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Br Emery to Br Francois, Bay of Islands, 1 Nov 1843


Br Emery (Pierre Roudet 1819-1882), a tailor by trade, entered the Hermitage in June 1839 and made his first vows as a Brother of Mary in October 1840, barely a month before leaving for Oceania. The date for his perpetual profession is given in the PFM Register as 1844, which suggests he must have made it at the end of the annual retreat at the procure that year. He spent more of his time at printing than at his trade. The first book to appear, in October 1842, was Pompallier's Maori catechism "Ako Marama" or "Plain Teachings of the Roman Catholic Church." The printing room also housed a life-sized statue of Mary, la Grande Marie, which had arrived with the press in 1841 and was probably intended for the new church.

The year 1843 seems to have been the highpoint of Catholic influence in the north. But the mission press was only one of the factors at work in this period. Undoubtedly the Protestant missionaries, Anglican as well as Wesleyan, suffered from being too easily identified in Maori eyes with both the settlers who were encroaching on their land and the colonial government whose levying of customs duty was interfering with their trade. In addition, some of them had taken considerable interest in land speculation themselves. The French Catholic missionaries had the considerable advantage in the circumstances, not that they appreciated it all that much, of being poor and being seen to be so. But there was a considerable difference between the numbers of Maori counted as catechumens and those who went on to baptism. Within a year or so, anyway, the emphasis for the mission was moving away from the Bay of Islands, Hokianga, and Whangaroa to the missions south of Auckland, such as Opotiki (not Apokiki, as the copyist has it). According to Pompallier, one of the Bay of Islands chiefs had married a woman of very high rank from Opotiki (Pomp.. 66) and the young catechist mentioned in [7] may have been her brother or nephew. This letter is to be found on pages 112-120 in the cahier in the AFM. Avit gives a little summary of it in his Annales (3 p27).

