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Jean Lampila (Seminarian) to Fr Claude Dussurgey, 4 April - c. 17 May 1842

D’après l’expédition, APM Z 208

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, June 2005

(New Zealand)
Very Reverend Superior[1]
It is with very great pleasure that I hasten to profit from the opportunity (given) by Father Epalle, who is going to France, to give you news of myself, and to inform you of our arrival, safe and sound, thanks be to God, in New Zealand, today, the 4th April.[2] Since we had lost sight of European coasts, we had not seen any other land. Judge from that the vast extent of the ocean and the boredom which travellers have to go through in such a crossing. In a space of three and a half months we covered between seven and eight thousand leagues[3] sometimes sailing peacefully towards the goal of our voyage, sometimes forced to turn away from it by contrary winds which violently drove us several hundreds of leagues further: so that from being close to the coasts of Africa, in a few days we found ourselves close to those of America. Successively we faced the four parts of the world, and here we are close to the lands of the fifth part.
Our voyage, dear Father, was so monotonous that I would have had great repugnance in writing to you, if my gratitude to you had not, on its own, dictated my letter. What can one say, in fact, in continuously contemplating the same things? Sky and water all the time. So I will stop only to speak to you about a phenomenon which astounded everyone, and even two captains who had never seen anything like it: mountains of ice of prodigious size; rising twelve to fifteen hundred feet above the surface; we saw about ten of them, scattered here and there, over an extent of about 300 leagues, [4] that is to say, between the 105th and the 120th degrees of east longitude and on the 45th degree of south latitude. [5] We passed the nearest ones at a distance of about a league, and whose shapes we could easily see with the aid of a telescope. Their bases showed a mass astounding in extent; imagine the volume beneath the surface and the strength of the wind which had driven them there. That is pretty wee the only interesting thing we saw in our long and burdensome voyage. If you wish, add in some fish and some birds which we had fun in catching when the sea [p2] was calm, and you have it all. At last came the day when New Zealand came into sight, a sight we could not tire of gazing at; this land so longed for made all our hearts thrill with joy. It was the 1st April, but nevertheless it wasn’t until the 5th that we got to Nicholson, [6] a British town, only recently established[7] by British colonists who live there and number five to six thousand. There we left the ship which had carried us from London; we stayed there five days while the Fathers performed about fifteen baptisms of children, mainly from Irish families, because there was no priest (there) yet. [8] and a fortnight after our arrival at the Bay of Islands Father Borjon, who was living with a tribe of savages, was sent there, and was replaced by Fathers Reygnier[9] and Comte, and Father Grange (who) was with another tribe (was sent) to join Father Petit. So of the three Fathers who have just arrived, there remains at the Bay of Islands only Father Forest. It was at Nicholson that for the first time our hearts were moved by the sight of the natives who came out to us in their canoes; they brought us fish they had just caught and which they exchanged for ship’s biscuit: their appearance, their simple ways and especially their miserable state, their nakedness and their lack of the comforts of life, so evident to sight, would have touched the most insensitive heart. God willing, one day, enlightened by the true light of the Gospel, they may make of their miseries the source of an infinity of merits. However, since the arrival of Europeans in their island, their diet has been greatly improved: now they feed themselves with potatoes, whereas before they had only fern (root) or some other poor herbs. Their huts, as you can imagine, display the same poverty as their food. I have been present at some of their meals, and have even eaten with them potatoes which they offered me. The sum total of their furniture consists of some mats on which they lie. Some however have a trunk or box that they have bought; everyone or nearly everyone has firearms, because they very much love hunting and are very skilled at it; several also have pigs which they sell to buy some woollen blankets with which to cover themselves. Such is still the poor state of these people.
I have told you, dear Father, that our first ship landed us at Nicholson, as town about 300 leagues[10] from the Bay of Islands by sea, and you will be amazed that we spent 20 days in covering that distance, and that this journey, which could be done in five to ten days, was the most exhausting and dangerous one. Two or three days after we had been launched out into the ocean, a terrible storm came and threatened to have us swallowed up by the waves. Never have I had before me a scene more likely to make me think my last moments had arrived than that presented us by the awful situation in which the vessel found itself. The sailors, while making incredible efforts, could hardly lower the sails which the violence of the winds had reduced to shreds; at every moment huge waves came and filled the high bridge; now the vessel seemed to drop into the trough between the waves, at another moment enormous waves raised us on their surfaces and made us fear ceaselessly for our lives. Our position was such that the captain was forced, until a calmer period came, to leave the ship to the mercy of the winds and the waves, so that it remained without sails for several hours, having only a man at the helm. All the passengers, about twenty in number, were consumed by real fears. As for us, we prayed to Him who stirred up, or allowed to be stirred up, the winds and the sea; we kept in mind her who is called the Star of the Sea, and Mary, to whom one never has recourse in vain, came to our help, and during the night the wind became much less strong, and let us breathe more easily. However, do not believe that all the dangers of this short journey ended there. You will soon see that all our dangers were not yet over, because about ten days after this first trial, we almost perished on the teeth of rocks. We were getting near the end of our journey, the wind, the wind was most favourable to get us into the harbour the next day about 11am or midday. The captain, who no doubt did not imagine travelling so fast, put on all sail, and before three in the morning we found ourselves surrounded by rocks; the night was dark and we had to almost strike the reefs to see them. It certainly needed special protection to get us out of this situation, because if ever a vessel had been threatened with imminent peril it was ours; we were hardly fifty paces from a rock towards which we were hastening to cast ourselves onto, when the imminent danger threatening us was seen. Everyone was on the bridge in case of shipwreck, and was lending a hand to the sailors to haul on the ropes, because as in time of war everyone is a soldier, here everyone is a sailor as soon as the vessel runs the risk of being lost. But what added to our confusion, was that no one, not even the captain, could recognise the locality where we were. It is true that foggy conditions limited our horizon to a little circle; however about midday the captain, who seemed quite disoriented, recognised his route, and after several hours we extricated ourselves from the rocks. However this error on the part of the captain was the reason that we remained six days more at sea. Such is, Reverend Superior, the main story of our voyage; for the rest we are all very well. I commend myself to your prayers as well as those of the good Fathers who are in the house and to those of your numerous theologians and others, to some of whom at least I long to give a greeting on the shores of New Zealand. I entreat Father Bréchéret[11] to be so kind as to give my compliments to all the good Fathers at the college and to the Marist teachers there.
Your very humble and obedient servant,,


