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c. 24 August 1842 - Notes from Father Jean-Baptiste Petit–Jean, sent to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Whangaroa?

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, August 2015

Author identified by handwriting. The present undated document is undoubtedly “my letter closed about 24th August” which the author speaks about in the preceding document (doc 191 [10]).

Notes on the mission of the Epiphany, also named Whangaroa and Mangonui and on the mission in general, where I had to put it back on its feet from the mistakes which I could discover, and that by obedience to my superiors.

These notes are not, on their own, enough to evaluate the mission, because I have presented only its darker side.

Whangaroa is to the north-west of the Bay of Islands, at a distance of.......[1] There is a fairly large harbour with a narrow entrance; there is no suitable site for building a town. There is a great area of forest. I think that the land is quite good for farming, but the land is generally too steep for carts to cross it easily. Mangonui is five leagues [about 20 km] to the west of Whangaroa. Ships and boats, having crossed the large Mangonui bay, enter the port, which is small. It is said to be quite safe, but it is not found to be closed-in enough. From Whangaroa and even from the Bay of Islands you can go by water even with a small boat when the sea is good and the wind favourable. By land, you can easily get from the Bay of Islands to Whangaroa. When it is raining there is some difficulty from the waves which are bigger. The Bishop visited the two harbours of Whangaroa and Mangonui, I think in 1839, in the little mission schooner. At Mangonui there was little more than one family of 8 or 9 people which turned, or was recorded as turning, to the Catholic faith. However, amongst a certain number of tribes, a general expectation was aroused because of some gifts that the Bishop scattered around there, but especially because of promises of clothing and priests that were made to them, according to what the natives reported. A white man who is a Catholic promised a site for a mission station. At Whangaroa the Bishop also gave some presents, but small ones. Promises were made, a tribe situated half-way between the Bay of Islands and Whangaroa, named Matauri, added to those who turned to the Bishop both at Whangaroa and at Mangonui, amounted to about 250, or 300 at the most, people who were said to have turned to the Bishop, and who in general began to say the prayers. At Whangaroa, a certain man, Italian in origin, made the offer of a small piece of land, and agreed with the Bishop to build a little house with materials which at that time could be worth about 100 francs. It is to be noted that the natives who adopted the Bishop’s prayers were generally people who before that had been neutral. At Whangaroa, few people abandoned the English missionaries. As for me, I do not know a single Maori heretic who has been converted, or I do not remember any. Conversions of that sort would depend on the chiefs.
At the beginning of 1840, when new missionaries arrived, some chiefs came to the Bay of islands to ask the Bishop for some priests, and we were appointed, Father Épalle and I, to go and occupy the Whangaroa station.[2] We got there about the time of the Epiphany. The Father stayed there only till about the time of the Ascension 1840. The Bishop recalled him. So I stayed there alone with a Brother, Brother Elias, visiting the tribes and giving some help to the Brother. I went, roughly every two months, to Kororareka, for my spiritual needs; I was sometimes kept there a week, sometimes a fortnight. I had occasion to address a few sentences to the English people. The Whangaroa tribes have never been seriously evangelised, yet they were, almost, according to their attitudes. Each tribe would have liked to have a priest or a catechist, with clothing and tobacco. A piece of land for a mission was bought. There was a white man and some Maoris to be paid. That cost nearly £22 in cash, and I think that roughly £5 were given for furnishings.
We moved our house to a more convenient place. We have doubled it in area, it is covered in shingles.[3] It is 16 feet wide, and 30 feet long. There is a fine attic. There is only one partition, and no floor on the ground. In the attic the planks are not joined, the crosspieces have not been made. It is closed off rather rustically. Apart from the nails and other little accessories, I paid out 540 francs, [about £22] roughly, for wood. Fortunately, the walls are only [en ecoins - ?] because the hundred feet of planking cost, at that time, about £1, 4 shillings [about 30 fr].
At the end of 1840, our station had to feed three men for more than a month, when the Bishop sent a message to Whangaroa to make a little vessel that the Bishop bought at Whangaroa, and then later gave up to buy a larger vessel. Captain Michel, the mission ship captain, bought for him some maize for £14; the Bishop having called him back from Whangaroa, he offered this maize to the mission. As that maize was all carried to Whangaroa, and we didn’t have a lot of food, I got the Bishop to let me have that maize.