Text of the Letter

Reverend Brother,
I have kept you waiting for a long time for a letter and in that I have been remiss. But most of the time I don't have the time. I have only a few moments now and then, so you won't be surprised if it is so badly used. I will try to give you some news. The mission is making marvellous progress since we started printing. There has been an amazing change at the Bay of Islands in the last year. There is one heavily populated area where you didn't dare go because the Maori were all Protestants and hostile. Today you can go in safety because they have all turned Catholic. One day two chiefs from this area came to see Monsignor for the first time. As they passed before their minister's house they called out to him: "Stay at home, stay at home. Don't come to see us any more. We are going to the house of epikopo (the bishop). So stay home. And you others, my ignorant friends, go too and be converted to the religion of the wakapakoko (images).[1] So you, stay at home. We have no more money for your bread and wine (that is, the meal of the Last Supper). Once you had 3 chiefs at Waikare, now you have none but one old man, and even he has been to the prayers of the epikopo at Wangaroa." In the end, the poor minister went inside, doubtless furious to find himself two more chiefs the fewer. This minister often goes to see them and offers them gifts to convert, but he gains nothing by it. He often debates with them but he is always ignominiously defeated. They write down everything he says to them and how they reply and show it all to His Lordship.
The greatest chief of the Wesleyan mission of Okianga [Hokianga] came to the Bay of Islands one day. He called on the Protestant bishop[2] and they had a discussion. After they had had a long talk, the bishop informed him, "You should be in communion with us." The chief: "But aren't you here united with those of Okianga?" The bishop: "Oh, no! The ones in Okianga are not of our communion." The chief: "Ah, so. I see. You are not united, are you? Well, I don't want to belong to this communion nor that of the missionaries of Okianga. I will go and see epikopo. "He came to see Monsignor, in fact, and told him word for word, of his conversation with the Protestant bishop.
Some time afterwards another Maori chief, also from the Okianga, came. He came into the house, but not with the idea of converting. I had already seen him several times on my trips to Okianga and I held out my hand. He extended his, but ungraciously, for he was a hard man and had a bad reputation. Even though Monsignor was also present he virtually ignored him. However, we offered him something to eat and that made some impression on him. Some moments later he went looking for His Lordship who invited him to his room. There he was taken in the net. Monsignor showed him a book and read to him several passages of apologetics. The chief, seeing the light, put his head in his hands and stayed that way for a while. Eventually, raising his head, he said with a sigh, "So you want to finish off all the missionaries, you want to finish them all. Yes, I can see it from your book." He changed so much that, from being as cruel as a wolf, he became as docile as a lamb, and shook hands cordially. There were 3 of them and each wanted to take away a book.
The Catholic religion changes a person's character, so you can tell the Catholic natives from the Protestants simply on sight. The Protestants look savage, sad, dour, and serious, while the Catholics appear gentle, happy, and friendly.
A few days later, 7 of them, again from Okianga, came to see Monsignor. They asked him, "is it true what the missionaries say about you, that a kaipuke nui (big warship) full of machines is coming at your instigation to tear us to pieces and dismember us? Tell us what you are thinking, is this true?" His Lordship replied, "Kuware (ignorant ones) that you are, everytime the missionaries tell you lies, you always believe them, and you do not believe me, though you cannot reproach me with even a single one." He spoke to them at length so that these poor Maori saw the truth and how their ministers had lied. They took some books and went away satisfied.
There is a tribe about three quarters of an hour away from Kororareka, the town where Monsignor lives. These good Maori come to Mass almost every Sunday. In one month they have been baptised, had their marriages celebrated properly, and a big number have made their first communion. The day after their first communion they carried away a white flag with a red cross on it to fly over the village on Sundays, and a big wooden cross to erect on the top of a hill to distinguish themselves from the Protestants.
The mission is making progress not only in the Bay of Islands but throughout the whole island. Here is a good example. A young Maori, son of a great chief of Opotiki, was so fired with zeal. for the conversion of the Protestants that he left his parents without warning to visit the tribes following the missionaries. The chief told him, "Go away, you are a Catholic. We kill any Catholic who comes here." “I don't want to go away," and he sat down. "You had better go away. Begone!" "I don't want to. I want to stay here.” One of them struck him on the leg, causing blood to flow, but the good catechist made no sound. The chief went off to get his axe to kill him. The confessor of the Catholic faith was not afraid and told him, "Yes, come and kill me. It is good for me to die for the faith." So he did not kill him but left him alone. Now he is in the Bay of Islands. He has been confirmed and made his first communion. He is very well instructed.
When the Fathers visit them they receive a warm welcome. They spread out mats for them to sleep on and in the evening they light a fire in the house for warmth, then they all come in and close the door of the hut. I say hut because you cannot stand upright inside and the door is so low that you must enter on hands and knees or sometimes even turn on your side. The Fathers cannot enter with their cloaks on. It is funny to see them entering these houses they look like big dogs going into the hut. When you are inside, you go and lie down straightway for fear of being suffocated by the smoke. You don't need a blanket, the place is like an oven. It is there that the great discussions about religion take place. The Maori gather around the priest and chatter away until midnight. When I am there I always doze off before they finish. Sometimes they start again before sunrise. They love learning.
We have built them 2 big huts at the house where they stay when they come for instruction. They are almost always full. Sometimes they occupy 5 or 6 rooms in our buildings. Then you hear them singing hymns in one, reciting catechism in another, and discussing religion in yet another. Their harmony never stops until 11 o'clock at night. These good Maori are so simple that you have to look on them as big children. When they come to watch the printing they are so excited to see how books are produced. They tell us "Screw down the press as tightly as you can so all the books come out black. You know Maori men have dirty hands and so they dirty the books." We have a beautiful golden statue of the Blessed Virgin. Someone asked: "Did the book press produce this great wakapakoko?" They find it so beautiful that many Protestant Maori also come to see it, and it makes quite an impression on them.
