Fr Jean Forest to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, Bay of Islands, 18 April 1844
Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, September 2005
APM Z 208 18 April 1844
Bay of Islands, New Zealand. 18 April 1844
12th letter, To the Very Reverend Father Superior General
Very Reverend Father
A British ship is leaving here today for London. I am hastening to seize this chance to give you some news of our beloved Oceania.
My last and 11th letter was given to M Laferriere, commanding officer of the Bucephale, a French corvette. This corvette, having carried Bishop Douard [sic: Douarre] from the Marquesas Islands to Wallis, Futuna, to Tongatapu and to New Caledonia, called here, at the Bay of Islands on 8 February 1844, and left on 15 February to go to Valparaiso. Bishop Pompallier took advantage of this corvette[‘s departure] to send back to France our poor beloved Brother Colomb who was giving all of us many difficulties and cause for anxiety because of his unwise conduct, strongly suspect of immorality, among our natives. In my last letter I spoke to you at some length about this poor Brother. The corvette Bucephale should take him first to Valparaiso where he will join another French naval vessel, or perhaps, the same one will take him to France. Commandant Laferriere has taken responsibility for him. He will give him every possible care.
We were informed yesterday, by letters from Taiti [sic: Tahiti] that the Faeton [sic: Phaeton?], a French ship, and the first steam-powered ship – what should we call it? – to come in those waters, arrived some time ago in Taiti, a French colony. A letter from Fathers Calon and Berer, priests of our beloved Society, informs us that they have arrived safe and sound by the same ship. They are now staying with the Picpus Fathers who have received them wonderfully well, and are taking every possible care of them in spite of the great poverty they are in. Our Fathers must get to Wallis by the first vessel they can find.
Father Carret, prefect apostolic of the mission in the Gambier Islands, near Taiti, has written to Bishop Pompallier to say that they are all in a great state of affliction, and in great destitution. Bishop Rouchouse [sic: Rouchouze] has not yet arrived from France. It is known that he left there a long time ago, [and] that he called in at chilly [sic: Chile] to get his ship (Marie Joseph) repaired, because it had been damaged by awful storms, but since this time nothing more has been heard of him. People are almost certain that his ship is lost with all hands. It is believed that on this ship were seven priests and seven Brothers, some religious women and a great supply of provisions for all their missions. What a blow, Reverend Father, for this poor mission if in fact everyone and everything has been lost as is believed. In great destitution they were waiting for this help. [p2] All their missions are doing well – only Taiti is going very slowly – no doubt because of the wretched Europeans, who are everywhere the scourge of our interests. In Sandwich they have more than eleven thousand Christians. In the Gambier Islands there are three fine stone churches, (and) admirable schools. Cotton is made with almost as much skill as in France.
My 10th letter was sent to you with the [2 illegible words] of others, through Reverend Father Tripe, who left here on 5 November 1843 on the French corvette, the Rhin. This ship took him to Sidney [sic: Sydney], but having arrived there, the Father was forced to wait almost two and a half months for lack of money to go further. When he left the Bay of Islands, he was led to hope that the French consul at Sidney would be happy to be responsible for getting him taken to France at the government’s expense. But it seems there has been no means. Father Baty having arrived in Sidney on the 23rd or 24th January 1844, gave this Father 60 pounds sterling, to continue his journey to France. On 30 January 1844 he embarked on a merchant vessel named Jean going directly to London. We very much fear that this poor priest will not get to France. The mere crossing from New Zealand to Sidney had taken so much out of him that there were, for some time, fears for his life. The sea in extremely bad for him [He suffers very badly from sea-sickness]. I gave this Father a white cardboard box full of letters for you, for the Fathers of the Society and for a great number of people. This box has been well tied up and sealed with a seal bearing the monogram of Mary. I am giving you these details because I have been told that poor Father Tripe, because of a too scrupulous conscience, wanted, once arrived in France, to open this box and put all the letters in the post. I would be very annoyed about that because most of these letters were not sealed. When you are kind enough to write to me, please give me a little comment on that.