We wanted to hire a certain number of Maori boys to do some clearing of the land. We also made various attempts to raise pigs, a poor speculation, the Maoris were only lazy, and our pigs went to the Maoris’ potatoes. All the maize that I had given to me was not well preserved. It didn’t make much of a profit. We have used very little tea and sugar. We have even gone a long time without. We were even short of pork on several occasions although we ate very little of it. There was a scarcity of potatoes. It was maize which kept us alive at that time. I think that the money and goods that we gave for our food can rise, when including the food and the maintenance of one or two boys, along with the carrying of the items that were addressed to me and could rise to 600 francs per year.
As well, we planted immediately, and at the start of 1841 we had a little harvest of wheat and potatoes. In the second year, 1842, we presently have in the attic 8 or 9 bushels of wheat, about 60 baskets of potatoes, about 25 or 30 baskets of maize, some marrows and some vegetables; all the fruit of Brother Elias’ sweat. We have a goat, which cost us nothing. I am counting on some rabbits and geese in the future. We have a small herd of pigs. We have begun to build a big enclosure to shut them in; in Whangaroa the natives’ gardens which don’t have any fencing do not allow us to let the pigs wander.
I forgot to say that we ourselves had cut, in the forest, some of the beams for our house. I haven’t spent any money on a chapel, having one that was built by the natives in their style; at present it needs repairs. As well, we have to include in the Whangaroa expenses a boat bought for servicing this mission, whose cost I do not know. In Whangaroa, where the notes are, I will draw up more exactly the list of expenses. At Mangonui I have accepted, in the Bishop’s name, a piece of land which could be about 5 acres in size (after the donor’s death it will be bigger). I could have made a mistake in choosing the piece of land as the site for a church, but if it turned out to be unsuitable, it could be exchanged in a way that would be very advantageous for the mission. Several people have approved the choice, for various reasons. I suggested to the Europeans at Mangonui that a collection be made to build a little chapel there; the idea was accepted, and I have the signatures of 12 people, most of whom are Protestant, who have subscribed £53 and 3 shillings.
I have moved a little sacristy to Mangonui, into a little house built by the Maori out of swamp plants, which is quite strong. It’s about 15 feet long and eight wide. I will have completed the account of our temporal possessions if I say that at Whangaroa we have a fine stone- quarry discovered or noticed by our Brother Elias. This quarry is right beside the harbour at Whangaroa. I offered it to the administration at Kororareka, who accepted it and acquired it, offering in exchange a double-barrelled gun bought from the shopkeeper and a cloak made by our Brother – tailor, which amounted to, I think, £13. From next year we will have some vine plants which, I believe, will give us wine for the Mass at Whangaroa. Among the plants there are some young ones, and others two years old. In all, 2 500. It’s a trial which gives our dear Brother much to hope for. He is a good Brother, whose piety and thrift I cannot praise too highly. He has gone so far as to buy some trousers from a Maori, for some clothing that was less in value than the trousers.
The spiritual side of the Whangaroa mission. In the two missions of Whangaroa and Mangonui, 160 people are baptised. In this number must be included children of heretics or of people who are indifferent, who have been baptised in danger of death. Several children of European Catholics, and several children of Protestants who have asked or agreed to their children being baptised in the Catholic Church.
The Bishop decided on a time when people could make their first communion. I put forward only 5, and I had regrets over one at least. He was our servant. Everyone testified to it. He apostatised and had himself re-baptised. It involved more stupidity than malice, although it was a horrible thing.
At Mangonui only one man has stood fast among the Maori who were recorded as belonging to our holy religion. A family some of whose children the Bishop had baptised, has gone over to the heretics. Others who at the time had been shaken to turn from our side, not seeing any clothing coming, left us. I have stopped visiting them thinking it was useless.
