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4 November 1843 - Fr Jean Forest to Jean-Claude Colin, Bay of Islands

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, July/August 2005

APM Z 208 4 November 1843


Father Tripe has left – some comments on that, and his unsuitability for mission work. The mission making some progress in spite of “enraged” opposition from Protestant missionaries. Financial difficulties continue.

Forest’s evaluation of the Bishop: an excellent missionary, but a poor administrator, worse because he believes the opposite. He notes though that the Bishop has improved in his attitude to his men for some time.

All the priests are now isolated – no more than one per station. Forest has pointed out that this is against Colin’s wishes, but Pompallier says it will change when the next dispatch of priests arrives.

The Brothers going well – but some difficulties with Brothers Claude-Marie and Colomb - over-familiarity with young girls alleged. Father Forest tries to give some background to this situation.

Gives a list of the men and where they are stationed.

In a P.S. he asks for a special allowance to pay for his travels as Visitor. Reasons given.

Text of the Letter

New Zealand, Bay of Islands, 4 November 1843
Ninth letter from New Zealand

To Very Reverend Father Colin, Superior General
Very Reverend Father
My eighth and most recent letter that I have had the honour of writing to you from here, dated 12th May 1843 from the Bay of Islands was sent to you by an English ship called the Union, going directly to London. Perhaps you will not yet have received it, when this one gets to you. Our good Father Tripe, who is leaving us to go back to parish work in his former diocese, will be its bearer. He is leaving tomorrow morning on the French corvette Rhin, which brought Fathers Bernard, Moreau and Chouvet; it arrived here the evening before All Saints’ Day, and tomorrow morning it will leave again for Sydney where it will leave Father Tripe. From there it will go back to Akaroa, a small French colony. Father Tripe will give you information about this colony. From Sydney the Father will try to get back to France by either State or privately owned ships, but still at the expense of the French government; the miserable state of the mission not allowing the Bishop to undertake an expense of this sort, which is pure loss. Since his first disputes with his Bishop, this poor Father has really never been able to regain courage again. He still has to some extent a heavy heart. However I really believe that the Bishop has neglected nothing that he could have done to encourage him. He has kept him at the Bay of Islands for a long time, giving him a task fitted to his capacity. He has even offered him help each year for his parents, who could be in need, but to no point. The Father has not entered into any arrangement with the Society that could lead to vows. He has never given proof of a good vocation for the missions. He is, otherwise, a fine, very steady priest – but with poor health.
Since my last letter, thing here are roughly the same as they were then. The mission is still making some progress against Protestantism and paganism, but not without difficulty, because the Protestant ministers are getting worked up into a fury. They are ceaselessly tormenting the poor natives who, thanks be to God, are holding firm.
But in financial matters it is still going very badly, and it will never do well as long as the little money is entirely in the Bishop’s hands. This good Bishop is, in the opinion of everyone, an excellent missionary, but also in the opinion of everyone, a very bad administrator, and, what is most serious, he thinks that he excels in this area. It is rare that he consults his priests on this, or, if he does so for formality’s sake, he has little confidence in what they tell him. All the suggestions that have been made to him on this matter have been very badly received. The upshot is that nothing is now said, seeing it gets nowhere. M Yvert is the only man in the mission who has his confidence in things like this. But unfortunately M Yvert, with all his good will, is always in complete agreement with the Bishop. He is, also, one of those men who is a perfectionist in everything and has expensive tastes. A lot is wasted in purchases made here where everything is much more expensive than in Sydney. But M Yvert claims that the merchants in the Bay of Islands would be harmed if we did not buy from them; so we ought to get everything there… [There are] a thousand other little ways in which money is spent without any benefit for the mission.
Only Rome, I hope, can remedy this – the Society is seen as having nothing to do with financial matters.
It can be said, however, in praise of the Bishop, that for some time now he has really changed for the better. He is much kinder to his priests. I told him with respect, but firmly, what I thought of his harsh ways of dealing with his priests. Seeing that I am taking the side of my confrères, he is very much afraid of my writing to France in a way that will harm his reputation in Rome or in the eyes of the [Society for the] Propagation of the Faith. Right now in New Zealand all the priests are on their own, that is to say one at each station. I have indeed pointed out to the Bishop that that was quite contrary to your intentions, but he told me it was only a temporary measure while awaiting the arrival of new priests, [and] the needs were too pressing. This isolation can become very harmful to the poor priests, especially to the young ones, who need to get experience with experienced men. However, up till now nothing has happened, thanks be to God, which could have afflicted us. All the priests are very zealous, and, I believe, fulfilling their duties very well.
