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Br Claude-Marie to Francis Redwood, Nelson, 8 December 1857


Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS


Victor Poupinel arrived in Sydney on 24 September 1857. The Marists in New Zealand expected that, after setting himself up at the procure, the visitor general of the missions would pay his first visit to his confreres across the Tasman Sea. Poupinel had been only a few weeks in his new post when the visit of a French warship provided him with the opportunity to travel to New Caledonia, so he went to that mission first. He visited Nelson early the following year and Claude-Marie describes the visit in another letter to Redwood he wrote in English on 7 March 1858. In Sydney they seem to have been expecting the return of Bataillon from his trip to Europe [14], but he did not appear until the end of the year.

Their own bishop, Viard, visited Nelson for the first time in June 1857. He came to bless the new St Mary's church. Extensions to the school allowed the parish to celebrate the opening in style. They also allowed Garin space to hold his celebrated 'tea parties' [5], social gatherings which attracted Catholic and Protestant alike (Harris p 27). But as the opening of the Nelson College had reduced the numbers of students at St Mary's, it curtailed the tea parties as well.

Gold had been found in the Aorere River near Collingwood in 1856. In a few months the population of the area swelled from fewer than 100 to 1500. Massacre Bay, so named by Abel Tasman, the Dutch explorer, after Maori killed four of his crew there in 1642, was consequently renamed Golden Bay in 1857. The misfortunes of many gold seekers and those of the otherwise prosperous members of Frank's own family [7-10] appear to have inspired Claude-Marie's little homily on the vanity of worldly things in [11].

Claude-Marie wrote this letter on the birthday of one of his younger brothers, Andre, who turned 39 in 1857. He was the eldest of his family which included, beside himself, three boys and one girl (FMO 42). None were great correspondents.

