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21 & 30 August 1842. — Father Jean-Baptiste Petit-Jean to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Sydney

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, June 2015

(Begun on the feast-day of Saint Jeanne Francoise de Chantal, this letter was finished on the feast-day of St Rose of Lima.)

Sydney, feast-day of St Chantal, 1842
On the point of departure for the Bay of Islands
I am taking up the first piece of paper to hand. I am beginning with what I am afraid of forgetting. Please send to the register of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Paris the following names: Patrick Joad, Charles Kelly, Catherine Stafford, Maria Tasey,[1] Rose MacAdam, Mary Wilson – these last five names, with one more, i.e. Michel Duffey, have also been received into the order of the Most Holy Trinity. Please carefully send their names to some register, if there is one. I am fairly sure that I do not have the power to enrol anyone in an Order to which I do not belong. But these people have so much besought me, saying that they already had the ribbon of St Francis, that I resolved to be superabundant, in the way of St Francis de Sales, and I blessed for them a white scapular that they presented to me. I did this as exactly as possible, all the more so because these fine people, mostly close to poverty, forced me to accept a little gift. It was the widow’s mite.
A piece of advice picked up along the way, when you pay for something in cash, make sure you get a discount. So, this morning, of the £68 pounds that I had to pay for my journey, the carriage of cows and sheep, and other things for our mission, the captain gave me back two by way of discount. I was only thinking of asking him for some reduction.
I hope that people will pray for our mission, especially for the children and our benefactors. I would like to be able to give you a litany of them. I recall in particular a fine man who from time to time brought me a little gift, and always asked me: when are you leaving? And then would again bring me what he had been able to get together, and would still say, when are you leaving, and would come back again with other little offerings. May prayers be offered particularly for a good Canadian man who brought me a cow from 30 miles away, the one given me by Father Brady.
I received £7 or £8 pounds which were donated for our chapel, and for that I went shrewdly into houses, because those people hardly would have thought of the matter. In donations I have obtained, up to now, about twenty pounds. I am taking with me 20 bags of flour, 10 bags of salt, a half chest of tea, a bale of blankets, 6 “mats” (?) of sugar, a case of glass, only half of what would be needed for a new building, the rest will be glassed in strips [vitre en planches] . As well, some good shoe leather for more than 35 francs. Sydney leather does not have a good reputation. Some nails for shoes, seed for two sorts of good potatoes, cherry trees, mulberry trees, pear trees, apple trees, olive trees – these were sent to me from some distance from Sydney, I believe, they cost me no less than 50 francs. Some clover and lucerne seed, as well as a fine ram which I paid 75 francs for, 20 young sheep – good quality, 11 fr 25 centimes each, or indeed, when I get to the Bay of Islands, I will get some others at 5½ shillings each, returned to Sydney and sent back to New Zealand, they will come back to me, everything included, purchase price, cost of food and transport - my account is not yet ready. As well, I have been given a cow, and a heifer, a hive of bees, rabbits and pigeons, a cow in milk with her calf – 7½ shillings, a pregnant cow, £4 pounds, a heifer, £2 pounds. The total price of purchase, transport and food, apart from the discount – I am leaving and am in a hurry.
I will bring money amounting to £200 pounds, net. I have brought it all in cash, to get round these rapacious banks. I took that money to the bank, and I had it carried in front of me, while I followed at a respectful distance. It was harsh for me to do these things. Our creditors in the Bay of Islands expect me to come back with enough money to pay back our debts, and they are mistaken. That is what results in my joy at returning to the midst of my beloved Society being very much tempered.
Already M Joubert has sent, through Mr Cafler, a demand [billet] for £59 pounds which the Bishop has owed him for a fairly long time, and Mr Cafler is a man who will, unfortunately, pursue this matter quite briskly. It is only a pretence that Mr Cafler owes, that M Joubert, I say, owes Mr Cafler; M. Joubert has even told me himself that Mr Cafler owed him, and I believe it true, M Joubert’s father-in-law owes the mission £100 pounds. It was said that M Joubert vouched for M Bonnefin, but M Joubert said that M Bonnefin had declared that he had left the Bishop some land to pay him, but as for the rest, each has his own story, fair enough. M Joubert’s debt consists of certain things sent to the Bishop from Sydney at his request.
