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8 July 1842 — Father Jean-Baptiste Petit-Jean to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Sydney

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, April 2009

Based on the document sent, APM Z 208.

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us.
Sydney 8 July 1842

I do not have time to read :over my letter.

Very Reverend Father
To Father General
May I be allowed to begin with the greeting so familiar to St Francis Xavier following St Paul – may the grace, the love and the peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be always with you. In this way I am undertaking a letter which should have required long periods of thought, and for which as well I would have needed enlightenment from above; without being ready, finding myself hurried by a ship’s departure, I am immediately putting my thoughts on paper.
The point is that I have been forced to send you a promissory note, payable by yourself at Lyons, for £400 = 10,000 fr. Apart from the matter of getting basic necessities for your sons, there was also a need to avoid a disgrace and a scandal which the Catholic mission would have inevitably suffered on the return of the ship Sancta Maria, if we hadn’t at least had the means of paying the crew. Now, Reverend Father, this 10,000 fr of aid which normally would last us a long time is going to be instantly swallowed up by our ship. We will again be without money, surrounded by difficulties, putting up with the criticisms of an insolent captain, with a debt which, without being enormous, keeps on growing because of interest and interest piled on interest, exposed as a laughing stock, being seen perhaps as men who are inept and without foresight; what brings us the greatest sorrow is that everyone is expecting a Catholic church to be built at the Bay of Islands; we have even received a fair sum in donations and right now we can do nothing. It is true that it is quite possible to justify the situation, by using as a pretext the purchase of land for the church etc. It was due to the credit of Father Murphy, Vicar General at Sydney,[1] that I was able to obtain this draft on France at 10% discount. In a situation of necessity I had to be guided by businessmen. At first no one wanted to lend me more than £300 sterling, then I got £100 more, undertaking to take this £100 in merchandise like flour etc (we needed some). This last sum will only be discounted at 5%, so that I will receive 2,375 [francs] in merchandise, and because of the discount on the £300, I will get only £270.[2] I am told that Mr Holt, Mr Cooper’s correspondent, gave me fairly advantageous conditions, but I, I say that with another run of advantages like this and soon it will be all up with us. As Pyrrhus said after a victory: another victory like the first and I will be ruined. Although it is a matter of a miserable benefit, and it has been hard for me to send you such a request, I have considered the outcome of this business almost as a minor triumph.
I was so greatly troubled at thinking that my brothers were going to be in need, the Bishop and perhaps our dear little Society in dishonour, that I took so many steps, made so many approaches, seeing M Joubert,[3] seeing the French consul,[4] ran after everyone, waiting. Our business affairs are well known, there is no way of hiding anything. Many people were able to wonder: would you take the draft of Father Petit-Jean, a missionary from New Zealand, and they refused, or they would hesitate. Chain up the reputation which circulates in seaports and then flies from one continent to another, from island to island, with astounding speed. Really, Reverend Father, we are a spectacle to the world in New Zealand as much as would be so in Europe. We hardly expect help from the world, nor from M Joubert, nor from Mr Cooper’s correspondent. People are demanding in business, and are right especially because of the way things are. To be able to draw money on France, you need an authorisation from Bishop Pompallier and one from you, more so because you are known at the end of the world, and I had almost nothing like that. In the future we will find better ways and we will make haste to fix up everything. What put me at a disadvantage was Bishop Pompallier’s departure for France, announced and spread about by many voices: almost everywhere I had to put up with this question: Isn’t the Bishop going to France, and it seemed I had to answer it with a negative.
Nota: We owe M Joubert £59, a thousand and so many.[5] His father-in-law owes us £118, but the son is not responsible for the father, and right now we would not be worth 400.0 fr[6] including the debt of M Bonnefin, the father-in-law of M Joubert. You should know, Reverend Father, that those same hands which have been obliging to sign in our favour – are already owed 1000 or 5000 fr by us. (Our account books at Kororareka do not mention this.) In truth we feel more shame in seeking help from such generous benefactors than from any other sort of people.