Text of the Letter

Dear Franck (sic),
On the 9th of July I was pleased to receive your welcome letter in the same envelope as the one from my dear brother dated 28 March. I cannot describe the joy I felt that day, I had been planning to write to you for a long time, but hoping to see and hear news of Fr Poupinelle (sic) I decided to wait a little longer. Alas! The Rev Father arrived in Sydney, was there for about a month and then, instead of coming to New Zealand as we expected, he left for the tropics on a French warship which was in port in Sydney at the time. When will he come and see us? When will I have the happiness of hearing news of you by word of mouth? I have no idea.
I sent on by the 'Spray' the presents you meant for your parents and they were really very happy to receive them. Everything arrived in perfect condition. I must say, my dear friend, that on the subject of that box, I was quite disappointed. I was expecting to receive something to decorate our new church as I asked you in my last letters. Frs Garin and Moreau thought the same and we were congratulating ourselves on at last being able to ornament our altar through the agency of a dear, well loved friend, and the young students of the College of St Mary of Chamond. Alas! Dear God, a little donation of a shilling each would have hurt nobody and been of real benefit to us. Poor we were, poor we are, and poor we will remain. God's will be done!
Since my last letter, our establishment has changed somewhat in appearance. We now have a pretty little church, very simple but neat, which cost about 600 pounds. Every Sunday we have a sung High Mass. George[1] plays on the harmonium and Clark on his flute. Fr Garin pays George 12 pounds a year for his trouble, but I don't know if Clark receives any payment.
When the church was finished, Monsignor Viard finally came to make his first visit to Nelson to consecrate it, bestowing on it the sweet name of Mary. It was June, unfortunately, in the middle of winter, and the bad weather considerably restricted the ceremonies. A number of children were fortunate to receive first communion and confirmation. What a joyful month it was for the Catholics of Nelson. What a joy in particular for the good Mrs Bolton! She saw her Polly make her first communion and Joe received confirmation...!
With the church, Fr Garin had his school rebuilt. It is now very large and very comfortable. It can hold 150 people for the tea-party. We had our tea-party there after the opening. We haven't many students, considering the free Government school and the College which takes all those from the well-off families. Consequently, the good Fr Garin has to make great sacrifices to pay his school-master and, in addition, his pound in tax towards the government schools.
You know, no doubt, that gold has been found and is still being found at Massacre Bay. Many ships and fortune hunters are arriving here. Some of them are disappointed. Many start out with 10 or 20 pounds on arrival, spend the little they have at the diggings without success and then they are beggars. With no money to return home, they are forced to go about looking for ways to alleviate their hunger. From that comes troubles, robberies, quarrels, etc. Nelson was so peaceful before. I am really afraid that it may be to her loss. Provisions are very expensive. Still one has to live and what can be done?
No doubt you receive frequent news of your dear parents. It is probably no use my troubling you on their account, seeing they keep you up to date on everything. Still, you will let me say they are very successful in the world's eyes. With his butcher's shop, his farm and his sheep, your father is doing very well. Tom and Mr Henry [Henry Redwood Jnr] have bought a run between Wairau and Canterbury where they hope to make 3000 pounds in five years. But don't imagine that all those fine prospects are without their thorns. I can prove you the contrary. Mr Henry has had some big losses at the horse races. Last year one of his best horses broke a leg and was put down. Many people consider he must be heavily in debt. And then there is Charles. First of all he got a grain of wheat stuck in his ear. It has given him pain for a long time and no one can get it out. Then he fell off his horse and broke his shoulder. They called in a doctor who exercised his skills, thought he had it set and sent him away. Three weeks later Charles comes to Nelson and meets Mr Duppa (sic) who asks him how the shoulder is. Okay, he replies. Mr Duppa wants to see it and after an examination declares it is not in its proper place at all. He takes him to Mr Williams and the doctor is of the same opinion. Then they ask Charles if he wants to undergo another operation which would be very painful. He replies he is ready for anything provided they can guarantee to put the shoulder back in place. The patient was strapped to a post and 3 men pulled on the arm for some time until the doctor was certain the bone was in place. How poor Charles suffered! He endured it so bravely all present were astonished. He was well recompensed for now he experiences no pain at all and is completely healed. But to continue with our story. Charles isn't out of trouble yet. Some weeks ago he was leading a valuable horse of his by the bridle. In jumping a fence the horse stumbled and fell, breaking its spine and dying on the spot! Hearing of all these misadventures, Tom said to Charles: 'I think you don't give enough to the Church and that's why God is punishing you.'
Mrs Goulter went to pay Mrs Ward a visit at Wairau one fine morning in her trap. After spending a pleasant day she returned accompanied by Mr Ward driving the trap. The trap overturned and Mrs Goulter, with a little baby in her arms, fell out, mother on top of child. She broke her arm and nearly killed the poor baby. Both are reasonably well now.
Some time ago the chimney of your house caught fire. Marianne Bolton was the first to notice it and told her mother. Then without waiting for a response she rushed off to the fields where the men were working and raised the alarm. Well she did so, for had she waited any longer, everything would have been consumed by the flames. Mrs Bolton rushed to your place and told your mother who hadn't noticed anything. 'What, your house is on fire and you are just sitting there!' 'Impossible,' your mother replied in fright. Straightway, forgetting her limp, she ran outside without her sticks, took Mrs Bolton's child, and ordered her to fetch two buckets, fill them with water and attend quickly to the fire. They made incredible efforts but they would not have succeeded if the men had not come hurrying to their assistance and saved the house. What made me laugh was that in the excitement neither your mother nor Mrs Bolton betrayed any sign of illness - they ran around, one with a child in her arms giving orders, the other carrying water, climbing the stairs like someone very strong and in robust health.
So you see, my dear friend, there are no roses without thorns. Your parents are getting wealthier, but what troubles they are having, what fatigue and suffering. I am told that your father's wheat harvest this year, including the stalks, was worth more than 1000 pounds. But what difficulties, etc. etc.
Ah! How much more fortunate you are in your College where you can love and serve God, and be the privileged child of the good and tender Mother in a much more perfect way than they can. Poor people! They are full of worldly notions, their thoughts are all of earthly things, they talk of nothing but their temporal affairs. If they say any morning and evening prayers, they are full of what will preoccupy them, or what has preoccupied them, during the day. They come to the sacraments very rarely. They don't have time for that, they are too busy with other things. My God, what a life! Ah, you have certainly chosen the better part. You should thank God and Mary for it every day of your life and be faithful to the great graces they bestow on you so abundantly. They are prodigal, I could even say, so don't prove ungrateful.
You know that James Tomlinson is no longer with us, poor young fellow. He was getting drunk so often that your father, seeing that all his warnings had no effect, fired him. He is now with his father. I don't know how he is getting on. Dan and Michael Sullivan - no one knows where they are. They haven't written to their parents for a very long time and they are worried. Some think they could very well be making a tour of Europe and perhaps you will see them at St Chamond. I know Dan has your address.
To get back to your parents. I can assure you that your father and mother are lucky to have a son like you. You have, I can say, found their good side. What joy they found reading the long letter you wrote about your tour of England, the places you visited, the people you talked to, it all bringing back memories for them. It is hard to describe their pleasure. Mr Ward was at Stafford Place when your parents received it and he himself read it to them when they had all gathered in the salon. According to your mother, your portrait is perfect. It's Frank all over, but they think you are too thin. The coffee spoons, your father's [....],[2] the beautiful pictures, and the two big paintings. Oh! Goodbye, my dear friend, goodbye. Say some prayers for me yourself and get your companions to say many.
I am and will always be
Your very humble servant,
Br Claude-Marie.
PS. Please be kind enough to put the letter included here in an envelope and address it to Mr Andre Bertrand at St Sauveur en Rue, canton de Bourg Argental, Loire. That would be a good proof of your affection for me. My dear friend, I wish you a happy new year. May the Lord and his good Mother bestow on you their most abundant graces. Fiat. Fiat. Amen. I thank you for the beautiful picture you sent me. Monsignor Bataillon's arrival is expected. The arrival of your presents is keenly looked forward to. What will they be? Patience, you will see.
Joe Bolton has been boarding for some months. Your father is paying his fees. Joe and Fred Redwood were here last year but since they had ringworm they had to leave, much to Mr Henry's regret. They will be back when they are cured. Joe and Fred have been confirmed and Fanny has made her first communion. She regularly goes with Polly Bolton to their monthly devotions, and this pleases Mrs Bolton.
Permit me to let you know that Fr Garin gave me the letter you sent Mrs Bolton, and when I gave it back I told him I had found it difficult to read, seeing it was written across. He told me it was the same for him, and all the Redwood family complained about it.. They said they wanted either bigger writing paper or to write on two sheets but not crosswise. I thought I should make this little observation. Excuse me.


  1. George Bonnington, a Protestant boarder at the college with Frank, had helped him learn the violin. They remained life-long friends. (Harris 19)
  2. The word here in the brother’s handwriting -Turza – is very difficult to decipher.

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