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19 February 1843 - Jean-Simon Bernard to Jean-Claude Colin

Translated by Amelia. Summary by Fr Brian Quin SM


Father Bernard is writing on the day after his arrival in New Zealand. He describes the trouble the missionaries had in trying to get another ship to take them to the Bay of Islands from Hobart, from where he had sent his previous letter: an unsympathetic captain, sea- sickness but eventually they get to Auckland where they meet Fathers Petit-Jean and Forest. After a few days in Auckland they get to the Bay of Islands where they are given a warm welcome by Bishop Pompallier and the Marists there.

They are told that a retreat is about to start, and Bernard says that the newly-arrived missionaries: Moreau, Chouvet and himself, will need it “probably even more than the already arrived men” because the experience of travelling with a crew of largely irreligious men has done little to advance their religious spirit. He has not found Father Chouvet easy to get on with.

From dispatch APM OG 031, 7th departure.

[One double-sheeted piece of paper comprising four pages, three of which are written on. The fourth bears only the address and Poupinel’s[1] annotation; in letter register ED 1, numbered 120.]

[p. 4]
Father • Father Colin Superior • General of the Priests of the Society of •
Mary, S(ain)t Bartholomew Rise • n° 4, in Lyons, Depart(ment) of the Rhône • in Lyons • (France)

[in Poupinel's handwriting:] Bay of Islands 19 February 1843 • F(athe)r Bernard

[p. 1] 
A(d) g(loriam) D(ei) p(er) M(ariam) [2]

Bay of Islands (New Zealand) 19th February 1843.