In the midst of all these steps I took, I often, as could be said, went and knocked on the doors of holy tabernacles: six Masses were promised – the sacred Heart of the Blessed Virgin, to Saint Joseph, to the holy angels, to the holy martyrs, in which I included as much as possible the much beloved Father Chanel, and finally, to the souls in Purgatory. When I say that promises were made to the Blessed Virgin, I mean that that should be understood theologically. To get me out of difficulty, I am sorry to have put you into it, no doubt, for some time.
At this point I have to sing the praises of the clergy of Sydney, mostly Irish; they have been outstandingly kind. This morning one of them who was only staying briefly at Sydney gave me 25f [£1] and asked me to pray for him. It is the sight of apostolic poverty which has gained me a few little gifts. Beatius est dare quam accipere[7] for religious; I ask Our Lord with simplicity to allow me to turn his divine words around: Beatius accipere quam dare [it is better to receive than to give]; they must be taken in this way by a religious who finds his happiness, his greatness, his glory, his dignity, honour and strength in receiving.
I am expecting to send from Sydney to New Zealand a good dairy cow with a young calf. The latter will cost me nothing for transport, it will go with the mother. I will have to buy it, although I have been promised one free, I am not counting on it. We are really in a wretched state, we must not put off buying this cow which will feed on the rubbish from our garden, it will return us more than 20% and will maintain levels of health which are now in danger of being ruined for lack of care. I will take, as well, I hope, two sheep. Certainly two pairs of pigeons – free, two pairs of rabbits – free, I hope, and a hive of bees, free. I will bring some leather so our shoemaker Brother can repair our shoes.[8] Not long ago a rabbit was sold for 25f [£1] in New Zealand.
I am feeling sleepy, my thoughts are beginning to lose some clarity. So you could perceive what I am going to tell you to be dreams. Please forgive the liberties I am taking. There will certainly be no order in what I am going to say; but I intend to make a copy which I will send from Sydney to France by a French ship which should leave in a month or so.
Here now is what I think I should say about different aspects of our mission, and which will be found, I think, to be in line with the spoken ideas that Reverend Father Epalle will carry to France.
1) The need to make New Zealand a separate vicariate-apostolic; it is said that a capable Protestant Bishop has just arrived in these parts,[9] and Bishop Pompallier by force of necessity has to travel the seas, leaving the mission, so to speak, to chance, in fluctuation, uncertainty, in a doubtful situation, almost without any type of resources.
2) Sell our ship at the earliest opportunity – the difficulty of sending it off to Valparaiso, but our ship has no flag, is a bit old, and right now ships are cheap because of the slump in trade. Before buying seagoing vessels, there is a need to sedere et computare [sit down and work things out].[10] It seems right to me that someone writes from Sydney that even if the mission possessed only a small ship, it would seem very hard for this same mission to possess a ship without carrying on trade. (Trade can be carried on by the captain with a share in the profits used to pay some of the costs of running the ship.) It has to be kept in mind that the islands are getting more and more visited, and as a result there are more frequent means of communication. The fact is, in my opinion, that during the whole time we have had the Sancta Maria or, rather, that the Bishop has had it, it has provided us, properly speaking, with only one service, that of being able to go to Ascension, where it seems that the good God was calling us.[11] I think that the people have successfully got there. Let us give thanks to God who has allowed everything for his greater glory. The plans of God are always an inscrutable abyss.
3) Ways of saving money – a procure house in London. I suggested taking up the role of chaplain to the French Embassy if the good God was calling us there, and through that as well a slightly wider gateway for the extension of the faith in that fine kingdom of England. As well, a procure house in Sydney, or at least, so as to make one, you could make use of the stay of French priests whom Bishop Polding, it is said, was thinking of getting from our Society for various particular purposes, although New Zealand can be a central communications point for our missions. Nevertheless, Sydney will always, it seems to me, be the main collecting point for the exports of the South Seas islands. And are you truly aware that it would be cheaper to go from Sydney to the Bay of Islands than from Port Nicholson to the Bay of Islands, especially if you have to wait, and if you don’t go directly from Nicholson to the Bay of Islands.