At Whangaroa, some of our chiefs who were recorded as Catholic are not praying, some others are faltering. At Matauri, twenty or thirty seem unsteady; they are waiting for the books which we have no way yet of publishing. Apart from that, the natives are generally serious and applying themselves to prayer. There are some fairly good tribes, but you cannot go and see them without being overwhelmed by demands for a bit of tobacco, a bell, etc... I cannot say I have ever received a single gift from them. Their way of selling things at the house was as hard for us as for the others. We find them hard when it is a matter of getting some service, and pointing out our poverty to the point of refusing to accompany the priest going to visit someone who is ill. They see you in need, but will not help you get out of it. However they easily give you something to eat, and there is, besides, a certain sensitivity which shows itself in certain circumstances; they love their priest, and you should not be surprised at seeing contradictions. I wasn’t able to benefit from the collection at Mangonui for a chapel, for lack of support by the mission administration, and soon after the country fell into economic misery.
A mixture of observations on the temporal and the spiritual state of the mission in general.
There is a lot to observe on the administration in general and the details of money – management. I have put our money in the bank in Sydney, at least part of it was invested at interest. I was expecting that it would be there as a reserve, or at least that this money would be withdrawn little by little as it was needed. I know that that money stayed there only a short time. I was a bit surprised at the way in which the money was handled. For example, some sailors came to the Bishop’s door, as to the door of all the others, to make a bit of noise with a musical instrument, and the Bishop gave a pound to one of them. It is true that the Bishop said that he couldn’t find any coins. I was surprised to find the house well–lined and perfectly varnished. It’s fairly obvious that the mission funds have been caught unawares by a crowd of shrewd operators who have set traps for us, into which we have, unfortunately fallen.
Here are some important examples that I have heard spoken about, and which, I think, are the main ones. Money being lent so willingly that people thought they had a right to draw upon the Bishop’s funds. I have heard captain Michel complaining that he didn’t have the same rights as the others, and money was lent in several places in competition with I don’t know how big a sum. [On a prete en plusieurs endroits je ne sais jusqu’a la concurrence de quelle somme]. On a ship that was sold, the Reine de la Paix [Queen of Peace] the purchaser still owes a big amount. He has given money and perhaps also land in payment. I know rather little about that. The Bishop had Father Chevron and Brother Attale moved to Wallis. That involved at least £100. As it was pretty well on the original course of the ship, I think it was a bit dear, and I have reason to believe or suspect it because it is a certain Frenchman who was the broker and, note carefully, that Frenchman went back to France with £100 that the Bishop lent him. Perhaps, indeed, this voyage can be overlooked, it was so necessary. Quantities of clothing were distributed, and a lot of tobacco.
Our dining table was available to all the spongers, they drank our wine in large glasses. People came to give us advice, there were long gatherings with the Bishop to direct him in his administration, both temporal and spiritual. The Bishop made a journey to Tauranga by hiring a little vessel at £50 a month; he could have waited for [ships heading there], it seems to me.
The Bishop was embarrassed by some poor servants who applied for work, who were kept for a certain time, one or two of them who were given their food, lodging and £4 a month, and these wretches took our bread and our meat to loose women. I don’t know whether this was the Bishop’s fault or anyone’s fault.
The Bishop, in order to get a servant, bought his small boat with which he had no real need for. That small boat was resold for £7. The servant, made responsible for taking care of a mission property, also tried to enrich himself at the mission’s expense. The Kororareka house had a good boat for its use; the Bishop allowed himself to be flattered, he was presented with a delightful little boat solely for his use. It was accepted; it was prettied up, and later on our Fathers, calculating all the expenses, found that they would have to go up to £80, and meanwhile, because this little boat was liable to capsize, the Bishop got rid of it, and, what singled his Lordship out on the Bay of Islands, it was sold for potatoes valued at two or three hundred francs [about £8 or £12].
I don’t know whether I mentioned the elegant chairs that were bought. They came from America. I think that fewer of these things could have been bought, and later on rough chairs could have been made. We could have entirely done without chairs in our stations, yet however we were sent 3 or 4. Organs cost 1 200 francs [c. 50 pounds]. People haggle over appearances.
For a few months the Bishop has had a servant solely for himself; at least once when I arrived from Whangaroa and saw a man busy brushing the Bishop’s shoes, I asked what function this man had, and I was told that he was the Bishop’s servant. He was a man passing through, [homme de rencontre] who had been taken on, no doubt to render him some service. A doctor was being paid for Maori who were ill.
