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10 and 18 October 1845. — Letter from Léopold Verguet to Jean-Claude Colin, Sydney

Translated by Charles Girard SM, March 2010.

[written during a temporary stay in Sydney]

My very reverend father,
Bishop Epalle was afraid that in our letters to our parents or to our friends we might write about New Zealand or about Bishop Pompallier some things which it would be better not to say because of the hostilities which occur between the New Zealand natives and the English. Accordingly, Bishop Epalle recommended that we should not speak in our letters about Bishop Pompallier or about New Zealand. Already two letters had been written, one to my father and the other to a respectable priest of our region. Since the details which I give them seem to me to be interesting and since Bishop Pompallier says nothing about that in his letter about the attacks on Kororareka,[1] I am sending this information to you, reverend father, so that you may become aware of them, and then you will do what you wish with my letters.
Allow me to add here some new details which Bishop Pomapllier gave us about Hone Heke.[2] Bishop Pompallier knew this chief for a long time before these last victories of the New Zealand natives made him famous. Hone Heke was considered a very valiant man. He was reputed to like slaughtering people; after the victory he massacred those whom he defeated and pillaged those who had sold them arms and munitions. The first conversation of Bishop Pompallier with Hone Heke took place under these circumstances. The bishop was visiting a new tribe. A crowd of natives surrounded him and he spoke to them with goodness. He was often interrupted by those who spoke about Hone Heke. Heke was going to come, Heke was going to answer for them, Heke had many questions to ask. “That is good,” said the bishop, “when Heke comes, I will speak with him. While waiting, listen to me.”
John Heke arrived. He came forward calmly, full of reserve. He greeted the bishop (Teneracocohé);[3] the bishop accorded him the same civility, and continued to take about religion. The New Zealanders had led the bishop into a large building somewhat like a barn where they could all be together. Hone Heke went to sit on one of the highest beams in the building. He listened for a moment, then he attracted everyone’s attention by these words which he addressed to Bishop Pompallier: “Hay, say now, stranger! You come to preach another religion to us, but do you know that many things are said against this religion? People say this, they say that, they say something else and again something else, etc.” And there followed all the objections of the Protestants against penance, the church, celibacy, images, the honor given to saints, etc. While he was speaking, the bishop noticed that Heke had made a good choice for his position; form up there he dominated the assembly, and more than once he caused them to laugh at the expense of the Catholics. So as to have a position that would be just as advantageous, the bishop climbed up next to him and kept on smiling. When Heke had finished speaking, the bishop took up his objections and refuted them one by one. He insisted on the unity of the church, the need for an infallible authority. He noted how recent Protestantism was and compared it to a cut and faded branch which still dared, despite its dryness, to pretend to be the tree from which it had been separated. Hone Heke listened attentively. The New Zealander never disputes just for the pleasure of disputing, but rather in order to find the truth. If he sees the truth, he cannot help but saying “that is true” and he does not bring up again a proposition which he has thus conceded. The conference of the bishop with Hone Heke had lasted about two yours. At the end, Hone Heke showed that he was very happy. He said to the bishop: “You are right, your religion is the only true one. What were you doing in your country, and why had you not come here twenty years ago? Today, we would all be for you.” Then he addressed his own people: “The religion that this bishop preaches seems good to me. We should all practice it. The other religion is mere fantasy; this one is solid, it does not change.
From that moment on, Hone Heke never stopped having much respect for bishop Pompallier and his missionaries while he showed only contempt for the Protestant missionaries and their bishop. Here are some examples. – The Protestant missionaries, before these last disturbances, thought they had the upper hand on the minds of the New Zealanders. They boasted that they led them with the greatest of ease and that they not only uprooted vices from their hearts but that they had removed even the most minor imperfections. In their eyes, smoking was a bad thing; when the Protestant bishop saw a New Zealander smoking, even if he were the chief of a tribe, he simply went and snatched the pipe from the man’s mouth and smashed it against the earth. Hone Heke heard about this and was patient for a while, but finally, bursting with anger, he went and found the Protestant bishop. He had decided to do everything to give the Protestant bishop a good lesson. He went before him with a pipe in his mouth, sat down before him without saying anything and without taking off his hat. His terrible eyes said everything. The reformed bishop did not dare to do anything. Heke, seeing his cowardice, puffed big clouds of smoke in his face. The bishop did not have a word to say. Finally, Hone Heke spoke up: “There was a time,” he said to him, “when you used to break the pipe of New Zealand chiefs who smoked in front of you. Take care not to do so again, this is the lesson I am teaching you now.”
Another time, the Protestant missionaries went duck hunting in a pond that was taboo. They were warned to withdraw, but they despised these orders. The warnings were repeated, but they continued to hunt. Hone Heke ordered his people to fire bullets near their ears, and they made off very quickly. Heke was not satisfied with that; he went and found the bishop and asked for compensation.
“What do you want?”
“I don’t have any.”
“Well then, I’m going to extract payment.”
And he turned to his men:
“You, take that belt; you, that carpet; you, these knives, etc.”
The objects which suited him he had his men carry away, and warned the bishop to observe taboos better in the future.
One day, that same bishop, a sower of troubles and largely the cause of the war which has just broken out (that is the opinion of a Sydney newspaper. That newspaper, the Chronicle of the 4th of October, said that the English authorities in New Zealand took offense when the Protestant missionaries led the natives to shake off the yoke to become sole masters of the country. But God caused things to turn out differently. They have become embroiled in the ruin of their fellow citizens, and it could happen that the Catholic religion might come out of these struggles more triumphant than ever!) That bishop, I say, was speaking to Hone Heke in these terms when he saw that the war was not having the outcome he desired: “Why are you waging war? Haven’t you signed the treaty in which you recognized the English as masters of the country?” Hone Heke answered him: “I read in Saint Paul that when he was a child he thought, he spoke and he acted like a child, and when he had grown up, he thought, spoke, and acted as an adult. I am doing the same thing. Then I acted as a child, today I am acting as a man.”
I have the honor of being, very reverend father,
Your very humble and very affectionate servant
Léopold Verguet
apostolic missionary Sydney, 10 October 1845
[added in the margins] [7]
Bishop Pompallier was sick recently. His Lordship had an attack of pleurisy which caused him to stop working for two or three days. Now, he is getting better. He can work, go out and soon he will have fully recovered. This illness prevents me from doing his portrait; it is causing a delay in what he has to do and does not allow him to grant me a few hours. 18 October – Bishop Pompallier has fully recovered.
18 October – During my stay in Sydney, I made several pastel drawings of Australian natives. I am leaving them with Father Dubreul; he will send them to you at the first opportunity. The box of colors which I bought in Paris for the mission has not been found. It was lost on the ship, the Bussorah-Merchant', or it may have been forgotten in London.


  1. On the attacks by the Māori on Kororareka in March, April and May 1845, see Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, v. 1, p. 185-186; see also LRO doc. 365, § 2, 384, § 6; 388, § 3.
  2. John (Hone) Heke, the Māori chief who fought against the English and was responsible for the attack on Kororareka, during which he ordered that the Anglican and Catholic missions should be spared, see Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, v. 1, p. 185.
  3. Probably the author means “Tenā koe”, a formal greeting.