The Brothers are also generally doing well. Brother Colomb [Pierre Poncet] occasioned some embarrassment for us while he was with Father Petit-Jean in Auckland. The rumour got round that he was trying to embrace and caress the little girls at the school. I believe, however, that [in this] there was more sound than substance. I think that the Brother suffers more from lack of judgment than malice. Now he is with Father Pézant. Brother Claude-Marie has also given us grounds for concern arising from his imprudent conduct with children.[1] He is now here at the Bay of Islands. How appropriate it would be if the Brothers truly opened themselves up to their directors before coming here, and their directors really impressed on them that here there is much to fear for those who have not for a long time been well confirmed in holy virtue. In these missions the Brother who is with the Fathers is very often obliged to remain alone for a fortnight, three weeks, alone with children, women, girls whose simplicity and familiarity are the same as that of our smallest children in Europe. These poor savages ask all sorts of questions on all sorts of things. Some time ago Father Comte, having gone to visit some distant tribes, met several chiefs who offered him girls to sleep with him at night, and when he refused, asked him a host of questions: how could he do without them. These poor people are so used to giving their daughters to strangers who ask them for them, that they offer them [even] when no request is made for them. However this sort of thing is fairly rare, especially in tribes which have already seen priests. It really only concerns the natives who have, as yet, no idea of the Catholic religion and its ministers. The other times when there is danger for the Brothers and the Fathers is during the night when we are forced to sleep any old how with everyone else: often the women and the girls, through turning over during the night, end up quite close and sometimes touching the Fathers or Brothers. I quite believe that usually they have no wrong intentions, but they are women, and that is enough for the devil to find grounds for temptation. If I am telling you all this, Reverend Father, it is not, thanks be to God, that anything untoward of this sort has occurred. No, nothing, but it is to make you aware of the dangers and to tell you as well to make well-considered choices [of men] for these missions.
Here are the positions of the Fathers and Brothers who are in New Zealand:
1. At the Bay of Islands: Fathers Baty, pro-vicar; Father Bernard, bursar; myself, procurator, provisionally Provincial; Brother Luc, for carpentry and printing; Brother Emerie [sic: Emery], tailor and printer; Brother Basil – shoemaker; Brother Claude-Marie, cook; M Yvert, for everything. We have also had, here, a young English carpenter who at first wanted to offer himself to the mission, but he got discouraged and, I believe is going to leave soon.[2]
2. At Hokianga: Father Petit and Brother Florentin.
3. At Waitangi Father Lampila with a Frenchman as a servant.
4. At Kaipara: Father Garin – alone.
5. At Whangaroa: Father Rozet and Brother Elie.
6. At Auckland: Father Petit-Jean – alone.
7. At Tauranga: Father Pézant and Brother Colomb.
8. At Matamata: Father Séon and a Frenchman as a servant.
9. At Whakatane: Father Comte – alone
10. At Opotiki: Father Chouvet and Brother Justin
11. At Rotorua: Father Reignier and Brother Euloge
12. At Nicolson [sic: Wellington] Father O’Reily alone (he is an Englishman and a Dominican religious and an excellent priest).[3]
13. At Akaroa, a French colony: no one yet.
In the tropics –
14. At Wallis: Father Viard, provicar, and Father Bataillon, Brother Augustin and Brother Joseph
15. At Futuna: Fathers Servant and Roulleaux and Brother Marie-Nizier
16. Tongatapu Father Chevron, Father Grange, Brother Attale
There are, Reverend Father, all your children in Polynesia. They all commend themselves very much to your prayers, and for their part, they never forget you before God. Please frequently commend often to God him who of all has the greatest need of it and who certainly is indeed the most useless of everyone in this mission,
Your very humble and very obedient servant,
Miss[ionary] apost[olic]
[In the margin and written across][25]
I forgot to tell you, Reverend Father, that my responsibility here as Visitor is difficult and almost impossible to fulfil as it should be without having a certain sum of money allocated to the Visitor. You know that very often it would be appropriate, for reasons known sometimes to the Visitor alone, to make promptly, without fanfare, a little visit to this one or that one. But what can be done, if you have not a brass razoo in your pocket? Ask for it, but you will be told: what is the reason for this visit? Why go there? What reasons do you have? At other times you will be told: We have no money… As well, on arriving here as Visitor, the first question I was asked by several of my confrères was this: have you any money for making your visits? Without money you will accomplish nothing. Experience has shown me that is only too true. If I had had money, I would have gone to the tropics, going through Sydney or I would have found ships.


  1. In a letter he wrote to Brother François Rivat, the first Director-General of the Little Brothers of Mary, on 26 July 1842, Brother Claude-Marie admitted having had a problem of this sort in France, but had mistakenly hoped he would overcome it by leaving France. In fact, he said, it had got worse - translator’s note
  2. This man is referred to in a couple of other letters about this time – see Girard Lettres reçues d’Oceanie, Vol 2, p 819, footnote 5 – but never by name - translator’s note
  3. sic: Father Jeremiah O’Reily was an Irish Capuchin who came to Wellington (Port Nicholson) on 31 January 1843