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21 January 1843 — Father Claude-André Baty to Father Claude Girard, Bay of Islands

From dispatch, APM Z 208.

Sheet, 'Bath' paper, forming four written pages. In the letter register, ED 1, bearing the number 122.

Translated by Siobhan Byrne

[p. 1] [in Poupinel 's hand]
F(athe)r Baty. 21 st Jan(uary) 1843

J(esus) M(ary) J(oseph)

Bay of Islands, New Zealand 21 January 1843.

To the Re(verend) F(athe)r Girard master of novices.

My Rev(erend) and most dear Father,
I think that at this point in time when I have the honour of writing to you, you have received from me the letter[1] that I was writing almost at the same time that you were writing yours dating from Oct 1841. It was delivered to me on the 24th August 1842 [2] and despite my wishes I had to wait until now to reply to you. Do not think that I had been indifferent to your interesting and kind letter; I can certainly assure you that I read it and reread it fruitfully and with pleasure; at the same time I thank you for the list of names of the members of the Society of Mary that was attached to it.
How is your novitiate that you so justly keep to heart!l I do not forget it, your dear novitiate! May the good mother watch it from on high and address a wish to his favour to her noble and well-loved son! Novitiate of the children of Mary! Fortunate apprentices of the love of the son and of the mother, grow in this beautiful, comforting and fruitful knowledge! Let grow in your hearts deep roots of the kind and deep virtues of those whom you see in front of your eyes, whom you seek to imitate! May these roots grow branches that can stretch and be seen all over the world! Raise your eyes and see the whitened harvests, gain the strength that can sustain the labour until its end! See the peoples of Oceania in particular, hear them, like we hear them so often in reality, complaining that there is no one to break for them the bread of life! Do not your eyes fill with tears, do not your hearts feel weak at this sight!" Pray for those who are already busy toiling at the harvest so that their weak labours, blessed by Jesus and Mary, result in eternal life for so many unfortunates!
And you, Rev(erend) and dear Father Girard, do not forget at the h(o)ly altar the one who remembers with a particular joy the moments that he had the pleasure to spend in your kind company; I would always be grateful to you if you could continue to send me the names of the newly received into the Society so that I can continue the list that you already had the kindness to send me. Intensify your prayers and have them {the novices} intensified {them too} so that this new era which we seem to be entering for the salvation of New Zealanders can be fully realised.
I cannot write to you for long today; nevertheless, I will not end without telling you something. I was told that you would gladly welcome the description of the house where I lived for nine months and I am going to describe it for you for no other purpose other than to allow you to be acquainted with the circumstances of apostolic life.
I believe I have already written about my sojourn at the station of S(ain)t Michael. [3] When I left the B(isho)p and disembarked here with the chief who was to be my protector, the place which used to be inhabited, was deserted. There were two large Maori houses and three cookhouses. I looked around and at first wanted to settle in the large house that was not in ruin, but after stepping under the porch, I heard what sounded like an ant-hill; it was in fact a kind of jumping ant, instantly I withdrew with a fright, but I had been covered by this agile insect and had my stockings been white they would have become black. In any case, I am having a look; I am seeing the cookhouse which had been constructed in the past by my protector and chief. It was a house that had walls made of some sort of planks stuck in the ground, but worked in such a way that you would have been as well hidden inside the house as outside. Do not think that this was because you would have looked through the door, it was easier to look through the joints of the planks. The door was a bull's-eye window or rather a cat hole, round and wide enough to get through by crawling on the ground. It was then necessary to at first break two planks to convert them into a door which hinges and lock were of korari [4] or phormium tenax. The aforesaid house was about ten feet long, eight feet wide and five feet high. On its sides, you could stand in the middle right next to the walls. Three large so-called planks were found for me; one was put on the two walls across the house, that was my bookshelf; the two others, placed below in the same direction, on which my bed was spread out at night and rolled at day; they also served as a table to eat and write on as well as an armchair for me and for the Europeans who visited me. Below were a few bottles of oil in a small box behind which enormous rats that had made a racket in the house during the night retired; sometimes I would manage to catch some and the one that was caught left a space for another that did not take long to come. Near the head of the bed was my trunk; on the other side, my box which served as an altar, under which was another small box which contained my other liturgical objects. In the corner near the door was a small barrel in which I had some salted pork; next to the barrel were a few baskets of potatoes; I am omitting another box under the planks of my bed in which were several things for my use, such as sugar, tea, tobacco, soap, etc. Here is the house where I spent, even put in simple terms, some of the most pleasing days of my life. Another oversight. All the underneath or floor was covered with a beautiful grass or with rushes on which Maoris who would come to make conversation would squat.
Prayers were said in the big house that I have already mentioned. We had purified that dreadful place with fire. On the frontispiece there was a statue which was capable of inspiring horror in more than one way. Inside, besides the aforesaid insect, there were cockroaches in their thousands and thousands, and as we went the number grew; the walls and the internal roof were covered with them and {it was} impossible to destroy them without setting the house on fire. As I was expecting from week to week to leave and that the people were to return to the different regions from where war had driven them out, I did not have anything better built.
In the hurry that I find myself, I only have the time to tell you a few facts that I find as I am skimming through my diary. I must leave tomorrow and my letter will probably have gone when I return.
