1839 - Lang, John Dunmore. New Zealand in 1839: or Four Letters to the Right Hon. Earl Durham on the Colonization of that Island. - Appendix. South Sea Islands, p 116-120

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  1839 - Lang, John Dunmore. New Zealand in 1839: or Four Letters to the Right Hon. Earl Durham on the Colonization of that Island. - Appendix. South Sea Islands, p 116-120
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ON the 24th of November last, the French frigate, La Venus, Capt. Du Petit Thoire, arrived at Sydney, New South Wales, from the west coast of South America; having touched at Tahiti, one of the Society Islands, and the Bay of Islands in New Zealand, on her passage across the Pacific. Certain letters, addressed to individuals in Sydney, having arrived by the frigate, from the British Consul at Tahiti, from some Englishmen residing in the capacity of merchants in the Society Islands, and from several of the Protestant Missionaries in these islands; detailing what they all conceived an unwarrantable outrage, which had just been committed on the Authorities of Tahiti, by the Captain of the French frigate during her stay at that island; these letters were placed in my hands by the parties to whom they were addressed, with a suggestion that I should bring the matter before the public through the medium of the Colonial press. This I accordingly did, in the form of an article which the editor of The Colonist, a Colonial Journal, inserted as an editorial article in that paper on the 28th of November last. It was to the following effect:


"One of the most unheard-of aggressions--disgraceful in the highest degree to the agent of a civilized nation, and characteristic only of the

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olden times of piracy and buccaneering--has just been perpetrated by a ship-of-war under the French flag on the Queen and inhabitants of Tahiti. Some time ago two French Roman Catholic priests landed clandestinely on the island of Tahiti, with the view of propagating among the Protestant natives of the island the errors of Popery. They had come in a small schooner from Gambier's Island, where a Roman Catholic mission has been established; and after traversing the southwestern side of Tahiti, proclaiming that they were the only teachers of the truth, and that the Protestant missionaries were false teachers, (in proof of which they alleged the astounding fact of the latter being married) they were received and accommodated in a cottage on the premises of Mr. J. A. Moerenhout, American Consul--a Belgian, we believe, by nation, and a Roman Catholic by profession. To this individual and to the two priests whom he thought proper to take under his protection, it was intimated by the Queen of Tahiti, who was apprehensive of disquiet and disturbance from the character and machinations of the priests, that the latter must leave the island by the schooner in which they had arrived; and Moerenhout and the priests having expressed their determination to refuse obedience, they were furnished with a copy of one of the Tahitian laws enacted years before, which prohibited the residence of any foreigners on the island, without the express permission of the Government. This was one of those laws of self-protection and self-preservation which all Governments have an undoubted right to enact, and of the enactment and enforcement of which, France has ever been of all civilized nations the readiest to set the example. The two priests having expressed their determination to sit violently, as they say in Scotland, notwithstanding this communication, and having accordingly locked themselves up in their cottage, a posse of Tahitian constables were sent, under the direction of one of the district judges of the island, who was present to protect the priests from personal violence, to compel them to embark on board the schooner when ready for sea. Finding the door locked within, the constables lifted up the rafters of the roof of the house from the wallplate, and springing over the wall, opened the door from within. One of the priests, finding resistance no longer practicable, walked down to the canoe that was waiting for him on the shore; the other refusing to move, was lifted up as gently as possible by the natives and placed in the canoe with all their property, and rowed off to the schooner.

During the negociation with the Government, Moerenhout had written very impertinently to the Queen, whose authority he pretended to set at nought, on the ground, forsooth, of her being under the influ-

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ence of Mr. Pritchard, now British Consul, who had formerly been a Protestant missionary on the Island. As a proof, however, of the manner in which this individual's conduct, throughout the whole affair, was viewed by the American Government--a Government perhaps the best acquainted with the law of nations, and the most respectful of the rights of others of any in the civilized world--the circumstances of the case were no sooner made known to the American President than Moerenhout was dismissed from his Consulate.

A false and flaming account of the whole transaction, however, was immediately transmitted by Moerenhout and others to the French Government, and M. du Petit Thoire, Captain of the French frigate La Venus, on the South American station, was ordered to proceed forthwith to Tahiti to obtain satisfaction. This, as we have already hinted, M. du Petit Thoire proceeded, immediately on his arrival at Tahiti, to exact in a style and manner much more accordant with the practice of the old Buccaneers of America than with that of the agent of a highly polished and gallant European nation in the nineteenth century. Proceeding direct to the residence of Moerenhout, (who it seems has since been invested with the office of French Consul at Tahiti) and spending a long time with this individual, but without deigning to enquire into the circumstances of the transaction in any other quarter, M. du Petit Thoire addressed a letter to the Queen requiring her--

1st. To pay 2,000 dollars as a fine for her conduct in dismissing the priests.