The businessmen who will see me coming with supplies will not be overjoyed, and as we owe money to several, I think that that will upset them. But since people gave me money in the form of goods, I couldn’t do otherwise, and anyway, the blame for that will fall on me, and not on the Bishop; and as for the cows and sheep, no-one could deny that we bought some animals to ease our lot in the urgent need which we were in, and in the ruining of health that I was afraid of.
I find that the vicar-general, Father Murphy, is fairly forgetful, in spite of his good will, things are getting on top of him, and remarkably distract him. That could serve us as a rule of conduct on certain occasions. For the rest, I don’t think that this fine gentleman will be here for long. He is thinking of going back almost straightaway after Bishop Polding arrives.
I have just received (a little time ago) some news from the Bay of Islands. Bishop Pompallier had not yet returned. So here I, myself, have been two months in Sydney. Enough ships have called in here, but they were all going to Port Nicholson. Some of them also were heading for the Bay of Islands, at least one, some others for Auckland, but those were in the earliest part of my stay in Sydney. I hadn’t been able to get anything ready. There is so much involved in dealing with people carefully, sounding out the situation, acting with discretion when you are in a foreign country. To sum up, I would have had to set out again without any money. God be blessed, I had no reason to regret fulfilling his holy will. A missionary priest often undertakes a journey for one reason, and God wants him to carry out another more important one. So, according to the letter that you will receive, and which I have entrusted to the French consul in Sydney; (it was a fairly big packet)[2] it seems to me that God was wanting to bind me[3] and to bind our Society to Father Brady, the venerable Father Brady, parish priest of Windsor, to bind us more closely to Bishop Polding, in brief, to bind our mission, our Society of Mary, more and more together with the British Catholics, the pastors especially, and to unite New Zealand with Australia. One door in fact opens onto another; a ring that you hold sometimes brings to you a long chain.
I am now going to try to give you summarily and tersely a duplicate of my sealed letter of the 24th August.[4]
Before that, I am going to mention a few little things for fear of forgetting them. Right now a British company has a plan to colonise in New Caledonia. The plan has just appeared in the Sydney newspapers. Imagine, Reverend Father, that during these two months I have spent in Sydney, I haven’t given myself any rest, and time has seemed to me to be a dream; much more so than in New Zealand. It seems to me that I can say I have taken advantage of all the doors that God seemed to open to me for the salvation of souls. Happy I am, if I have sowed something, and which others might at least harvest afterwards. It can indeed be said, Reverend Father, that the Blessed Virgin leads her children by the hand, and opens up hearts for them. Here, I have only been surrounded by blessings, Protestants have invited me to come and dine with them, have come looking for me, have taken me with them. They have overwhelmed me with other politenesses. But it is really important to realise that the safest protection of a priest, in these distant countries in particular, is the priestly and religious habit. It is also the thought that we have a Society, that we have to work at honouring it, and to be careful in no way to harm the honour of that Society, which is so necessary for the salvation of souls.
A good woman told me yesterday that she had to be sent a pretty French cross, a cross of gold – or, rather, she asked me for one. I will give you some sovereigns, she said, and I did not want to accept before the cross was given. Yes, yes, she told me, I will see you tomorrow at Mass. Let that be noted. See a remark further down. Send from France a gold cross inserted among the books that you will send to Fr Geogeghan.[5] (I have given you the list of these books with the address.) But no, this cross could go to Port Philip, where this gentleman is, which would be at the wrong moment – in that case put this cross among the books that you will send to Sydney for Father Hogan, and the list of which he should give me; and the particular address of this little cross will be Mrs Oliffe, Cockatoo Inn, Surrey Hills. But I realise that this good lady, having a Protestant husband, has not been able to give me what she intended to send me with such good will. May God be praised. She has parents who are in need. On reflection, don’t send this cross. I will try to find one in New Zealand and send it to Sydney. This pious woman naively says she wants to have something to put around her neck.
N.B. I have just heard of a good and fine cloth which is made in Sydney, which costs only, I am told, 5 shillings an ell. I imagine that this cloth must be: (1) good, because there is nothing in the material it is made of but pure good wool, in place of which, in cloths that come from England there is cotton mixed with it; (2) it must be cheap because wools in this country are very cheap and there must be deducted the cost of transporting the wool to England, and the cloth from England to Sydney. They are not fine materials, but that is not what we are looking for. I am assured that this cloth has the excellent property of strength and not easily able to be torn in the scrub. It is just what we need. I was told that there was none available in black, but that one can request that it be given a particular colour, and then, any colour can be used by many people in our mission. Father Superior, I count that to be a good discovery.
