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Original Documents on Aborigines and Law, 1797-1840

Document 97

Original Document 97

[762] His Honor [1]

       Judge Burton

My Dear Sir

                                                                     Ebenezer, Lake Macquarie, New South Wales,

                                                                                      December 10th , 1838


            The following extract of a letter from Tahiti to me will explain the occasion of the warlike interference of the French nation towards Tahiti , and of my addressing the King of France, in the accompanying letter, forwarded through the Captain of the French frigate now here, on the subject. "The commandments of the Lord," stating that "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine (the doctrine of Christ), receive him into your house, neither bid him God speed; for he that biddeth him God speed is a partaker of his evil deeds;" and doctrines of the Pope not being the doctrines of Christ, evince that the Queen of Tahiti is perfectly justified on Christian principles in the course she has taken; and the Missionary who could advise other than not to receive any such would be acting the part of a traitor to the country in which he is proclaiming the glorious liberty of the gospel of Christ, and become, however far such a motive be from his mind, a transgressor of the law of Christ.


                                                            I remain,   My dear Sir

                                                                        Yours truly, in the cause of Christ,

                                                                                                            L. E. THRELKELD.




                                                                                    Dated Tahiti, Sept. 6th, 1838


            "The Roman Catholics have been trying to get a footing at Tahiti . Two priests came in a small vessel from Gambier's Island in 1838. They came on shore and wished to remain. The Queen and Chiefs ordered them to leave Tahiti . They would not, and took shelter in a house belonging to the American consul, not considered as belonging to the consulate. The Tahitians took them out of the house by force, and carried them to a canoe, and put them again on board the little vessel in which they came. For this crime the French has sent the present ship of war, called Venus , with a Commodore on board. As soon as he arrived he sent a letter to the Queen, stating three things without any explanation-

            "First - To pay 2,000 dollars in twenty-four hours

            "Secondly - To hoist the French flag on shore, and the natives to fire twenty-one guns under it. The Tahitian flag to be hoisted on board, and the French to fire under it.

            "Thirdly - The Queen to write a letter to the French King, confessing that she had done wrong in sending away two Frenchman in the manner she did.

            "If these three things were not complied with in twenty-four hours they were to make war upon the natives.

            "The French Catholic priests seem at present to be making a bold push to get possession of all the islands in this sea where Christianity has been introduced. We have heard that two priests have been left at the Marquesas, where Mr Stallworthy, our missionary, is labouring. They have made several attempts at the Sandwich Islands ; and we hear that two French ships of war are gone to call the Sandwich Islanders to an account for their conduct to Frenchman, something in the same way that they have done here"





To His Most Christian Majesty Louis Philip,

            King of the French, &c.,&c.,&c.,


                                                                 Ebenezer, Lake Macquarie, New South Wales,

                                                                                    December 8th, 1838


                        The recent visit of your Majesty's frigate the Venus , threatening war against the Queen of Tahiti, is the occasion of my respectfully addressing your Majesty on the subject.

            The best years of my life have been spent in those islands, and these parts, far from my native land, "Testifying repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ." The Holy Spirit of God blessed our labours, and changed the hearts of the Tahitians; they cast their idols to the flames, and became followers of the Lord.

            Such being the relationship in which I stand towards the Queen of Tahiti, it becomes my duty to state on her behalf the character of that war which the French nation threatened to declare against Tahiti .

            Your Majesty's flag had received no insult; your Majesty's civil or military subjects had received no personal injury, sustained no spoliation of property; and, to evince that national prejudice did not exist against the French a nation, a Frenchman, Mr Tessier, a missionary lived for many years without molestation, and died at Tahiti .