2nd. To hoist the French flag and salute it with twenty-one guns.

3rd. To write a letter of contrition and apology to the King of the French.

All this was to be done within 24 hours, otherwise M. du Petit Thoire, who, suiting the action to the word, got his sixty-gun frigate prepared for action, would batter down the town of Matavai, subvert the Queen's Government, and elevate to the throne an inferior chief of questionable character, under the influence of Moerenhout. It is needless to add that these unheard-of demands had all to be complied with. There was not a single dollar in the Tahitian treasury; for what have a people emerging from semi-barbarism to do with money? but the money was generously advanced for Queen Pomare by three British subjects, Mr. Pritchard, the British Consul, Dr. Vaughan, a resident on the island, and Mr. Bicknell, the son of a missionary. There was scarcely a gun fit for service on the island; but the flag was hoisted and the salute fired, and M. du Petit Thoire, having pocketed the dumps and his letter from the Queen of Tahiti to Louis Philippe, has touched at our port to

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show us his frigate, and to give us an opportunity of congratulating him for a piece of heroism, in comparison with which the glorious deeds of his own Jean Bart, as well as of our "Nelson of the Nile," must sink into insignificance.

Holding, therefore, that the Queen of Tahiti did not violate the law of nations, but exercised her own undoubted right in sending the two French priests off the Island, and holding also that the procedure of M. du Petit Thoire was a direct violation of the law of nations, as well as in every way unworthy of that great nation which he represents, we beg to remind M. du, P. T. that the Tahitian Government and Nation are under British protection, that protection having been guaranteed to them by the late Mr. Canning; and we beg to assure that gentleman, moreover, that the unwarranted aggression of which he has thus been guilty on an unoffending and comparatively helpless people, will not be forgotten by that greater nation which has so long rendered itself conspicuous in the world for its heroic defence of the rights of men. We shall take special care to forward a copy of this paper to Mr. T. F. Buxton, who, we feel assured, will represent the case immediately to Lord Palmerston, with a view to his obtaining an immediate explanation of the transaction from the French Government, and will also bring it forward in the British Parliament. At all events, M. du Petit Thoire may rest assured that the case of the Venus at Matavai will make as much noise in Europe as that of the Vixen.

How differently do British naval officers manage these affairs! When a British ship-of-war was sent down lately to chastise the natives of Wallis Island, where the Sir David Ogilby was attacked and the captain and mate murdered, it was found after a careful investigation, that the Europeans had been the aggressors, and nothing was done to the natives.

How differently also does the spirit of Popery manifest itself from that of Scriptural Protestantism? The latter has been labouring silently and unseen for thirty years past, transforming whole nations of barbarian and treacherous islanders into civilized and Christian men. Popery, on the contrary, comes in at the eleventh hour of the day to seize upon, not the barbarous but the Protestant islands, and gets a French frigate to support her impudent and lying pretensions by threatening to batter down an unoffending town.

We have derived our information from letters from Tahiti; not from the rigmarole production on the subject in our columns of this day.

This was the only article I ever wrote on the subject, and I wrote this article at the request of parties deeply in-

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terested in the welfare and protection of the South Sea Islanders, and solely, as far as I was personally concerned, from a sincere desire to vindicate the rights of an injured and unoffending people. A variety of other articles, however, and some of them of a sufficiently vituperative character, were published on the subject soon after in the other Colonial Journals; and I have since been given to understand that M. Du Petit Thoire and the other officers of the frigate were made to believe that all these articles were written by me, and that, in writing them, I was actuated merely by a spirit of rancorous hatred towards the French nation. Now as there are men of character in France as well as elsewhere, to whom I happen to be known, and to whom I should not like to be misrepresented in this manner, I take this opportunity of stating that I cherish no such unworthy feelings, and that if the case of Capt. Du Petit Thoire had been that of the Captain of a British ship-of-war, I should have treated it in precisely the same manner, only with additional severity. As an officer of high standing in the French Navy, and as the son of a Post Captain in that Navy, who, I believe, fell when fighting gallantly in the service of his country, at the battle of Aboukir, I can entertain towards M. Du Petit Thoire, personally no other feelings than those of respect. But I am still satisfied that his conduct towards the Queen of Tahiti--the effect I believe of unfounded representations on the part of Moerenhout the Belgian--was altogether unwarrantable, and that it requires investigation on the part of the British Government. The establishment of a regular Government in New Zealand, however, would soon put an end to all such irregularities in the South Sea Islands for the future.


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