25 October 1841
Very dear confrère and Reverend Father
I am confident that at this moment when I am writing these lines, you received a long time ago my letter written early in August 1840. [2] I am truly sorry at realising you have been such a long time without a letter, after your commendations and support. Once again, it’s been only a very long time since receiving your letter that I have taken up my pen to reply to you.
I am writing to you with, in the background, the noise of waves in fury coming and breaking on the rocks which edge this coast, and which seem only to respect those purifying words: huc usque venies etc.[3] At the same time they obey those others, et hic confringere etc.[4] I left the miry rivers and the rainy climate of the Hokianga a year ago. I am on the northern part of the peninsula to the north of the great sandy bay which can be seen on the maps, and to the south of East Cape.[5] I don’t have a map, I do not know the European name for this peninsula, and this is how I got here.
Having left the Bay of Islands on 23rd July on the schooner Sancta Maria with Bishop Pompallier, Fathers Viard, Séon, Borjon and Fr Rozet, we went to the River Thames where the capital is, from there we went to another place on this same river, from there, we celebrated the feast of the Assumption at sea and went to Tauranga where Father Pèzant is. From there the Bishop took, by the ship, Father Borjon to Maketu; and I, travelling overland, took Father Séon to Matamata, situated in a vast plain where there are many ponds of water to cross and from which Father Séon, unused to these physically demanding tasks, was helped by the natives. I stayed for ten days giving instructions in that place, Father Séon not knowing the language.[6]
When I got back to Tauranga, I set out to take Mr Rozet overland to Opotiki, where he was to settle himself; we saw Father Borjon on the first evening of our journey, we walked onward for two short stages visiting the tribes who, in the Bay of Plenty, are almost entirely Catholic and numerous. On the third day we were woken by a cannon shot, the agreed signal for the arrival of the schooner, the Sancta Maria. I stayed there a few days to see the natives and set out alone on the way to Opotiki where I arrived the same day. It is a very big pā where there are about 1200 to 1800 natives when they are all gathered together. They had just had a war about a woman who had changed her husband. Three men had been seriously wounded. I saw two of them, one of whom, not being a Christian [ne faisant uncane prière] had had his arm pierced by a bullet near the wrist. The other, who was a Protestant, had received a bullet which had pierced his body in the small of his back, leaving his backbone intact; this bullet had gone in on one side and out on the other. I do not know what has happened to them since.
Two days later the Bishop arrived there with Mr Rozet on a big canoe and, the day after their arrival, I left with the Bishop to go and re-join the ship. As the canoe which had brought them could not set out again that day, we took a medium-sized Maori canoe. There were 12 of us on board with a fair amount of cargo. The wind was blowing onshore, and although the bar was not very bad, it was very bad for our canoe. We crossed the first waves nearer the land fairly easily, they were not rolling over each other to form an arc and fall with a roar at varying heights from time to time; but a bit further on we met the waves closest to the shore and which began the bar. In the weather we were experiencing, they were rising to 6 or 7 feet. A first one put water in our craft, the natives began to shout, to row, to steer well. A second wave gave us some of its volume, but our canoe did not overturn. A third wave two-thirds filled our canoe, so that it would have been impossible for it to surface again after a fourth wave. God, through the intercession of Mary and our guardian angels, was anxious so spare us this fourth wave which would have submerged us with the risk of perishing under the waves. Each time a wave came, I received it with a great intake of breath, for the rest being little afraid. But the wind, which grew stronger as we went along the coast, made us fear for our frail skiff; to go ashore was to risk being killed under the frightful rolling of the waves. There was a river further on where, with care and help from above, we were able to gain safety from the capricious elements and come to land. At last, having got back to the ship, we left, and, the day after the feastday of St Michael,[7] I came ashore to this peninsula. The Bishop gave me St Michael as patron of this station.
