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Louis Perret to Jean-Claude Colin, Kororareka, 20 May 1842

D’après l’expédition, APM Z 208.

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, June 2005


Bay of Islands, Kororareka, 20 May 1842

Sir and very Reverend Father

I arrived at the end of my long voyage on 13 September 1841, after many sufferings; however how well God watches over, in a special way, those who are devoted to him. I almost perished twice on the west coast of New Zealand, on the height of Table Cape, and between Auckland and the Bay of Islands. We recognised his justice which was displayed because of the dissolute things committed on board, and then his goodness, his power, which saved us beyond everything that could be hoped for. Here I have been at Kororareka these last eight months; I have not yet seen Bishop Pompallier. [1] I am gradually beginning to become aware of the state of the mission – oh, how deplorable it is in material terms! I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to speak to you about it. Fearing to afflict your fatherly heart, then as well my lack of experience made me cautious; but after having prayed and reflected, I believe it was advantageous for you to be informed of everything; all the more because it concerns serious matters; then the experience of this mission will no doubt be very instructive for you in setting up the other missions in the island groups of the tropics, and finally to bring about some remedy for the harm which, if it became more serious, would be experienced throughout Catholicism, and would also have disastrous consequences for the Society of Mary.

To tell you that the debts of the mission are getting to more than one hundred thousand francs – perhaps 150,000 francs [2] at the end of such a short time since it began, is to tell you in a few words the state of its affairs. Several of its borrowings have been made at 10 to 14 per cent interest to pay off certain creditors who could have, by their pressing demands and complaints, considerably harm the credit and confidence which the mission so much needs to surround itself with, and which it is losing every day because of its administration, which has no savings in the bank [?qui n’a pas de caisse de réserve], no general inventory, no book keeping. I hardly dare tell you, people have been afraid of a declaration of bankruptcy, and for that there would have to be only one bad-intentioned creditor. I would like to distance this thought from my mind. God and the Blessed Virgin, I hope, will not allow misfortunes like this which would have such serious and distressing consequences; however, examples of this sort have been seen; even a present day mission can be seen, which is on its way to collapse for lack of good administration. I know, there have been difficulties, people had to struggle against the demands of a greedy and miserable people which has been ruined by the Europeans; these last-mentioned had to be mistrusted because they often sought to deceive. Then a new country where everything had to be brought into existence by a very small number of missionaries and little money, where there was no farming nor buildings of any sort nor even houses [3] A mission both difficult and costly because of expensive journeys, which, however, now that communications are becoming [p2] easy and more frequent [4] in my opinion could be made in a vessel belonging to the mission, a vessel which has been one of the main causes of the state of suffering in which the mission finds itself (and it costs thirty thousand francs [5] each year). If there was only one temporal difficulty, that would be much already, but people’s confidence [6] is ebbing away, along with the influence that needs to be preserved to bring about good. From this also it comes that the missionaries, suffering and lacking necessities, are thrown into a state of worry and uneasiness which prevents them, in spite of the zeal that drives them, from doing all the good that they could do if the administration gave them guarantees of orderliness and economy. Some of the administrative decisions will help you understand it better. It is a matter of a poorly administered network which is not absolutely necessary, the cost of which is rising annually to more than thirty thousand francs [7]; it is a matter of a property brought at Kororareka (for) fifteen thousand francs, [8] that is to say, much too dear, at a time when money had to be borrowed at 10 to 14 per cent, a property which could, strictly speaking, be got rid of because already (the mission) owns two buildings in this town. It is a matter of two voyages made to the island groups of the tropics, one of which would have been enough: as a result, four months’ extra travelling, that is to say eight to ten thousand francs [9] extra expense. It is a matter of deals done with people who will not pay back, or who will lose part of what they owe. It is finally a matter of those neglected savings which at the end of the year in a big business make a worthwhile sum. I have gone into some detail, as you see, to allow you better to see the disease, and so that you can, like a good father, bring about a salutary remedy for this mission, and bring the greatest attention to the choice which is no doubt going to be made about new vicariates in the island groups in the tropics.

Here, in a few words, are the measures which I allow myself to suggest to you for the betterment of the mission.

1) Choose a good, genuine administrator (a step I see as very important, and on which I entreat you to bring to bear all your concern).