Captain Michel is coming from Sydney to present himself to the Bishop. His Lordship is intent on buying a boat. Captain Michel has been accepted; he is being sent to Sydney to buy a vessel. He is coming back without having found a vessel. It is resolved to buy a big boat, a dozen tons in size, with a bridge. This vessel is thought to be too small. Another, more than 100 tons in size, is available. The big boat is abandoned, and the purchase is made of the big vessel, which costs 24 or 25 thousand francs [c. £1,000], but the repairs, the modifications needed, without counting the stores, but including the copper, add up to 1 400 or thereabouts and raised the cost of the ship to 1,400 pounds, rather more than less.
Right near the end of 1841, the Bishop made two voyages to the south of New Zealand , and one on the Hokianga coast. Twice he readied his schooner to go to Port Nicholson, once without any advantage to himself, or payment; it was to go and get food for the French colonists, to do a favour for the French company. It’s worth noting that the Sancta Maria (the name of the ship) stayed a long time in Akaroa Harbour, open to the criticism of the French officers, who observed everything.
The Bishop wanted to put up a chapel at Akaroa, at his own expense, which cost 1,200 fr [about £50]. Before his second voyage to the south, the Bishop, disappointed by the bank-failure in London, had borrowed 600 fr from the bank to pay for a bit of land where a church was to be built and the residence to be moved from Kororareka; he had also borrowed some money to buy what he needed for gifts for the natives, or at least it is certain that he will be obliged to pay the interest on it; it is, I believe, £100.
At Akaroa the Bishop received the news of Father Chanel’s death; a corvette agreed to travel to Futuna. The Bishop could indeed have done without sending his ship there, or at least he could have sent his ship to the Bay of Islands to pick up items for Father Bataillon and to take an Englishman[4] to Ascension Island with some priests following the formal promise.[5] But no, the Bishop forgot his promise, went to the tropics with his ship, then sent it back to the Bay of Islands, only intending to get some clothing for Father Bataillon, while awaiting the return of that ship to send it to Valparaiso and to make the voyage to France himself. This mistake cost the mission nearly 10,000 francs [£400]. The Bishop, being still in Akaroa before receiving the news of Father Chanel’s death, had taken a cabin on board the Aube, and already had hired a servant to serve him during the journey, while on board naval vessels so many servants are to be found.
It has to be said that our ship, which was to pick up supplies for the mission, didn’t buy a single basket of potatoes for us. Many ships bought and salted pigs, for the Sancta Maria it was more convenient to buy meat already salted from the Europeans.
That ship, leaving for the tropics the first time, had nothing; it had given everything to the natives; and, indeed, in the tropics the captain sold his dirty linen to the mission which allowed him in this way to reckon the money as an addition to his wages, so that some trading could be done with the natives.
The Bishop, before dismissing his captain Michel, had taken on another man; Michel was able to be dismissed because he couldn’t be paid, and to dismiss the first mate and to compensate him for his demands he had to sign for him a draft for £35 pounds. Meanwhile it was strongly suggested to the Bishop that he was not in control of future circumstances, that there was danger in making the least commitment to a second captain, that he would have to be paid, like the first, £12 a month. It’s not far from the truth to say the ship was costing the mission 100 francs a day, and it had to have been poorly run by us, because someone was responsible for maintaining it and provisioning it and paying the seamen and taking its captain’s pay [et prendre sa paie de capitaine]. To detail all the expenses which this ship involved us in would be endless. For example, to be forced to keep sailors stuck on board in a port because there was no money to pay them, and then consider how much this ship cost the morale of the mission. [There were] disputes on board in harbours, disputes between the captain and the Bishop, an insolent captain interfering in all the mission’s business, telling the naval officers everything he knew about the Bishop, feasts given on board the Sancta Maria, reprimands exchanged, the French officers said that too much money had been spent in entertaining them. The world had seen the mission close up, its wounds were probed, all its weaknesses had been studied; several people, to give themselves some status told what they knew about the mission. Mr de Belligny said that the Bishop had a ship only out of vanity, it was said that the Bishop was claiming a Bishopric in France, people were allowed to make crude sketches to depict the mission whose substance everyone was wanting to suck out. It was said that it was like a cow from which all its milk was being taken.