This station is very large in area although it does not count a great number of natives. Protestantism has been preached here for about three years and the great majority of natives have given it a favourable hearing, more for the lack of presence on the part of Catholicism than for love of Protestantism. A small number have remained faithful (by ‘remained faithful’ must be understood in this way: they had been told before this, by a native, that the Bishop’s religion was the good one, and relying on his word, they carried on some Catholic prayers). The brother of the superior of the Protestant mission lives in Turanga, north of this place;[8] he came here recently and gave baptism to about 70 natives, instructed or not, willingly or by force; this word is almost literally true, because a chief who wanted to stay neutral and who lived near my house was so harassed by other natives that he was baptised. The spirit of evil causes exists perfectly in most of its supporters; they scour the hills and valleys looking for supporters, they don’t listen to reason. Catholicism is idolatrous, Nebuchadnezzar was a Catholic, Luther revealed the word of God, he found the Bible left in the dust, hidden and abandoned by the Catholics, that adoring the Blessed Virgin, making the one whom Christ called Satan the chief of the apostles etc, are great crimes.
Last Sunday a newly-baptised native came into the house where I hold prayers, to torment one of the principal Catholic chiefs, so as to get him to become Protestant. I spoke to him, and, without listening to me, he took his book and went out looking quite frightened and, once outside the door, turned around to speak, but finally took off. Celibacy, so much disparaged by the Protestants, is one of the great things that favour our cause. When William Williams came to perform the baptisms I have mentioned, he wrote to me, that having found I would not refuse to speak to him, he invited me to a debate the following day. His invitation was accepted, and he turned up with about 300 of his disciples, a good number of whom had the New Testament under their arms. I had about 60 Catholics. Immediately he claimed to be in the right because he had taken his religious beliefs from the Hebrew and Greek languages, and had not come to drink from my spring. He claimed that formerly there were several churches, for example, the 7 named in the Apocalypse and separated from the Roman church etc. He attacked the primacy of St Peter, the cult of saints and especially of the Virgin Mary, where he was forced to have nothing else to say but to cling to these words; that he preferred to go to heaven by a straight road than by a turning road. He attacked the use of prayer before a crucifix because of the danger of becoming idolatrous and that St Paul said we had to avoid even the appearance of evil etc etc.[9]
In all these debates, which have occurred fairly often, there is the advantage for Catholics in seeing that we can defend our beliefs, and that the harmful suggestions of the others are calumnies. The result of this last one has been that our Maori opponents have taken pride in looking for, and emphasising in their book, the passages they bring against the Catholics, without looking very much at those quoted in response, so that the Catholics no longer are ashamed to offer so derided a worship. Perhaps this is the most difficult place for Catholics. Along the great sandy bay to the south of here all the natives are heretics, as far as about 12 leagues [60 km] away, where there are some Catholics.
I recently made a journey to that place; after having walked strongly all day in moving sand, we rested one hour from the place where the natives are. I had two natives with me. In the morning we rose from the grass and went back into the sand. We got to a fine river called ‘Wairoa’ (long water).[10] I saw there about a hundred natives who had never seen a priest, some of whom said they prayed (Catholic) prayers. When I arrived, I commended that place to the Blessed Virgin and St Michael. I was received very kindly, and the chiefs promised me that all of them would say Catholic prayers, except three, but who encouraged the others to do so. What seemed to persuade them to do that were some medals and rosaries that I gave them. While walking about to see the country with a group of children whom I amused, I came across a dwelling for about 20 people who were all pagan, some of whom had been Protestants, but who had left everything [Christian, presumably] when a girl had become ill. I called on the name of Jesus, of Mary, and St Michael. Then I suggested to the sick girl who was no more than a skeleton, to pray – that is, to turn to the faith. She agreed to that, I called her parents whom I told about what was going on, telling them that my sole thought was a great desire that this daughter made a good death, and prayed for that intention, which was, for them, a very good thing to do. Then they all replied that I didn’t have a face like theirs, nor skin like theirs, that I was a stranger; that they could not do anything better, being ignorant, than to follow my advice, and straight away all declared themselves to be Catholics. I instructed the girl and baptised her with the name Philomena.
