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Fr Antoine Séon to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, 23 & 28 October & 5 December 1844

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, September 2005

APM Z 208 23 October 1844

Kororareka, 23 October 1844

Very Reverend Father

It’s now more than a year since I have had the consolation of writing a few words to you. Since then, my placement has changed. I am no longer alone in my first mission station, from which I had the honour of writing to you.[1] Since the month of February I have been at Kororareka. A fortunate mistake [méprise] called me to be with His Lordship and has put my station into the care of Father Pesant [sic: Pézant], where he is very much loved and where he is doing good work. I am still responsible for counting the pounds and shillings here. May God be blessed for that, but that sort of thing is not my strong point. However, let it be said between you and me, Very Reverend Father, I don’t clearly see what I am good at. It was time that I changed station. In spite of all my journeys, all the activity I undertook, I felt I was not up to my task [j’etai audessous de ma besogne]; I asked God and the Bishop to send Father Pézant there, and the whole thing was successful. The Bishop, when he called at that station, performed 120 baptisms, nearly all of adults.

My health, without having been bad, is now better at this station. I travel less on land but more often by sea. Life is better ordered than when you are on your own. Father Provincial[2] holds everyone here in respect. Life among the New Zealanders always demands a lot of patience; the work of the Lord goes ahead slowly, but however not coming to a halt. The events which have occurred in this part of the island since the 8th July last[3] and which have diminished British authority almost to nothing, have done credit to the Catholic religion in this sense that neither the priests nor the Catholic Maoris have got involved on the side of evil, but rather to re-establish order. The flagstaff cut down by Protestants was put up again by a Catholic chief. He showed that neither we nor our teaching were hostile to the government. That was the testimony which His Excellency the Governor[4] gave Father Baty and me when we went to greet him on his arrival at the Bay of Islands. God proceeds slowly, but [iles? Des?] works last a long time.

I will say nothing to you, Reverend Father, about my relationships with our Bishop. He has been away almost since my arrival. He left on 17 February to visit the Catholic stations. He leased a ship for 55 pounds sterling per month. The ship came back on the 29th June. It left the Bishop in the south visiting [illegible word – Catholic?] stations in the interior which they [5] were not familiar with. So His Lordship did not come back to the Bay until the 6th September, from where he left on the 12th of that month for Sydney. The Bishop had for a long time been invited to go [p3] to that town for the consecration of a new Bishop.[6] The newspapers announced that this ceremony took place on the 10th September, so the Bishop on his arrival had only to approve the acts of the first Provincial council held in these seas, and which the newspapers announced as well to have taken place after the ordination.[7] We are awaiting the Bishop’s return.

As for my responsibility, [8] I carry it out in co-operation with everyone. I leave things more to their own devices than direct them myself. Here is a glance at the receipts and expenses which have occurred since the month of January this year 1844 up till today.

The Bishop has put into the cashbox of the Procure about Receipts 2822 pounds sterling.

Expenses today have been Expenses 2789 pounds sterling. This money has been used to maintain the mission stations, building houses of wood in [missing word(s) – page torn?]. A chapel has been built at Kororareka [and] the [missing word] and the adjoining garden have been surrounded with a strong paling fence. It seems however that the Bishop has too easily agreed to get a big boat [sic] which will be of little use to us, a clock to be placed on the chapel, and for which the payment will mainly be his responsibility; that he could not undertake [building] at once all the houses for the stations he has promised, which has used or will use up almost all the funds he has in Sydney at the Bank of Australasia, the only safe one. I think he is too easygoing.

For the spiritual good of our stations we are waiting for and asking for a new book more appropriate to the needs and capacity of the Maori. At least that is how it seems to me and several of my confrères.

There, Reverend Father, is what I thought I should tell you. Thank you for all the trouble you take on behalf of our mission, which I hope will console you as much as it costs you.

Please accept, Reverend Father, the respect with which I still call myself one of your obedient and affectionate sons.

Séon SM

[p4] At the time when this letter leaves Kororareka, on the 5th December 1844, the Bishop has not come back from Sydney;[9] he will only be back for Christmas. We have received the letter of advice telling us that we can draw on the firm of Joubert in Sydney the sum of thirty-one thousand francs[10] allocated to our mission. We will very shortly undertake all necessary steps concerning that. Unfortunately our letter will not reach the Bishop in Sydney. The way through the Bank of Australasia in Sydney would be safer.

[In margin p2] We all have only old three-cornered hats.

