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Fr Jean-Baptiste Comte to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, Wellington, 9 February 1845

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, October 2005

APM Z 208 9 February 1845

Wellington, Port Nicholson, this 9th February 1845


Very Reverend Father

One of our Catholics, Mr Jerningham, is going to leave for England in March. He came to see me this morning after Mass and asked me if I had any requests from France. Although I have nothing in particular to tell you about, I am nevertheless taking advantage of such a good opportunity to give you a sign of life.

I have received, in the last few days, a letter from Father Forest, at the Bay of Islands, dated 14th January 1845. I think it will give you some pleasure if I transcribe it for you.

“Bay of Islands 14th January 1845 – to Reverend Father Comte.

“Reverend Father

“I have received your two letters; one from Nicholson [sic], dated 3rd April 1844, and the other from Akaroa, 3rd September 1844. I have also received a letter which you have addressed to the Very Reverend Father Superior General, dated Wellington 13th May 1844. Thank you very much, very dear Father, for all these letters – they give me very great pleasure. They give me very important knowledge for the good of the mission. Please continue to write to me about everything you believe to concern either the mission or the Society. I have not yet sent yours to Father General, for two reasons, as follows: the lack of opportunity, and the promise that you made him that in 1845 you would give him more elaborate details about everything you tell him about in this letter. These details being no doubt more interesting than the simple exposition of the facts, it will be better to send the second letter. If however that second letter did not come, I think the first is interesting enough to be sent to him.

“Since your departure from the Bay of Islands, we haven’t had anything very interesting to report. Some natives from Te Waimate (where the English Bishop is based) came, having at their head a chief named Jhon [sic: John/Hone] Heke, and cut down the flagstaff which informed the town and district around about of the arrival of ships. You have no doubt seen this whole story in the newspapers, [p2] but another story which I think you do not yet know of, is that this same John[1] Heke came last Friday [2] at the head of eighty men to again cut down the flagstaff re-erected by the Governor himself with more care and greater expense than the first one. He carried out this act at dawn with the help of several axes. In a short time he reduced it to a thousand pieces. He even tried to burn it but was not able to. He took away the ropes which were used to hold it upright. No harm was done to the Europeans who were all still asleep when the act was done. All the same the thing was not done without having been warned of a long time beforehand, and the very day before his arrival John Heke sent a Maori to inform the people of Kororareka that he would be coming the next day, but to remain calm, [and] that he didn’t want to do them any harm. Everything has been written about to the Governor. We are now awaiting the result. All the chiefs; Rewa, Moka etc, of the Bay of Islands, who had promised to defend the flagstaff, in the case of attacks, said nothing very much against John Heke: only they are afraid of losing the twelve pounds which the Governor had promised each of them to protect the flagstaff against John Heke’s attacks. Fine protection! Bishop Pompallier, who had left for Sydney on the 15th September, has not yet returned, however, he is expected any day… it appears according to letters that we have received, that this journey will be very useful for the mission. Since your departure from Kororareka I have had the happiness to see 14 European Protestants come into the bosom of the Catholic Church. May they persevere there. Our chapel at Kororareka is completely finished. Every Sunday we have some Protestants at our services. Our Kororareka Catholics have had made in Auckland a pretty picture eight feet high and six and a half wide to be placed behind the altar. This picture shows J[esus] C[hrist] on the cross and Magdalen at his feet. The head has been a bit spoiled, but all the rest is passable. It suits our chapel quite well. It covers very well all the space behind the altar. It has a wonderful effect on the natives.