For the rest, I know, in Sydney, a fine young man (they are rare) coming from France who is going to be employed in a factory and will be sorting wools. He will be able to buy our cloth for us from the maker, and I have asked a good French lady married to a Protestant[6] (her children are Protestants; the husband is a good Protestant man and she has drifted somewhat into unfaithfulness - from a mixed marriage involving a Catholic woman and a Protestant, more often than not the children are born without religion). These are fine people. Those of us who will go through Sydney will go and see them; they will be overwhelmed with kindness and perhaps they will obtain, like me, (without asking) a few pairs of shoes – they are rich – and then will go and pay their respects to this lady – Smith’s shoe shop, George Street, Golden Boot. She is a good woman; it’s forgetfulness, it’s a shortage of priests, it’s simplicity – I have heard her confession – to buy for me about 15 ells of this cloth. Poor as we are, and they very well-off, they could pay for it and make a gift to me of the price. I indeed set an innocent trap in that way. I don’t know if it will succeed.
In Sydney the Protestant Episcopalians have begun to imitate the Catholics; every day the minister rings bells for his mass, and that angers the Presbyterians; soon, they say, the Episcopalians are going to begin saying the Mass of the Pope. Reverend Father, I have visited the town’s cemetery, and it is a sight which is more fit for weeping over than for rejoi... I do not even want to say the word. Sad, never-ending divisions among the Protestants; death does not even unite their bodies, so their cemetery is like a garden. There is a plot for the Episcopalians, there, another plot, with a fence, for the Presbyterians; here, a section for the Methodists; there, another for the Quakers, etc. Oh God, what a pity to see so many poor people dying apart from unity and the truth; and the Catholics, on the other hand, their adjoining cemetery is a large garden without division, a fertile piece of land where the bodies of those who have died in peace and justice, will germinate strongly and will be flourishing with beauty on the day of the Resurrection. Not long ago the Methodists of this country, as elsewhere no doubt, celebrated their centenary and boasted and delighted in the fact that they had existed for a hundred years and they were not afraid to say so on the front of a chapel in this colony. Oh, good heavens! And they do not see how they themselves publicly state the evidence of their newness, and witness, through that, in the most authentic way, that they are not the true church of Jesus Christ. Would the true Church of Jesus Christ have existed for only 100 years?
Recently a poor woman was ill in hospital; sometimes a Protestant minister visits the hospital to visit the deported convicts there. And the sick woman was not one of these. She was a free woman. And the minister did not want to help her, because, he said, she was a free woman.
The Church Act which was passed in Sydney in favour of church services was equally adopted in New Zealand on the same basis, at least in its principles. We will try to get it for us in New Zealand.
Reverend Father, one of the main aims of my correspondence in July and August (in one single packet 1842) was to ask you as a favour that you might found a Marist house in Australia or New Holland,[7] and I reasoned thus. We have to use, to the best of our ability, the talents that we have, our mark[8] must yield us ten marks, invested at interest. Now a Marist house in Sydney – or somewhere else in New Holland - will realise these high hopes. Now, a Marist house in Sydney, that is a great way of proceeding. Bishop Polding wants us, as does Father Brady, that almost miracle-working priest, who has the full trust of the Bishop. The French people in Sydney, almost forgotten, or at least, to be exact, cared for only casually; more than 9,000 Irish or English Catholics occupy the small number of priests that there are; but let’s abandon the French, if you wish, although they are numerous; the native race of this land, which is going to die out before having been evangelised. Frequently they have been abused, and no-one has even taken effective steps to save the lives of their bodies, and even more those of their souls.