APM Z 208 28 October 1844

28 October 1844, Kororareka

Very Reverend Father

I think I have to add some details to a part of the letter which I had the honour of sending you.[11] They concern the present state of the Catholic mission station at Kororareka (Bay of Islands) in its relationship with the government. Since last July,[12] the peace of the European inhabitants of this part of New Zealand has been severely disturbed. A chief of a tribe in this area has been aroused by people unhappy with the government which by its severity was keeping away from the harbour the whaling ships who kept a certain amount of business going there. Hone Heke (John Heke), a Protestant chief, baptised by the Protestants came to Russel [sic: Russell] (Bay of Islands) at the head of more than sixty men to claim utu for an insult uttered by a Maori woman formerly his slave and legitimately married to an Englishman. As the latter could not pay enough, Heke demanded it from the magistrate and from some other citizens. When they refused, he let it be known that on the following Monday he would bring down the mast from which signals for the harbour were given, and on which the British flag flew. He kept his word. On the 8th July, in the morning, the mast was felled by an axe, burnt on the spot, and they[13] took away what they could. A volley from their rifles celebrated their victory and they crossed the Bay. The part of the town containing the Catholic mission was declared tapu; Heke did not want anyone to touch the home of Masion[14] (that is [illegible word] the French are called among the Maoris) In case of attack by the Europeans, they[15] would kill and pillage. But from the top of the hill where the flagsaff had been sited, they caught sight of many boats coming to help the town. Most of the natives took part in Catholic worship, and a good number being baptised at 10am, order and peace were re-established in Russell. According to their custom, two days later they [16] took the fight to a pa dependent on Heke. But there was no one there. Father Baty went with the expedition. It was there at Waitangi that His Honour the Magistrate complimented the priest on the conduct of the natives who worship as Catholics, and on the same day Hoane Papita (John Baptist), a Catholic chief caused a new flagstaff to be put up, promising that no one would come and bring it down. [17]

His Excellency the Governor, having been informed about what had happened, made great threats, [and] announced that in a few weeks, troops would be seen [p2] coming, and that resounding revenge would be taken for a similar insult. To prevent these misfortunes the Anglican Bishop called together at Te Waimate, where he lived, and only a league[18] from Kaikohe, the home of Hone Heke, a good number of Maori chiefs. Never had any gathering of New Zealanders spoken more favourably of the Catholic Church than occurred then. They went over again everything which had been said about the Catholic Bishop and it was shown how false everything was, [and] how much the latter was superior to the Bishop of the British. “During the day,” Hone Heke said to the ministers and the Bishop present, “you busy yourselves with your farms etc. during the night you busy yourselves with your wives. Don’t tell me I am a liar, because when you arrived here you had only one child, now you have two and soon will have as many as William [sic: Williams] (he has eleven of them).” Another chief, Waikato, compared the Maoris of the two churches: It is from us, he said, that come all evil, robbery, quarrels and debauchery; among the Epikopo (or Catholics) it is not like that. Consider, Very Reverend Father, that we have ever had only very indirect relationships with these chiefs, and that in this gathering there was only one Catholic chief, who perhaps said nothing. The day after this gathering the Bishop arrived at the Bay of Islands to join the ship which was going to take him to meet the Governor in Auckland.

At the time [previously] indicated, the troops arrived. About 250 or 300 men were ready to set out on the road which leads to Hone Heke’s home. According to the insinuations of the Bishop and other ministers[19] the Governor made the troops stay on board and went himself to Te Waimate where he received satisfaction from none of the rebellious chiefs: they were waiting for him in order to fight. I think they could have received a terrible lesson. His Excellency the Governor did not consider it appropriate to give it. The troops left again. The Governor took advantage of these circumstances to declare the port of Russell open. Father Baty and I went to visit him. The Bishop [Pompallier] had not returned from his tour. His Excellency received us very well. He recognised and praised the pure intentions which motivated us, and rejected the bad advice of people from his country which had been given to the natives.

These last-mentioned, happy to see they were feared, have only become [p3] more demanding. Over a small incident which happened at the prison and whose consequences could have been avoided by giving a small sum of money, armed natives took eight horses; they gave back six in poor condition, and after having demanded a considerable amount of tobacco, they had meeting after meeting in which Mr William [sic: Williams], the most influential of the missionaries at the Bay, was insulted by his own followers. Many other people have been robbed or beaten. Fear has seized the rest. Up till now the Catholic mission is still well regarded and respected by these same natives who have rebelled against the government and its ministers. That attracts the hatred of the Anglican ministers and others who up till now have made us fuss. In a few weeks’ time the Anglican Bishop is leaving for Auckland and, it is said, will take his college away from Te Waimate. He had several well set-up establishments in this district; schools for young children and for those who are older. All that is yet to be dealt with. No doubt God allows all the blasphemies that the former ministers have not stopped spewing forth against the Blessed Virgin and the saints.

