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c. July 1844. — Observations of Father Jean-André Tripe on the New Zealand Mission

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, June 2007

Father Tripe, a French diocesan priest who had come to New Zealand to try his vocation as a Marist and a missionary, left New Zealand on 5th November 1843 (cf Doc 281, and later in this Doc 333). He arrived back in his diocese of Fréjus at the end of July 1844. It was no doubt between his arrival in Lyons and his departure for Fréjus that he was asked to put into writing his observations on the mission where he had worked for two years.

Observations on the New Zealand mission
On naval vessels priest passengers are classed as officers in rank, and therefore they seem to have a right to decent accommodation, however Fathers Bernard, Moreau and Chouvet were relegated to steerage, a dark and unhealthy place under the pretext of a lack of space. M Bérard, commanding officer of the Rhin, could have had one or two temporary cabins built in the gun deck as M Lavaud had done. The Minister for the Navy can give warning in future of such inconveniences.
A second table for the priests is hardly possible; normally the officers smoke and chat after their meals and wouldn't want to put themselves out to the extent of leaving the wardroom that they have the right to occupy. It is hardly more possible to have the meals in the cabins: those we occupied on the Aube were not six feet square and contained two beds, two trunks and a big gun; a table could not have been put there, and in heavy rolling, which is not rare, meals cannot be eaten on one's knees.
As for merchant vessels, those of big tonnage are preferable, the little ones are less safe and frequently take on board waves of water. A ship of 300 tons, such as the one I came back on, can still be seen as small for the voyage to Oceania. It would be possible that the second-class passengers would have only salted food for their meals; the cheapness of the cost relative to first-class makes the supposition almost certain.
Among merchant vessel captains, there are some who had sat examinations and are ticketed, and others who know more or less how to steer a ship and two, I believe, are only tolerated by governments and chosen by the ship owners; however that may be, I have witnessed that out of about five ships that exchanged their observations with ours during the voyage, one had an error of longitude of several leagues [c30 km], and another an error of five degrees arising from variations in his chronometer, and he was in sight of two islands. Our captain, a skilled man, told me on this matter that, out of six captains, there is sometimes not one who knows how to rectify these variations, although this knowledge is not hard to acquire nor to put in practice.
A missionary would be deprived of a very useful piece of equipment if he had no watch and especially if he didn't know how to make a sundial. I think that by wrapping it in cotton which would then be covered with paper oiled beforehand, and placing it in the centre of a trunk, it could be protected from the effects of the sea. During the voyage it is not needed, the hours being marked on ships.
It seems to me that departing missionaries are not explicitly enough informed about the direct authority of Father Superior General over the mission and their persons, as well as his standing with the government. Having arrived in New Zealand, which they see like a diocese in France, they see themselves absolutely dependent on their Bishop, and if serious causes of discontent lead them to turn to their Superior, they consider him at most as a mediator who by humble remonstrances can ease their situations; they do not even imagine that he has to be informed about the harassment which they can experience from authorities set up by the government, but limit themselves to referring them to their Bishop: such has been my belief.
The priests responsible for directing the little group going on mission sometimes have ideas that are too narrow and take to themselves more authority over their companions than they in fact have; I myself was obliged to resist my confrère opposing what I had set aside for the voyage, my moral theology, while we had to exercise the ministry, and the reason for his opposition had to do with the recommendation which Father Superior had made, to confine ourselves to studying Perone.[1] In the matter of Brother Amon[2] he acted with too much tenacity and even severity, although he could not be reproached for the latter's desertion. At Sydney I had repeated to me quite bitter complaints made by Father Chouvet against the commanding tone used by Father Bernard whom, he said, he was not obliged to obey.