What a pity to see so many abandoned people! who live without paying God any homage, any glory, without gratitude and love for the Son and the mother. Others are learning to have the name of the Son often on their lips and hate or indifference for the mother in their hearts. Yes, dear confrère, you said it well in your letter… “savages whom you love more, I am sure, than the most civilised people on earth”. Who could prevent himself from loving these New Zealanders in the supernatural order and in the natural order, when one has only to deal with them in religious matters. They are so happy, so open, generally speaking, remarkably perspicacious in certain ways and amazingly stupid, it can be said, in others. They are mad on reading, pray day and night, sing waiata (songs, hymns). I am speaking about those in whom grace is bringing about its wonderful effects, because the others know how to speak only about natural things. The conversion of a father or a son, sometimes a child, most often leads to the conversion of the family and relatives to a distant degree. That is the great argument of the Protestants against the Catholic Church. Show love to your relatives, or for this or that person who is one of us, they tell the Catholic natives. If you had been the first ones to arrive, we, the Protestant natives always say, we would all belong to you, but we were Protestant when you arrived. So that, while seeing the Catholic Church as the right and good one, nevertheless they cannot understand that God cannot approve of another one. It must be hoped for that a good number will be saved by good faith, but unfortunately a good number do not seem to be in good faith. God has other ways of bringing them to himself. Generally there are many more deaths among the Protestants than among the Catholics, which is a strong argument and several have turned to the Catholic faith because of this; several baptised Catholics while sick have recovered health, if not miraculously, at least by a very obvious act of Providence, which has a very good effect. Yes, here the powerful effects of grace on individuals, on families are often seen; sometimes more numerous groups go from the mire [of unbelief] to a great cleanness. These plants can be seen to grow like the rays of the sun rising to its zenith, but for that, human help is needed as well. By telling you that, I don’t want to say that we must not deplore the loss of some, because here as well Satan does his ravaging work. If the natives could be well formed, I believe they could be easily preserved [in faith] because they have, once instructed, a great fear of sin, they have nothing hidden from a priest, confession gives them complete peace, as I have observed several times, which has led me to reflect on the wisdom of this divine institution. How little knowledge of the primitive heart of man is shown by decrying confession as too difficult a thing etc etc.
On re-reading your letter, dear confrère, I see that I have not replied to it. You are right to say that it is choice which makes things hard, because if we had to follow everywhere the good acts of heaven to tell about them, we would have to tell about almost everything that happened; which is not, anyway, particular to a country. As for what concerns me, I must admit to you that I have not corresponded willingly enough to grace to merit any special favours. There is one of them, however, which is being content always and everywhere, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, sacrificing oneself for this world, experiencing no dislike in living with a people, an experience which naturally would cost you something. The complete sacrifice of one’s life and all of oneself, a great spirit of faith in all things and everywhere, are fine armaments for a missionary. You are often astounded at the faith of the newly-baptised, as they seek God in everything. Unfortunately contact with other people, at least in certain places, takes them close to superstition, because the others, with their prayers and their New Testaments, if they do not cure a sick person, it is because they have committed faults which must be expiated and as a result cannot be healed. Thank you for everything you tell me about love for the Society of Mary, its progress, about prayer and the particular examen. You do well to remind a friend of his duties, because I assure you that once in liberty as we are here, it requires a very great grace not to forget and lose sight of what one formerly loved. Yes, I still love Mary, I give her thanks many times over for having admitted me to her Society. I love and esteem all those who are part of one of the three branches. I honour all the Fathers as my fathers and teachers. As for you, Reverend Father, I like to think of you very much, in the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. I like to recall the days which I was so happy to spend with you. I beg you, go on praying for me.
Your most affectionate servant,
Baty, priest-apostolic
1st PS. What! A second thought has made me forget the first; I forgot, in my letter to commend myself to the fervent prayers of your novices, whom I love very much, in the hope that several of them will come to share, continue and make our work fruitful. The thing which is most painful for me is when I think that if the workers do not come from Europe, wretched people who hold out their arms, begging us to come to their help, even, in their despair threatening us, without our being able to bring them any help. These are not works simply tossed into the air – it is the simple truth that I am describing; and who would not leave everything to fly to these wretched people, who could not remain unmoved, who could contemplate all of this and remain dry-eyed and indifferent? May those whom obedience restrains make their prayers precede their bodies! May they pray for the workers already involved in the work, and the flocks already entrusted to them!
