Fr Jean Forest to Fr Jean-Claude Colin, Auckland, 18 November 1845
Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, November 2005
APM Z 208 18 November 1845
J M J
Auckland, 18 November 1845
To the Very Reverend Father Superior General
Very Reverend Father
I received, on the 13th September last, your letter dated 20th January 1845, and some days after, I received the one dated 18 [or 16?] October 1844. They both, at the same time, brought me joy and sadness: joy in seeing that you do not forget poor New Zealand, sadness on seeing that one of the finest projects, among the most advantageous for this mission, I believe; that of sending here Father Epalle with that fine group which was prepared, has fallen through! The Lord’s designs are impenetrable, but I fear for our poor mission in New Zealand. Nothing now, to put our minds at rest. God is all-powerful and all-good. He himself guides his work, and his guidance is necessary if he wishes his mission to succeed here.
What gives us reason for joy is the beautiful mission which the Bishop of Sion is going to open. It is the establishment which you have just founded in Sydney to serve as the procure for all our missions in Oceania. As for your second letter, which ordered me to go to Sydney for the Bishop of Sion’s passing through, it did not get to me until very late, and a long time after Bishop Pompallier himself had left for Sydney. His Lordship did not think it appropriate that one of his priests went with him. He on his own came to an understanding with Bishop Epalle and the other priests who are in Sydney. I have not yet found out what was the result of their discussions. The Bishop of Sion left Sydney on 23rd October last to go to his mission with his beloved company. They left on the ship Marian Watson. They did not yet know where they were going to land. Father Viard, who had been with Bishop Douarre for 22 months in New Caledonia, arrived in Sydney on Le Rhin, a French corvette, on the 29th October last. This Father will come back to New Zealand with Bishop Pompallier. Bishop Pompallier left for Sydney on the 8th August last. We do not know exactly when he will be back. He intended to get printed in that town a little book for the natives of New Zealand, but this work will delay him for a very long time because it is still here, quite incorrect and incomplete. Our poor mission suffers a lot from these long absences. The Protestant Bishop, the leader of the Wesleyan missionaries and all their men are still going about ravaging and devastating the poor New Zealand flocks.
[p2] One of the main causes of Bishop Pompallier’s long absences is the war going on here between the natives and the British. Our adversaries, the Protestant ministers have tried to do all they could to put the blame for the wars on the Catholic priests, saying they were the originators of it, that they helped the natives to revolt. Governor Fitzroy, who has just been recalled to England, and who was a crazier Protestant than the ministers themselves, wrote to England, to Lord Stanley, governor-general of the British colonies that the Catholic missionaries themselves had been the cause of his troubles, that they had printed on their press a little work in the Maori language where there were some blameworthy passages which attacked the government and the British in general. Here is the very passage from his letter: “I should be sorry to find indeed that any Roman Cath[olic] missionaries have contributed to [illegible word] such a feeling… They have circulated small books in the native language, printed at their own press, the contents of which are considered to be very objectionable, and although confined, it may be said, to religious [matters], there are passages which have, in my opinion, a direct tendency to cause bad feeling towards the English generally…” I know the works which our Bishop has had printed, and I assure you that all the [méchanceté ? – malice] of the enemies of religion really needed to exercise its critical powers to find anything there to condemn. The only passage that I suspect having given [word illegible – offence?] is this: Coming back from the islands in the tropics Bishop Pompallier told the New Zealanders what he had done among the natives of Wallis [and] of Tongatabu [sic], and said to them: “Several thousands of these islanders were baptised by me. They are now on the way of salvation. They are happy. Their hearts are at peace, and happiness reigns in their kingdoms. (They still have their authority and their land, as they had before; they have not come under my power.)” There you have the only passage which could, I believe, arouse the governor’s indignation – but if you examine the motive which brought the Bishop to speak in this way, if you look at the time at which he wrote that, you will easily see that there is nothing there which threatened the British very much. The motive: since Bishop Pompallier set foot in New Zealand, the crowd of Protestant ministers covering this [word illegible – country?] has not ceased telling the natives that this Catholic Bishop and the men with him had come to take away the lands and authority of the New Zealanders in order to [2 illegible words] later on. The Catholic Bishop in reply to that told what he had done in the tropics – that the natives in Wallis are Catholics without having lost their lands and their powers; that the Protestant ministers have therefore told falsehoods about the Catholic priests. The time that this book was written was in 1843, a very long time before there was any question of war. Apart from that, the book was not given to the Protestant natives, but only to the Catholics, and it was not the Catholics who were the first driving force of the wars, but some Protestant chiefs, and the greater part of the rebels were disciples and fervent disciples of heresy, while [p3] the Catholics who received this book lived in peace. As is verified by every person who has known the Catholic mission, if a certain number of them were involved in war they were either on the side of the British troops or, indeed, they were related to some of the rebels and according to their customs all relatives must follow the war chief. But, alas, Mr Pritchard, a Protestant minister has been shamefully driven from Taiti [sic – Tahiti] by the French because of the trouble he was causing there and has gone to London and has cried out a lot, and his cries have reached as far as here. All his beloved associates here have become indignant and have become angry, and, it can be said, furious against us. Poor Governor Fitzroy, who was as hot under the collar as they, to say the least; he who said, while taking an oath at the time he became governor: that the holy Mass was an idolatry, that the Blessed Virgin was a woman just like any other, without any special reason for honour and a thousand other blasphemies against our holy religion – the poor man, I say, was surrounded by this whole gang [bande] of ministers, was guided by them in his opinions, and had allowed himself to be entirely prejudiced against us.