2) Get involved, carefully, in agriculture.

3) Take some steps to build at low cost.

4) Increase the number of missionaries, especially British missionaries and Brothers.

1) Administration I believe that if there could be found in France a man of experience, an independent thinker [? un homme d’expérience de son conseil], who would already be employed in administration, like M. Viennot, for example, [10] and would be specially responsible here for administration. It would be a great service to give the mission, but I repeat, this person would have to be carefully chosen – he would contribute powerfully to the welfare, the betterment of the mission. I am really convinced that the success of the mission would greatly depend on this choice.

[p3] 2) Agriculture It must certainly and seriously be a concern of a good administrator. The help from the [Society for the] Propagation of the Faith is not enough, then it may fail. I see this measure as the most certain to ensure the existence of the mission and its establishments. Already the mission owns several pieces of land, but which produce nothing or very little because workers are in short supply. It would therefore necessitate choosing intelligent Brothers with farming experience, who would be occupied with developing the properties under the direction of a man skilful in agriculture and who would be responsible for inspecting and superintending the properties of the whole mission. M. Viennot and M. Curis would again be foremost candidates for that role [11] Apart from that, agriculture is the first thing that concerns the Jesuit Fathers when they come into a country where there are no financial resources. They do not disdain doing this work themselves, which they see as a prime necessity. Perhaps it would be preferable, in order to get a better result, to be more centralised; in other words, to have fewer stations, so as to give each one more workers. Out of that would come as well more savings, and, I think, great advantages in the spiritual sphere, because the isolation in which some of the missionaries are situated really has its difficulties and dangers. I believe that the apostles went everywhere in pairs.

3) Buildings They must be fairly extensive here, since everything has to be made on the spot [tout est à créer] and is as well very expensive, because workers are few in number and pretty costly, that is to say, twice as dear as in France. So again the thing to do would be to have a good number of Brother carpenters, joiners, sawyers, blacksmiths, some wood carvers and some painter-decorators, if it was possible. (Carvers could be found at Father Coindre’s establishment, who knowing about drawing would soon be able to be trained for decorative painting in churches). [12] This little team of Brother builders would go everywhere they were needed, and would work under the direction of someone more skilled, on the churches, chapels, schools, hospitals and houses of the whole mission. In this way everything would get done promptly, at much less cost. And, perhaps better, in terms of skill, conveniences, and strength. With this in mind I remind you of the man called L’Angumoir, a very skilful carpenter who still wants to come here, according to his brother. He would give very great service to the mission in the matter of buildings made entirely of wood.

4) Increase the number of missionaries and Brothers. I think I have already had the honour of speaking to you about all the advantages there would be [p4] in setting up a house in London which could, if you wish, be called a Procure. I am even more convinced about it since I have been here. These advantages are: increasing the number of missionaries and Brothers who, knowing the English language well, could be very useful in towns consisting almost entirely of British people in my opinion, to carry out the sacred ministry among them, and the Brothers to run schools. They [13] would also offer a total guarantee, a total security to the British government, being its subjects. Through them one could easily obtain the help needed for setting up churches, chapels, schools, hospitals etc… As a Procure house it would facilitate the stay and departure of missionaries and purchases for the mission which will always be cheaper in London than elsewhere.

I am not talking to you about religious women for the main towns in the mission area. That matter needs mature reflection, but what is very certain is that they would do an immense good among the children of Europeans, among the children of the natives, as well as among the poor and the sick. The religious woman alone can come to the aid of all human misery. What is going to become of these poor children without teachers, or having for teachers only Protestants who will teach them error?

As for the archipelagos in the tropics, of which one island has just been sprinkled with the blood of the first martyr of the Society of Mary. All the travellers who have visited them agree in saying that it is urgent that missionaries bear the flame of faith there before heresy has conquered everything. The British Presbyterian who has come here from Ascension (Island) and who has not been afraid to leave his wife and children and risk the dangers of a voyage of more than a thousand leagues [14] to look for a Catholic missionary has told us the same thing. [15] He has just left, accompanied by Father Servan [sic – Servant], Father Rouleau [sic – Roulleaux] and a Brother [16], after having foresworn Protestantism. In the island groups of the tropics it will be necessary, as here, to have men who are genuine administrators; that is, in my opinion, the indispensable qualification, the essential qualification: without that, no success. But there should be no delay, the need is urgent: later on, perhaps, thousands of souls will drink from the poisoned cup of error. We have just been told that the queen of England has just named a considerable number of bishops destined especially for the British colonies. In the section on missionaries and Brothers, I have forgotten to speak to you about some Brothers for the hospitals to be built: these Brothers would need to have some knowledge of medicine and pharmacy in order to be able to look after the sick well. It is to religion that belongs the first responsibility for setting up these houses for the sick poor, who are, here, truly abandoned, without help and without care. I am convinced that our doctors in Lyons would take pleasure in giving the necessary knowledge to these Brothers.