My Reverend Father,
By the grace of our Lord J(esus) C(hrist) and by the protection of Mary who never abandons her children, even the most unworthy, last night we[3] finally came to the happy end of our long and tortuous sailing. In the letter I sent you from Hobart-Town, Van Diemen's Land, I informed you of our plan to leave the corvette the Rhin there in order to get to the Bay of Islands more directly. Several reasons influenced our decision. First of all, we had indirectly sounded out Captain Bérard[4] to find out if he would have us taken to the Bay of Islands, or if we would at least find any opportunities to get there from Akaroa. All the answers he gave us were hopeless.[5] From his perspective, we would run the risk, in going to Akaroa, of staying there possibly six months or a year, because he [Captain Bérard] did not seem in a hurry to see the Bishop,[6] and he assured us that the Allier,[7] which was supposed to leave on his arrival,[8] would not be going there. In addition to this was the advantage[,] that everyone had us consider[,] of going via Sydney where we would find ships going to the Bay of Islands every week, and what’s more, the Catholics of Hobart-Town took it upon themselves to find us a ship and pay for our passage to Sydney. Instead of one passage, we received enough to pay for almost two of them. On the other hand,[9] we imagined that the last leg of our crossing on the Rhin would be the most unbearable one. In the last few days, we realised that we were no longer making an impression on all these corrupted hearts[10] surrounding us; they were not afraid to tell each other about their most vile and disgusting intentions in front of us. Arriving at Hobart-Town, all we heard was scandalous talk. These hellish souls are so filled with vice, that in the last few days we were not even able to walk in a decent fashion on the bridge and look up around us, because of the two young dogs with which they were amusing themselves all day long, and often in the most shameful manner. I must confess to you that we did not mind, after that, that the natives of New Zealand did not see us arrive with such corrupted people. We may very well have shocked them. [11]
For these reasons, Reverend Father, we boarded for Sydney [p. 2] where we fortunately arrived after a short crossing of six days. We were very well received there by Bishop Polding’s Vicar General, [12] who gave us the archbishop’s house as accommodation until our departure. We arrived in Sydney on the same day as a French priest coming from London to be the teacher at Bishop Polding’s college. He was a great help to us because, having studied in London for two years, he knew English better than us, and we kept each other company. We would have much preferred to be in New Zealand, and we asked some people if they would not mind looking for a ship for us. But, alas, the English are so slow and, I would even dare say, so indifferent that when matters are left to them, not much progress gets made. They alerted us to one or two opportunities, perhaps two hours before departure. We did not know what to do with our belongings which were left behind on the other ship which was supposed to leave soon, and yet ten days had already passed. By keeping up my rounds in the port and asking everyone around, I found[13] a ship that could take us to Auckland, a New Zealand port where[,] those in Sydney told us[,] F(athe)r Forest[14] was. He [the captain of the ship] was not asking for very much and I thought it right to make a deal with him for [passage to] that port sixty leagues further on from the Bay of Islands. When our belongings were on his ship, the wretched captain was no longer the same towards us. He did everything he could to take them [the belongings] without us. I realised that he had been led to dislike to Catholic priests. After agreeing to take our belongings on our passage, he had the audacity to ask me for up to 250 f(rancs) for those alone. And when I talked to him about unloading them, he would only agree to it for a minimum of 120 f(rancs). He had not registered us at customs; and at 9 o'clock on the evening before our departure, against his expectations, we obtained a boarding permit through the French consul[,] whom I was going to ask to take care of our affairs. We had paid him a visit on our arrival; he returned the visit and even invited us to go and dine at his place the morning after our departure.[15] He had to give 30 shillings, 31 f(rancs) 50, to have the offices opened. He was generous enough to turn it into a donation for the Propagation of the faith.
We finally set sail on Sunday morning[,] the 22nd of January[,] for New Zealand[,] where we arrived after 18 days of bad sailing.[16] Weariness of being at sea, and perhaps even more so the change of food since we had been among the English, has provoked such an upheaval in me that, from Sydney where it started until now, I have been very much indisposed which has greatly weakened me. I was in bed for almost all the crossing, as well as in Auckland at the house of Father Petit-Jean who received us the best he could in his burgeoning establishment where he needs all sorts of things.[17] Father Forest [,] who was visiting in the area[,] arrived two days after us, on his way back to the Bay of Islands where we arrived together at Bishop Pompallier’s[18] at nightfall. As soon as they recognised missionaries on board, the Bishop had his rowboat launched with two Brothers and 4 natives to meet us and bring us to land. They took us eagerly to [p. 3] to[19] shore, carried us on their backs to get us to land, and grabbed our bags and our mattresses while we were entering the house embracing our dear confreres and the Brothers who are currently here. We then went to the chapel to thank Jesus and Mary. After our short thanksgiving, we entered the Bishop's house to receive his benediction and then the fraternal kiss. At 9 o'clock today, he said a thanksgiving mass with a Te Deum;[20] and at 11 a.m.[,] I said a second one. At midday[,] Bishop left to visit a neighbouring tribe[,] several members of which were to renounce Protestantism.
I think, My Reverend Father, that it will not be long before we are sent to a tribe. However, I hope that beforehand we will have the pleasure of going on a retreat with the other confreres who are here. We really do need it, and probably even more so than those who have spent the year in the care of the holy ministry. In crossing the seas and visiting various countries, I do not feel I have acquired a great deal of virtues. For most of the crossing, we ignored all the rules and, I would even dare say, the religious spirit. [21] I believe it necessary to tell you that I have not been without trouble during the crossing. Father Moreau, excepting a bit too much casualness and maybe a certain lack of energy, went well. So we got on well. This was not the case with Father Chouvet. I believe he wanted to be right too often, and never wrong; though in our opinion, he often should have had cautioning. I believe he would need a little more religious spirit and perhaps soundness of judgement. I think that with a prudent and more senior confrere, he will be able to get things done. He is very enthusiastic about learning Maori and English[,] which he pronounces very badly. Although the officers and the crew of the Rhin looked down on him slightly, I can nevertheless say that we had a good crossing and that our behaviour was irreproachable.
If there happens to be a shipment to New Zealand, could you please send us some albs because a mistake was made with regards to us; instead of giving us albs, they only gave us rochets.[22]
I will not say anything about the natives, My Reverend Father. I could not tell you anything new. On the very evening of our arrival in Auckland, some came to see us. We had to shake their hands. They are a lot more numerous here. I will only tell you that when I was in France, I imagined that the mission would be a lot more advanced that it is and a lot less difficult. But what seems impossible to men is not impossible to God. And I may say: omnia possum in eo qui me confortat.[23] We have to crush the heads of the twin serpents of infidelity and heresy under the feet of Mary. But we need temporal and spiritual help. We commend ourselves to the prayers of all our confreres in Europe to whom we are always united corde et animo.[24]
I am with the greatest respect,
My Reverend Father,
your very humble and very obedient
son in O(ur) L(ord) J(esus) C(hrist)
J(ean) Bernard
apost(olic) miss(ionary)