I said that the Bishop had bought on credit a piece of land for 15,000 francs [c. £600]; it had been decided that the buildings would be placed there, that a little brick church would be built there. All the public were expected to come. A brickmaker was hired, and another man was hired to keep a check on the brickwork, who received £80 per year, over and above his housing. It’s true, his wife had to wash part of the house’s laundry. This man is still with us. We also have a gardener who gets more than £80 a year (his wife must also wash the linen). We also have Mr Watertown[6] who serves us in some ways and could even do more for us.
I forgot to say that we have paid in advance for a chapel that we will never get. It involves £300. First of all a priest had given a part of the amount to get the work started, and the Bishop gave the rest. There have been various collections for chapels in the Hokianga, the Bay of Islands and at Mangonui. The public expected them, but nothing has appeared, to our shame. That little existing chapel ought to drive us to despair. The men who worked on it received up to 7 or 8 shillings a day, the varnish alone cost £25 pounds. You can imagine the rest.
Spiritual aspects of the mission. I will be brief. The Bishop wanting, as you might say, to have everything go through his hands, and wanting to do everything by himself. Severe censorship of letters. I see the Bishop at odds with Father Servant, threatening him with interdiction. I see the Bishop giving notice to Fathers Tripe and Comte. I see the Fathers sick, in a ferment, the Brothers running the risk of being discontented. One of those who always went about with the Bishop has not had any difficulties; it seems that he has always been quite happy to go along with what he wanted.
I see a printing press finally assembled, but which hasn’t yet got any book to print. The Bishop has not yet made anyone responsible for carrying out such a task under his direction. He more or less wanted to make himself responsible for these things, and it hasn’t been done, or rather there has been nothing to print. The Bishop himself said it. It is in fact, an attempt at a catechism which the Bishop composed in a very short time. The Bishop does not speak a pure Maori, he hasn’t been long enough among the tribes; he is inexact even in the basics. He has composed a little grammar, got it translated into English, and delivered it to the printer. The New Zealand grammar written by the Bishop was publicised. The English missionaries published another that was more complete, and that of the Bishop will apparently get no more publicity. It would have been better if a priest had put his name to it, and not the Bishop his.
It seems to me that the number of Maori Catholics has been exaggerated; that people have been living in an illusion. I really hope that in the south, as Father Baty has written, the figure of 34 or 35 thousand given by the Bishop is not contradicted, but it is rather vague, but let us wait for clarifications. It will be up to us to show things in detail, and in that way justify that number. It will be shown, of course, that for the northern area we have been wrong. I don’t think a single European who travels much would credit us with that figure. However we have had few resources to assure ourselves of the Maori. The English missionaries, when they saw our mission equipment became, as it were, enraged, and made unheard of efforts. Alas, we have given the impression of having resources that we didn’t have. We used up our resources before going into battle, like an army brilliant in appearance but lacking real strength, like soldiers who threaten and launch all their projectiles before the fight. The fervour of our followers has been described in such a way as to quite mislead the readers.
I see a Catholic chief from Whangaroa receiving some clothes, and, unhappy with what he has got, chopping up these clothes in their packet. I see a chief from Maketu staying here a long time to ask for a priest, and then, later on either him or his people stripping the priest he has been given, robbing him.[7] I see hardly any native going to confession, few baptised, these are warning signs for the spiritual side of the mission. Let the Fathers be consulted – Father Baty will perhaps be able to report some favourable things. Let’s wait for him to come.
Let’s not forget small signs of too free spending. The Bishop wants the two Fathers to leave for Akaroa wearing lay clothes; they have trousers bought for them etc, and especially two hats which cost, I believe, 80 francs (about 8 shillings). How many times have the natives gorged themselves on meat and potatoes at that poor house in Kororareka?
The Bishop has ruined himself with promises; he has written in his wallet some promises he made to some natives in the Hokianga. The natives harass the priest, and the priest says: it’s not me who promised you, take your request to the Bishop, and what else can be said to a people who want exact answers? The natives have often said that the Bishop was misleading in his promises, that he made a great to-do and grand announcements without any follow–up.