For myself, I see a lot of work here, and I am a very small worker, or rather I am [p5] a useless worker, very much a burden on the mission because of my health and my lack of zeal. I suffer a lot, still, corporally and morally. So I am thinking of returning to Europe as soon as God gives me a chance to do so, and I would have done so already had I not been persuaded to stay on several months more to recover my health and see the Bishop. My bad health, my uselessness here, and then the wretched state of the mission will be the main reasons for my return to France. Please bless my return as you blessed my departure, so that everything may be done according to the heart and holy will of God.

I would have liked to be able to contribute to the betterment of the administration, and that was the thing which had especially to concern anyone who was genuinely interested in the welfare of the mission, but I later understood that it was more prudent, and it was the opinion of the Superiors that I should not get involved in it.

There would be, no doubt, many interesting details to give you about the mission. I will only be able to repeat to you what I wrote to the parishioners in Lyons in the person of M. Déplace, a letter which you can read and have read by M. Girard while asking him to excuse me if I have not written to him, as well as by M. Cholleton and by M. Dubreuil, whom could you please persuade to receive my excuses and respectful homage, from him who asks you for your prayers, your advice and your blessing.

I have the honour to be, with totally respectful and faithful esteem, your devoted servant,
L[ouis] Perret

Can I remind you of exact information about Mr Cooper from London? [17] He is a former convict whom the town of Sydney accuses of having been an accomplice in the theft of several millions from that town’s bank some years ago. Is it appropriate that the Society of Mary has Mr Cooper for a banker? There is no need for a banker in London, it is enough to make an agreement with a Jesuit priest or a priest devoted to the welfare of the mission.

I am sure that a house for Marist religious in New Zealand would be very advantageous, whether to preserve the religious spirit among the missionaries, or to direct colleges and seminaries, or to form Brothers specially consecrated to the missions, or finally to provide missionaries a place of retirement, a shelter in case of infirmity or sickness, but it would be first necessary to be assured of the means of support for such an establishment; the safest means would be farming, and for that Brother farmers would be needed; farming, as you know, will always be the main means, and will have to be the biggest concern of a good administrator to ensure (continued) existence. The continuance of all the mission stations is therefore (based on) sending Brothers and Brother farmers, and Brother builders.

[p6] Sir and very Reverend Father,

I am adding to my letter some lines which concern me specially, and beg you to give me your reply so that if I return to Europe it will be indeed the will of my God. As I have already had the honour of telling you, I suffered a lot during my voyage, but less however in that from the Cape of Good Hope to Sydney than in the two others. Having arrived here I have continued to suffer; the food, of which the staple is pork and potatoes, will not be able to return it [18] to normal; and I continually have dysentery, which greatly weakens me and in time will bring about serious illness for me. The humidity which prevails here, whether because of the showers which are frequent and of long duration, or because of the sea surrounding us, habitually brings me strong rheumatic pains from my feet to my head; then, Father, if you add to that the state of suffering and uneasiness in which the mission finds itself and continually afflicts your soul, the difficulty I have in learning languages which nonetheless are indispensable here, the spiritual unease I had in France and which I have experienced again here, my position here which I see as false, being neither priest nor Brother; the little knowledge I have of architecture not being able to be applied here; the impossibility, in my situation, of going to catechise because of my health which could not bear the travel that that would require; the advice of doctors, M. Berlioz and Tissot in Lyons, and a well known doctor at the Cape of Good Hope, who have all agreed in telling me that my health would not support this sort of life; the fears you made clear, Father, as well as my good brother who knows me well, are being realised at present; but what consoles me in the midst of all these difficulties is the thought that I am here only through the advice of Superiors, and what would further console me in separation from the mission to go back to Europe would be your advice, would be through that I am still doing the holy will of God. So, Father, I urgently ask you to please think them over before God, and to weigh the reasons which I have just put before you for my return to Europe. Perhaps an ordinary and simple life – a life of retreat at Puitlata [sic – Puylata] would better suit my health. I would be able to occupy myself with good works, which my health does not allow me to do here and then as well the extreme misery where I am, means I am forced to occupy myself very much with material things. I would like to return to Europe with Father Epalle, but all the Fathers gather together told me to let winter pass (because) at this time adverse [p7] winds prevail, then the vessel which is taking Father Epalle does not have the necessary provisions for a sick person. So their advice was that I should wait for the season of good weather and a better vessel, then I would have had the consolation of seeing the Bishop does not have the necessary provisions for a sick person. So their advice was that I should wait for the season of good weather and a better vessel, then I would have had the consolation of seeing the Bishop.