It is necessary, in my opinion, for the missionaries to have a deeper understanding of Protestantism and to be able to fight against it victoriously. Our courses in theology, by not grouping errors into bodies of teaching, give insufficient knowledge of them and fail to give any understanding of what is an Anglican, a Presbyterian, a Methodist, and others who will confront us. The books which seem to me to be appropriate for giving them this knowledge are the Calvinist confession of faith of the Church of Scotland, which, backing up each error with passages from Scripture, reveals the bases of Calvinism; another which summarises all the sects, including Puseyism; the Common Prayer containing the Anglican liturgy, the 39 Articles and allowing confession to the minister with the formula of absolution commonly used in the Roman Church. A Protestant Bible seems to me to be similarly necessary, to be used as a means of defence in case of need; the Protestants do not challenge it, and all the passages I have looked up in it seem to me to be very faithful. All these English language books can be got from Duncan and Malcolm, booksellers, 37 Paternoster Row, London. A Lutheran confession of faith would not be as necessary. It is not as easy as people think to victoriously fight against the Protestants: they are generally educated in religion and they provoke discussions themselves. One of our Fathers confessed his inability to reply, even in writing, to objections based on reason against the Real Presence, which were poured forth with a great cleverness in a booklet in Maori entitled: The Errors of Rome. I have had advanced against me the Council of Constance on the subject of the primacy of the Pope over the universal Church, and as well the case where the majority in an ecumenical council would only be one vote, and it was lay people who urged similar arguments. The proof from authority, so recommended as being able to end any discussion, is excellent, but they do not see themselves as defeated when it has been used on them; they get down to particular points where unwillingly one is obliged to pursue them, and a discussion in the presence of natives in which the Catholic seems in an awkward position produces an unfavourable effect. All of that creates an awareness of the need for a special course against Protestantism during the novitiate. Having acquired a knowledge of Protestantism and the sects, one studies with much more fruit Perone and especially Scheffmacher’s catechism which should be, if possible, known by heart.[3] There are some Fathers in New Zealand who are very often battling with Protestant missionaries and who do not have an adequate supply of books on the religious controversy. Experience shows that a great number of Protestants are in good faith, which is all the more reason for avoiding in discussions any ironic and hot tempered words.
In cases of abuse, unless they were glaring, it would hardly be possible for the priests to consult each other to warn their Superior about them: their isolation, the blind obedience and resignation which are urged on them, consciences which fear spreading scandal and murmurings and other similar reasons act against it. Besides, the Father Visitor, being responsible for gathering their complaints is supposed to act in their names.
Through the notes of the longitude and latitude of the various mission stations which have been sent to Father Poupinel, you can know the respective distances from each other of the various stations, whether the Fathers are in such a position as to be able to visit each other, and those who are alone or two together. I think that they are visited at least by Father Baty who was almost constantly on the move. During a ten months’ stay in the Bay of Islands I saw twice Fathers Petit and Rozet there, once Fathers Pézant and Lampila and no others. Father Forest has remained there permanently, but he came back from a tour a little time after my arrival in that place.
The isolation of the priests seems to me to have as its justification the occupation of as much territory as possible, to spread Catholicism, to prevent heresy from getting established and to take its proselytes away from it. If I have correctly understood the procedure that is followed, a station is like a central point from where the priest makes journeys to visit and instruct the tribes around about. The tribes are distant from one another and the means of communicating with them are very poor. The most populous number hardly 50 or 60 individuals. It is probably the use of this procedure which, because it doesn't allow the natives to be taught in depth, is the reason for the small number of newly baptised; but it holds on to them and wins them over to Catholicism while waiting until, with the means of new workers, on whom the missionaries rely, they finish their instruction to admit them to baptism. The Protestant missionaries are spread out everywhere, and hasten to seduce the newly baptised along with the catechumens, and the Anglican Bishop has threatened to flood the country with ministers. So if two priests are placed at each station, better Christians will be gained, but the radius that they will be able to cover being very limited, they will see going over to heresy many natives who sooner or later would become Catholics. Such seem to me the reasons which militate in favour of the system which is followed. As for the moral risk for an isolated priest, it is not for me to estimate that, but it seems to me that with the graces of state, the fear of God etc, he can easily keep himself safe, the women generally being disgusting because of ugliness and dirtiness. I would not reason in the same way for the Brothers, one having succumbed to temptation, but however wanting to come back into the fold; and another having giving himself up for some time and in a hidden way to the most immoral sort of reading. Father Epalle would no doubt give fuller understanding of that matter.
