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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

Roman Catholic Mission Work

Roman Catholic Mission Work

Mahia: 1841–2; Poverty Bay: 1849–50

The history of Roman Catholic mission work in the Wairoa, Poverty Bay and East Coast districts opens with the visit which Bishop Pompallier paid to Mahia early in 1841. He had met some Mahia natives whilst he was on the Bay of Plenty coast, and Toki (their leader) had invited him to halt at Nukutaurua. A three days' stay was made and a site selected for a mission station. During his second voyage to the South Island the Bishop landed Father Claude Baty there on 30 September, 1841.

Bishop Pompallier had intended to pick up Father Baty on his return, but, at Akaroa, he learned of the murder, in April, 1841, of Father Pierre Chanel, whom he had placed on the Island of Futuna (Horne Island) on 12 November, 1838, and at once left for the scene of the tragedy. Being unaware of the reason why he had not been called for, Father Baty, page 175 after a stay of ten months at Mahia, made his way “along the coast” and took boat to Auckland. W. L. Williams says that a public debate, which lasted over four hours, took place between his father and Father Baty at Nukutaurua. Another visit to Mahia was paid by Bishop Pompallier in 1844, but whether a priest was residing there then is not known to the writer. F. W. Williams (author of Through Ninety Years) informed him that a priest had a station at Whakaki (Northern Hawke's Bay) in 1845. It is probable that this was only a casual station used by one or more itinerant priests.

Bishop W. Williams (Christianity Among the New Zealanders, p. 334) states that Roman Catholicism was introduced into Poverty Bay in 1849 by a Ruatahuna native whom one Te Whata had appointed as his chaplain. Renata, a Ruatahuna chief, who was on a visit to Poverty Bay, tried to send him away, but Te Whata would not suffer him to go. A few months later (F. W. Williams says the date was 22 November, 1849) Bishop W. Williams, whilst on his way home from Heretaunga, received a letter stating “that a Rhomish priest, M. Lampiller [Lampila] is at Turanga awaiting your return, hoping to convince the natives that, hitherto, they have been under a false teacher.” Bishop Williams says that during a heated debate, which lasted ten hours, between Father Lampila and himself, Father Lampila suggested that the truth of their respective creeds should be tested by a personal trial by fire. (Christianity Among the New Zealanders, W. Williams, and Catholic Missionary Work in Hawke's Bay, Father Hickson.)

The locality in which Father Lampila had his mission station in Poverty Bay is not known to the present-day historians of his church. W. Williams merely states that it was “at Turanga.” It is not improbable that it stood on the northern side of the bay. That Father Lampila was a nomad is shown in the records of baptisms which he conducted. They appear in the church register which he opened at Matata (Bay of Plenty) on 17 March, 1844. Some of the entries follow: Sept. 30, 1849, at Rununga; Oct. 2, at Tarawera; Oct. 7 and 8, at Heretaunga; Oct. 14, at Tongohia (Tongoio); Oct. 21, at Te Wairoa and Te Waraki (? Whakaki); Nov. 4, at Turanga (or Poverty Bay), 14 names; Dec. 2, at Waikaremoana; Dec. 8, at? Pipi; Dec. 9, at Waikarewanua. As there is also an entry in respect of Tangoio for 1846, Father Lampila might have been the priest who paid a visit to Whakaki in 1845.

Whilst Father Lampila was in Wellington in June, 1850, he was instructed to establish a mission station in Hawke's Bay. Together with Brothers Monchalin and Florentin Françon, he set out by sea for Ahuriri (Hawke's Bay). However, a stiff southerly drove their schooner on to Poverty Bay. He then decided—probably because he was no stranger to that locality—that he would make Poverty Bay his headquarters. He erected a church and a whare, planted a garden, established a vineyard, and proceeded with his ministry. He would be the priest whom the Rev. C. Baker states (23/9/1850 and his annual report for 1850) paid two visits to Tolaga Bay towards the end of 1850 upon the invitation of “Rangiuia, my most bitter enemy.”

In December, 1850, Father Lampila learned that Poverty Bay was outside the boundaries of his district, and he and his assistants set off for Hawke's Bay. A halt was made at Wairoa to hold services and to baptize twenty natives who had been instructed by Piripi te Amorakau (probably the resident catechist). In January, 1851, they arrived at Pakowhai (H.B.), which was the locality in which they should have established their original station.

When Father Lampila revisited Poverty Bay early in 1852 he found that the grape vines which he had planted were in bearing, and he made page 176 a barrel of wine to take back with him. Alas! during his return journey, the barrel was broached by some of the sailors, who replaced the precious fluid with salt water. Shortly afterwards he was transferred to the West Coast (N.I.). His successor (Father Euloge Reignier), who paid a number of visits to Poverty Bay, died at Meeanee in October, 1888.


Father John Lampila, S.M., who was born in France in 1808, arrived in New Zealand in May, 1842. He was ordained at Kororareka on Christmas Day, 1842, being the second priest to be ordained there. One of his first districts was the Bay of Plenty. After leaving Hawke's Bay in 1852, he ministered on the Wanganui River, first at Kaiwhaiki (1852–4) and then at Kauaeroa (1854, till the Hauhau rising in 1864). From 1868 till 1872 he was stationed at Wanganui; from 1872 till 1879, in Taranaki; and from 1883 till 1887, at Kaikoura. He then returned to France, where he died on 14 February, 1897.

Born in France in 1811, Father Claude Baty arrived at the Bay of Islands on 16 June, 1838. Before he went to Mahia in 1841 he was stationed at Matata. Upon his return to the north in 1842 he ministered in and around the Bay of Islands. In 1850 he was transferred to New Caledonia, where he died in 1851. He was the first white man to feast his eyes upon the beauties of Lake Waikaremoana. In a letter (dated 18/1/1843) which he sent to Father Maitrepierre in France (a copy of which was kindly supplied to the writer by His Grace the Most Rev. P. T. McKeefry, Coadjutor Archbishop of Wellington), Father Baty states that he arrived at the lake on “Thursday, Christmas Eve” [? 23 December] and that on the 24th “a Protestant missionary [William Colenso] from the Bay of Islands arrived.” He also states that he crossed the lake in advance of the Protestant missionary.


Archbishop McKeefry and Father McGrath (Island Bay, Wellington) kindly supplied some of the information used in this sub-section.

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Siege of Ngatapa. Sketch of fort (1868). del. O. W. L. Bousfield.

Siege of Ngatapa. Sketch of fort (1868).
del. O. W. L. Bousfield.

Gisborne's Blockhouse, 1869. Site now occupied by Police Station.

Gisborne's Blockhouse, 1869.
Site now occupied by Police Station.

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Major Ropata Wahawaha, n.z.c. Celebrated Ngati-Poron warrior.

Major Ropata Wahawaha, n.z.c.
Celebrated Ngati-Poron warrior.

2nd. Lt. Moana-nui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu, v.c. Killed in action, 27th March, 1943, at Te Baga Gap, Tunisia.

2nd. Lt. Moana-nui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu, v.c.
Killed in action, 27th March, 1943, at Te Baga Gap, Tunisia.