Monsignor once gave a chief a red cloak with a fringe. They were so happy with it they loaned it to another tribe 12 or 15 leagues away. They told His Lordship, "We have never seen such a pretty cloak as the one you gave so and so."
They have astonishing memories. They can learn anything they want to. They learn to read and write in a very short time. They also learn their catechism very quickly and their hymns. They love to chant, and harmonise so well you cannot hear one note over another. It is beautiful when a hundred of them are singing a hymn. There's one hymn to the Blessed Virgin they particularly like; they sing it everywhere. Today 3 little girls 7 to 8 years old came to watch the printing. They saw a picture of the Blessed Virgin and sat down in front of it and sang this hymn twice while looking at the picture. It was very edifying. This hymn has 14 couplets and is sung to the tune of "O luce qui mortalibus..." I was with Fr Garin one Sunday visiting the sick wife of a young chief. The chief was continually at me, "Teach me this hymn. I love it." He also said to the Father, "You see, I am an ignorant man. I do not know much catechism. I don't have the time to study because of my sick wife." We baptised the wife and married them both. We had brought the essentials for saying Mass and the Catholics of the area gathered there.They had been notified a little late and brought with them their food, which was ready to eat, so as not to miss Mass. I served Mass and led the prayers and singing according to their custom all at once.[3] After Mass we went for the meal. When we had dined well, they brought us three baskets full of Maori taro. That's what they use for bread. It comes from the ground and is as big as a fist. It is usually reserved for chiefs. After dinner we had catechism and sang some hymns, then we came home. We had an Englishman with us for rowing. 18 months or 2 years ago this area was almost all Protestant. I was with His Lordship some time ago and there were 250 to 300 Catholics gathered there. He received a dozen Protestants into the Catholic Church. There is an English minister, but he is more concerned with enriching himself than with making converts.
I will describe some dangers almost fatal for me. We have built a big house in pisé. On one occasion we had to collect stones for the foundation. Br Marie-Augustin, Br Colomb, an Englishman and I set out in a Maori canoe. On the way back we had a strong wind against us. Suddenly our canoe swung side on and the waves came in. Br Colomb was fully engaged in bailing while we tried to straighten the canoe, but in vain because it was a very big one and we did not know how to steer it. The Englishman said to us, "I can save myself by swimming, but the rest of you will go to the bottom." Br Augustin let out a great cry for help. This shout made me panic. I started throwing the stones into the sea so fast that if someone hadn't stopped me I would have tossed them all overboard. Finally we had the idea of commending ourselves to our good Mother and our guardian angels. After that, we had no difficulty turning the canoe and reached the shore safely. Br Augustin told me he had never been so afraid. As for myself, I was certainly afraid, but not as scared as on another occasion. Mr Henry, a young Englishman, who must now be with the Fathers in Lyon, Br Colomb and I went looking for two priests whom we had left some time before on the other side of the Bay.[4] When we were out in the open we met the full fury of the wind. The same wind had been blowing for 5 days and the waves were so high they blocked out sight of the hills. Our boat was standing on end to ride over the waves, we could see mountains of water around us, the wind was driving us towards the big breakers. A wave still higher than the others came upon us without our noticing. When we saw it , we believed it was the end. It broke just after passing us. When we saw that, Mr Henry ordered the turn and we made a halfturn about so as to go back. We were half dead from fright. I will not tell you anymore - it would take too long. We are exposed to danger here much more than in France. This is not bad for us since it makes us think about death more often and helps us prepare for it. And then nothing ever happens without God's permission. That is a consoling thought and we can see how Providence looks after us, for we see visible signs of its protection in this mission all the time.
A little now about my occupations. I am printer and bookbinder. We have already produced two books in octavo, the first of 56 pages and 2000 copies, and the second of 98 pages and 3,200 copies, as well as 8 separate pages on the sacraments of penance and the eucharist, and also 2 pages for the school, 3000 copies of each. There are only two of us for the printing and one for typesetting. How much we need Brothers, both for the stations and the mother house. His Lordship has requested us: "Write to dear Brother Francois and ask for many Brothers." I am compelled to let our Fathers and Brothers go about in rags because printing takes up a lot of time and there is no other Brother to replace me. I have also been the gardener but now our garden is like a jungle because we have no one to look after it. I have also been a mason, a maker of pisé, and washer of church linen. I am supposed to keep the procure store in order, but it is often in a mess for lack of time. I also get things packed for the stations and do the linen. I would like to have written you a longer letter, but as I can only scribble, I will say no more.
I commend myself to your prayers and to those of all my confreres. Let not the good Brothers in France forget us or the poor unbelievers of our mission. One can sometimes be a better missionary in France than here, for prayer is good preaching. May the Brothers who believe their vocation is to come on the mission make efforts to that end. One is well compensated for the trials by the consolations, for these are considerable for zealous catechists. And also it is much better than it looks in France, especially now the mission has taken root.

Goodbye, my very dear Brothers.

Pardon me, my reverend Brother, if my letter is such a poor one. But I do not know any better. I am only a poor ignorant person.
O my very dear Brother, I am your very obedient servant,
Br Emery.


  1. According to Williams' Maori Dictionary the word "whakapakoko" means a "post with carved top used for purposes of incantation." It would thus adapt easily to the meaning of statue or image.
  2. Although the Anglican mission in New Zealand dated from 1814 there was no bishop in the colony until the Rt Rev George Selwyn arrived in 1842. The first Wesleyan missionaries arrived in 1822. The two groups had generally divided the north between them, Wesleyans in the west and Anglicans in the east.
  3. These were not the prayers of the Mass. The Marists did not want their converts to confuse the Eucharistic doctrine with their traditional practice of cannibalism and so they did not instruct them on this head until in the final stages of preparation for baptism (rf Simmons p 56).
  4. Refer following letter.

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