2nd PS. 27th [October] There have just come to my mind a couple of events I want to tell you about. The first concerns a newly-baptised man who has died the death of the just. He was a young man, twenty and some years old. He had a lot of discernment but loved the interesting things and pleasures of this world. He had no fear of alcohol. Anyway, grace having affected him, he soon became a model of good living. He was baptised with the name of John the Baptist. Some weeks after his baptism he wanted to go back to his village 5 leagues [25 km] from the Bay of Islands parish, I went with him. We were joyfully welcomed by about fifteen of his fellow countrymen, because this place is a little detachment closed off from the Protestants who pester them. This neophyte was to be their catechist, their defender against lies, in a word, their consolation. It was from him, as they said, that they were to hear the word of God in the absence of the priests who could only appear there on rare occasions. They built for themselves a delightful little chapel in that place: their fervour aroused (and still does, I hope, alas, I feel moved when I think of them) the admiration of the heretics. But, alas, Bishop Pompallier having sent me on a journey to the Hokianga about 2½ months after, I found, on going through this little village, my neophyte close to death. I was afflicted by this loss while at the same time being consoled by thinking that his soul would go straight to heaven. He told me in public that he was happy that he had done nothing wrong since his baptism. I gave him extreme unction. He repeated to me an exhortation he had made to his compatriots a few days earlier: Hold fast to your faith, he told them, see this strongly rooted green tree; do not go and side yourself against that dried-up tree where you can fall and slide for no reason. May your palisade (there are no other walls, a symbol of the heart) remain upright; if you allow it to rot, it will fall, the pigs will get into your fields and, quite amazed, you will shout: Alas, our food has been all eaten up. May your palisade be new and you will preserve your potatoes etc. when I came back from the Hokianga, I only saw his grave. Fervour remained. His grave was watched over because his Protestant relatives wanted to take his body by force; they had always failed in their repeated attempts during his illness.
On leaving the home of the neophyte, I headed for a tribe in the Hokianga parish. I had baptised all the people in a part of that tribe[11] (with a few people excepted). I was seen some distance away, they came to meet me. I slept there, in the bush where they were working. The next day they took me to the other people in their hapu who were working on a canoe about 60 feet in length, so as to be able to go in safety to worship in the mission station house. There was a man there, about thirty years old, whom I had baptised some time before I left the Hokianga. His name was Timothy. After evening prayer, he began to speak for about 2 hours, everyone being in a deep silence. He spoke about the advantages of the [Catholic] religion, about their former ideas and their new ones, about the small value of all perishable things, etc. That’s perhaps what I heard or rather, read, about these things: unfortunately I did not put a single word in writing and now I have forgotten it all. This same neophyte said (when I was recalled to the Bay and told them to come and see me): Formerly we would not have left our work. A European comes. No one stops working. But we hear: it’s a priest, a father. At this word, we would come from the depths of the forest to see him and to show him our love. You can read what the heart of the missionary is, in these situations. And about the same man: a scoundrel had gone and asked him for a daughter of his (it’s the chiefs who arrange these sorts of things). He said to him, You have no faith, you Europeans. You give yourselves over to evil and do not give it up. Formerly we were evil, we were, now we have changed, evil is no longer seen among us. Your wealth is your guns and powder: here is mine (showing him a book). You would give me all your double-barrelled guns and your powder, which I do not want at all. The other, totally confused, answered him, “You really have faith” and went off. It’s from him that I got this story. I didn’t recall more of it but I am certain I remember it almost word for word, or at the very least, its substance.