Sydney, the commercial centre for all the islands of Oceania, would be good for a procure house – Sydney, enclosing families which are rich and liberal, although Protestant; in a college we would have almost all the young; Sydney, good for a college – a great number of young men who would be prepared for the ecclesiastical state - many children of wealthy parents who are kept away from the sanctuary because they have had the misfortune to be born from convict ancestors, would be received by us, and we would make of them missionaries for the islands. (O Protestant pride, you are so inflexible, and do not pardon to the 3rd and 4th generation the misfortune of having been deported for whatever reason). The people there are extremely generous – you cannot imagine the generosity of the Irish to priests. Father, believe me, we will do good in Sydney, with the secular clergy we will help each other to sanctify ourselves. What becomes of my observations will be up to the will of God. (I forgot to say that Sydney is more important for a college than New Zealand; there are few children in New Zealand). They are generally poor.
Believe me, Father, we have to go and place our flag among the ranks of our separated brethren; we have to become more acceptable to the English; in the islands of Oceania, we seem to be isolated. We will be better understood in Sydney. People will see that we are not in these seas to arouse opposition to the government, but to do good. Father, let us do this worthwhile thing. It’s the most terrible blow we can deal to Protestantism, which only wants national Churches. People will better understand what pure Catholicism really is.
There is great freedom in Sydney for all ways of worship, all religious orders. And indeed, since we are free, let us come and give, in this town, in the name of our good Mother, some examples of poverty, humility and simplicity. So I said, I do not know how you will receive my thoughts. But in the presence of God, I see a house for our Society in Sydney as very urgent and very important. Reverend Father, I have more than prophetic hopes, you will perform a miracle there.
I told you in my July and August letter that there was a ship, and perhaps several, which fairly regularly visits the islands of our mission (it always goes through New Zealand), to the Bay of Islands), the Navigators, Fidgi, etc. The ship-owner lives in Sydney. He has been trading in these islands for more than 12 years. He is the one who partly carried the Protestant missionaries there. I said that the Marquesas, occupied now by the French, would be a new way of communicating for us – Marquesas – Tahiti – New Zealand.
Alas, dear Father, I feel that I would have many things to say. Quite simply, let us say that the good Mother has protected me. Alas, I owe it to your good prayers. May God be blessed forever. My confrères are impatient to see me again in New Zealand. I am taking £200 pounds sterling in cash – in coins and not in paper, all that is only a drop of water. Come to our assistance promptly and effectively. I have promised 9 Masses in honour of the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, if all my possessions and my person arrive safely at the Bay of Islands. I have faith.
Alas, we will be under the shame of a heavy debt for an unknown time yet. The cloth I spoke about above has been bought. We didn’t buy the local cloth, because the demand for it in recent times has been considerable, and its properties had been changed. So that the thoughts I expressed above about the cloth are not yet definite. That good woman married to a Protestant presented me with two fine pairs of shoes. Her husband is a delightful man. I have a great debt of gratitude. Tomorrow that lady is to come for confession. Happy will I be if I can fit her with the shoes of the Gospel and innocence.
In the packet of letters sent in August, there was a letter from Father Brady, a letter of recommendation to ask Mr Brown, if I have his name correctly, Bishop of an Irish diocese, the one that Father Brady comes from, to ask for subjects who are quite ready to do their theology.[9] There are many of these fine young men.
Adieu, Reverend Father. I expect to leave today, the feast day of St Rose, 30 August. Your blessing, please.
Your unworthy child.
Jean–Baptiste Petit–Jean, Marist priest, missionary apostolic.
[ in the margin and crosswise] [26]
Just as I was closing my letter, a fine man brought me 6 f(rancs) and said to me, it’s all I can give you. All my money was locked up, and I needed exactly that for a little matter. Ah, Father, you will not refuse priests from our Society to these fine people.


  1. To be read as Tracy or, perhaps Casey.
  2. See doc 184 [1]
  3. Note added by the author at the top of the page There was the rest, though it is not very free-flowing.
  4. The author seems to be speaking about his notes on the mission (doc 192)
  5. Patrick Geoghegan (cf doc 184 [51, n 17]
  6. The sentence, cut up by several digressions, is resumed further down by the words “to buy for me about 15 ells of this cloth.”
  7. Petit–Jean had asked for the foundation of a Marist house in Australia in two preceding letters (doc 176 [12], 184 [34 -37, 50, 58, 64, 74). Father John Brady had written to Colin with the same aim (doc 187 [3 -10])
  8. a unit of money – translator’s note
  9. Brady sent a copy of his letter to Bishop Browne (cf. doc 187 [1-2]) in the same envelope as his invitation to Colin to establish the Marists in Australia.