The reason for Father Baty’s journey to Sidney was to remove the money (100,000 f - £4,000) you sent us from France, from M Colson’s bank to that of Australasia in Sidney, and the reason for that was some fears about the bank in Wellington; fears I believe without good foundation, and from that the greater ease of withdrawing at will on our money from Sidney, the communications from here to Sidney being very frequent, but alas, all these changes of bank are very time-consuming and expensive. It is incomprehensible, the [amount of?] money you have to leave in the banks. [C’est incomprehensible l’argent qu’il faut laisser dans les banques.] You have sent us, Reverend Father, a very great sum of money – thanks for it were offered to the Lord – but I really fear and I believe that my fears are well founded, that soon we will be as poor and as wretched as before. Having very much advanced the work of the Lord, I have already had the honour of telling it to you many times, and I will not be afraid to repeat it to all my confrères; as long as we do not have a man who knows about and has all the power to administer our limited temporal assets, we will be miserable and wretched even with all the greatest resources in the world. All of Father Epalé’s [sic: Epalle] money, sent from Valparaiso, has gone. Most of the money from [the sale of] the Bishop’s schooner has gone; 500 pounds sterling are still left of the money that you sent us. Out of the 100,000 francs there remains to pay all which is [dû parti etc? owed…?] 1500 pounds sterling, and what has been done with it? I know almost nothing about it. Someone has bought a clock for the town of Kororareka which, it is said, will cost close to 80 pounds sterling, of which about 24 will be paid by a collection, the rest at the expense of the mission. What use will this clock be – for the town, and for religion? I know of none. We are particularly [contristés ? saddened] and even more particularly [illegible word].
[p3] It is true that a little chapel has been built at Wangaroa [sic: Whangaroa], a house at the Kaipara for Father Garin, two little houses for the mission stations in the south, but all of those in wooden planks, and today they are cheap. They cost only six to eight shillings per hundred feet.
A pretty chapel, well appointed and well painted, has been built at Kororareka. I have given Reverend Father Épale the [dimission?] of it, but this chapel has been paid for in great part by a collection taken up among the Europeans. Unfortunately this chapel will not be of great use to us. The little town of the Bay of Islands has almost ceased to exist nowadays. Absolutely nothing happens there. All those who have what they need to pay for the journey are taking off to Sidney or to England or, indeed, to Auckland, where the colony is developing a bit because it is there that the governor lives. That does not, however, prevent poverty from being there, as everywhere else, very great.
I must say, as well, that from this money sent out of your concern, all the stations have been provisioned for at least seven to eight months; but apart from that, how many purchases, how many plans better combined, better thought through with a little more calm, and in the presence of God, would be, I believe, cheaper and would have a better result. How many things would not have been done, undone, and done again! I really come to that conclusion so as not to offend God [Je pense bien en tout cela ne pas offenser Dieu]. It seems to me that the sole desire for informing you about everything, as you have so many times urged me, is my sole reason.
Since the 17th February Bishop Pompallier has been away on a schooner which he has leased at 55 pounds sterling a month, to visit the whole of the southern part of New Zealand. He will probably not be back for a month and a half, two months, perhaps more. Since he left Auckland we have had no news of him. We think he is now at Nicolson [sic]. He must then go to Nelson, to Akaroa and Autago [sic: Otage]. His Lordship, as a result of his visit to Auckland, was very unsatisfied with the material state [of the mission]. I enclose here a letter which Father Petit-Jean wrote to me about the Bishop’s stay in Auckland. It will inform you of some matters which it is important for you to know about, and which your prudence and wisdom will allow you to deal with for the greater glory of God. My opinion is that on both sides things had been a little [illegible word]. I wrote to the Father [to ask him] to look at things more with eyes of faith. He now seems quite calm.
On the 7th March last I received a letter from Rev[erend] Father Epale, written from Lyons on 23 October 1844. It very much consoled us. We are now waiting with patience for the good God to direct everything for his greater glory, and we are offering prayers for that intention. We are all truly offering thanks for the kindness and consolation He has shown us by telling us that you have done, Reverend Father, many things for us. All your dear children in New Zealand thank you very much for the [peines? – concern] you show for us, and on their part they do not forget you or all of our dear Society.