The most recent step which the Governor, informed about everything, has just taken, was announced to us, it is said, by a British corvette. It is said that the Governor has encouraged all the settlers at Russell who are in fear to leave for Auckland. The corvette is to stay ten days, to give protection to the departure. After that the Governor will abandon Russell and the Bay of Islands to the protection of Heaven; while he will give his protection only to Auckland where he has concentrated his forces and his subjects. Here, destitution is very great. The colony’s money is paper money, payable in a year and a half; it inspires no certain confidence for the future. May Providence be blessed in everything! which makes the common misfortune work to the benefit of the Catholic mission and station [because] food and clothing are a lot less expensive. May Heaven also draw [good? word illegible] spiritual profit for so many souls who have great need of it. May they realise that there where the true Church is found are also tranquillity, peace and safety.

[p4] There, Reverend Father, is what we think we should tell you about our present situation, without knowing what it will be in the future.

Father Epalle will no doubt be happy to learn that this year 130 bottles of white wine for Mass have been harvested from the garden opposite the big chapel. It promises to provide much more for next year.

It is for you only, Reverend Father, that I (Father Séon) give these details.

NB Bay of Islands: the general name for this huge Bay.
Kororareka: the Maori name of the site of the town where the Bishop lives.
Russel [sic] is the English name of the same town and site.

To finish this page, I will tell you, Reverend Father, that the surrounding districts of our area, and especially the station at Hokianga where Fathers Petit and Moreau are, are echoing with the sound of unrestrained disorder aroused by a senior chief of the Wesleyan church.[20] That has notably lessened the interest of his followers in Christian worship. They are not far from the Catholic Church. Ask for prayers to be said for the intention that God may enlighten and touch these hearts. Several stations have the same hopes, though for other reasons.

The Anglican Bishop has had an outstanding beginning; he has truly useful establishments, and especially, money. We have, as yet, only stations with priests who do not even have a Brother each. We have no school, no establishment which can rival those of the Anglican Bishop, where Maori young people can be trained. When will the good God provide us with the means, the subjects, the wisdom to found useful and permanent [establishments]? This Bishop has however done himself harm among the Maoris who neighbour him. By imperiously breaking the pipes of the poor natives who were smoking in front of him, he also broke his own. He deserved the outraged chief to come up to him and send puffs of smoke into his face, to have his pipe broken and to learn from that a reason for not acting any longer as he wished. The worthy Anglican Bishop has been very careful to take note.

I do not presently know what the British Protestants believe. They go to their churches [temples] and do not stop criticising [ne cessent d’accabler] their ministers; they ridicule [? criblent] them in their conversations. In several places the Maoris do the same. What does this religion amount to, what do these ministers amount to, who bring scorn on themselves rather than respect, insubordination in place of the respectful obedience of our good cat] them in their conversations. In several places the Maoris do the same. What does this religion amount to, what do these ministers amount to, who bring scorn on themselves rather than respect, insubordination in place of the respectful obedience of our good catholics? Get people to pray, Reverend Father, that your children become more and more edifying and devoted to God and to their sheep bought with the price [In margin p4] of the blood of Jesus Christ, and let us hope for everything for religion.

A J Séon


  1. His first station was at Matamata in the Waikato 1841-44 - translator’s note
  2. Father Jean Forest - translator’s note
  3. when Hone Heke chopped down the British flagstaff at Kororareka for the first time - translator’s note
  4. Robert Fitzroy - translator’s note
  5. ? - translator’s note
  6. Dr Murphy, as first Bishop of Adelaide - translator’s note
  7. Lillian Keys in her book Life and Times of Bishop Pompallier, p218, says that the ordination took place on 8th September, and the First Provincial Synod of Australasia took place on the 10th, 11th and 12th September 1844 - translator’s note
  8. He is referring to his task as mission bursar - translator’s note
  9. He didn’t leave until 1 January 1845 - translator’s note
  10. about £1240 - translator’s note
  11. The letter in question would be the one dated 23 October 1844 - translator’s note
  12. when Hone Heke cut down the British flagstaff for the first time - translator’s note
  13. the Maoris, presumably - translator’s note
  14. or Marion? – a possible reference to Marion du Fresne, who with some of his men had been killed by Maori at Whangaroa, just to the north of the Bay, in 1772 - translator’s note
  15. the Maoris? - translator’s note
  16. the Catholic Maori? - translator’s note
  17. T L Buick in New Zealand’s First War p 42 quotes Tamati Waka Nene as speaking to this effect. The article on Nene in the Dictionary of National Biography Vol I confirms Nene’s promise to protect the flagstaff, but says he was a Wesleyan - translator’s note
  18. about 5km
  19. the phrase bishop and other ministers seems to indicate that Séon is referring to the Anglican Bishop rather than Pompallier - translator’s note
  20. The reference must be to Hone Heke, who was, after cutting down the flagstaff at Kororareka, trying to arouse the chiefs of the area against British rule. He was not un ancien chef – a senior or former chief - though, but young and active - translator’s note