If you think it appropriate, Father, to speak about all this to my brother the cleric, please do so. [19] In the letter I am writing to him, I am not speaking to him about it. Please again accept the respectful homage of him who is the least of your servants,

Louis Perret

[Then follow four pages of what seem to be extra notes by Perret – expanding his thoughts on improvements for the mission.]

[p1]

1) Choose a good administrator

2) Let there be a quite particular concern for agriculture

3) Take some steps to get building done cheaply

4) Increase the number of missionaries and Brothers.

Administration

1) I see the choice of a good administrator as very important, on which will depend, in great measure, all improvement to the mission. The keeping of the (account) books will require special care – without that, no order. A general inventory will need to be made each year, and even twice a year, but an inventory made in such a way as to present exactly and in detail the state of the finances, properties [?services – illegible], debts [? mortgages – créances], in a word everything making up the assets and liabilities of the mission. Each station will also have to send accounts every six months to the Procure.

It would be desirable, perhaps, that the Procure, or the most central mission station had, some day, a storehouse to provide for, in case of necessity, the stations which didn’t have harvest.

The stocks to be laid in each year, in order to achieve savings, will have to be made up in advance, at the time and in the places when they are cheap.

Almost half the cost could be saved if bread was made in the house.

Agriculture

2) Agriculture. It must be the serious concern of a good administrator. The help coming from the [Society for the] Propagation of the Faith is not enough, and may fail altogether. I see this means (of income) as the safest way of ensuring the (continued) existence of the mission. [p2] Already the mission owns several pieces of land but these produce nothing or very little because of a shortage of workers. It would therefore be necessary to choose intelligent Brothers, with farming experience, who would be concerned with developing properties under the direction of a man skilful in farming, who would be responsible for inspecting and managing all the mission properties. This person could be chosen in France (M. Curis, M. Viennot).

Farming is the first thing that usually occupies missionaries when they arrive in a country where there are no resources. They do not disdain to take on this work themselves, which they see as a prime necessity.

It would also be better, perhaps, to ensure a better result, to centralise more; that is to say, have fewer mission stations, so as to give each more workers. More savings would come from this as well, and, I think great advantages in spiritual terms, which others might better appreciate than I. I believe that the Apostles always travelled in twos.

Apart from the accounts which each station would have to present twice a year to the Procure, it would be desirable as well that they send an exact report each year on the state of the property, its [illegible], its improvements – done or to be done, its need; a report which would have the double advantage of showing the state of each property, and the improvements and the means to be taken to advance farming.

Building

3) Buildings. They must be fairly considerable, here, because everything has to be made, and so, very expensive, because workers are few in number and very expensive, ie, roughly twice as much as in France. So again there should be chosen a certain number of Brothers who are carpenters, joiners, sawyers, blacksmiths and even some wood carvers and painter-decorators if possible. (Carvers could be found at M. Coindre’s establishment in Lyons, who know about drawing and would be soon trained in painting [p3] and decorating churches.) The painting of decorations is a quick and economic way of beautifying churches, and produces a strong effect, especially on the natives.

This little group of Brother builders would be moved everywhere they were needed, and would work under the direction of someone a bit more skilful, on buildings, churches and chapels, schools, hospitals etc… In this way everything would get done quickly and much more cheaply, and perhaps better in terms of skill, convenience and strength.