The number of baptisms done during the year is not known to me, but I believe it to be minimal. It is possible that the Bishop does on his own as many as all the priests together -- who admit the natives to it with more difficulty because of the changeable nature of their characters. In the letters that came from the mission stations, there was material about certain facts and the dispositions of the natives, but little about baptisms. Father Baty estimated that in 1843 the number of them could be from fourteen to fifteen hundred.
During my last stay at the Bay of Islands, I saw admitted to Communion some natives involved in service to the house and penitents of the Bishop, and six or seven others as well. Father Viard was preparing three for it when in 1842 he left Tauranga the station reputed to be the most flourishing in religious terms. It has not come to my knowledge that any have been admitted in any other station.
I know of only three stations where agriculture is carried on: that of Father Petit for wheat, that of Father Rozet for the vine, and that of the Bay of Islands, where about an acre of land has been cultivated for this purpose. But where there is only a Brother and a priest, obliged to travel to visit the tribes, it is hard to extend clearings: you have to limit yourself to growing some edible plants. At the Hokianga station the natives have, under the direction of Father Petit, harvested a quantity of wheat which they can neither sell nor grind, for lack of a mill. This Father is waiting for the millstones which have been sent him from Europe.
A great service would be done to the natives and the Fathers by introducing the chestnut tree into New Zealand; this tree adapts well to land covered in scrub, and its fruit, very superior to the potato, can also, when needed, make up for bread. Skilful farmers could point out the ways of establishing it there as a tree because the shoot of the chestnut gives only a wild chestnut tree which has to be grafted.
Weaving looms and all the necessary accessories for preparing thread, as well as some Brothers knowing how to use them, would provide the natives with shirts and other items of clothing and the missionaries with the means of exchange to get pigs and potatoes. Things which are of the first necessity for Europeans, such as hats and shoes, would only end up creating needs among the natives which they do not [presently] experience.
The priests whom I have been able to get to see appear to be tormented by an ingrained discontent, which they focus on, but which doesn't seem to paralyse their zeal. Father Baty has never once seemed cheerful, Father Forest has confessed that he no longer knows how to laugh, Father Garin was quite joyful when he left the Procure, Father Bernard made me responsible, when I left, for transmitting his complaints, Father Chouvet was already dreaming of France, and another man would go back there if he was forced to live with the Bishop, in whose presence they all conceal their state of mind. The cause of discontent may arise out of a rigorous system aimed at suppressing nature and securing blind obedience, and a lack of good health which they seem to have the right to enjoy with the help of the considerable funds allocated to the mission. Houses made of thatch which, apart from their lack of comfort, can bring on rheumatism; paralysing poverty, as the Bishop puts it; refusals, through powerlessness, or long delays in answering requests made, without knowing simply where the money is going; all of this, added to difficult work and poor food, is hardly the thing to arouse cheerfulness. However the Bishop promised, in a circular letter of April 1843, to improve their situation, both by having more comfortable dwellings built, of wood, and by sending supplies regularly every six months.
The Bay of Islands mission station has up till now absorbed almost all the mission's money. A way of sheltering the Fathers from the effects of a too prodigal administration, if it was so, would be to make a proportional division of these funds and to assign to each man his portion, which would be provided in money or in goods, depending on whether buying would be more advantageous at the Bay or at the mission stations. If this solution was not practicable, it could at least be made known that a priest has a right to a predetermined sum whose use could not be diverted until new funds were received from Europe.