Ordinarily speaking, your money should be spent as soon as it has been received, with the exception of a small reserve in a bank in London. I don’t mean a local bank but those big banks in the main cities which do not fail except in the great upheavals of society when everything is exposed to plunder, without exception. Those on the spot would be able to plan a decision of that sort. Each person has opinions about England; some say it is growing in prosperity and others say it is becoming decadent. For a long time people have been talking about a probable future revolution in Great Britain. I only wish for its spiritual and temporal prosperity. The main bank in London communicates with those in Sydney. You need to put your trust in the most accredited general bank. Someone from this last-mentioned town, or from New Zealand, properly authorised and having a connection with this last-mentioned bank would withdraw money from it as needs demand. It could even be possible to come to an arrangement with a good firm in Lyons to send money to the [bank] in the city of London. The period of time that the money would spend in the banks and the interest that would be got from it, which I think is legitimate, because then you have almost the same role as the shareholders, would be credited against the expense involved in sending the money to its destination unless you carry the currency with you, and then you have to bear the loss involved in currency exchange (right now we would receive French currency and I believe that one-franc coins would be legal tender for shillings). And, further, that way of transport could not be allowed for places where there is a need to send money before anyone goes there. Father Epalle will expertly give in France all the details of a wise and comprehensive system of savings for our missions. What is quite certain is that a man who is perfectly capable in the principles of administration and saving money would accomplish with a modest sum what another who was less skilful would do with four times that amount. A multitude of examples right before our eyes shows us the truth of this. When one considers various parish priests in various parishes, when one surveys the various ways of life, one will quickly be convinced. As for me, I will say only one thing; hide the little you have, be seen as poor, and as a result be in a position to receive more graces and to ask for more of them. Do you not see that if you go somewhere, to a hotel or elsewhere, you have to scatter tips; if you show yourself to be a missionary, you are safeguarded from that. You would receive more than would be asked of you, or would be expected of you. I am summarising because my letter is being waited for, and I hadn’t begun writing earlier because my business had not been finalised.
The need to multiply vicariates or prefectures apostolic. We need to benefit from the Propagation of the Faith, which will not perhaps be so fruitful in future. In every direction we have been preceded by Protestant missionaries. Why could we not do what they can? Their lives are secure, ours will be as well with ordinary precautions. God protects us in other ways to them. Money – not much is needed for a missionary on an island. For myself, it seems to me that I would live very well on the food of the natives of any island whatever. It is just as substantial as the potatoes, the kumara and the squashes to which sometimes we are reduced in New Zealand. Only, do not promise anything to the natives, do not contract the smallest undertaking. Make ourselves loved and especially respected by great influence.
I have spoken to a Sydney man called Milne who has a ship with which he has been sailing round the islands for more than ten years; he is the one who has carried a great number of Protestant missionaries as passengers. This gentleman is very agreeable, very trustworthy and very moderate in his charges. He seems to me to be one of the most honest Protestants that I have known. His reputation confirms that, and I have also put it to the test, being on board his ship from New Zealand to Sydney. He has pretty regularly visited, for more than ten years, leaving from Sydney, New Zealand, Tahiti, the Friendly Islands [Tonga], Fiji, the Navigators [Samoa] – sometimes Vava’u; and on the way back coming again to New Zealand. The Fiji islands, people say, are very well peopled – Tonga Tapu, according to certain French captains, are in part very well disposed. For the rest, on all these chiefs, take note of what Father Epalle says. The Dutch have a base in New Guinea. They get there via Java. To set up a Catholic establishment there, you could, although with some distrust, come to an agreement with the Dutch or Belgian governments. The Dutch seem to be jealous of their trade. What is important is to keep secrets, to not publish too loudly the successes given by the good God, to not publish them especially in the area where you are working; that serves only to arouse the anger of our adversaries and even the devil himself, and the good God also allows things to happen which lead to humiliation.