3rd PS. Finally, Reverend and dear Father, one more thing which comes to my mind as I re-read this letter. It will provide you with more than one thought. I will leave them all for you to choose. Recently I had a curious fall. A Protestant native, the one who introduced error into this peninsula, came and found me to talk to me about religion. After I had given him, in summary form, a history of religion, he wanted to ask me some questions. I listened to him. He asked me where God lived before the creation of the world, what was God’s name, and he absolutely insisted that I admitted, with him, the expression, there are three Gods, that the Father is older than the Son, that the Holy Spirit is the father of Jesus Christ, etc, etc. Up to that point his victory was only imperfect, he looked at me already as if I had lost, but he wanted something more. He wrote on the ground with a piece of charcoal and asked me what was the kingship [royauté] (the great mystery, the great meaning) of his figures. I, already titillated by the pride with which he wanted to make me agree with his preceding statements, did not want to give him an answer. I told him that his speaking signified nothing (korero noa). I asked him then what he meant. He didn’t want to tell me, but at last it came out: there is 1 God, 3 persons in him or, as he had said before, 3 Gods, and he rested on the seventh day. After a little digression which I made on the way he talked, he told me to undo the string of my shoes. After several requests, I did so. He made an allusion to Moses at the burning bush and to St John the Baptist. He then proclaimed his victory which flew from mouth to mouth and greatly afflicted several of the Catholics who quite plainly thought I had been bested in an argument over religion. They said that I was still a child, but if the Bishop had been present, he would have been able to answer this native’s words. It gave me a chance to speak about this on the following Sunday and to demonstrate how ridiculous was such a claim of victory. They laughed at their silliness and were angered at this native’s way of speaking. Thanks be to God, my reputation was soon restored, and a few days after the debate, I rose higher in their opinion for my knowledge in matters of religion. Over to you to reflect on that. I think I have told you about the debate I had a few days after with a minister.

[No signature]


  1. To the greater glory of God and the honour of the Mother of God
  2. The preceding letter from Baty to Claude Girard was that of 4 August 1840 (Cf Doc 66).
  3. Cf Job 38:11a: And I said “This far you shall come, and no further.”
  4. Job 38:11b: There the insolence of your waves will stop.
  5. Le cap Est: East Cape
  6. Cf Doc 102 [2] f/n 2, 104 [1] f/n 3. From Tauranga, Baty left with Séon for Matamata about 25 August 1841, settled him there on 29 August and returned to Pèzant in Tauranga on 7th September (Cf unedited letter from Séon to Épalle 6 Sept 1841, APM 00c 418.22 and Doc 866 [6])
  7. 30 September 1841: the author confirms the date in a later letter (Cf Doc 232 [6])
  8. William Williams (1800-1878) named below [7] – an Anglican minister who came in 1826 to join his brother Henry, chief of the Anglican mission in New Zealand (Cf Doc 86 [3] f/n 4]. A fluent Maori speaker, he translated the New Testament and a great part of the Book of Common Prayer before the end of 1837. He settled with his family in January 1840 at Turanga (Gisborne) on Poverty Bay, in a parish extending over all of the East Coast of the North Island. In 1859 he would be appointed Bishop of Waiapu (Dictionary of NZ Biography Vol 1, pp 597-8)
  9. This debate took place on 13th October 1841, according to William Williams’ journal, which describes the event. “Our discussion had now lasted four hours, and enough had been brought forward to satisfy me that the natives who were disposed to pay deference to scripture would be favourably impressed in the behalf of Protestantism, and after a brief recapitulation of the chief points I presented the priest with the native testament I had used on the occasion, and took my departure” (Porter p 180). In a note (p180, n 31) Porter sums up what Baty says here and quotes a part of the last sentence, which she cuts off after the words “all the natives are heretics”. Porter notes that her quotation comes from a letter from Baty to J-C Colin on 28 October 1841, but it is clear that she is quoting from the present letter to Claude Girard and not from that which Bay wrote to Colin on 25 October 1841 (Cf Doc 113)
  10. The present day town of Wairoa is located where the river flows into Hawke Bay – a little more than 40 kilometres to the west of Mahia Peninsula. The presence of a number of Maoris who said Catholic prayers encouraged the pastoral visits of the author (Cf as well unedited letters from Baty to J-B Épalle, of 8 October 1841 and 30 October 1841, APM 00c 418.22 and also Doc 232 [10-29] in which Baty speaks about a second visit to Wairoa which he prolonged even more, and which lasted from 17 December 1841 until 9 January 1842.)
  11. Une division de cette tribu - a part of that/this tribe – in Maori would be hapu

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