What shall I tell you about our mission in New Zealand? It sustains itself in a small way, but is making very little progress. It is greatly limited by the extraordinary efforts being made by the Protestants during about the last eighteen months. Two years ago on the 30th May next, a Protestant Bishop came from England. He brought with him immense amounts of money which enabled the building everywhere of churches, and schools for the natives, and for the Europeans; boarding schools for young European people, even a seminary to train his priests. He himself is an intrepid man who, it is said, fears neither difficulties nor exhaustion. He does all his journeys on foot. Already he has traversed several times and visited the whole of the North Island of New Zealand. He has made on foot the journey from the Bay of Islands to Nicolson. He is changing the places of his missionaries who had been here a long time and who owned fine areas of land. He is making them give up their properties to place other missionaries there. Mr Brosse has moved. Mr Williams was [moved] [p4] but he has, it is said, refused to obey his Bishop, saying that he was at home. The government, and the whole British government is for Bishops and favours them very much. When the Protestants make a collection, whether for chapels or other things, the Protestant Bishop is authorised by his government to add to [couvrir] this collection an equal sum which he has the right to take from the government. This has already happened several times. His clergy is very numerous – they are at least three times or perhaps even four times as numerous as we are. It is certain that our cause would have been lost a long time ago if it were not God’s cause. In human terms we are small in the face of this colossus of heresy, but, thanks be to God, we are not overwhelmed, and the strong and powerful God, who with a jaw of [?airen – bronze] has so often defeated such strong warriors, will certainly know when it is necessary [vaudra] to destroy this giant of heresy with a little breath. The only thing I have always asked of God and which I do not cease to ask of him is a close union between us all, the spirit of prayer and contemplation [prière and oraison] for us all. There, Reverend Father, are weapons which I believe are really necessary for us. Please ask for them on our behalf, from that good Father who I hope will take pity on us and will take his cause in hand. Father Baty, the pro-vicar, tells me that he does not believe that there are three thousand natives baptised in New Zealand. He has a fairly extensive knowledge of the whole mission, and of this whole number, very few are what could be called good Christians, more regular at prayer. The great majority of the natives favour Protestantism, or, indeed, are among those who are indifferent to one or the other,  but favour their passions. The Europeans do us awful harm through the corruption they spread among our poor natives. These poor New Zealanders are very poor. They have absolutely nothing. They need clothing, tobacco, gun powder, etc. Now to get all these things they have not money to give. What do they do? They give to the whalers and other ships that come, their daughters for the whole time they stay in the country. Every day you see three, four or five of these young women carried in little boats to these big ships. There they are given up to the most degrading types of sensual delight – for what? For a few sticks of tobacco, for some clothes…
How difficult this mission is, and I do not think that it will ever be seen really flourishing without a miracle of grace and a continuous miracle. Does all of this discourage us? No, Reverend Father. The only regret we have is using up so much money, so much effort for such little result, while in so many other places the same means would produce, in human terms everywhere much more effect. May God’s will and not ours be done.
All your dear children in New Zealand are faring quite well. They enjoy [illegible word] quite good health. All the Brothers are carrying out their duties quite well – we are quite happy with them. Recently in my tenth letter I pointed out to you the place where each [person?] was located – the arrangements made for each station. I hope that all these details will get to you.
Brother Michel has come back to the mission. I hope he will take fresh heart.
Allow me, in finishing my letter, to say something about myself. Since 6th September 1843 up to the Bishop’s departure for the South, I have been working at the Bay of Islands as provincial, procurator, and professor of theology for Brother Pierre-Marie. But since 17 February I have been relieved of responsibility for the procure, which has been given to Father Séon, who is now at the Bay of Islands. I am now only responsible for the Provincialate, which now involves very few matters. Without my class of theology I have very little to do here, and the time [3 or 4 illegible words]. The number of priests at Kororareka is still too great in view of the needs which exist elsewhere. I suffer a great deal from not being able to make myself more useful to the mission. When I think of our beloved missions in France,  I have some regrets in comparing the lack of things with the abundance of works we had in France. Time has gone slowly for me here. I have no one with whom I can open myself up in confidence. I have to deal carefully with the Bishop and the priests, to listen to the complaints of one and the others without complaining myself. My health is not very good, but boredom does me more harm than anything else. Here at the Bay of Islands we still have many more workers than work to be done. Anyway I will wait in patience for God’s holy will to inform me of what it wants of me.
- I indeed have the honour of being, Reverend Father, your very humble and devoted servant,
- I indeed have the honour of being, Reverend Father, your very humble and devoted servant,
- Father Ralph Wiltgen in The Founding of the Roman Catholic Church in Oceania 1825-50 says (p319) that the last confirmed sighting of the ship was when it left Florianopolis, Brazil, in February 1843 - translator’s note
- sic: Hawaiian Islands
- no money, or no available ship? - translator’s note
- ? Writing hard to read
- transfer, presumably - translator’s note
- sic: must be 1843 - translator’s note
- George Augustus Selwyn, who had been ordained in England as Bishop for the Anglican Church in New Zealand, arrived in Auckland on 30 May 1843 - translator’s note
- chez lui – where he was, Forest seems to imply - translator’s note
- Catholicism or Protestantism, presumably - translator’s note
- Brother Pierre-Marie was doing some theology studies - translator’s note
- Parish mission work in long-neglected rural areas in France had been the first work undertaken by the Marists, in the 1820s, and remained important at this date - translator’s note
- to do here - translator’s note