“We haven’t yet received anything from France except a bit of money, but no news of any imminent arrival of apostolic workers. HOW WE ARE LANGUISHING IN THIS RESPECT! OUR POOR FATHERS ARE ALMOST ALL ON THEIR OWN. OH, WHAT SADDER SITUATION THAN BEING ALONE.[3] Tomorrow I am leaving for Kaipara to see Father Garin. I hope to spend a fortnight with him; both to make my retreat there, and to do a little preparation there for the one I plan to give to others soon after. On my return from Kaipara I plan to go and see the priests in the south: Tauranga, Wakatane [sic], [p3] Opotiki, Rotorua, and Waikato. How much pleasure I would have in seeing you, if you weren’t so far away! But I console myself in thinking that you are near a good priest who edifies you very much,[4] and I like to believe that you will arrange to make your little spiritual retreat with as much care as possible. Let us be, very dear Father, full of zeal for the salvation of our brethren, but let us not forget [that] true zeal begins with ourselves. Let us often meditate on those beautiful words of the Gospel which are addressed in a very special way to the pastors of souls: Quid prodest homini si mundum universum lecretur anima vero suo detrimentum patiatur? [5] No doubt J[esus] C[hrist] had Marist religious in view, as well as so many others, when he expressed himself in this way.

“There is nothing in particular to tell you about our house in Kororareka. All the Fathers and Brothers are well. They ask me to remember them to you…

“Reverend Father Baty has been almost always travelling among the natives for five or six months. Reverend Father Séon is busy with the Procure, and I, I have been given responsibility for the little parish of Kororareka. We now have two schools which are doing fairly well; one for boys and one for girls.

“During the whole night of the 14th and 15th,[6] all the whites of Kororareka were under arms, waiting moment by moment for John Heke, who wanted to come and demolish the prison, and to drive away the magistrate. The magistrate himself came at nightfall to ask us for our chapel to gather the children and the women there in case of danger. A good number of natives, protectors of the whites, came this morning. Most of them were armed by the magistrate. They are now ready to fire on John Heke if he arrives. What will be the outcome of this business? God alone knows. I am really afraid there will be bloodshed.

“I have the honour etc. Signed Forest”

I will not comment on this letter; I will only say that this action of the natives does not create much fear among the whites. The governor has written to Sydney to get troops to come; he will punish this tribe of John Heke’s, and considers that everything will be done with through that. In every case the missionaries are still perfectly safe among the natives. I will, in two or three days, set out for Rotorua and the other places where the Fathers are living. I hope I will have the happiness to meet [p4] Father Forest. In the last few days I have received three letters; one from Father Bernard, the second from Father Lampila, [and] the third from Father Reigné [sic]. These letters have been sent me through natives who have come to Port Nicholson. All the Fathers are in good health, [and] they are awaiting me with a lot of impatience. How much pleasure I will have in spending some time with them! I think, Very Reverend Father, that it is not good to send on to you this letter of Father Forest. He is going to write to you himself with more details and exactness.

I now need to tell you something about Mr Jerningham. Mr Jerningham belongs to a fine English Catholic family. He came to New Zealand not to settle here, but to investigate ways of setting up regular and frequent communication between England and New Zealand, both to facilitate emigration, and for the rapid growth of the colony. Mr Jerningham will be the principal agent for the communications I am talking about. He knows French very well. If you do not have an agent in London, I strongly advise you to get in touch with Mr Jerningham. He will notify you of all shipping departures for New Zealand, so you would be able to write to us, [and] send funds and goods as often as you wish, and everything would come to us very safely and regularly. From our point of view, by putting our letters in an envelope addressed to Mr Jerningham, they would get to London, from where he would send them to you. In this way not a single letter would get lost. We would be much better off on both sides. I have no need to tell you that you can trust Mr Jerningham completely.

I do not, at present, have his address, but Father O’Reily will put it on a note in the envelope. I will leave tomorrow.

I have the honour to be, with the deepest respect,
Very Reverend Father,
Your very humble and
very obedient servant,
Miss[ionary] ap[ostolic]

[In margin p4] Mr Jerningham’s address:

F. W Jerningham
care of T. Jerningham, Esq
Western Branch
London Joint Stock Bank
69 Pall Mall


  1. he got the spelling right this time - translator’s note
  2. 10 January 1845 - translator’s note
  3. In fact, Father Colin had already decided, because of his differences with Bishop Pompallier over the management of men and finances, to send no more Marists to New Zealand. The next Marists came in 1859 - translator’s note
  4. Forest must be referring to Father Jeremiah O’Reily (OFM Cap) who had arrived in Wellington in January 8143 - translator’s note
  5. What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but suffers the ruin of his own soul? – Mk 8:36, Lk 9:25
  6. January - translator’s note