  1. Father Victor Poupinel was Father Colin’s secretary in Lyons. (Wiltgen, 1979, p. 219)
  2. Latin: To the glory of God through Mary.
  3. Father Jean-Simon Bernard travelled to New Zealand with Father Joseph Auguste Chouvet and Father Delphin-Victor Moreau. (Simmons, 1984, p. 58).
  4. Auguste Bérard, Captain of the Rhin. (Wiltgen, 1979, p. 395)
  5. ‘Hopeless’ here should be understood in the sense of having or expressing no hope.
  6. In his letters, Bernard refers to Bishop Pompallier as ‘monseigneur’. This title, usually reserved for French cardinals, archbishops and bishops, has been translated as ‘the Bishop’.
  7. The Allier, a French ship.
  8. ‘Son arrivée’ has been translated here as ‘his arrival’. The French possessive adjective ‘son’ may be translated as either ‘his’, ‘her’ or ‘its’, depending on context. However, Bernard does not clarify who (or what) is arriving. Hence, the translation could be either ‘his arrival’ (i.e. the captain’s) or ‘its arrival’ (i.e. the boat’s).
  9. Sic. The expression ‘on the other hand’ seems somewhat out of place here, as in the original text.
  10. Bernard’s expression ‘cœurs corrumpus’ (‘corrupted hearts’) is somewhat unusual in French, as it is in English.
  11. See Father Moreau’s letter, dated 11th May 1843, to Father Colin for a more detailed description of life aboard the Rhin (Girard, vol. 2, doc. 256, § 2-6).
  12. Bishop John Bede Polding (1794-1877) was, at the time of Bernard’s writing, Vicar Apostolic of New Holland and Van Diemen’s Land. During Bernard’s stopover in Sydney, Polding was in Europe to recruit new priests and to pay his ad limina visit to the Pope. In his absence, Francis Murphy was appointed as Vicar General of the diocese. (Nairn, 2006, Australian Dictionary of Biography website; Thorpe, 2006, Australian Dictionary of Biography website)
  13. In this sentence, Bernard uses the present tense, ‘je trouve’. This usage is referred to as the historic present and is employed in narration in French to make a story more vivid. The historic present occurs at numerous times throughout Bernard’s letters.
  14. Father Jean Forest arrived in New Zealand in 1842 to inspect the Mission on Father Colin’s behalf. (Simmons, 1984, p. 68)
  15. Sic. Presumably the consul was unaware of the intended departure date.
  16. Girard’s note: Counting the departure date as well as the arrival date, we obtain the ‘18 days’ and therefore the arrival in Auckland falls on the 7th of February; the author says that Forest gets there ‘two days after us’ and Forest himself affirms that he arrived there on the 9th of February (cf. doc. 247, § 30). According to the rest of the current paragraph, Forest goes with the three new missionaries, Bernard, Moreau and Chouvet to the Bay of Islands, where they arrived on the 18th of February, a fact confirmed by Forest and Pompallier (cf. doc. 247, § 31; 257, § 1).
  17. Father Jean-Baptiste Petit-Jean established the Auckland station in October 1842. (King, 1997, p. 65)
  18. Bishop Pompallier had established a residence in Kororareka (now called Russell) in 1839. (Keys, 1957, p. 113)
  19. Sic. Bernard repeats the last word he wrote from the previous page.
  20. Te Deum is Latin hymn sung or recited at matins in the Catholic Church and also used as an expression of thanksgiving on a special occasion. (Catholic Dictionary, 1951, p. 773)
  21. According to Hughes (July 1947, p. 16), the three missionaries did not say Mass at all during the crossing.
  22. An alb is a long white linen tunic worn by priests during Mass (Addis and Arnold, 1951, p. 16). A rochet is a white tight-fitting vestment, chiefly worn by bishops and abbots. (Addis and Arnold, 1951, p. 702).
  23. Girard’s note: Ph 4.13: I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. [The Bible, Authorised King James Version]
  24. Girard’s note: Cf. Ac 4.32: Multitudinis autem credentium erat cor unum, et anima una. (The multitude of them who believed were of one heart and of one soul.) [The Bible, Authorised King James Version]

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