The state of the mission was described by the Bishop in his 1843 circular letter in these terms: "Some time after my return from the tropics, I visited the Bay of Islands tribes which for many months had been suffering from barrenness, complaints and defections. Thanks be to God, these tribes have revived, those which had given up on worship came back to the mother Church... Almost all the Hokianga tribes were at least in the state of those of the Bay of Islands. The long absence of the Bishop, a paralysing poverty preventing the exercise of the sacred ministry had been the cause of the mortal languidness of these people in religious matters. A visit has brought them back... The success of this visit and the effect brought about by the booklet have been great, etc." The Bishop spent five months less six days on his first voyage to the colony at Akaroa, but the part of this time was used in visiting Nicholson and other places; on his second voyage when he was getting ready to come to France, he stayed there a month and a half; the news of Father Chanel's massacre changed his plan and made him go to the tropics. When I left the Bay of Islands on 5th November 1843, a movement in favour of Catholicism was appearing, occasioned, I believe, by the teachings of the Anglican Bishop which cleared the Catholics from certain calumnies spouted forth by the ministers. As well, the natives are antagonistic to the British and the ministers; they accuse them of having put them under the domination of their government under the pretext of protecting them, and also of having deceived them over the price or value of their lands that have been sold. As a result, a clash is not impossible, unless the British, in line with their usual tactics, arm one group against the other; the natives, according to the Bishop, would give up all the advantages which would come to them from contact with the British, in order to regain their former independence.
The Bishop is very much loved by the natives, making himself all things to all people and displaying a zeal which their demands cannot exhaust. His plan to travel to France, where, according to what Commander Lavaud [cf Doc 64, para 1] says, he would accept a bishopric if one had been offered him, obscures somewhat the great affection he has for the New Zealanders: whatever be the case, his zeal has remained unchanged throughout. His recall would please the priests, who fear him more than they love him, but it would harm the mission. The men most suited to replace him, if it was necessary, would, in my opinion, be Fathers Baty and Viard. The first, loved equally by the priests and the natives, is commendable because of his great depth of piety, justice and openness. He is dignified in his manner of walking and his exercise of authority; has a better command than anyone else, even the Bishop himself, of the natives’ language; speaks English with great ease, though his pronunciation is a bit poor. But he seems not to care much for etiquette and not to have enough of those easy and polished manners which are the fruit of a superior education and are expected of a Bishop. Certainly he would refuse episcopacy, and one would be forced to impose it on him like a yoke. Father Viard has dignity in his appearance, he seems to have received a more careful education, speaks Maori fluently and is gifted with a notable gentleness of character. I do not know his ability at English and whether he would be an administrator. During the journey to the tropics,[4] it was said to him jokingly that he would be a Bishop; this joke could have had a serious aspect because of that of Europe and of Rome which the Bishop had not yet renounced, and especially if he still had the intention of accepting a bishopric in France. Besides, Father Viard had been made pro-vicar to accompany his Lordship to Europe when there was no question of going to the islands in the tropics.
A coadjutor in New Zealand, with Bishop Pompallier keeping the administration, would be reduced to a very sad role. Creating a new independent Bishop for the South Island would make a chief shepherd almost without sheep, that island having a very small population because of its geographic position.
On certain matters that I have touched on, it would be worthwhile to consult Father Epalle, who because of having been longer in the country and his responsibility in the Bay of Islands, could be a surer judge of them.


  1. Jean Perone (1794-1876), an Italian Jesuit theologian. His Praelectiones Theologiae appeared in nine volumes between 1835 and 1842.
  2. Amon – Claude Duperron -who came out with the fourth group and later left the mission. See Doc 71, para 4 and Doc 72, para 5
  3. Jean-Jacques Scheffmacher (1688-1733) was a Jesuit from Alsace and a famous controversialist, who wrote a short and popular refutation of Protestantism in the form of a catechism. It was translated into French and republished several times in the 19th century
  4. Viard was with Pompallier when he received news of Chanel's death, accompanied him to Wallis and Futuna and brought back Chanel's remains to the Bay of Islands in 1842 -- translator’s note