The Bishop has not well understood how his affairs were going. He said that the Propagation [of the Faith] was late, he was at odds with the superiors who were keeping his money from him in France, he said. He revealed to the French commanding officer the plan he had to ask the government for sailors and an officer to command them. He also said, just as was repeated to me by Father Comte, that he wanted to get 200 thousand francs [£8000] each year from the Propagation, to install a vicar in New Zealand and move himself to the islands, and from there as a base, administer his huge diocese. Most recently the Bishop had, perhaps, the desire that an English Bishop be appointed to New Zealand and that he could have a see in the islands, bringing several subjects[8] with him, and that was because of the English colony being established. Our mission has a great reputation throughout the world. That is what is ruining us. The Bishop, through the services he renders and his affability, has won all hearts, general confidence has become his sphere. But when people see that he cannot fulfil many promises, that he has to change his tone, that he is not a noble, or a cousin of Louis–Philippe, what do people say? People have not really already said that he is a chid.[9] Our reputation has ruined us. And that is what has aroused our adversaries.
Remedies. To be small, to be truly aware of what strict necessity means; the poor must be content with that, to truly appreciate the poor man’s mite that falls into our hands for us who must consider ourselves poorer than the others. If it is possible, unite some stations, centralising them more. It’s done now. Perhaps we would seem to be withdrawing. If possible, don’t leave any useless mouths at Kororareka, send away the outside workers who are paid, and overcome any feelings of pity. When you can, get some animals, plant vines as soon as possible, get from the Europeans as much as possible. Don’t make promises to the natives. People are agreed enough in saying that the Father’s death and the danger in Wallis were occasioned by the Bishop’s voluntary and involuntary promises and delays.
Let it be learned to mistrust men, to be direct and without compassion in business dealings. Should we stop getting the Kororareka newspaper which costs 50 francs a year, and be content with the one from Sydney which comes to us free of charge? Someone should promptly borrow or make an arrangement about money in Sydney. If no-one is going to France, let Henry,[10] the young Englishman, go to a station in the country, there let him serve as something like a Brother, and let the priest make him study at the same time. Budgets must be made each year in which expenses are foreseen, giving first place to the most urgent ones. The Bishop must have a bursar.
If it is the Society which gets the mission out of difficulty, it should have some security, for example, titles to property. I point out at least that to anyone wanting to reflect on it. Here the mission’s property no doubt belongs to the Church of Rome. So the agreement of Rome would be needed. And yet, no, it would not be needed, because the mission’s goods can be alienated validly without mentioning it to Rome, and that for the good of the mission.
No ship for the mission in New Zealand, we go as passengers. For the islands there is none to be had either and none is needed. We have always corresponded pretty well with Father Bataillon. Whaling ships and others visit those islands – except when later on the Society of Mary had only a little ship crewed by Brothers of the Society of Mary.
The Bishop has never been heard to refuse anything necessary to his priests. If they have suffered, it’s because people have not thought about it enough, Providence came to their help. The business concerning Akaroa, that so-called colony, threatened our mission with ruin. The bank failure in London[11] is perhaps what most threatens us, along with that fine and blessed expedition to Ascension Island.[12] But Providence can be sensed to be working for us in this multitude of events which cut across each other and surprise and upset all the plans of men. Mary will save us in the end.


  1. A space left blank, in which the author would have indicated, later on, the distance in question.
  2. Cf the story of this event by Maxime Petit (doc 51 [7])
  3. An English word.
  4. This” Englishman” was no doubt the Scottish Presbyterian,James Hall (cf doc 163 [10], 3)
  5. See the story of the matter given by Garin according to Pompallier’s explanation (cf doc 209 [43]. Pompallier had indicated his intentions in this respect to Épalle in a letter written on 15th November, 1841, a little before his leaving Akaroa for Wallis: “The schooner will return there, if necessary, after coming back to the Bay of Islands, to take to the missionaries what they need, or to move them from one station to another, then it will be sent for sale.” (Unedited letter, APM OOc 418 . 2 p7)
  6. No doubt Henry Waterton, a Catholic living in the Bay of Islands.
  7. About the Maori chief who wanted Father Borjon to come to him, cf doc 99 [39]; on the robbery of Father Borjon at Maketu,cf doc 127[6].
  8. priests and brothers – trans. note
  9. the English word is used
  10. Henry Garnett.
  11. No doubt the failure of Wright’s bank (cf doc 100 [4]
  12. The author refers to the plan (not acted on) of establishing a mission on Ponape (Ascension ) Island (cf doc 176 [11 f/n 9). See also the present document [24 and f/n 4)

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