  1. Father Claude Dussergey was at this time the Superior of the Marist community at La Capucinière, Belley, Aix. Le Capucinière – formerly a Capuchin community house – was a minor seminary now staffed by Marists. The letter seems to have been written over several weeks. - translator’s note
  2. On the 4th April their ship was nearing the coast, but did not enter Port Nicholson until the 6th April - translator’s note
  3. About 35-40,000 km. These figures seem inflated. They represent a remarkable average speed for a sailing ship of the time – something like 330km/day - translator’s note
  4. 1500 km - translator’s note
  5. Again, this distance is overstated by Lampila’s source. At the equator 15º of longitude would equate to about 1600 km, but considerably less at 45ºS latitude - translator’s note
  6. sic – Port Nicholson – the harbour, but also at that time the name of the settlement soon to be Wellington - translator’s note
  7. The first European settlers had arrived in January 1840 - translator’s note
  8. Bishop Pompallier tried to fill this position by sending Father Michel Borjon SM and Brother Deodat Villemagne SM from Auckland, but they were drowned in the shipwreck of the small ship Speculator near East Cape in August 1942. Father Jeremiah O’Reily OFM Cap was brought out by the Petre family in 1843 and became Wellington’s first parish priest - translator’s note
  9. sic – Reignier
  10. 1500 km – translator’s note
  11. Jean-Baptiste Bréchéret 1815-1898, a Marist priest, would be in the eighth group of missionaries, leaving Toulon in April 1843 - translator’s note

Belley, Ain (not Aix); La Capucinière (not Le Cap)