As the buildings will generally be made of wood, some sawmills, man-powered or, better still, water-powered, will have to be set up. (There is in Lyons a man named Langoumois, one of the best carpenters in that city, who has been asking to come to the mission for a year and a half.) [20]

Missionaries – Brothers

4) Increase the number of missionaries and Brothers.

Set up a house in London, which would be called, if it was desired, the Procure. The advantages of this house would be to get for the mission English priests and Brothers who, speaking English well, would be very useful in the towns, whose people are almost entirely English, I think. They would carry on the sacred ministry among them and run schools, schools which risk being entrusted without that [21] to people without education and even without morals and which however require a quite special concern since they perhaps will be able to produce missionaries and catechists. The schools for the natives will also require a particular concern and perhaps will be able to produce very useful catechists.

This house in London would also provide a total guarantee, a total security to the British government, being made up of its own subjects [étant de ses sujets]. Through them could be more easily obtained the necessary help for establishing churches, chapels, schools, hospitals, etc. As a Procure house, it would make it easier for missionaries to stay and leave, and to buy for the mission things which are generally always cheaper in London than anywhere else.

[p4] Some Brothers who had some knowledge of medicine, for preparing remedies, for caring for the sick, would be very useful in the hospitals to be set up. (Three or four Brothers could be trained in Lyons by a doctor.)

A workshop where various trades could be learnt, and especially the weaving of cloth would offer double advantages: getting the natives out of the idleness in which they live, and getting clothing for them.

M. Perret

Notes

  1. the Bishop had been away almost a year – first going to Akaroa, and then, in November 1841, on hearing the news of Father Chanel’s death on Futuna, he had abandoned his original plan to go back to the Bay of Islands, and had gone to Wallis and Futuna to make a long postponed visit to the missionaries there, and also to recover Chanel’s remains - translator’s note.
  2. £4000 – perhaps £6000 - translator’s note
  3. He is obviously thinking in European terms - translator’s note.
  4. In 1845 a steam-powered ship first visited New Zealand, and in 1853 the first steam shipping service linking many of New Zealand’s ports was set up - translator’s note
  5. £1200 - translator’s note
  6. in the mission seemingly - translator’s note
  7. £1200
  8. £600
  9. £320 - £400
  10. Jean-François Viennot was a former lawyer and member of the Marist Third Order in Lyons who had begun priestly studies in Belley. In September 1842 he was professed as a Marist, and was ordained priest in July 1843, but never went to Oceania - translator’s note
  11. Simon-Victor Curis was a prominent lay Catholic in Lyons, noted for his social concern - translator’s note.
  12. Father André Coindre was founder, in 1817, in Lyons of Le Pieux-Secours – Pious Aid – at once both a home for poor and sometimes delinquent orphans, and a training school in arts and trades - translator’s note
  13. he seems to have these British Marists in mind - translator’s note
  14. 5000 km
  15. According to Girard, this ‘British Presbyterian’ was certainly the Scottish Presbyterian, James Hall, delegated by a few Europeans on the island Ponape (Ascension), who sent him to the Bay of Islands to look for Catholic missionaries in 1841. He was welcomed by Pompallier, who promised to send two priests there, but first Pompallier set out on a voyage down the east coast of New Zealand in August 1841. At Akaroa in November he heard of Chanel’s death and abandoned previous plans and sailed to Wallis, accompanied by Viard. While waiting at Kororareka, Hall became a Catholic. After returning to the Bay of Islands with Chanel’s remains, Viard returned to Wallis, accompanied by Hall and two Marists: Servant and Roulleaux, with the idea of taking them eventually to Ponape, but Pompallier kept the Marists at Futuna - translator’s note.
  16. Not a Brother, according to Girard, but Father Viard - translator’s note
  17. According to Girard, Daniel Cooper 1785-1853 was convicted for theft in England in 1815 and transported to Sydney. Pardoned in 1821, he became a merchant and banker, and in 1831 returned to England where he continued in the management of his company.
  18. his health, presumably - translator’s note,
  19. Félix Perret, Louis’ brother, seems to have been a deacon in Lyons - translator’s note.
  20. In the main letter, this man is called L’Angumoir - translator’s note
  21. ie without priests and Brothers to run them? - translator’s note