On the of February some natives from Rotorua came to my kainga, they had travelled a large stretch of the country to preach their lies and their absurdities; they decidedly wanted to preach to the Catholic natives and I had a great difficulty dissuading them. According to what they had been taught, there was no doubt that the Tarakona (dragon) which is talked about in the apocalypse is Catholic Rome; there was no doubt that it was the Catholics who had caused the death of S(ain)t Peter and they probably meant the inquisition. They claimed that, since priests do not marry, it is compulsory for the believers themselves not to marry. This last point reappears in all the discussions; it seems that it tortures the conscience of European preachers. They decidedly wanted to give their books to my small flock so that they would chase me away from their midst; thanks to God, they still had a long way to go before reaching this goal. They told me that all that they were saying they had got from their masters and they named several who were in various surrounding stations. They wanted at all costs to say their prayers in our house which served as a chapel; I once again managed to stop them with a strong resistance. The following day their leader or chief befriended me and told me to forgive him for all the lies that he had told me; I told him what I could to get him to understand the truth. I do not know what he did later.
On the 28th of February, I went to a kainga where a man, whom I may say is good, had allowed himself to be tempted in a moment of boredom and had let a European have his wife f(o)r a while for two pieces of clothing in poor condition. I lightly rebuked him; however, I could not bring him to burn these clothes in front of this European. I left, therefore, saddened by his stubbornness. On the 1st of March his wife fell very ill. I quickly went there and easily succeeded in obtaining all that I wanted; the clothes were thus burnt in front of this European whose anger I did not need to fear and the woman was cured a few days later. Another chief, who did not pray and would hire unfortunate women who could not resist in spite of their tears, having learnt the fact above, did not want {any longer} to do anything unfavourable to people who prayed; fearing for his life. Later a woman stole a little food from another; her husband who was one of the main chiefs was so ashamed that in spite of all that I could say to him, he wanted to stop praying. He went to look for Protestant books supposedly for the people in his tribe who were Protestants. On his return he found his eldest daughter sick; he became fervent again, more than before, however his child died a long time later without him being shaken in his good dispositions.
A native having behaved badly by mocking some Catholic rituals, I had to exclude him from the prayer without him changing for the better; he was with other young Catholics hired by a European to go whale hunting. The first whale that they hunted broke the boat in two in the open sea. He was the only one hurt; he had his arm broken below the shoulder. He hastened to repent and to pray again. After, his companions would not strike a whale without making the sign of the cross in spite of the rude words that the Europeans from their boat were directing at them.
In my village there was a catechist called Tokotoko (a staff). He was an admirable man, zealous, discerning, firm; he really was the staff of the weak; he was baptised Jean Baptiste. He knew how to find out everything; one night as he was reading his small book and annotating it, another young man confessed to him that he had done wrong. Distraught with sorrow, he immediately came to my door knocking forcibly, I was then in the first stage of my sleep. I was startled out of my sleep with a fright, he was calling to me. I asked" him what he wanted, he told me that he had some bad information to tell me. Completely dazed as I was, I was more than surprised. I asked him to wait for daytime t(o) tell me his bad information; he did not want to; he did not even want to give me a few seconds to dress. I was afraid that some trouble had led him do or obliged him to do some dreadful thing; finally, I opened the door and the three of us had to sort out this matter. Lack of time forces me to give you a bare and imperfect account.
Although my small flock was very good, [although] they obeyed me better than children, I could nevertheless not convince them to be baptised because they wanted to be instructed more. Having finally received a letter from F(athe)r Épalle who ordered me to leave this appointment, urged them to be baptised. So very sad, they told me that since I was leaving, they might not see a priest for a long time, that they could die, they wanted to be baptised. A great many of them spoke this way. On the first day in May which was a Sunday, I baptised 25 male and 19 female adults in the morning. Many of the Protestant natives had come to see this ceremony; the house was full, as much as it could be. The heat was extreme, as it could only escape by the small door. I misjudged the length of the ceremony. I was wet with sweat up to my surplice. After the water was poured, I had to leave and lie down on the planks of my bed in my surplice; to the letter, I was exhausted. It was almost two o'clock and no Mass, to my great regret. After having rested for a little while, I completed the ceremony; I also baptised 4 children, handed over the ceremonies to another and performed all the marriages that were to be done. From this time till my departure, I continued to confer h(o)ly baptism to many adults.
At last on the of July, I finally found an opportunity to leave, it was a Sunday. As soon as the news spread the group was seized by gloom. After prayer and an exhortation ad hoc, I put to sea in the midst of tears and shouts that pierced my soul; Gunshots intensified and touching goodbyes addressed to me plunged me into sad thoughts. I was leaving without any hope to obtain for them another priest. Alas, I still have not heard {anything}! May Jesus and Mary take care of them!
I cannot carry on any further or reread. I earnestly ask you and your good novices to pray for me. Pray that Mary, whose name and glory have so many times been so outrageously profaned in this country, is willing to show us her goodness and might by conquering it. Already we can think with some probability that this is beginning, may I be right.
Your respectful, affectionate and devoted servant,
in the h(o)ly hearts of J(esus) and M(ary),
Apost(olary) Pro(vicar) M(issionary) F(athe)r


  1. Letter dating from the 25 October 1841 from Baty to Girard (doc. 144).
  2. Cf. doc. 232, S 1, n. 1.
  3. In his previous letter to Girard, dated the 25 October 1841, the author wrote about the station of St Michael in Te Auroa on Māhia Peninsula where he had arrived on the 30th of September 1841; it was there he wrote that letter (cf. doc. 114, [5] in fine and [6]-[10]) and he also mentioned it in other letters (doc. 113, [1]; 232, [5]-[30]; and the three letters written from this mission to Épalle on 8 October 1841, 30 October 1841, and 19 November 1841, unpublished: APM 1488-21206).
  4. Māori word, korari: flax or flax stalk (phormium tenax). [In fact, the Māori word for the plant is harakeke. Korari refers to the flower stalk (Department of Conservation, 2009)].