Bishop Pompallier, seeing from the newspapers what he [Fitzroy] wrote to London about him, wrote him a letter from Sydney, asking him to quote for him the passages from his books which were worthy of condemnation. The governor answered him but I do not yet know what the reply said. I do not think that matters will stay there. However, it seems that God does not want to abandon us. The governor has just been called back to England, and his successor named Captain Grey seems to be more impartial. Today he has taken over his task. He appears to be more mild. Perhaps he will be a little more favourable and a bit more just toward Catholicism. Be that as it may, the Protestant newspapers are repeating what the first governor said and are trying to arouse the people against us. I believe, Reverend Father, what I have always believed since I have been in New Zealand: never will French missionaries be a real success here. We are French, they are English – that is enough. They are two nations who have a great jealousy of each other. Apart from this jealousy between nations the English language is very difficult, and our poor missionaries wear themselves out learning two languages without ever being able to succeed, because we will never get to speak their language well. What can be done about it? It is not for me to decide. I am too insignificant and too ignorant for such great matters. However I will simply tell you what I think. There is here at Nicolson [sic – Port Nicholson] an Irish priest – Father O’Reily. He is a very learned man and without contradiction more learned than any of us. He has become loved, and it could be said, even adored – even by Protestants. He is making many conversions. If Rome thought it appropriate to make him a Bishop, he would call priests from his country and his congregation to help him and imperceptibly he would take over New Zealand and we would go elsewhere. For the rest, I do not think that Bishop Pompallier will ever triumph over heresy here and the jealousy between nations. He will never make himself loved by his priests. He will get them to obey him, I hope, and that is all. And what a mission that would be! What weariness for a poor priest so far from his relatives, from his country, from the Society, to be unable to speak heart to heart with his Bishop amidst so many tasks and difficulties.
[p4] [I have] so many things to tell you if time allowed, but I hope to do so quickly. Since last February I have been here in Auckland, capital of the British colony. It is a town of about six thousand souls of which about six hundred are Catholics. I have replaced Father Petit-Jean who is presently at Terawiti [sic – Te Rawhiti now] near the Bay of Islands. It is a new establishment which was set up at the time of the war at Kororareka. Many things from the procure were moved there to save them from pillage. They are there under the guard and protection of some Catholic natives, and Father Petit-Jean is with them. As for the matter of having two confrères in each station, this point has not yet been carried into effect. Kororareka, Nicolson and Auckland are the only stations with two priests. Hokianga, Wangaroa [sic – Whangaroa], Terawiti, Tauranga, Waikato, Rotorua, Opotiki, Watane [sic – Whakatane] have one only. That is to say Fathers Petit with Brother Luc, Rozet with M Yevert, Garin on his own, Petit-Jean with Brother Emery, Bernard with Brother Justin, Pézant on his own, Moreau with Brother Claude-Marie, Lampila with Brother Elie, Reignier with Brother Euloge – all these dear priests complain strongly that they are abandoned in this way, that in coming to these missions they had always understood that they would be in twos, and that they were mistaken in the expectation. Alas! When will we live according to the rule? I know nothing of that. I will come to no decision on that matter with the Bishop. He does not say no, but he says that he cannot destroy the establishments which exist; that on the arrival of new subjects he will double the number of posts. When will that take place?
All the priests and Brothers are doing well at present. In spiritual matters I am perhaps the one who is worst. I am overloaded with work and have not a single moment to myself. I commend myself in a very special way to your prayers. It is with all the sincerity of my heart that I tell you that I have very great need of them, because I am lapsing into forgetfulness of my duties. In particular I am very much afraid of not following my Rule in the matter of meditation, often doing only very little, because of numerous occupations. However good Father Séon is supporting me a little by his good example and his great calm.
I am sending you with this letter two large packets of other letters from dear confrères and Brothers. Some are from some time ago: they had been forgotten. As for the clothes for the King of Wallis… sent here with me, Father Epalle would have and even should have given a good explanation for them, because it was he, himself, who before his departure for France carried out the distribution of them to the various stations in New Zealand, and when I remarked to him that our plan was to send them to their destination, he said in reply, that a week before that, the mission ship, the Sancta Maria had left for Wallis and Futuna, loaded with everything they needed, and had taken away everything people could give them at Kororareka. I myself sent afterwards some boxes to Bishop Bataillon, containing a lot of [illegible word] and other things which I cannot remember – perhaps those boxes could have been lost?
Father Séon is here with me as well as Brothers Florentin and Michel. They commend themselves to your prayers.
I have, indeed, the honour of being, Reverend Father, your very humble and totally devoted servant,
- Bishop Epalle - translator’s note
- étorent seems a slip of the pen by Forest – aidorent – helped is more likely - translator’s note
- un Protestant enragé plu que
- His official title was Colonial Secretary - translator’s note
- Catholics - translator’s note
- The article on Robert Fitzroy in the Dictionary of National Biography Vol I makes clear that Fitzroy was an evangelical Protestant, which would have made him likely to be biased against Catholics - translator’s note
- In fact he landed in Auckland on the day this letter was written - translator’s note
- O’Reily was a Franciscan - translator’s note
- March 1845 - translator’s note
- Je ne jugerai rien sur ce rapport