There is talk about a Catholic college – we are the ones who are talking about it – in New Zealand. In my opinion it would have to be located in the Bay of Islands. After considering everything, there as well would be a procure house for the Society of Mary, and it seems to me that the Bay of Islands is a much more central place than any other in New Zealand for communicating with other islands. But 20 years from now, will there be many children, and, especially, will there be many who will pay for their board? No one yet clearly sees New Zealand’s future.
As for Masses that will be offered for stipends in the missions, I would very much like to be able to keep the three weeks of privilege for the souls in Purgatory, each according to his devotion. As well, to decide, along with the Bishop, whether he will make it the responsibility of the men on the mission to say Masses, etc. As for stipends for burials and baptisms in the towns in the colonies, it seems to me that they could be received; it is up to the Bishop to regulate these matters. We are going to ask for and beg for help in Sydney and the Sydney clergy find it inappropriate that we collect these payments which seem to us to be so necessary and which from now on will be a bit more generous. When I am in Sydney I always wear the soutane. As I am an ecclesiastic and a religious I am more tenacious about this. Our men in the last-but-one dispatch have not done this. Things will be for you to decide, venerable Superior, but I know a respectable ecclesiastic living in a little town near Sydney who often wears in the streets not only ecclesiastical dress, but also publicly carries Holy Viaticum and it should be noted that this good ecclesiastic named Brady[12] has, in four years, converted 150 Protestants in his little town.
Although lack of money casts our mission into an illness affecting bodies, minds and hearts, and although I myself feel that perhaps my time, supposing circumstances were quite different, would be better used, perhaps, in mission work, nevertheless I thank the good God for the edifying experiences that this journey has brought me. I see a clergy who are perfectly united, progressing God’s work with great speed; on all sides temples of the true faith are being raised. At Liverpool,[13] a little town, a church will be blessed next Sunday. In Sydney, in the most populated part, another church is going up, dedicated to the patron [saint] of Ireland. [14] The schools are flourishing, charitable associations are producing the most blessed results.
You would not believe the extent of the persevering generosity of these good people. How much the Irish in particular shine out. Let us also pay homage to the English. For example, on Sunday July 3rd there was, in the Catholic church, a sermon on charity which was followed by a collection of £48 stg. Every Sunday there is a meeting to collect donations for St Patrick’s church. That day it produced about 16 pounds sterling. As it was the first Sunday of the month, a collection was also made for what is called the Catholic Institute (a general association set up in England and the colonies for the support of Catholics by all means allowed by our holy religion) and at the same time for the association for the Propagation of the Faith. The combined collection for these two purposes was about 18 pounds sterling. So in one single day the charity of the faithful poured 82 pounds sterling into the funds of various good works.
I have been assured that Protestants are part of these Catholic gatherings and combine their offerings with those of their separated brethren, and in this way are beginning to reproach themselves. Yes, Reverend Father, we have to raise our eyes to heaven; it seems that redemption or deliverance is coming for England. The time of reconciliation is perhaps not far off; we have to hasten it by prayers (especially by getting children in schools and catechism classes to pray, as St Francis Xavier recommended).
During this last meeting, at the urging of the Vicar General[15] who was chairing it, I spoke up to thank these good people for the pious eagerness they showed for the work of the Propagation, commending all those missions to their prayers. I said something about the administration of the association, and about the allocation of its funds. I had been told to speak about Lyons: in this situation, Reverend Father, I praised the Christian nobility of that city, and I added that I thought it was to its thousands of martyrs and its ancient faith that Lyons owed the honour of having been the cradle of the Propagation. What moved me even more was seeing the little children, competing in kindness, bringing in their kindly and innocent hands their offerings, first fruits of their charity. Various ecclesiastics fortified and consoled the gathering with pious stories; everything was in a joyful and emotional atmosphere; the music maintained the sweetest feelings, people applauded the speeches and now the pious offerings. I really believe it was one of the most pleasant evenings I have spent in my life, and on leaving the place I had a heart many times more joyful and satisfied than it could have been after leaving worldly gatherings.
