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19&30 April 1850 – Father Antoine Garin to his Mother (by way of Fr Colin), Cook Strait

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM

On board the Clara, 19 April 1850

My dearest mother
I have again been sent to a different place. No doubt you heard that Bishop Pompallier was coming back to New Zealand - I hoped to find, on his return, a letter from you or from Numa. I have now written several letters but have no further word of you. Perhaps my letters are not reaching you. You know that I had been sent to a place called Howick amongst Europeans but now that Bishop Pompallier is back, I have been sent to another place. I had heard this spoken of before, and this change has been effected this week. All the priests of the northern part have been sent to the south and the new priests who arrived with Bishop Pompallier are replacing us.
You would not believe what a sensation this change has caused among the natives and Europeans. To be sure, they all experienced great joy at the return of Bishop Pompallier accompanied by a few priests and a good number of young seminarians and nuns; but at the thought that their old priests were going to leave them, they were no longer able to disguise their grief. It was last Sunday that I myself had to announce my departure, and since that moment there has been a succession of visits and expressions of a regret. More than once I have had to repress my emotion with violence to myself; but it was especially when I had the schoolchildren gathered around me that I could not restrain my emotions and my tears.
After giving them a few words of advice to warn them against the ordinary dangers to the loss of innocence, I had to see to the packing of my belongings and to sending them on ahead of me; but at every moment I was interrupted by different visits of children or of adults, and then of Protestants, who, although of a different religion could not restrain themselves from expressing their regret. At the last moment, I went to the school where, for the last time, I would give a few further words of advice to these young people I find it so fascinating; but hardly had I uttered a few words than I found myself obliged to stop. Then, after a few uncomfortable moments, I added a little advice, and left them.
But a few hours later I again found myself in a similar situation. I arrived at Panmure where the schoolchildren came to meet me and accompanied me to the chapel where I gave them an instruction as I had done to the previous ones. What tears I shed because of some of these children, and especially of one of them - he cried out in loud tones and caused his mother to do the same.
I left this place, and reached Auckland, where I found Bishop Pompallier with his young priests, seminarians and nuns, and where the old priests, Fathers Forest, Petit-Jean, Seon, etc were also making ready to leave. What a contrast! What a variety of emotions buffeted their souls! Bishop Pompallier returning after an absence of some three years, a dozen young Levites and nuns; and on the other hand, Father Forest who had, at the price of his health, built with great difficulty the most beautiful stone church, Father Petit-Jean who, a good number of years before, had been the first priest sent to this place, and several other old priests who had deserved esteem and most devoted affection through the longstanding solicitude they had lavished on the great and especially on the lowly. The conflict of these thoughts with the first ones filled the poor Catholics with both joy and sadness, but I may say the sadness was uppermost in a striking manner. If a group of people went to speak to Bishop Pompallier, after a few moments of joy an expression of sorrow would immediately cover their faces; if others went over to the nuns, there would be tears, and so on. Thus the good sisters themselves said: “We thought that when you saw us arrive in your midst you would have given vent to your joy, but instead of that joy we see your tears falling.”
In fact, these good Catholics, after showing their pleasure in seeing in the colony an increase of priests and especially nuns, who were the first that had been seen in this country, could not stop themselves from hiding [this seems a slip of the pen – revealing? – translator’s note] their emotion at the thought that they were about to lose the men whose arrival in this island they had been the first to witness, who had planted the first seeds of religion there, who had built churches and schools, who had won the affection of the attractive young folk. But as for ourselves, although attached to these people we have first worked among, we are accustomed to make sacrifices, and after giving way somewhat to the feelings of nature, we remembered what a missionary must be – he must consider all places as a vast field to be cultivated either simultaneously or successively, he must make it his duty as a good soldier of Jesus Christ to go with ever his superior calls him, he must not become attached to places, but he must be attached to the salvation of souls. If nature makes its claim, yet duty commands; and the more that nature is thwarted, the more will God be glorified. So we consider ourselves fortunate in the thought that the servants of Mary, after being called to evangelise the north of New Zealand, and to plant the faith there, are now called to evangelize the south - and therein we place our confidence.
To get back to my story. The day we were to leave Auckland and go to the boat which was to convey us to the south was fixed for the 19th of April, 1850. We were 24 in number, including Bishop Viard, the priests, the brothers, some nuns and some native servants. Before leaving the town, we went to bid farewell to Bishop Pompallier and to his new clergy; and when we were on the boat, Bishop Pompallier, and afterwards his new clergy, came to visit us and to bid us farewell. Many of the leading Catholics came also to see us on the boat and to offer us presents. For myself, I was deeply grieved to leave the native who had been my servant for seven years. He would have liked to come with me, but his parents [relatives?] had written to him to return to them so that they could go together to the newly built college at Auckland.
The next day, Saturday, the 20th April, we weighed anchor and sailed towards that part of the north we would have to double round in order to go to Wellington, the town where Bishop Viard will establish himself, for he has the title of Bishop of Wellington. In two days we reached the northern point of the island, which we turned on the third day. On the eighth day, we arrived opposite Egmont, a lofty mountain on the sea coast, whose summit is always covered with snow. It was the first time since I left France that I had seen snow, for in the north, where we were living, there was only rain in winter and never snow. On the ninth day, which was a Sunday, to help us into Cook Strait, we had a violent wind which prevented us from entering the port, although we passed close by. We had run two serious dangers that day, in two places. The first was a little before we entered the Strait, where we were liable to be hurled against precipitous cliffs; the second occurred in the Strait, where we were assailed by a storm which forced us to furl all the sails, and to lay the ship to, that is to say, stripped of all sail, exposed to the caprices of the wind and the waves, which struck its sides, poured over the deck and through openings, if they were not well closed. The wind was so strong that it swept up the water from the crests of the waves to form a sort of dense shower of rain. The uproar was not very frightening for old sailors, but for people whose trade is not travel always by ship, and especially for these young European women (our nuns), it was state between life and death. During those moments we said that fervent prayers, and, if you had the courage to go to bed, it was only after offering your life to God in a spirit of sacrifice. That was how we spent last night 28-29th April. This morning become had revived serenity and joy on faces, and we congratulated ourselves on escaping the danger and being able at last to enter the port.