            The Roman Catholic priests, on whose account the hostilities were threatened, came to Tahiti, not as civil subjects of your Majesty the King of the French, or as representatives of your Majesty; they came as priests of the Pope of Rome, subject to him alone as emissaries of the Roman Pontiff; not to promulgate your Majesty's commands, but those of the Pope; not to subjugate the Queen of Tahiti, and her subjects, to the French, but to that of a foreign despotic Prince of the Court of Rome. This insidious attempt at subjugation the Queen rejected, and in commanding the [763] departure of the Priests exercised that right which, according to the law of nations, all "the Powers that be" exercise in their own territories towards aliens. A British subject, a Mr. Giles, was prevented, through the influence of an American captain on the mind of Pomare, the King of Tahiti, from remaining on the island, and was necessitated to return to England , although sent out by the London Missionary Society for the purpose of benefiting the King. His Majesty exercised his own legitimate right, nor did Great Brittain attempt its invasion. Had Mr Giles resisted the intimation from the King to leave Tahiti , and subjected himself to be forcibly removed from the island, no human, no devine law, would recognise his expulsion other than the deserts of his own temerity. History records a similar line of conduct in the Queen of England, who suffered not Parapaglia, with his courteous letters from the Pope, to land in England ; and in the following year the Pope's nuncio received a similar refusal when a second attempt at the conversion of England was made.

            To compel the re-admission of those aliens, the priests - the emissaries of a foreign Potentate - the French nation has been solicited, and has given its strength and power to make war in behalf of the Romish Pontiff and a liberal King has compelled a Queen who had not twenty-one guns to comply with the enforced salute to your Most Christian Majesty's flag; and 2,000 dollars were demanded of a sovereign who had no revenue and whose Exchequer was nought. Your Most Christian Majesty has received the 2,000 dollars from a Queen who had but just emerged from barbarism and idolatry to the profession of the gospel of peace and, but for British Christians, who instantly supplied the sum to prevent bloodshed, the pages of history would be sullied with the record of a victory to the dishonour of your Most Christian Majesty's fame.

            America sent not her fleet to liberate her missionaries when held captive by the Burmese; nor did England unfurl her flag, and despatch a ship of war, when the British missionaries were driven from Tahiti, and some of our number were martyred, in the attempt to introduce Christianity amongst the islanders; nor, more recently, when New Zealand ferocity drove English missionaries from their settled residences, plundered their habitations, and spoiled them of all their goods, no Christian missionary ever thought of soliciting for the cannon of England to thunder against their then persecutors, to enforce re-entrance. They knew that their Master's kingdom was not of this world, else would his servants fight; they asked not for the fire from heaven, nor do their Master's precepts allow them to solicit the fire from earthy Kings. No, your Majesty , England and   her Christian missionaries have not so learned Christ.

            When the Blessed Saviour, our Divine Lord and Master, sent forth his disciples to preach his gospel of peace, his precepts were, "Go forth as lambs amongst wolves". "When they persecute you in one city flee ye into another." "Into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you not, go your ways out into the streets of the same, and say, Even the very dust of your city which cleaveth on us we do wipe off against you." And faithful ministers of Christ believe in and dread the denunciation of our Lord Jesus Christ to the Apostle Peter, that "They that take to the sword shall perish by the sword." But when Mahomet with his emissaries went forth to convert the East, "The sword was the key of heaven," and war of the Moslem faith the alternative.

            Your Majesty is aware that the Roman Catholic priests, the emissaries of the Pope of Rome, went to South Sea Islands, nor to convert to the gospel of Christ, for that had been already received in truth, and idolatry overthrown; it was known that their object was not to represent your Majesty, not to reside as civil subjects of the French nation, but avowedly to subjugate the Tahitian nation, as well as every other nation to which they can gain access, to the assumed despotic power of the Pope of Rome. The Queen therefore prohibited their entrances, not as Frenchman, your Majesty's civil subjects, but as Roman Catholic missionaries from the Pope; and in exercising that right on Christian principles, and according to the law of nations, doing no personal violence, your Most Christian Majesty will, it is hoped, be induced to consider that the subject is purely a question of religion, and not a matter of state, and to perceive the Justice of returning the money levied on the Queen of Tahiti, and exacted at the point of a sword.

            Praying that your Majesty may be preserved, blessed, and directed by Him through whom "Kings reign and Princes decree justice'"

                                                            I remain,


                                                                        Your faithful Servant in the gospel of Christ,

                                                                              LANCELOT EDWARD THRELKELD.




[764] Aborigines

Decr 10th. 1838

Letters of Mr.


on the French

invasion of Tahiti


[1] We would like to thank volunteer Ron Hulme for his meticulous transcription and presentation of the above document.

Published by the Centre for Comparative Law History and Governance of Macquarie University, and State Records NSW