O wonderful fruits of faith, O hopes of religion, O precious memories of the first gatherings of Christians. What caused me the sweetest and most legitimate of pleasures, was to think how much the common Father of all the faithful must be consoled, if he has the happiness of hearing anyone talking about his Australian children, and no doubt the pious Bishop Polding will carry it to His Holiness as a sign of his homage at the same time as the good wishes, love and respect of his flock. These actions, eminently arising from faith, assure perseverance to Ireland, and perhaps, for England, its coming conversion. Ah, when will the time come when the English church will again become the sister of the French church? Once more – we have to pray. There is a finely set up organ in the Sydney cathedral. I would very much like some philharmonic organisation to send the Catholic churches of Sydney some sacred music in Latin.[16]


  1. Francis Murphy (1785-1858), Irish by birth, arrived in Sydney in July 1838 and was almost immediately named Vicar General. In 1843 he was appointed Bishop of the new diocese of Adelaide.
  2. The exchange rate then, and, seemingly, throughout most of the 19th century, was £1 = 25f - translator’s note
  3. Jules Joubert (cf Doc 59 [8])
  4. Jean Faramond, French consul in Sydney from 1838 (Doc 168 [3])
  5. “£59, a thousand so many” should perhaps mean “£59 – that is, a thousand and a few francs”. A thousand francs was worth £40.
  6. nous ne vendrions pas 400.0 fr – I can’t see how the normal meaning of vendre – to sell – makes sense. But perhaps Petit-Jean is saying that their net assets could not be sold for more than 400.0 fr - translator’s note
  7. It is better to give than to receive.
  8. Brother Basile [Monchanin] carried on the trades of shoemaker, cook, butcher, and baker at Kororareka at the Bay of Islands.
  9. George Augustus Selwyn, the first Anglican bishop in New Zealand, arrived in 1842 - translator’s note
  10. Cf Luke 14:28 – the parables about a man wanting to build a tower, or a king preparing to make war on another.
  11. Ascension Island or Ponape in the Caroline Islands, where Pompallier had intended to set up a mission station (cf Doc 15 [6], 16 [6], 17 [2-4], 18 [4], 19 [2], 21 [10], 127 [12], 192 [24, 41]). James Hall, a Scottish Presbyterian, came to New Zealand to ask for Catholic missionaries for Ponape (Doc 163 [10]) and Pompallier promised to go there (cf Doc 186 [3], 192 [24]), but the plan was not carried out (cf Doc 193 [6], 479 [7])
  12. John Brady (1800? -1871) was born in Ireland in Castletara, Co. Cavan, and trained in the seminary for the colonies and was ordained in either 1824 or 1826. He ministered for ten years on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean and spoke French fluently. Having come to Sydney in 1838 he was appointed to Windsor, 50 km NW of Sydney, centre of a vast parish, then appointed Vicar General of W Australia, he arrived in Perth in 1843, and was consecrated the first Bishop in 1845.
  13. A town about 30 km SW of Sydney.
  14. St Patrick’s Church, built between 1839 and 1844, in the Church Hill district of Sydney; according to the Catholic Magazine of February 1841, it happened that, due to the suggestion of [Bishop] Pompallier, some Maori chiefs contributed to the building of the church. In 1868, thanks to the request made by the parish priest, John McEncroe, a short time before his death, Austin Sheedy, Bishop Polding’s Vicar General, offered the parish to the care of the Marist Fathers. Joseph Monnier (1825-74) arrived on the 20th September 1868 to begin the Marist ministry which continues up to the present day in this parish. (Hosie, Challenge, p 20, 202, 209-213, 218-24).
  15. Francis Murphy (cf above [2])
  16. No signature – the author excuses himself and explains in his next ordinary letter (cf Doc 184 [2])