But what a surprise! We found that, without realising it, we had been carried away so far by the currents that we had lost sight of land. However, the wind rose again, became favourable and brought us back and near the coasts; the glasses searched for sight of land and found it; we rejoiced and went to dinner; the captain rubbed his hands together and said that we would enter port that evening. After dinner, all eyes were directed towards the port - but a further disappointment! The current of the receding tide was dragging us back more quickly than the wind was driving us forward so that we were once again frustratingly deprived of the pleasure of entering port. Then returned ominous thoughts, fears, anxiety - and such are the reflections that we are exchanging amongst ourselves as I write you these lines, this day, Monday, 29th April, at 9 o’clock in the evening. We are near port, it is true; it is raining but this rain may eventually turn into a great wind to hurl us on to the coasts. “How lovely and calm it is,” say some; others reply, “It may be the calm which precedes the storm, and the wind in this strait has a habit of rising suddenly.” One of the passengers comes down from on deck. “Can you still see the land?” he is asked. “I cannot see any,” he replies. Well! Here we are again carried far off, and we don’t know if we will be able to get close again tomorrow. On the open sea, you wouldn’t be afraid; but close to these coasts you can only sleep restlessly, because a contrary wind can carry you unawares on to the cliffs and crush you there by the waves angry under the storm. Yet, amidst these unhappy reflections, one thought sets us at rest: we are in this situation by the will of God, and if He wishes to call us to Him, it will be at a time when we are going to work for His glory. Goodbye for this evening, and I will resume another time if God permits.
30th April. I am keeping my promise to continue my letter. Yesterday’s calm was in accordance with the acute remarks made by one of us – the calm that precedes the storm. You would think that the demons that had reigned for centuries in these places are making every effort to prohibit our entry. Last night, as I have said, we were unable to get in with the wind behind us; this morning we were not far from the entrance but the wind turned against us so that the first thing the captain said was, “We won’t be able to get in again today.” However, he is trying. The tide is favourable, and we are advancing little by little. We are tacking, that is, beating to windward, to make all way possible against the wind, but, after a lot of time and labour, we scarcely made half a league before the tide ran out again and pushed us away from port again. To crown our troubles, we have no pilot to tell us the best thing to do, for he is away today. We are being patient, therefore, waiting for the tide to run in again. When, about midday, the tide was on the turn, the ship was again set under sail and we made slow progress. Finally we noticed a boat. It was the pilot approaching, and now he is on board. The sailors have plucked up courage again and they are more lively in their work; we are making way despite the wind. But night came on and the wind redoubled to its strength. Although a part of the town could now be seen, sailing became impossible with the darkness of the night and the fury of the wind, so it was decided to drop one anchor and then another. The wind is terrible. We are afraid that the chains may break; and if they should happen to break, or the anchors to be dragged by the force of the wind, we could be hurled against the cliffs and perish during the night. Now that we are in the port, however, sailors are on watch. By means of a long cord, at the end of which is a piece of lead 7lb. in weight, one of them sounds the seabed to see if the ship is not losing way. It is in this state of anxiety that we will go to bed somewhat reassured, however, for even if the chains should happen to break, we would be able to guide our ship into the open sea with the aid of a sail, for it is still preferable to be the plaything of the waves on the open sea than to be shipwrecked on the cliffs in the middle of the night.
But the star of the sea, Mary, shines in the troughs of the sea and casts a ray of confidence into the hearts of her sorely tried children. Yes, there is our consolation… [Here a piece has been torn out of the side of the letter – by a stamp collector, presumably – and there are eight half-lines from which to guess the sense of the text – translator’s note] … subject of joy for Marists to begin in union… exercise of the month of Mary just when one is throwing… 1st May: of our new diocese. The first of May, about 9 o’clock… very calm and tranquil weather we arrived… town, where the anchor was finally dropped… nevertheless that I am destined to go to Nelson… of the Strait, I am, then, getting ready to go to Co… next Sunday for that town, although there have not as yet been any priests there. The European inhabitants have built a church and subscribed a fund for providing for the needs of the priest whom they are insistently demanding. So I am called to live among our mixture of Europeans and natives. God be blessed in all that he ordains! I am always ready, with the help of His grace, to do his will. Later I will give you fuller details of my new post. For the moment, thanks be to God, I am full of health and vigour, and I am told that I am to receive a further temporal benefit in the climate of Nelson, which is most favourable to the health.
To give you an idea of my voyage from Auckland to here and of my future place of abode, I can trace on a small sheet of paper the map of New Zealand with a few of the principal place names. I send you, dear mother, my sincerest affection with which I remain always your most devotion son, Antonin.
PS I hope that Numa will write to me - it is a long time since I have heard from him. How is he? And my sister in law? Ernest must be quite big, now. I am waiting for letter from him, too, to see if he writes well. And are all well in the De Mericros [?] family?
I think that the Curé of St Crambert [?] is still in the same place, as is good Monsieur Perrodin. Tell them and any of their confrères who happen to speak to you about me, not to forget the Christians of Oceania in their prayers. I do not cease to pray to God for my old friends and I hope that the God off mercy, after scattering us over the surface of the globe, will one day unite us round him for the life of eternal happiness.